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Address ... Australia Remembers merchant mariners: National Merchant Navy War Memorial



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AUSTRALIA REMEMBERS MERCHANT MARINERS NATIONAL MERCHANT NAVY WAR MEMORIAL

SUNDAY 12 MARCH

ADDRESS BY THE HON CON SCIACCA MP MINISTER FOR VETERANS' AFFAIRS

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Merchant mariners, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I am extremely pleased to be with you today and to have the

opportunity to address you on the theme of Australia

Remembers. Today's is only the second major national

commemorative activity to be held this year under the banner of

Australia Remembers. It is a commemoration which for me has

considerable significance.

The Australia Remembers program was launched by the Prime

Minister on 14 August 1994. At that launch, some clear

objectives were enunciated. In the twelve months leading up to

VP Day, 15 August, 1995, we would seek to thank the veterans*

who fought in the Second World War; to recognise the widows

and children of those who died; to remember all who kept the

home front running; to recreate the joy at the end of the War in

1945; and to educate the nation about the Second World War.

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In the process, we would seek to ensure that every Australian -

in cities, in towns and in the bush - would have a chance to

participate.

Clearly, to achieve these goals we needed to raise public

awareness very quickly. To capture community interest and to

focus the minds of the community on these objectives we

sought an image which would, over the course of the year, be

recognised far and wide as the symbol of Australia Remembers

1945-1995. This, I believe, we have achieved through the

Australia Remembers logo which appears on the cover of your

Order of Service.

The photograph included in the logo is of a returning soldier

embracing his wife while two of his children look on with great

joy. The soldier represents veterans, the wife reflects those who

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stayed at home, and the children are indicative of the youth of

Australia who were to become the Australians of the future -

those who would benefit from the sacrifices of veterans and the

efforts of those who stayed at home.

Public awareness is being raised. As you will no doubt have

seen, no matter which part of the Country you come from, the

media is putting out substantial amounts of material on events

of the Second World War, on the different Services, and on the

different experiences of individuals. This will continue to grow

throughout the year as National, State and local community > _

activities flourish. Already, I am aware of around three

thousand activities scheduled to take place across the country

between now and VP Day in August.

There is no doubt that through this year, and beyond, Australia

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will remember the sacrifices made by those such as you. Most

importantly, those young Australians who have been spared any

direct exposure to war will be encouraged to learn of the events

of fifty years ago and to reflect on the legacy which you have

given them.

I cannot over-emphasise the importance which I and others in

government and in the ex-service community at large place on

the educative elements of the Ausfralia Remembers program.

Engaging a firm to produce a kit for every school in Australia

was the very first major activity taken after the launch of the

program. I think the Prime Minister's words at the launch give

some clue to the significance of educating the young. He said

"The generation we will commemorate and thank [this

year] was a heroic one. They fought a war in defence of the

country they loved, and they bequeathed to their children

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the opportunities which they had been denied. They were

nation builders. Our freedom was their legacy: the robust

democracy we enjoy, the security, the marvellous continent

which is ours, the unequalled personal freedoms. But they

left us more than that. They passed on a tradition and a

faith for us to live by. By their example they taught us

about the ties that bind us and our common cause. And by

the same example they compel us now, not just to

remember them, but to pass on the lesson to our children."

To pass on the lesson to our children. No matter what else

transpires this year, no matter how elaborate the

commemorative activities or how exciting the pageantry, we

will have failed if we do not pass on the lesson.

Ladies and gentlemen, today we are asking the community to

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remember the deeds and sacrifices of the men - and women - of

the merchant marine.

I said in my opening remarks that this ceremony had

considerable significance for me. That is true. When in years

to come I think back on my term as Minister for Veterans'

Affairs a highlight will most certainly be the fact that early on I

had the opportunity to introduce the legislative amendments

which finally - finally - gave Australian merchant mariners of

the Second World War the same rights and benefits as those

available to veterans under the Veterans' Entitlements Act. _

I don't for one minute wish to claim the credit for the

achievement. As was acknowledged in debate in the Parliament

on the measure, a number of people worked hard to right the

wrongs done to merchant mariners over many years: people like

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former Ministers Humphreys and Faulkner; long-time

campaigners for mariners like my parliamentary colleague, the

Member for Shortland, Peter Morris; and others amongst your

ranks like Bob Nelson. I say only that bringing mariners under

the YEA was a landmark decision and I take some satisfaction

from the fact that it happened while I was Minister.

At the end of the day, however, what won that particular battle

in the Parliament was the inescapable conclusion that, taking

into account conditions of service and the loss of life, the range

of experiences of Australian merchant mariners was comparable

with the experience of veterans of Australian defence forces.

Having reached that conclusion no other option was open to

legislators than to put Australian mariners of the Second World

War on an equal footing with veterans of the Australian defence

forces.

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The passage of years getting to that point was no doubt

enormously frustrating for those of you here, and for your

colleagues throughout the country. Thank goodness that in the

year marking the 50th anniversary of War's end we have put to

rest a long-standing injustice.

Ladies and gentlemen, over the years, hours of parliamentary

debate have highlighted the dangers faced by merchant

mariners, the loss of life in the most harrowing of

- circumstances, and the difficulties faced post-war. I invite

those representatives of the media and general public present

today to stop and consider the raw statistical data provided in

the Austi'alia Remembers merchant mariner kits. Think about

the number of ships sunk or damaged. Think about the number

who died or who were maimed.

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And having digested those facts, then at least try to imagine the

real people and human emotions involved. The fears these men

and women held as they hauled their precious cargoes through

the night. For some, the awful moment of the torpedo hitting

followed by hours in the ocean not knowing if they would live

or die...think about it.

My colleague, Peter Morris, in speaking to the Veterans' Affairs

Legislation Amendment Bill 1994 (the mariners Bill) picked up

the statistical and human sides of the argument for bringing

mariners under the VEA when he said, very succinctly: ^

"In the war at sea, merchant ships were often much more at

risk than naval ships. Merchant ships were slower,

ineffectively armed (if armed at all) and singled out for

attack by the enemy. They were easy targets, as w^ere their

crews. I say what I have said in this chamber before, that in

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war, in uniform or out of uniform, all mariners are mortal.

They suffer the same, they bleed the same, they die the

same, and those that survive age the same."

Ladies and gentlemen, I have committed myself to ensuring that

Australia Remembers, and today's ceremony is but the first of

many opportunities to recall the effort, the sacrifice, the

suffering of the men and women of the merchant marine.

• Thank you.