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Thursday, 13 August 2009
Page: 7831

Mr TURNBULL (Leader of the Opposition) (2:04 PM) —Mr Speaker, on indulgence: On behalf of the opposition, we join the Prime Minister in offering our condolences to the families of those two airmen whose remains have now, at long last, been returned to Australia.

We call it ‘missing in action’, but this term—this euphemism—never captures the distress and agony suffered over many years—often decades—by families of Australian servicemen lost in war. Of the 60,000 Australians who died in the First World War, more than one-third were recorded as missing. Almost half the Australians who died at Gallipoli have no known grave. As the Australian War Memorial records:

Many bereaved families were haunted for a generation by the memories of sons, brothers, fathers and husbands who had disappeared without trace.

A fortnight ago, mercifully, the anguish for families of the last two missing veterans of the Vietnam War ended when a search team found the remains of Flying Officer Michael Herbert and Pilot Officer Robert Carver.

On 3 November 1970, the Canberra bomber of these two young Australian airmen went missing over the Vietnamese province of Quang Nam near the Laos border. Pilot Officer Carver was 24. He was from Toowoomba and he had served for only eight weeks in Vietnam. Flying Officer Herbert, also 24, was from Glenelg. He had qualified as a pilot at the age of 16 and had only two months to go to finish his tour.

For the parents of those two men lost, those years of not knowing the fate of their sons were deeply traumatic. Mr Sydney Carver had his son’s name placed on the Toowoomba war memorial and looked at that inscription hoping that one day he would know of his son’s fate. Mrs Joan Herbert continued to dream that her son, Michael, had survived. Over the subsequent decade she wrote more than 600 letters to Vietnamese and other political leaders inquiring about his fate. They could not rest until the truth was known, and finally the mystery and the torment is over.

We join the Prime Minister in praising all those who have worked so tirelessly to locate and identify the last two missing diggers from Vietnam; notably the RAAF investigation team, the Defence Science and Technology Organisation and the Army History Unit. We should also acknowledge, as the Prime Minister did, the support provided by the government of Vietnam and by former members of our opponents—of our enemy, the North Vietnamese Army—former Vietcong soldiers and, of course local villagers. It is remarkable and poignant that after so many years we can bring these airmen home.