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Monday, 25 May 2009
Page: 4223

Mr LINDSAY (7:32 PM) —As shadow parliamentary secretary with portfolio responsibility for medals, I want the House to know and understand that I completely support the recognition of the service that these submariners have given to our country. The secretive nature of the operations that they were involved in has meant that many brave and deserving individuals have not been publicly recognised for their service, which in many cases was so dangerous and hazardous as to be considered warlike, using the current terminology. If anything was active service, this was—and I do not understand why the Defence Force has not been able to move quickly on this. I wrote to my opposite number in the government some time ago but just got a holding response, and it seems to have been on hold since. This needs to be resolved.

There are obviously some difficult and technically complex issues to be resolved, as review decisions are strictly based on the legislation or executive orders which applied at the time of service only. Subsequent changes to definitions of service and the associated entitlements conferred cannot be used to support retrospective claims. Hence a great deal of research is needed to uncover the governing circumstances under which personnel were sent on so-called ‘undeclared operations’. But the British have a very good system of dealing with this, and we should adopt that model so that these men who have served their nation so well in such dangerous situations can be honoured in the appropriate way.

Despite the difficulties and the necessary research involved, the government has a moral and contractual obligation to provide special recognition and, where appropriate, additional benefits to those who serve on dangerous operations at great personal risk. This defines the nature of ‘active service’, and it would be a terrible injustice to deny those who meet the qualifications their due recognition. Hence the opposition is calling on the Department of Defence and the minister to expedite the review of the claims currently with the Nature of Service Review team. It is also vitally important that the minister is transparent in his decision making for the benefit of the remainder of the wider veteran community.

I thank the member for Fairfax for bringing this motion to the House and I thank him for giving me the opportunity to express the opposition’s strong support for resolving this issue as quickly as possible. Although I detect bipartisan support here in the chamber this evening, if for some reason this were to go on until there were a change of government then the opposition, as the new government, would move immediately to resolve this particular issue.

The first part of the motion tonight recognises and commends service undertaken by all those who have served in the ADF. I just finish with the recognition of a small group of men and women who do not publicly get recognition very often. They are part of what is called Operation Paladin. Paladin is the longest serving United Nations operation in the world. It deploys military observers who work and live in the Middle East, in Lebanon and Syria, on the Golan Heights. Their object, really, is to do nothing. That sounds odd, but in fact by doing nothing they do everything. They keep the peace and they make sure that Hezbollah and Israel remain at arm’s length; they make sure that the Syrians and the Israelis remain at arm’s length. They do a fabulous job.

The point of mentioning Operation Paladin is to say that 27 governments have troops represented in that operation and, head and shoulders above all else, Australians are considered the most professional and the best trained of all of the soldiers who participate. Also understand that it is not just men who are there; it is women too. I was fortunate to meet two of our military observers a month and a half ago, one in Damascus and one in Beirut. They are every bit as good as the men who are there. They do a mighty job for our country, and I thank them for their service.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. DGH Adams)—Order! The time allocated for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.