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Thursday, 9 February 1995
Page: 914

Mr SCIACCA (Minister for Veterans' Affairs) —by leave—On 14 August 1994, at the Australian War Memorial, the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) launched Australia Remembers 1945-1995. That launch signalled the commencement of 12 months of activities designed to commemorate and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War on 15 August 1945. As a nation, we have constantly honoured those Australian men and women who have fought and died to preserve and enhance the fundamental freedoms, lifestyle and values we cherish. With the backing of the parliament, and with the full support of the Australian people, the government has, over recent years, sponsored or significantly assisted with significant commemorative events aimed at reinforcing in the minds of all Australians—but especially those younger Australians who have been fortunate enough to have no direct experience of war—the debt which is owed to ex-service men and women.

  By way of example, there was the 1990 pilgrimage to Gallipoli by a large group of First World War veterans to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the landing at Anzac Cove; the dedication in 1992 of the Australian Vietnam Forces Memorial on Anzac Parade; a pilgrimage to the Western Front in 1993 to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the end of the First World War; and, of course, the emotion charged interment of the unknown Australian soldier on Remembrance Day 1993.

  Now, in 1995, our commitment is to ensuring that the sacrifices made by Australians during the six years of the Second World War are properly recalled and recorded. As the Prime Minister said at the launch:

The focus will be on Australia and Australians. We will remember all those who lost their lives and those who lost the ones they loved. We will remember those who served at home in factories and on farms. We will also remember those who came from war torn Europe to make their lives here, and who by doing so made all our lives so much richer.

  The government's objective is to see that the Australia Remembers program reaches all parts of the country. If there was ever a single moment in Australia's history when virtually every man, woman and child—no matter whether they lived in the city, the suburbs or the bush—were united in a common voice and thought, it was at the end of the Second World War—or, perhaps better expressed, at the beginning of peace. It is important that all Australians have an opportunity to take part in this program, to unlock dormant family and community histories so that a young generation of today can understand and appreciate the contribution of a young generation of 50 years ago.

  In an effort to achieve this, the government has put in place a structure which provides for management of the program at national, state and regional levels. Much of my time and energy, and that of members of my staff, is going into Australia Remembers. I am supported in this by a task force established within the Department of Veterans' Affairs, and by a ministerial advisory committee comprising representatives of relevant departments and agencies and ex-service organisations.  State and territory committees have been established in each capital city to coordinate a program of activities throughout the year for those capitals.

  Unlike my staff, and those departmental officers engaged in this program, those chairing and working on the state committees are doing so on a voluntary basis, and are putting in an enormous amount of work. There are clearly too many individuals to thank but, with the indulgence of the House, I would like to place on record the parliament's appreciation for the work of the state chairmen: the Lord Mayor of Hobart, Alderman Doone Kennedy; Richard Fidock, in South Australia; Keith Mattingley, in Western Australia; Bob Alford, in the Northern Territory; Ian Meikle, in the ACT; Frank Conroy, in New South Wales; and Tony Beddison, chairman of the Victorian committee.

Mr Bradford —What about Queensland?

Mr SCIACCA —I am the chairman in Queensland, so there is no point in thanking myself. As members are well aware, Australia Remembers committees have been established within each of the 147 federal electorates. Members have been asked to oversee the development of activities within their electorates, and each of them has my personal thanks for the enthusiastic and sincere way in which they and their staff have approached this task. I know, too, that a great many people within members' electorates have volunteered their services to support the Australia Remembers program. Again, I could not hope to name them all, but I would ask that members pass on my thanks and appreciation, that of the government and, I am confident, that of the ex-service community in whose honour we are making these efforts.

  Expanding on my introductory comments, the aims of those working on Australia Remembers are to thank the veterans who fought in World War II; commemorate those who died; recognise the widows and children of those who died; remember all who kept the home front running; recreate the joy felt at the end of the war in the best way possible; educate the nation about World War II and leave a lasting legacy. Many of those aims are reflected, I believe, in the logo which we have designed for this year. Its centrepiece is a photograph of Private `Ray' Walsh being reunited with his wife, Varlie, and two of his children after more than 5 1/2 years' overseas service—nearly four of them as a prisoner of war in Europe. We can clearly recognise the joy evident in the reunion. We can only speculate about the harshness and difficulties of those years for both Ray and Varlie. Most of us can only guess at the gap in the lives of those two children and the other three not pictured.

