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Speech by Senator Stanley Collard, Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs, to the RSL's Seventieth National Congress

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P.O. BOX 922 ROCKHAMPTON, QLD. 4700 TELEPHONE (079) 27 2366


Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is indeed an honour for a person still wending his way through the labyrinth of Veterans' entitlements to addres§ this gathering of people.

But for you and the single minded purpose and determination you showed in time of war, it would not be possible, because democracy as we practice it would not exist.

As representatives of those who started the tradition of the Australian fighting spirit at Gallipoli and to those who upheld it at Long Tan, Australians of all generations owe you an enormous debt of gratitude.

While it is now ten years since the conclusion of the Vietnam War and while it is the desire of us all that Australians are never again committed in armed conflict, we must acknowledge that we now have a generation who believe that peace just happens. They aren't aware that a high price has been paid

and to maintain that peace requires a continual and high cost and it also means that we keep our international friendships in good repair. I will come back to that subject later.

There are at present, several topical and somewhat contraversial matters affecting Australian's veteran community. While I do not believe that the RSL National Conference is the right place , to be acting out the animosity which exist between our political

: parties, I believe that these issues deserve some comment.

My comments are based on a genuine belief in the values which all of you fought to protect and which I am now fighting for in a different manner.

The major talking point at this conference, whether in public or in private, will be the upcoming Veterans' Entitlements Bill (VEB).

I will not dwell on the intricate details of this Bill, nor will I remonstrate with those who are opposing this Bill with little regard to fact, but out of opposition to all change as a matter of course.


As a conservative thinker, I can fully understand the reluctance to change. In fact, my whole philosophy is built around the fact that people are unhappy about any sudden change to that with which they have lived all their lives.

It is also unfortunate that in the case of the VEB, those most affected could be described as nearing their twilight years.

The Flanders veteran and the widow of the Kokoda hero were understandably concerned that there was going to be major and dramatic changes to their entitlements. Under those circumstances, it is small wonder that rumour and innuendo were


If the Minister and his department deserve censure, then it would be over the manner in which they handled these changes. Despite promises to the contrary, the Minister announced these changes as a fait accompli. I am of the opinion that

the Minister should have kept his promise on consultations when these changes were first mooted. . '

After much drama and bitterness these consultations have finally taken place, and I understand that they have met with some success.

There is an old saying that "you can only reason with reasonable men". I think that if the Minister had tried, he would have found the people in this room are certainly reasonable.

The rationale behind these changes to Veterans1 entitlements is to save money. This is a laudable aim seldom practised by any government, let alone one noted for its largesse with the public purse.

As a supporter of the private enterprise system, I would have to agree with proposals to reduce total Government spending from the alarming forty four (44%) percent of Gross Domestic Product that it now is. ■

The point of contention is of course where these cutbacks should occur and the priority in which this should be done.

In the May mini-Budget, it was the veterans and farmers who bore the real brunt in government cutbacks. It was just too bad if you happened to be a farmer as well as a veteran,* all of the other cuts were either cosmetic prunings of forward estimates or deferment of programs to future years.

I am one of those oldfashioned people who believe in obligations as well as rights. While the trendy Left in Australia wax lyrical about the right to Government handouts and the right to taxpayers1 money, I think that our obligations to the nation should take

precedence. Most Australians would agree with me, I'm sure, that there are many less deserving people on our welfare payroll than veterans. If we are to take our obligations seriously, then veterans should be the last to feel any austerity measures,

not the first.


One would have to have a warped sense of obligation indeed to sa that dole for strikers' wives, or the ever increasing benefit for supporting mothers, or the ever growing army of public servants, were a more deserving cause than our veterans.

While on the subject of obligations, it would be remiss of me not to make some comment on the Agent Orange Report recently tabled in the Federal Parliament. In this case, I think that the media and those with a vested interest in the litigation

field, failed in their obligations by sensationalising misleading statements about the effects of herbicide spraying in Vietnam.

Such statement led Vietnam veterans to believe that they would suffer all sorts of horrendous side-effects from their service, such as their children would -suffer birth defects and they themselves would contract cancer.

Justice Evatt's Report dispels all of this.

Vietnam veterans could be forgiven for believing, as a result of the misleading statements, that vast amounts of money would be forthcoming and provide a miraculous cure for all of their very real problems.

As the Report stated, there was little exposure to herbicides, and in the main, these, as any farmer would tell you, were harmless.

