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Monday, 22 August 2011
Page: 8917

Mr DUTTON (Dickson) (16:33): With parliament sitting last week, regrettably many of us were unable to attend services in our own electorates. Nonetheless, it should be recorded in this place that, particularly in an electorate like Dickson, we have a vibrant veterans community and they are people who stand very proud for their service, for the loss and sacrifice that they and many of their friends have endured over the course of their service. We salute their service, not just here but right around the country at those ceremonies last week.

The 18th of August this year marked the 45th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan. With all such anniversaries there has to be a lot of reflection but even more so on this 45th anniversary of the gallantry of those who fought in the historic Battle of Long Tan in the Vietnam War. It was a battle which was recognised by the presentation of the Australian Unit Citation for Gallantry by the Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, to the survivors of D Company 6 RAR at Gallipoli Barracks at Enoggera, Brisbane, home of the 6th Battalion of the RAR. I understand that was a very moving ceremony. All of us have over the years heard different stories from veterans in our community about their recollections passed down to them, about the Battle of Long Tan. The youngest Australian to die in that battle was just 19 and the oldest was only 22 and, as I understand, from listening to somebody recently, over half of those killed were Queensland national servicemen. They are men whose bravery will never be forgotten.

On Anzac Avenue in my electorate, at the aptly named Nui Dat bus stop, there is Vietnam Veterans Place, a quiet oasis of reflection on a busy thoroughfare. This memorial was conceived and created by Vietnam veterans in conjunction with the Pine Rivers Shire Council, local businesses and local tradesmen. It includes a flag station, gardens and a brick walkway that includes bricks stamped with the titles of every Australian unit to serve in Vietnam and is a suitable place to contemplate and remember the sacrifices of those who served in Vietnam who are no longer with us.

There are 17 branches of the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia in Queensland, and one of those, the Brisbane North division, has its headquarters at Black Duck Cottage, at Kallangur in my electorate. With the number of very active RSL sub-branches in Dickson—namely Bray Park-Strathpine,Samford,Dayboro and Pine Rivers district—it is not surprising to note that the Vietnam Veterans Association, which draws from all arms of Defence, has a membership growing from strength to strength, year to year, and has a current membership of 168, all there to uphold their motto, 'Honour the dead but fight like hell for the living'. This Brisbane North branch of the VVAA was formed in around 1982, one of the earliest sub-branches after the Vietnam Veterans Action Group was formed in NSW in 1978. The Brisbane North executive: Peter Thorn, president; Len Halford, senior vice-president; John Barrett, junior vice-president; and Peter Farrelly, treasurer and secretary are to be commended for their work in looking after the welfare of veterans and their families, with the assistance of committee members Gus Fraser, Jim Shaw, Gordon Johnson, Raymond Royston and Fred Ellingworth, among many others. Needless to say, there is also of course a social committee made up of those mentioned above. The dedication of those who are part of the association is enduring, as can be seen in the case of John Smith OAM, who joined the Brisbane North branch in August 1992 and has served as the sub-branch president and vice-president, state president and vice-president and who is now the national vice-president and state delegate to national council.

These are all people of considerable talent and they have all in their own ways made considerable sacrifices. Not only have they made a sacrifice; their families have of course made significant sacrifices as well. At the memorial service at Black Duck Cottage last Thursday morning, Mr Farrelly was the guest speaker. I was given a copy of his speech. I found it quite moving and I want to contribute a little of his speech as part of this debate today. I want to quote him to allow the House to gain an understanding of the quality of the speech that he presented and also the message that he wanted to deliver. The speech reads as follows:

Australian military troops served in the Vietnam War from 1962 through to 1975. It was the longest conflict that Australian servicemen and women fought and served in during our military's short history. It is without doubt also one of the most controversial of wars that any country served, and divided a nation that led to riots and divisions that remain today. It has left a lasting legacy that will take several generations to finally put this part of Australia's history to rest, and during this time it continues to provoke arguments that rekindle and revise the merits of this conflict.

During this period 521 Australian servicemen were killed in Vietnam. In excess of 3,000 servicemen were wounded, whilst some 60,000 military personnel served. Many of these doing two and sometimes three tours of duty. To be able to put troops into the country and to keep our numbers up to the required quota, National Service was made compulsory for young Australians. Any male aged between 17 to 21 and born during a certain month were balloted. National Service evoked controversy from all sides of politics and civilian life and ultimately led to some of the most violent clashes between rioters and police this country has ever seen.

Australia has since recovered all of its war KIA's in operations that defy the massive procedures undertaken to achieve this remarkable feat. Using old memories, maps, co-ordinates given during battle and the ever changing landscape a few dedicated Australian people have painstakingly traced and tracked our war dead and ceremonially returned their remains to their Australian families.

These people continue their work in Vietnam but now assist in the search for the remains of South Vietnamese and North Vietnamese servicemen who died and were buried in the field. At the war's height more than 500,000 American servicemen were in country, where their losses exceeded 60,000.

Peter's speech goes on:

As Australian troops began the main withdrawal in September 1971, those who had returned home earlier found themselves ostracised by friends, the RSL, and even the military which had sent them there in the first place. There was no support from the military; the RSL did not want to know us, and in some instances families did not welcome them home. Increasingly ex-serving soldiers became loners, and sought refuge with other like-minded veterans where they could relate to each other without fear or condemnation. From this the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia was formed which united the veterans and unified them into a cohesive and powerful veteran voice. They remain the choice of many service organisations today.

The speech went on for a little bit beyond that in most eloquent words and closed in this way:

Today is Vietnam Veterans Day and the 45th anniversary of the battle of Long Tan. A day when Australians remember all those servicemen and servicewomen who served, suffered and died. A day to reflect and commemorate not only fellow Australians but our American and New Zealand comrades in arms and a time to reflect on the misery of the South Vietnamese people that this war ultimately inflicted. To those servicemen and servicewomen who perished in South Vietnam and to those veterans who have since passed, rest in peace my friends. We do remember you all. Lest we forget.

They are powerful words; they are words that speak very strongly for a generation of families who were disproportionately affected by what was a terrible war. It is not a pretty picture of our history, and the way in which people were ultimately treated for their presence in Vietnam, both at the time of their engagement and on return from their engagement, shone an even poorer light on the behaviour of some in this country.

As I said in my opening remarks, we have a very strong local veterans community. Over the course of the last 10 years I have made it my business to befriend and support wherever I can many of the veterans in our local community. I know that in the area of Kallangur, which is on the border of the electorate of Longman, Wyatt Roy has embarked on a similar process. We want to continue to help and assist those veterans and those families who still suffer many of those wounds, particularly mentally, today. We want to make sure that we continue to provide support wherever possible to those families and to the generations that follow, 'where the pain is still felt most surely,' as Peter mentioned in his speech. I close with the mission statement of the Vietnam Veterans Association, which is: 'To assist all veterans, dependants and their descendants in all matters relating to their health, welfare and wellbeing'. We can all be proud of their ongoing service. To the veterans in the Dickson community, I say thank you.