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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 12126

Mr GRIFFIN (Bruce) (21:07): As former Ministers for Veterans' Affairs, Mr Deputy Speaker Scott, this is an issue we are both aware of as it crossed both of our desks during our time served in that office. In the five minutes that I have, I want to make a couple of comments on some of the issues around the question of how you might commemorate the bombing of Darwin. Frankly, how do we commemorate it? I also want to pick up on a couple of points made by previous speakers.

I congratulate all the speakers for their contributions so far in outlining much of the historical situation around the bombing of Darwin and Northern Australia, the great courage and sacrifice observed by those who were defending these isolated outposts at that time—and they were isolated. In many respects it is a part of our history that not a lot is known about as it was not publicised at the time. It is certainly something that all Australians should be aware of. I note in recent times with the film Australia we had at least that part of our history focused on to a degree and that was a useful thing.

I also want to raise a couple of points. While I congratulate and commend the member for Solomon on most of her motion, but she did make a couple of comments that need to be picked up. One was in relation to the member for Lingiari, the Minister for Veterans' Affairs. She said he had been the minister for three years. That is not the case. He has been the minister for just over 12 months. How soon they forget! Prior to Minister Snowdon, I was the minister responsible in this area for some three years. I had the great privilege of representing the parliament and the government at the bombing of Darwin commemorative events in Darwin, and it was a very special event indeed.

I also make the point—I do not wish to be political, but I cannot help myself sometimes—that for three of the four terms of the Howard government there was a coalition representative for the greater Darwin area. The member for the Northern Territory between 1996 and 1998 and the member for Solomon between 2001 and 2007 was our former colleague, Dave Tollner, now a member of the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory. I make that point to point out what we do in these circumstances in respect of commemoration. It is not a simple thing, as you would know, Deputy Speaker.

In the past we commemorated two principal events of national commemoration that were given legislative recognition, and this was a position that governments of both political persuasions held over many years. One was Armistice Day and the other was Anzac Day. There was some debate during the time of the Howard government about what might be done to commemorate other events. As the former shadow minister and then Minister for Veterans' Affairs, I note the Labor Party while in opposition agreed to promote two additional particular events, which we believed covered significant aspects of our military history, but which were not directly covered by Armistice Day and Anzac Day. They were Battle for Australia Day—the first Wednesday in September—and Merchant Navy Day. I was very happy to support Merchant Navy Day as the fourth service. It was a service that was not seen or acknowledged in the context of those other days, although it was a very important part of the overall war effort. Battle for Australia Day came out of the ex-service community to acknowledge not only the bombing of Darwin but also the events that threatened our very nation after the fall of Singapore. It encompassed a range of events and engagements—naval, air and army—that involved Australian and Allied forces in defence of our region and our country.

I have always been of the view, and it is consistent with the views of many in the ex-service community, that that was the best way to proceed. The bombing of Darwin was a very tragic series of events that I believe is covered best by the Battle for Australia, which covers more than one million Australians who served our country during that time of war.

Debate adjourned.