As the Shadow Minister for all veterans, I will not promise the Vietnam veterans anything but a sincere commitment on behalf of the next Government to do all that is within our power to alleviate their problems, and if the present repatriation system

isn't flexible enough to handle the various situations, then we must look to changing the system.

I acknowledge the fine work done by the Vietnam Veterans' Counselling Service, and I believe that it should be expanded to the extent necessary to overcome the psychological problems of veterans. The four million dollars spent on this

report, which has only duplicated the previous findings of a Senate Standing Committee Report, and a mortality study, could have gone a long way to providing a better counselling service.

t Ladies and gentlemen, you would be familiar with the following: "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance". These sentiments have been expressed in other ways: - "Talk softly but carry a big stick", or "Put your trust in God, my boys, but keep the powder dry".

All of these sayings have the same moral: if we want to preserve our way of life, our independence, our national sovreignty, then we must be prepared to fight for it.


We, of course, all hope that it will never be necessary. But nevertheless we should be prepared. We should be prepared not only as individuals but also as a nation.

The men and women of 1914 and 1939 were prepared as individuals to defend their country, but it would be manifestly untrue to say that their country was prepared to defend them.

On both occasions we were totally unprepared as a nation to go to war.

This should never be allowed to happen again.

Anyone with a sense of deja vu would see the present peace movements and their campaigns as a rerun of the great "Comintern" inspired campaigns of the post WWI era.

Then nations wearied and sickened by four years of war were seduced by the "Peace at any price" mentality, and much unilateral disarmament took place. The year of 1939 quickly lifted the scales from many eyes. It could well be said that

the countries of Eastern Europe are still paying for that short-sightedness. Others, such as Australia, were saved from the precipice by good luck, geography and the heroic sacrifices of the Allied peoples.

This should never be allowed to happen again.

If we in the West, and particularly in Australia, unilaterally neglect our military, economic and moral well-being, then some other power will ultimately fill the resultant gap.

Strength and might will always move to fill any void that may occur.

The reasoning behind the neglect of our armed forces is that there is no forseeable physical threat to the Australian continent. What is not realised is that this neglect could in itself promote a threat which did not previously exist.

We all want peace. It is difficult to impune the motives of people like Senator Vallentine, Peter Garrett or Jean Meltzer. They are all sincere in their beliefs. However, that sincerity does not make them right. Their good intentions will provide little protection against the bad intentions of


Although I have never been called upon to serve my country as you have done, I can fully understand that you find it unpleasant to see that your sacrifices may have been in vain. I can understand your anger as you watch the rundown of our

armed forces.


I can understand your anger when you see the prostitution of our democratic institutions by rabble in the street, who are determined to set the political agenda, in spite of our wishes.

But, most of all, I can understand your anger when you see that government is increasingly unable, or more correctly unwilling, to provide leadership and take the hard decisions which confront this nation.

Finally, it is up to you and me.

There's another fight that must be won. We must confront the problems head-on, and not bury our heads in some ideological Utopia.

Australians must realise that they are living in a fool's paradise if they persist in their attitude of "She'll be »

rght mate!".

If we desire to live in peace, then we must be prepared to pay the cost, even if it is high in the terms of priorities. In this battle, the RSL is in a unique position to act as a catalyst for change, and I call on each and every one of you to convince your fellow Australians that only through strength can we ensure peace.

The other day I was dismayed to hear that a recent poll states that over 80% of our children expected a nuclear war would occur in their lifetime.

What is even more frightening is this attitude is being instilled in our children through the education system, media sensationalism and cheap politics, with no counter arguments.

It is this very awareness, although forty years old and still not dulled, that prevents a nuclear war from taking place. There would certainly be no real winners.

However, if weakness is shown by Western civilisations, the results will be predictable.

If we allow our political stage to be dominated by the "Peace at any price" faction, who believe that salvation lies in complete isolation, then our younger generations will continue to be morally paralysed.

It is not only up to you and me and my colleagues, but the RSL as a group who have paid dearly for the "Peace at any price" mentality has a very important role to play - a different role from that in the past. The RSL can provide the vital link in

an educative process, to convince our youth of the need for vigilance and preparedness in peacetime.

So I see the RSL as now having a dual role: to protect the interests of veterans and also to act as a bulwark against the complacency which is like a creeping paralysis affecting all of our social institutions.