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Tuesday, 14 June 2011
Page: 5987

Mr BRUCE SCOTT (MaranoaSecond Deputy Speaker) (18:33): I thank the minister and I also acknowledge the initiatives in this year's federal budget. It was certainly well received in the veteran community. As a former veterans' affairs minister myself I know how hard it is to extract money from the treasurers and I certainly welcome what he has been able to achieve. I have a couple of questions, Minister, in relation to commemorations. This year I attended the commemoration for Anzac Day at Villers-Bretonneux, which was very well done and I commend the work of the department in running a very well organised commemoration at Villers-Bretonneux. We saw something like 4,800 people—that was the official figure—mainly Australians, if not all Australians, attend that commemoration. And I understand Gallipoli too, where I think you were, Minister. I want to say something about Gallipoli. As the minister responsible for the establishment of that new site—and I know there have been several ministers since my watch and before your watch—I think obviously the site has been altered somewhat. I wonder if you might comment on the way the department is approaching looking after the people who arrive there. There is obviously the issue of toilets, but I also understand that significant infrastructure has been placed on the peninsula itself for permanent seating—you might correct me on that. I know that when I was negotiating with the people of Canakkale and the government and authorities in Ankara they were very insistent that we keep a very, very low profile in relation to the memorial because it is a national park. That is why we have a low stone wall that just says 'Anzac'. Even the flagpoles come down after the commemoration on Anzac Day. I know, Minister, that you have a committee working on the commemoration for the centenary year of 2015, and I would be interested in how that is going in relation to that. From my discussions when we established the new site, it was always important to make sure that we preserve as much as possible and as closely as possible the original site—as it was for those arriving at the peninsula on the very first day. That is what should be preserved, rather than any great structures. I would be interested in what you are looking at. I have heard—I must say with some dismay—that, as a country, we might be looking at a re-enactment, for instance. To be perfectly honest, I feel that having people come ashore is rather tacky, but I would be interested to hear your comments because I do have some opinions in relation to the commemoration that will take place in 2015.

I will put all my questions on the table at once, Minister. One is that next year is going to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Milne Bay. I am wondering, in relation to commemorations, whether in August-September next year you would be looking at any official commemoration of Milne Bay. It marks the 70th anniversary of the first battle and a very significant turning point in the Second World War. It was, after all, Australian territory at the time. It was the first major defeat that the Japanese suffered as they moved south across the equator, down through the islands and into New Guinea. Milne Bay was the first significant defeat of the Japanese by the 2nd/9th Battalion of the Australian forces, and Corporal John French was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously. I know how over the years, and even prior to my watch as minister, official commemorations were not the most important element but an element of Australia remembering Australia's involvement. I think that perhaps that might be one you have focused on. If not, I would ask that you look at it. I am certainly getting veterans who served in Milne Bay asking me whether there is any consideration of that very important battle which was the first turning point of the Second World War. (Time expired)