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Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Page: 10037

Senator RONALDSON (Victoria) (13:00): The centenary of Anzac provides our nation with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to ensure that all Australians, particularly young Australians, understand the sacrifices that have been made by so many to protect the values and ideals that we as a nation must never take for granted. Delivered well, it will engage all Australians and leave a legacy for future generations, who will understand the sacrifices made by those who have served this country and the unique nature of military service. Today I present this shadow ministerial statement on the back of deep community concern about the federal Labor government's state of preparations for the centenary of Anzac.

I should point out that the coalition has offered, and continues to offer, the government full bipartisan support for the centenary of Anzac. This shadow ministerial statement is driven by a strong desire to ensure these commemorations leave a legacy that is one the nation can be proud of.

I fully support the veteran and wider community's insistence that there are both immediate and long-term outcomes for the nation from the organisation of a successful period of commemoration, along with their view that the federal government has a pivotal role to play in ensuring its success.

The release of a shadow ministerial statement of this type is unusual. However, Labor's lack of leadership, direction and perceived lack of interest in the centenary of Anzac is causing the veteran and ex-service community, the wider community and the coalition a great deal of concern.

I have called on numerous occasions for Minister Snowdon to make a ministerial statement, to date to no avail. It is my hope that this statement will force the Prime Minister and her minister to acknowledge that planning time is ticking by for communities large and small across the country wishing to commemorate the centenary of Anzac.

The Gillard Labor government's track record in this area is at risk of mirroring their general administrative incompetence in other areas. Two of the original 20 members of the Anzac Centenary Advisory Board, hand-picked by the government, have resigned, including former Labor veterans' affairs minister, Con Sciacca. Labor has also omitted a formal role for the Australian War Memorial on the board. Bizarrely, the director of our nation's principle place of commemoration, reflection and remembrance only participates in discussions as a 'guest'.

More than 1,100 community ideas for the commemorative period, submitted to the first national commission on the Anzac centenary, remain unanswered. On top of this, there is simply no guidance from Canberra for local communities in relation to funding for commemorative events. There are, for instance, no guidelines for members of parliament regarding the criteria for expenditure of the anticipated $50,000 per electorate community-based commemorative fund. Local government and a plethora of community groups around the country are looking for guidance, as are MPs on all sides of politics—guidance which, at this stage, is sadly lacking.

There is a similar silence in relation to the proposed $4.7 million Arts and Culture fund and the $3.4 million online portal and on just what the additional $14.4 million for overseas commemorations will be spent on. The government's $5.8 million grant to the Albany Anzac Centre, to ensure its construction, was insufficient, requiring a $2.2 million bailout from the WA Liberal government. The government has so far spent over $600,000 on consultants' reports asking why we commemorate the centenary of anzac, yet to date it continues to refuse to release all these reports publicly.

Further, the government has announced a $400,000 national Gallipoli 2015 dawn service ballot consultation roadshow, but Labor has not announced what they expect the process to achieve. The first of these 39 PR-driven forums was held in Sydney. The public was given just five days warning, resulting in 15 attendees, including three paid DVA staff and two paid consultants. This cost $15,700. Despite spending enormous amounts of money on consultants and an unwieldy board structure, the government is yet to allocate one dollar to a community-based commemorative event. Is it any wonder the community is concerned?

In Senate estimates it emerged that Labor proposes to establish a trust fund, presided over by four trustees who have admitted to having no fund management experience, and which will hold up to $150 million in corporate donations to fund additional unfunded and unspecified projects for the centenary of Anzac. The funds will be raised by highly-respected businessman Lindsay Fox, who will be seeking donations despite the fund not having specific deductible gift recipient status.

Instead, the government proposes to use a convoluted and, quite frankly, bizarre system using 51 existing DGR status criteria for tax deductibility of donations rather than provide DGR status to the proposed anzac fund in its own right. So well advanced were the proposals for this fund that the department had already drafted advice to the minister in late October, presumably seeking permission to formally constitute the proposed fund. This advice was despite the department's own secretary, one of the proposed funds' nominated trustees, saying:

If I could make my position quite clear, and I suspect I would speak for my three colleagues: if ultimately one of the responsibilities of the trustees is to determine the investment strategy for these funds, I would not accept the role.

If this is the secretary's view, how has this proposal become as advanced as it apparently is?

To think that this proposal was being prepared in the absence of any knowledge about the fund by the minister or his office is simply ludicrous. However, if they did not know then that of itself represents a serious case of ministerial incompetence and a gross dereliction of duty.

I turn now to arrangements at Gallipoli in 2015 and, particularly, to prebooked tours for the centenary commemoration period. There have been widespread media reports indicating that more than 5,000 Australians have already booked and paid for tours to Gallipoli in 2015. However, the department admitted that they have not asked travel providers how many places they have already sold for tours in 2015, nor have they confirmed what, if any, availability there is for accommodation on the Gallipoli peninsula during the centenary period.

