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Thursday, 16 May 2013
Page: 3545

Mr ROBERT (Fadden) (16:50): I rise to respond to the ministerial statement today on behalf of the shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs and shadow minister assisting the Leader of the Opposition on the Centenary of Anzac, Senator the Hon. Michael Ronaldson. It has been more than 18 months since the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Centenary of Anzac gave this chamber and the Australian people an update on the Centenary of Anzac. It is a fact, indeed a regrettable one, that the community has been preparing for the Centenary of Anzac in a vacuum, a vacuum devoid of ministerial leadership. So bad has been the government's stewardship of the Centenary of Anzac that Senator Ronaldson was forced to deliver a shadow ministerial statement calling for the government to take action and show leadership. That was in November last year.

At that time, Senator Ronaldson said this in relation to Minister Snowdon's silence on the Centenary of Anzac and the lack of leadership being shown:

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, if we are to leave a lasting legacy for future generations, then it is incumbent upon this Government to be open, honest and upfront about what we should expect.

Now, seven months on, the government has chosen to respond to Senator Ronaldson's shadow ministerial statement. Not a moment too soon, Minister—but why so long?

The minister is right when he says the coalition from day one has offered bipartisan support for the Centenary of Anzac; however he also knows that this not a blank cheque. He knows that the government has been stretching this goodwill. Our goodwill, and that of the community, is being sorely tested by this government and their approach to the centenary.

In Australia, 25 April is a day for solemn reflection, remembrance and commemoration. It is not about celebration, but of commemoration for the service and sacrifice of those who have come before us and given their lives in defence of our freedoms and way of life. 25 April 2015 will perhaps be this nation's most important day of national commemoration. It will mark the 100th anniversary of the arrival of thousands of brave young men from Australia and New Zealand on a foreign beach as part of the so-called 'war to end all wars'.

Conceived as a swift battle to overcome the Turks and seize the Dardanelles for the Allies, the ensuing eight-month campaign took more than 8,000 Australian lives and many more were wounded. Many of those who survived Gallipoli then went to fight on the Western Front, where three-quarters of our World War I dead remain today. This bloody conflict, which cost in excess of 60,000 lives, scarred a nation for a generation. Not one community in this nation was left unaffected. Families were left without sons and brothers, wives left without husbands. Children were left without fathers, and those who did return did so as changed men.

These men and their families built what is today regarded as the world's best repatriation system. As a nation we vowed to honour the service and sacrifice of our veterans and we vowed to never forget their service. The Centenary of Anzac gives this nation an important opportunity to ensure the legacy of Anzac continues. It will be about ensuring future generations understand what we fought for, where we fought and why we fought for it. It will be about rededicating ourselves to not repeat the mistakes of the past, such as the shameful way our Vietnam veterans were treated on their return from service in our nation's name. It is about honouring, it is about ensuring we uphold the unique nature of military service and honouring the obligations this nation has to those who served.

Labor's chaos and general division and dysfunction have, regrettably, extended to the Centenary of Anzac. Despite repeated calls from the community and the coalition to show leadership on the Centenary of Anzac, Labor has been found wanting and the community has been left in limbo because of their silence. Last November, Senator Ronaldson stated in the Senate:

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 to take control of a situation that is short on time and long on expectation.

Today's ministerial statement does not achieve this in and of itself. It requires ongoing engagement on the issues facing the community to ensure the Centenary of Anzac is the success it must be.

The minister says that the government announced its ballot arrangements in September last year. This is despite newspapers reporting the details as early as June. They then spent close to $400,000 on so-called 'consultation' about how the ballot would operate. This was on top of $600,000 in other consultant fees into things such as the Centenary of Anzac logo and community perceptions of Anzac Day and 'why' we commemorate it! The veteran and ex-service community remains particularly angry at the government's spend on consultants for the Centenary of Anzac. They are also angry that the so-called ballot consultation 'road-show' was such an expensive exercise in spin which delivered little by way of substance. Regrettably, this has been this government's hallmark.

As Senator Ronaldson noted in his shadow ministerial statement last year, one forum in Sydney cost in excess of $15,000 and there were just 15 attendees including three DVA staff and two paid consultants. At more than half of the forums, which were held at the odd time of 6pm, fewer than 10 people were in attendance. One forum had one attendee, another just one couple. That there would be a ballot was a foregone conclusion. It begs the question: just what did this all achieve?

After announcing a cap of 10,500 people for the dawn service on 25 April 2015, the minister sat on a consultant's report confirming this figure for nearly two years. The coalition has been forced to seek this document through freedom of information. In the absence of this report, the coalition and the community have only been able to take on face value the figures quoted by the government and their reasons for limiting capacity to this number. It does beg the question: why did the government not release this report earlier—what were they seeking to hide? In due course the community will come to understand why the government did not release this report earlier and why it was delivered under the cover of darkness to Senator Ronaldson at 8:10pm last Tuesday, budget night, arguably, the busiest night in the nation's capital and certainly in Parliament House.

The adoption of the Local Grants Program model from the highly successful Australia Remembers program pioneered by former Labor veterans' affairs minister, Con Sciacca, is welcomed. That it took so long for Labor to confirm this and the guidelines which govern it, is of course a concern, but hardly surprising given their track record. The Australia Remembers program was hugely successful because it was driven from the ground up. It engaged local communities in the process of commemoration. This Anzac Centenary Local Grants Program will operate over the next financial year and will provide $100,000 per electorate. To assist members in allocating funds, committees will be established in each electorate to assist with decisions about projects to be supported. These grants are not just for the veteran and ex-service community. Schools, service organisations, church groups and others who wish to commemorate the Centenary of Anzac can apply for funds against the established funding criteria.

The government's announcement of seed funding of $10 million for an interactive travelling exhibition to ensure commemoration is national is welcome. We note that the project will require the financial support of the private sector and that Lindsay Fox is very generously giving his time to seek high-level corporate fundraising support for the centenary. There will, of course, be many calls for funds for projects associated with the centenary and the government has indicated that the first priority is this travelling exhibition. We know that there is a long list of projects seeking funding, a list which the government has not yet released publicly. Whilst the exact details of the proposed travelling exhibition have not been released, we do understand that two 12-metre-long interactive panels transported on the back of trucks will move around Australia to assist with education and understanding of the Centenary of Anzac and the stories associated with it.

The shadow minister assisting the Leader of the Opposition on the Centenary of Anzac, Senator Ronaldson, has outlined that, if elected to government, the coalition will take a much-needed hands-on approach to the management of the Centenary of Anzac. We will be upfront with the Australian people and ensure that all Australians, no matter where they live, will be able to participate in the Centenary of Anzac in their own way.

In the four months remaining until the election, we call on the government to finally show leadership on the Centenary of Anzac. We urge the minister to do as Labor minister Con Sciacca did and personally drive the Centenary of Anzac program. In finalising my comments on behalf of Senator Ronaldson, can I again confirm the coalition's full, bipartisan support for the Centenary of Anzac program.