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Wednesday, 21 April 1999
Page: 4009


Senator ABETZ (1:46 PM) —As we as a nation and as a parliament debate the taxation reform package, the need for fiscal responsibility, industrial reform and other important issues, it is important to take time out to reflect on why we enjoy such unparalleled freedom and wealth. And if we undertake such reflection, our thoughts, of necessity, must go to the preparedness to sacrifice and, indeed, to the actual sacrifices made by hundreds of thousands of Australian service men and women throughout the generations. That willingness to sacrifice and to make oneself available for the defence of one's nation lives on, as was shown so tragically in Malaysia in recent days with the death of two of Australia's finest. As we mourn two of Australia's finest and their families mourn a husband and father, those of us who seek to be of service through public life are confronted with the totality of the commitment made by so many of our service men and women. Our nation's freedoms and wealth have been built on the foundation of sacrifice made by our service personnel.

This weekend, Sunday in particular, is Anzac Day, that day of the year we set aside to commemorate the lives of those who were willing to serve their country for the betterment of future generations. The Anzac legend of dedication and commitment, of never giving up against all the odds, is a proud Australian tradition. In an era when certain commentators feel compelled to peddle a distorted black armband version of Australian history, there is a need to remind Australians of our proud history. The story of Simpson and his donkey is a story of selfless sacrifice, a story of single-minded commitment to mates, which ultimately ended in Simpson's own demise at Gallipoli.

There is the story of the Rats of Tobruk who repelled the invasion forces, and that of the gallant men who ran the so-called `spud run' to keep the food supplies up to those holding out against the enemy.

The story of the selfless sacrifice of Ted Sheean, a fellow Tasmanian who will have one of the Collins class submarines named after him, is another. Sheean was no admiral. He was no high ranking officer. He was simply an ordinary seaman. The fact that the feats of such a person will so appropriately be commemorated is one of the distinguishing features of our Australian ethos and of our society. In his commitment to his mates and country, he was a role model for all of us. Sheean was assigned to the corvette HMAS Armidale as a seaman. On 1 December 1942 she was attacked off Timor. The Sun-Herald of three days ago quoted F.B. Walker, author of HMAS Armidale—The Ship That Had To Die. Allow me to quote from that article. It said:

"Ted Sheean, just 27 days short of his 19th birthday, could see his shipmates were being ripped to bits.

His ship was being attacked by Japanese warplanes.

He was himself unwounded and could have scrambled to some sort of shelter. He could have dived overboard and trusted to luck by duck-diving to escape the bullets.

"He did none of those things. Instead he scrambled back to the Oerlikon gun abaft the bridge, a distance of some 10 difficult and hazardous metres, thrust his shoulders into the semi-circular grips at the rear of the gun and strapped himself in.

"The ship was sinking fast. It was only three minutes since the first torpedo struck until she vanished. The moment Sheean fastened that strap he must have known he would go down with the ship.

"He poured stream after stream of 20mm shells at the strafing Japanese fighters and sent one cartwheeling into the sea. A Zero flashed in, its guns blazing, and slashed Sheean's chest and back wide open.

"With blood pouring from his wounds Sheean kept fighting, forcing some of the Japanese planes to sheer away. The ship was now sinking fast and the water was lapping Sheean's feet but still he kept firing.

"The men in the water gasped in amazement as they saw the bloodstained, desperate youngster wheel his gun from target to target, his powerless legs dragging on the deck.

"Then came the most incredible sight of all. The ship plunged down and the sea rose up past Sheean's waist to his shattered chest. Still he kept firing. As the gun was dragged into the sea its barrel kept recoiling and shots kept pouring from it.

"Even when there was nothing left of the ship above water, tracer bullets from Sheean's gun kept shooting from under the water in forlorn, bizarre arcs."

It was, said author Walker, an act of sublime, selfless heroism.

"It was not the result of years of training and discipline—Sheean had been in the Navy only a few short months," Walker said. "He was not acting on orders. It was his decision and his alone. It was not a question of duty—the order to abandon ship had been given and he was free to try to save his own life.

"He chose to try to save the lives of shipmates and to inflict as much damage on the enemy as he could. It was valour above and beyond the call of duty."

It is that selfless sacrifice that we commemorate on Anzac Day. It is not, as some detractors would argue, a glorification of war. It is a genuine commemoration of thankfulness by this nation for those who have sacrificed themselves for our future benefit. I ask all my fellow Australians to celebrate Anzac Day by attending a service in their community to honour those who fought to make this great nation what she is today.

Sitting suspended from 1.53 p.m. to 2.00 p.m.