While these questions and the requirement to have them addressed some time ago remains, the first formal comment from the minister was the day after the Gallipoli ballot was announced. The proverbial horse had well and truly bolted by then. Whilst on the one hand saying that Australians who prebooked tours should 'immediately' contact their tour operator to confirm any guarantee about attendance at the dawn service, the minister then said that, after the ballot, successful ticket holders 'will still need a tour operator to take them to Gallipoli in 2015'. But if tour groups and motel rooms on the peninsula are apparently already booked, how will Australians successful in securing tickets through the ballot get to Anzac Cove, and where will they stay? We know that ticketing for 2015 will not be confirmed until probably April 2014. But the beds are allegedly already booked, the tours are full and the expectation of participants set in stone. The minister's deafening silence in relation to this matter must not continue.

It is clear that leadership on the centenary of Anzac from this government and the minister is lacking. While I do not accept the view of some that Minister Snowdon appears totally disinterested, I do strongly urge him to take the ministerial ownership that is required and take control of a situation that is short on time and long on expectation. Local communities will look to local veterans to actively participate in the centenary of Anzac commemorations. But these same veterans, many of whom are leaders in their local communities, are themselves looking to the federal government to show leadership and financial support. Labor's present approach is putting this at risk.

It was former Labor veterans' affairs minister Con Sciacca who wrote the book about how to conduct a commemoration and how to leave a legacy for future generations. This makes his resignation from the Anzac Centenary Advisory Board so troubling; he is a great loss. It is not too much to say that Sciacca's Australia Remembers 1945-1995 program rekindled community engagement in the dawn service and reignited overwhelming community interest and participation in Anzac Day and Remembrance Day. It would be short-sighted to think that the only way to leave a legacy from the centenary of Anzac would be to construct a building such as the previously mooted 'peace and harmony' centre in Canberra, a project which the coalition and the veteran community strongly oppose.

The Australia Remembers legacy lives on with the men, women and children who attend dawn services across Australia every Anzac Day. It therefore makes sense that the most enduring legacy we can leave after the centenary of Anzac is a renewed understanding by current and future generations of Australians about the uniqueness of military service, the reasons we fought, where we fought and, indeed, what we fought for. It is also about understanding how a young nation was defined by the events at Anzac Cove on that cold April morning.

Con Sciacca did this in 1995 without a big board and big bureaucracy. He took a hands-on approach. He had volunteer state-based chairs and he worked closely with parliamentary colleagues of all political persuasions to deliver grassroots commemoration driven by the community. The genius of Sciacca's program was that it was funded by Canberra but very much driven locally. If we could do that in 1995, why can't we do it again between 2014 and 2018?

Journalist Patrick Carlyon was, I suspect, far too close to the truth when he wrote:

Veterans' Affairs Minister Warren Snowdon has adopted a literal approach to the Gallipoli story. He has conjured a shambles.

This government's apparent agenda for the centenary of Anzac appears to be an excessive outsourcing of decisions and responsibility to a paid board whose reported activities to date give the impression that its size is making it incapable of actually making those decisions.

The minister's refusal to make a statement to parliament outlining the government's agenda, the decisions which have been taken or the considerations, if any, which are limiting the options available to the government on the commemoration is concerning. If we are to make this commemoration a success through community engagement and if we are to leave a lasting legacy for future generations then it is incumbent upon the government to be open, honest and upfront about what we should expect.

Today I give a commitment that the coalition will take the hands-on approach necessary to ensure the success of the centenary of Anzac. We will work with local communities and local members of parliament on all sides to ensure that community-based commemoration lies at the heart of the Anzac centenary commemorative agenda. We will work to lessen the bureaucracy and make sure that red and green tape do not get in the way.

Our vision for the centenary's legacy is an unequivocal understanding of what the Anzac tradition symbolises—in the past, for the present and for the future. By 2018 we hope that all Australians not only better understand the uniqueness of military service but also the obligation we have to those who serve and have served our nation, along with their families. A nation which demands the right to be protected has the responsibility to care for those who defend it. Similarly, a nation which breaks the covenant between the nation served and those who serve it is a far poorer nation.

Society's challenge, one which we must all accept, is to ensure that today's children understand the reasons why they must fulfil this time-honoured obligation to care for ex-service people and their families. Today's school children will be carrying, for their lifetime, the responsibility to care for the men and women serving today and particularly for the children of the 39 service personnel killed in action in Afghanistan. Renewing our commitment to the covenant and to our understanding of what we fought for and the timelessness of these values is a legacy worthy of no less that our total commitment. Labor's ongoing failure to articulate this vision leaves them open to the perception that the centenary of Anzac is a lower priority than it should be. I hope this is not so—it simply must not be so.

In concluding this formal shadow ministerial statement on the centenary of Anzac, I call on Minister Snowdon to use tomorrow's final sitting day for the House of Representatives for 2012 to make a ministerial statement of his own, outlining what the government actually proposes for the centenary of Anzac and how it will engage local communities in this, our most significant period of national commemoration.