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Thursday, 16 June 2011
Page: 6360

Mr SIMPKINS (Cowan) (13:35): As a former member of the Australian Defence Force for 15 years, I welcome the opportunity to speak on matters to do with veterans and the treatment of veterans in the debate on the Veteran's Entitlements Amendment Bill 2011. I also thank and pay reference to my colleague the member for Herbert, as the member for Lavarack Barracks and the fabulous 3rd Brigade.

Mr Stephen Jones: And Garbutt.

Mr SIMPKINS: And Garbutt. We cannot let RAAF Garbutt—

Mr Stephen Jones: And Ross Island

Mr SIMPKINS: And Ross Island as well. A number of defence establishments in Far North Queensland, very well represented by the member for Herbert. I am not so blessed with defence establishments in my area, but I have a number of cadet units which I am very proud of, as are their local communities. I also thank my constituents such as Terry 'Mad Dog' Mulligan, who frequently gives me his views, and other veterans who give me their views on what needs to take place with veterans. I also echo the views of the member for Herbert and those of so many in this place that fair indexation for the superannuation benefits—DFRDB et cetera—is very important for our former members of defence. I take this opportunity to speak on the Veterans' Entitlements Amendment Bill 2011. The first schedule of the bill relates to the prisoner of war recognition supplement. The government has announced $500 payments per fortnight for some 900 former prisoners of war, the youngest of whom are in their 70s. I know that these measures are certainly welcomed by those who come under the guidelines for these changes, but it is right to say that this is not the first time that an Australian parliament has provided this form of recognition and gratitude to those who have done great service for our country and suffered greatly for it. In 2001 the previous coalition government made one-off ex gratia payments to those who had been prisoners of the Japanese. Payments of $25,000 were made that year to those veterans and it was certainly right to do so. I know that you were intimately involved in those arrangements, Mr Deputy Speaker Scott.

From what we know of World War Two, stories of horrendous treatment and the worst deprivations are synonymous with what happened at the hands of the Japanese imperial army. The Burma-Thailand railway and the Sandakan death march are well-known events in the history of the Second World War that remind us that some of the worst treatment of Australian prisoners of war occurred at the hands of the Japanese. With the fall of Singapore some 15,000 Australians were forced into captivity as a result of that surrender. There has been some debate since the fall of Singapore in 1942 as to whether it was right to surrender at that time or whether the Japanese might have come to the end of their resources. In any case, the facts are that the surrender did take place and 15,000 Australians were taken into captivity. That started a very long period of captivity for those Australians, many of whom died as a result. I would like to talk a little bit more about that.

It is not right to say that there were any good prisoner of war camps run by the Japanese in World War Two; there were no easy options. The reality for our prisoners of war was that their day-to-day survival was tenuous at best. Many died through starvation and disease. Apart from the starvation, disease and beatings, those who were caught trying to escape were in almost every case summarily executed. Day-to-day life on the Burma-Thailand railway, for instance, would see the prisoners suffering and dying from malaria, dysentery and cholera, along with vitamin deficiencies brought on by their very poor and in some cases virtually non-existent diet. The Japanese also imposed 24- to 33-hour shifts on our soldiers.

An interesting part of the building of the Burma-Thailand railway was that when the Japanese first forced our soldiers to work on the railway they had a quota per man, whether they were sick or in good health—although hardly anyone was in good health. They had to move 0.6 tonnes of earth per day per man. Because the Australians were hard workers they exceeded this amount fairly quickly, so the Japanese more than doubled the amount of earth that needed to be removed as part of the construction of the railway. So it was as much as two cubic metres per man that had to be shifted in the end. Of course, this was certainly no open farmland. Mr Deputy Speaker Scott, I understand that you have been there yourself. This was in the deepest of rainforests and jungles with uneven ground. It was very difficult going that was made even worse by starvation and a range of diseases, tropical sores and illnesses. So it was very hard stuff.

It is certainly clear that those who fought for their country and suffered such deprivation are the appropriate recipients of our gratitude and respect for the service that they provided. Those who put their lives on the line in the national interest are worthy of a special place in the heart of our grateful nation. As I said before, there were 14,972 Australians taken prisoner at the fall of Singapore. By the end, even though some 12,000 Australians had been transferred out of Singapore to work on the Burma-Thailand railway and elsewhere, more than 2,600 of our soldiers died as a result of the privations that they had to endure.

When the Japanese were trying to control our prisoners, they tried to get Australians to sign up to no-escape agreements at the prison camp at Changi on Singapore island. Of course, all the Australians refused to capitulate to the Japanese. That led to anyone who tried to escape being summarily executed. I have spoken about the lack of decent food, I have spoken about the diseases that our soldiers were afflicted with, and I have spoken about the executions, but there were also the beatings.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): Order! The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour.