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Thursday, 21 August 2003
Page: 19256

Mrs CROSIO (9:46 AM) —I rise to speak on behalf of our brave men who showed unending courage and determination to fight a ruthless and bitter enemy so as to preserve the freedom of their country. The battle for Australia in 1942 is gaining greater prominence in the national psyche, and I argue here today that it should be paid the ultimate respect. I call on this parliament to commemorate the legendary battles of the Kokoda Trail and Milne Bay in perpetuity, as we remember each year the efforts of the original Anzacs at Gallipoli and, on 11 November, those who fell in the Great War.

The battle for Australia was fought against all odds. A rampant imperial Japanese army had annihilated the Chinese, defeated the French in Indochina and usurped the British at the so-called invincible bastion of Singapore in February 1942. Thousands of our troops were taken prisoner at the fall of Singapore, with a great percentage of them losing their lives or suffering the most horrific conditions imaginable at places like Changi and Sandakan and on the Burma railway. The fall of Singapore and the subsequent bombing of Darwin within days presented Australia with the grim reality that there was a real threat of invasion. Many of us would have read the vivid accounts of our wartime Prime Minister, John Curtin, arguing valiantly and eventually successfully with the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, and, to a lesser extent, the US President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, for the return of the 7th Division of the AIF to protect Australia. The images of Curtin walking around the grounds of the Lodge late at night, worrying that the troops might not make it back, should be forever etched in our minds.

However, nothing was more courageous than the soldiers who fought in the most inhospitable conditions against an invisible enemy, showing a tremendous will to win. What we must remember is that many of those soldiers were essentially boys and had received a minimum amount of training. General MacArthur, in a very arrogant manner, at that stage dismissed the efforts of our militia force, claiming that they were inefficient. The incredibly brave fight by the Maroubra force at Isurava on the Kokoda Trail between 26 and 30 August, and at Brigade Hill between 8 and 10 September, was crucial and delayed the Japanese advance toward Port Moresby. The battle of Milne Bay, between 25 August and 6 September 1942, saw the Japanese army suffer their first defeat. The Japanese planned to capture the airstrip at Milne Bay so that they could launch bombing missions on Port Moresby and shipping en route to Australia. The heroic efforts of Australians on the Kokoda Trail and at Milne Bay meant that the Japanese were never able to capture Port Moresby, which was critical for Japan's attempts to isolate or invade Australia.

Commemorating these battles is critical in our attempts to educate our young about where we came from and how we maintain the freedom that we enjoy today. The boys in New Guinea should be remembered forever by Australians. They saved this country. I call upon all Australians to commemorate their efforts every year, and I ask that it be on the first Wednesday of every September. If that is not possible then a definite date should be set. My RSL in Smithfield started the movement in New South Wales to respect this day. The idea is gradually moving across Australia. I thank the ministers for the actions being taken, but we need to do more. We need to commemorate these valiant young men. (Time expired)