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Monday, 3 November 2003
Page: 21715

Mr PRICE (1:13 PM) —I, too, want to rise and speak on the motion moved by the honourable member for Paterson and thank him for bringing the issue before the House. You will note that all speakers have spoken in favour of his resolution. I say generally that as a nation we have not treated Vietnam veterans well. I just remind the House that when we ask members of the armed services—whether they are in the Army, the Navy or the RAAF, and whether they are regulars, reserves or conscripts—to go, they actually do not get a choice as to whether or not they go. It is a fact that we should always value the service they render to the nation under the direction of the government of the day.

The member for Riverina raised the issue of why this was not fixed up under 13 years of Labor. I suppose it is a fair question, but it is also the case that additional information comes forward with the effluxion of time—particularly, there is additional information with records being declassified. I think it is quaint that we still have the concept that only those who are at the front line are involved in a war. Why would you put an Air Force base right at the front line? It makes quite some sense now that you should have aircraft, for example, operating and being based well away from the front line. There is no doubt that this was a front-line base. Aircraft were taking off three at a time, 24 hours a day, and the Australians and other service people at the base at Ubon had a price on their heads. The critical issue is that we can change the boundaries of what we define as the `area of operation'. There is no doubt that the United States Air Force believed that this was an `area of operation' in support of the war in Vietnam and operations in Laos, and I think Australians should do the same.

The other issue is that I want to thank Mal Brough for agreeing to see these veterans. I have no doubt that they will be well received and sympathetically heard, and all members on the Labor side have welcomed that initiative. Again, for the member for Riverina, it really does contrast with the meeting that Danna Vale had with the very same group of people.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—The member for Chifley will address members by their appropriate titles.

Mr Price —I will quote one of the participants at that meeting, who said:

The RAAF Ubon Group was meeting to provide the Minister with more irrefutable evidence about their long outstanding anomaly claim for Vietnam War recognition. The meeting took place in the office of the Member for Forde, Kay Elson MP.

She also spoke on this motion. The quote continues:

Kay too was stunned: “The Minister took objection to the fact that we pointed out untruths, bias and plain lies in recent correspondence received from the Minister and her advisers.” Mal Barnes pointed out: “She stood up, shouted and directed verbal abuse at me whilst I remained seated in a chair. She was off her tree. It left me shell-shocked! In all my years in commerce, I have never been subjected to such inexcusable arrant insulting behaviour from a person of high office, her conduct at this meeting was nothing short of preposterous and most certainly not that of a Minister—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Chifley is getting very close to flouting the standing orders here. If you want to attack a member, you should do it by a substantive motion.

Mr PRICE —These are not my words.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I still say that you are running very close to flouting the standing orders.

Mr PRICE —That is an interesting interpretation, but I will accept your ruling. All I can say in fairness to the minister is that I believe that behaviour was out of character, but I still think it was totally unacceptable. It was embarrassing to the member for Forde, Kay Elson, and I find it totally embarrassing. I want to reiterate that I have every confidence in Mal Brough. I believe that this motion has assisted in facilitating the meeting, and I thank the member for Paterson for moving it. Like all other speakers, I hope there will be a satisfactory resolution of what appears to be, on prima facie evidence, a longstanding injustice to a group of Vietnam War veterans. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.