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Thursday, 7 February 2013
Page: 491

Mr DANBY ( Melbourne Ports ) ( 16:45 ): All Australians owe a debt of gratitude to our service men and women, and one of the duties that all of us take very seriously is our support for our local RSLs in our constituencies. One of the particular honours I have, as the member for Melbourne Ports, is on Anzac Day speaking to about 1,000 people in Port Melbourne at a function that is not organised by the RSL but has spontaneously grown over the last decade as people want to show their remembrance of the place in which many Australians stepped off in the first and second world wars. The last place many of those people saw Australia was in Port Melbourne. If you look in any RSL around the country, you will see pictures of ships leaving from that place. It is a great event that follows another event that takes place on Remembrance Day when, led by the Rats of Tobruk pipes and drums, we march through trendy Elwood to St Columbus to mass to remember our servicemen's record. In my electorate we recognise their contribution through the growing number of people who support those commemorative events on Anzac Day and Remembrance Day. These events help define the story of what has become our Australian story, our diverse community, and the way we participate in it.

The Elwood RSL was established on the corner of Pine Street and Ormond Esplanade in my electorate with funds raised by the community over decades. It was a big shock when the state member Martin Foley and I learnt that it had suddenly been closed down—like recent news reports of the Heidelberg RSL being closed down—and we shared the concerns of many Elwood residents about how the important events that mark the ANZAC spirit should be respectfully honoured and maintained. We were determined, as we are determined in Port Melbourne on Anzac Day, to keep those events going. I was very pleased that, together with Martin Foley and some very patriotic local people from the Bendigo Bank and local councillors and local real estate people, we advertised without the RSL—as the RSL was closed—and the march and remembrance took place.

My constituent Jane Charleston and other members of the Elwood RSL were very upset with Anzac House for the closure of the club. Jane, a former club employee and member for 20 years only discovered the closure when she phoned the club to put in her footie tips. Even a month after the closure of the club, members had yet to hear from the RSL. RSL ex-serviceman Geoff Goldsmith said he wanted to know what happened to the two Australian Army uniforms he loaned the club. 'I told them if anything happened I would like to get them back,' he said. Mr Goldsmith said there were dozens of his mates with whom he had met and socialised at the club whose telephone numbers he had never even bothered to get. 'Nobody got a chance to say goodbye,' he said. That was the great shame of the very quick closure of the Elwood RSL by Anzac House, the RSL headquarters.

There is a $10 million redevelopment of the Pine Avenue block that will take place. I am sure that will go towards the worthy purposes of the Victorian RSL, but I feel that it could have been handled a lot better. This was, after all, a club that was built with community resources through the years, through funding-raising on the beach, for the benefit of local members. There were still people participating in the club. I do not dispute the legal right of the RSL Victorian headquarters to take over Elwood, but I am concerned about the continuity of membership. The older members of the RSL signed over the rights, as they have done in so many RSLs, to the Victorian headquarters more than a decade ago, but I believe with more support to involve other people from the community and to help them trade—they even had a few poker machines—that Elwood, like many of the RSLs being closed down, would have been able to continue.

I regard General McLachlan as a mate of mine, but I really believe that the traditions we have, both in Elwood and Port Melbourne, like the traditions of ANZAC throughout this country, have to be preserved. The early closures of these clubs do not take into consideration the needs of the community in honouring Australia's traditions. (Time expired)