  Mr Deputy Speaker, imagine the impact on each of us if we were to be told that, from tomorrow, we would not see our children, our partners or our friends until the year 2001. That experience must change people's lives. Yet, for all that, there is a fundamental optimism captured in that logo photo, a sense of better things to come.

  In support of the aims I have enunciated, the government has approved a program with the following main elements. The first is the conduct of a number of national ceremonies. Already, a major commemorative service has been held in Western Australia to recall the sinking of the HMAS Sydney—the single greatest tragedy Australia has experienced in its territories, with all 645 sailors and airmen aboard perishing. Others in prospect include services in February for Australian prisoners of war and for merchant mariners in March; to mark VE Day in May; and to commemorate and celebrate VP Day in August. The year's major commemorations, for VE and VP days, promise to be spectaculars. They will be held in Canberra and Brisbane respectively.

  I have mentioned before in this House the historical basis for the use of `VP Day', not `VJ Day'. Examples abound of the universality of the expression dating from August 1945. VP Day was the common terminology used at the time by the Australian government, the media, and in the armed forces, as well as by King George VI. VP Day was gazetted officially by the Australian government in 1945 as a prescribed holiday to celebrate victory in the Pacific War. But at the end of the day, the expression used is peripheral to the event being celebrated, and I do not intend to engage further in a debate which distracts from that anniversary.

  Under the national program of events, support has been or will be given to a diverse range of other activities. Beating Retreat at Port Arthur on 28 January received funding under the Australia Remembers program. An ex-servicewomen's reunion in Darwin in June and the `Back to the Track' convoy of historic military vehicles to Darwin in August will be supported. Financial assistance will also be given to an event to recognise the wartime role of Pacific Islander people. This will be held in Townsville in August.

  Complementing these events in Australia will be three overseas pilgrimages by veterans to significant theatres of war. In May a small group of nine veterans, ambassadors representing Australian veterans of each of the services, the merchant marine and prisoners of war will travel by commercial airliner to London for VE Day commemorations and celebrations. That pilgrimage will include stopovers in North Africa, Greece and Crete.

  In June up to 140 veterans will return to Papua New Guinea on board the Mikhail Sholokov. Travelling by ship from Sydney will enable port visits to Brisbane, Lae, Milne Bay, Oro Bay and Port Moresby. Arrangements can be made for visits to most of the major battle sites in which Australians were so desperately engaged in 1942-43.

  In July a third pilgrimage involving about 20 to 25 veterans will be mounted to Borneo. A key element of this pilgrimage will be to take part in the handover of the RSL Memorial Park at Sandakan to the Sabah Government, but the itinerary will also encompass visits to Jakarta, Balikpapan, Tarakan, Kota Kinabalu, Labuan, Brunei and Singapore.

  Members will see advertisements in the national press in the near future describing the process for veterans to apply for these pilgrimages. This may generate many queries from veteran constituents to members' offices. I will circulate information about the process, selection and itineraries of the pilgrimages directly to members to assist with responding to these queries, but should members need further information they should feel free to contact my office staff.

  A range of government departments is also contributing towards the success of the national calendar. Since the inception of the Australia Remembers program, the Department of Defence has been an enthusiastic supporter. As its other commitments allow, Defence will provide assistance with transport, music, ceremonial guards, and assets over the course of the year. I wish to place on the record my thanks to the Minister for Defence (Senator Robert Ray), the Secretary to the Department of Defence, the Chief of the Defence Force and the heads of the three armed services for their understanding and strong support.

  The Department of Primary Industries and Energy has developed a display, to be launched by the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy (Senator Collins) in late March, on the Women's Land Army. This will be exhibited at the War Memorial and will then be available to move around the country.

  Together with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, my department is looking to find surviving uniformed and non-uniformed indigenous veterans, and is looking at an appropriate commemorative ceremony to recognise the special—and often unacknowledged—role played by these people in the defence of Australia.

  The Speaker has written to me recently to advise that he and the President of the Senate will jointly fund an exhibition which reflects the life and times of the parliament during those long and difficult years. In recent discussions, it has been decided that a separate Australia Remembers display will be arranged in the marble foyer. For that co-operation, may I thank the Speaker. Might I also thank the shadow minister for veterans' affairs, the honourable member for O'Connor (Mr Tuckey), because it was his idea in the first place.

