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Monday, 14 August 2006
Page: 60

Mr CREAN (4:08 PM) —I move:

That this House:

(1)   notes that:

(a)   the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea is a place of great historical significance to Australia as the site of one of the great battles in the greater Battle for Australia in the Second World War where many young Australians fought and died in the defence of their country against foreign invasion;

(b)   there are serious concerns that mining activities along the Track will damage and deface the landscape and deter visitors wishing to pay their respects to those who fought and died, supported by loyal Papuans and New Guineans; and

(2)   calls on the Australian Government and the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs to:

(a)   work with the Government of Papua New Guinea to protect the natural environment and the historical integrity of the Kokoda Track;

(b)   ensure the safety and enhance the significance of the Track for visitors and walkers by improving the amenities and interpretive materials, and protecting the memorials along the Track; and

(c)   report back to this House within 12 months on progress in implementing these actions.

The Kokoda Track symbolises the battle for Australia in World War II. It must be protected. Nineteen forty-two was our finest hour: Australians stopped the Japanese advance at Milne Bay and Imita Ridge and pushed them back along the Kokoda Track. Here Australians fought and died for the first time not as allies in defence of another nation but for us, for Australia.

It was the Australians who inflicted the first defeat on land of the previously invincible Japanese army. On a previous occasion I called on the Australian government to recognise the ‘Battle for Australia Day’. I repeat that call. This would be a day on which we recognised the participants in major battles of that year. It would not be an alternative to Anzac Day or a public holiday; it would be a day when we and our schoolchildren discussed that part of our history.

Today’s motion, however, is more specific. It is to protect the Kokoda Track. I recently walked that 96 kilometre track. Other members of this parliament have also walked it, including the member for Griffith, who will speak later, as well as the speaker following me. Many Australians do walk it. I walked it with a group of friends, in part as a personal challenge but, importantly, to pay homage and to reflect on the heroism and sacrifice of those brave young Australians who were ill equipped and undertrained, fighting against the odds. It is a very hard walk. One can only imagine how hard it must have been for the men of the 39th, the 2nd/14th, the 2nd/16th and the 2nd/27th battalions. They were massively outnumbered by better trained opponents. They were fired on by snipers and artillery in thick jungle canopy, over precipitous drops, by fast flowing rivers and in constant mud and rain. They were diggers in desert fatigues fighting an army trained in jungle warfare.

Many personal stories of heroism and sacrifice occurred on the Kokoda Track. The diggers walked the track the hard way—during the war. One such person whom I have met on a couple of occasions visiting this place died only two weeks ago. He was 96. His name was Maurie Taafe. He served in the Middle East, riding his motorbike along the murder mile in Syria through sniper fire. He was one of the diggers recalled to Australia when Prime Minister Curtin forged our independence from Britain, overruling Churchill and ordering our men back to defend Australia. He served in all the battles up the track. He was wounded, but as he used to tell his family he was one of the lucky ones—he came out. Others did not, like Bruce Kingsbury VC, whose heroism turned the battle of Isurava, and Butch Bissett, who died in his brother’s arms near the Surgeon’s Rock. To visit these sites is emotional. To reflect at them with friends is moving. Their stories are like so many others of great courage and selfless sacrifice for this country. They are reflected in the words inscribed on the columns at Isurava: courage, endurance, mateship, sacrifice.

There is a threat to the Kokoda Track from mining. This motion calls on our government to work with the government of Papua New Guinea to protect the track, to improve its safety and to enhance its significance. We must avoid the kind of destruction and bungled construction that has occurred at Gallipoli. It is interesting that, since putting this motion on the Notice Paper last Tuesday, I received a briefing from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on Thursday, the same day that the first interdepartmental committee was convened on this issue, and last Friday, the Minister for Foreign Affairs wrote to the PNG government, expressing concern and seeking information. On Friday as well, Frontier Resources put out a positive press release and they said that their work will not have an impact on the Kokoda Track. I welcome that assurance, but I have written to them seeking a meeting. We must save that which helped save us. The sacrifice demands nothing less. I commend the motion to the House. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Wilkie)—Is the motion seconded?

Mr Beazley —I second the motion.