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Monday, 3 November 2003
Page: 21711

Mrs ELSON (12:57 PM) —I am pleased to rise today in support of the private member's motion by Mr Bob Baldwin, member for Paterson, to ask the government to fully investigate all new evidence to support the issue of the VLS Medal to the Royal Australian Air Force—RAAF—personnel who served in Ubon in Thailand during the Vietnam War. I thank the member for Paterson for moving this motion to recognise their contribution.

I would also like to acknowledge Mr Mal Barnes, who lives in my electorate, for his dedication and persistence to ensuring that the personnel receive their correct recognition, based on new evidence. Mal has stated that, with the new evidence provided, he will not let this matter rest until they receive their fair hearing based on this new evidence. I have no doubt in my mind that Mal will keep his word to continue fighting for a fair hearing.

I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the Royal Australian Air Force personnel who served in Ubon. The Royal Australian Air Force deployed personnel to Ubon from 1965 to 1968 after receiving a request from US President Johnson for Australian assistance and support in the lead-up to the Vietnam War. In response to the President's request, the joint planning committee, in conjunction with the joint intelligence committee, reported to the government on the Australian Defence Force and the possible Australian contribution to phase 2 operations in the Vietnam War. Both the defence committee and the chiefs of staff committee then endorsed the report. However, the RAAF Ubon Reunion Recognition Group have advised me that there were three contribution aspects of the Australian Defence Force service mentioned in this report: firstly, the Army and sending a battalion; secondly the Navy and the use of HMAS Sydney and escort vessels; and thirdly the Air Force.

The report stated:

The scale of air effort currently suggested indicates that this is well within the capacity of the United States air forces and naval air units in the area. The possible use of Sabres at Ubon has been raised and with a small increase in manpower they could be employed in the `air defence role' at a high state of alert.

The report also went on to say that if the squadron were not required in the air defence role it then could participate in operations, including ground attack over the whole area of Laos and North Vietnam, as envisaged in the United States proposals.

This RAAF `direct support' contribution, which was conceived in exactly the same instrument that authorised other Australian Defence Force contributions to the war effort, for military purposes is a `Vietnam War contribution', even if it was undertaken in Ubon in Thailand and not in Vietnam. Although the RAAF were not in Vietnam and were based in Ubon, they state they still provided air and ground defence at the Royal Thai Air Force Base as well as protecting all assets and installations of the United States Air Force whilst the United States Air Force 8th Tactical Fighter Wing undertook combat operations in North Vietnam and Laos. The Ubon personnel stated that they were on standby, should it be necessary to apply increased pressure on North Vietnam by way of air attack. They were advised by the US that it would be helpful to have Australian aircraft either participating in these attacks or on standby to protect Thailand, Laos and South Vietnam against counterattacks.

On several occasions the United States Air Force requested the `use' of RAAF Sabres in Laos for various operations. Trials of long-range fuel tanks and the fitting of United States Air Force bombs were undertaken at Ubon. The United States Air Force were given command control of the Ubon contingent and they were the ones who released them from alert status. The reunion group claim that the Alert 5 air defence role continued from 25 June 1965 until their withdrawal in 1968 and they performed exactly the same role as the RAAF's F18 fighters. That role was the protection of coalition forces assets whilst they engaged the enemy.

It is interesting to note that the HMAS Sydney veterans who were also deployed under the same instructions as the RAAF Ubon personnel were acknowledged and given the Vietnam Logistic and Support Medal and received royal assent on 24th February 1993. The RAAF Ubon veterans have advised me that had they known about the JPC report 110/1964, the report that was instrumental in HMAS Sydney veterans receiving their medals, and the report that authorised Ubon's role conjointly with HMAS Sydney's role, they would have `joined the fight' back in 1991 and would have had this anomaly rectified. Unfortunately, the Ubon veterans only recovered the JPC report in 2002. The RAAF Ubon Reunion Recognition Group have spent many years investigating their case and pleading it to the Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence and they have provided all evidence to support their claim. I am pleased to acknowledge Minister Brough's indication that he is willing to organise a roundtable discussion. (Time expired)