  The Department of Employment, Education and Training has come up with an extremely innovative and exciting initiative which complements the Australia Remembers program, builds on our cultural heritage program, and gives some unemployed Australians valuable work experience. Using the new work opportunities program, the government will provide a number of unemployed persons with the opportunity of assisting with the refurbishment of many of the nation's ageing war memorials, as well as creating or rejuvenating remembrance driveways and memorials.

  The Department of Communications and the Arts is compiling a CD-ROM on Australia Remembers, and the Minister for Schools, Vocational Education and Training (Mr Free) has allocated moneys through the projects of national significance program to assist with a national play writing competition. The aim is to find a play suitable for use in high schools which reflects our proud Second World War heritage while relating to the values of today's young generation. It is important that many educational legacies come out of this year. It is important that we do not forget our history. It is important that we do not forget what makes us Australian. Many other departments are assisting us and I will give them appropriate recognition as the year goes on.

  The second element is the provision of seeding funding for activities agreed by each of the state capital committees. Each of these committees has now finalised a major program of events for the coming year. In each capital, heavy emphasis will be placed on appropriate recognition of VE Day and VP Day. The activities planned are diverse, but reasonably common elements include commemorative wreath laying, ecumenical church services, street parades, victory ball re-enactments and concerts which reflect the music of the era. More information will be distributed in coming weeks by my office.

  The third element involves the provision of seeding money for use by regional Australia Remembers committees. To date, I have received bids for assistance from almost all of the 147 federal members of parliament, and I know that the remainder are on their way. As with the state committee bids, there is some commonality in the initiatives being developed, but there is also considerable individuality.

  Members have received advice recently on the process which is to be applied in approving bids for funding assistance, and the mechanism for making payments. The national Australia Remembers task force is currently evaluating all bids, and members should expect to receive advice on the outcome very soon. I am advised that on the basis of preliminary consideration few, if any, proposals would fall outside the criteria set for funding assistance.

  The fourth major element of the program relates to government support for unit reunions and unit histories. Without being unduly pessimistic, the government recognises that 1995 could be the last major opportunity for significant gatherings of those having taken part in the 1939-45 war. It also recognises the need to encourage those who took part to share their recollections.

  Understandably, this is proving to be a very popular initiative. Under agreed guidelines, unit reunions are generally supported to a maximum of $3,000, and assistance with publication of histories to a maximum of $5,000. To date, over 50 requests for contributions towards the costs of reunions have been agreed and something like another 60 are awaiting determination. Around 25 bids in respect of unit histories are presently being assessed.

  In March I expect to be releasing details about a fifth element of the program: the issue of certificates of appreciation on or around VP Day to World War II veterans and to those who served or contributed at home. My intention, subject to consultation with colleagues in this chamber, is to ask members to maintain a register of applications within their electorate offices and to issue the certificates.

  From the outset, a fundamental objective has been to raise public awareness of the events of 1939-1945 and of the significance of the 50th anniversary of the end of that war. All of the activities outlined above will play a part in raising consciousness. All of them, I hope, will be educative. But in a slightly aggressive way, as part of a sixth element of the program, we have set out to win the cooperation of the Australian media in embracing the concepts underlying Australia Remembers and in promoting human interest and educational material bearing on the anniversary.

  Not surprisingly, we are receiving this support in spades. Newspapers throughout the country are running stories under the Australia Remembers logo. There are features in the major dailies and colour pieces in the Advocate in Ayr, the Mandurah Telegraph and the Naracoorte Herald. Every day the coverage is increasing.

  The television networks are swinging strongly behind Australia Remembers. Already, hours of news footage have been devoted to functions which have taken place in far-flung parts of the land. Channel 7 and Channel 9, with cooperation from the Australian War Memorial, are producing community service announcements for screening throughout the year. Film Australia is producing for the Department of Veterans' Affairs a series of short announcements which it is hoped will get to television outlets throughout regional Australia. I am already aware that major documentaries are being developed for screening on or around VE Day and VP Day, and this is sure to be but a small component of what is in store.

  The department is also having produced a series of short radio programs which will run throughout much of this year on a significant number of commercial radio stations across the country. Stations such as Sydney's 2UE have indicated that Australia Remembers will be a major theme for them in 1995.

  The seventh and final major element of the program—not unrelated to raising public awareness—is the development of an education kit for every primary and secondary school in Australia.

  This I regard as one of the most important projects being undertaken this year. One of the major reasons that so much money and effort is being expended on this commemorative year is that today's schoolchildren know so little of the threat that Australia was under 50 years ago. This is not a criticism of them; it is not a criticism of the education system.

  How vast, how rapid, how bewildering have been the changes of the last 50 years? We learned by rote, from the blackboard, through hours poring over books. Our children now access information through computers; they learn and play through CD-ROM technology which itself is likely to be obsolete in just a few years. We might have spent Saturday afternoons absorbing movies such as The Dam Busters and Sink the Bismarck and other black and white depictions of that war. Our children have a considerably different range of tastes in the videos which they select and view in their own homes.

  Few of them have direct experience of mothers or fathers who have been involved in war. And, correctly, few of them would have grown up contemplating a threat to their future safety. The last `televised' war, the Gulf War, was a world away, in an almost `unknown' country, and the images were almost those of computer warfare with which our young are familiar and, it seems to me, sadly, comfortable.

  Yet now we are asking them to make sense of images of young Australians in khaki shorts dying in the deserts of North Africa, or the jungle of New Guinea and the islands; or in fur-lined leathers over Europe or steamy cockpits north of Darwin; or in wet weather gear in the Atlantic or tropical kit on a ship off the Philippines. What can they possibly make of rationing; of blackouts; of mothers quietly weeping; of the prospect of foreign invasion?

  That is the job which has been assigned to the Ryebuck Media Company, which has been contracted to produce kits for schools. In brief, the school kits will contain a video and a variety of printed curriculum material picking up five major themes: `All in', which provides an overview of Australia's involvement in the Second World War; `Remembering the dead', which will include casualty lists and case studies; `Voices from a war', which stresses the variety of experiences of the ordinary Australians caught up in the war; `After the war is over', which focuses on the impact of world peace and the variety of challenges faced by Australians struggling to put their lives back together; and `Remembering the living', which will provide students with strategies for investigating the personal experiences of war in their local communities.

  The kits will be launched nationally and will be in schools before VE Day. I know that members have shown considerable interest in the kits, and I urge each member in this House, in discussing Australia Remembers, to emphasise the importance of this element of the program.

  To build upon the education kit I am proposing to conduct a series of Australia Remembers youth forums throughout the country. The first round of capital city youth forums will be run in March, while the second round of regional youth forums will be held in April. This process will lead to a national Australia Remembers youth forum being held in Brisbane in August in the lead-up to VP Day.

  The forums are intended to help a young generation of today understand a young generation of 50 years ago. This process will help the youth of today appreciate the importance of the freedom which was won for them 50 years ago. It will help them realise that the torch of freedom won for them in August 1945 is now being passed to them—it is being entrusted to them to protect. But to protect something you have first to understand its essence—understand its origins—and that is at the heart of Australia Remembers.

  The symbolism of the passing of the freedom torch from one generation to another is in fact the key to the national Australia Remembers ceremony to be conducted in Brisbane on 15 August. It is being designed as a lasting moment which will be recalled by successive generations of Australians long after this commemorative year is over.

  In conclusion, I would like to state my thanks to the Australian War Memorial, which is probably one of this country's finest institutions. Its resources have been stretched to the limit as a result of this program. They have been fantastic. I ask honourable members to remember and understand that, particularly when they are out there asking for some help in capital financing.

  I thank my own department which has been stretched to the limit and, I can assure you, never realised that life under me was going to be like this. I also thank in particular the shadow minister for veterans' affairs, the honourable member for O'Connor, who gave enthusiastic and bipartisan support for this program, and restate my thanks to all members from all sides of the House and my colleagues in the Senate for the way in which they have embraced Australia Remembers with such gusto and commitment. By year's end, this parliament will be able to look back with pride on the way it has been able to mark this very important moment in Australia's short history. I present the following paper:

  Australia Remembers 1945-1995—Ministerial statement, 9 February 1995.

and move:

That the House take note of the paper.