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Wednesday, 20 February 2019
Page: 14244

Mr PERRETT (MoretonOpposition Whip) (16:56): I rise to speak on the Treatment Benefits (Special Access) Bill 2019. The effect of this bill is to create full health coverage for the civilian doctors and nurses and others who provided aid in Vietnam between 1964 and 1972—our 'MASH' personnel, for those fans of the 1980s show. I know that a couple of my friends who make a bit of music are big fans of that show. The Australian civilian surgical and medical teams provided medical aid, training and treatment to local Vietnamese people during the Vietnam War, and this bill will give them access to a DVA treatment card or a gold card.

It is appropriate that these civilians receive this recognition and assistance. They provided invaluable service under trying and dangerous circumstances to people who desperately needed their medical aid, as we heard from the member for Boothby's speech. It is only proper that their service to Australia is recognised alongside that of our brave service men and women by providing them with the care that they might now need in their later years.

The government originally announced this proposal on 16 December, but they announced a start date then for the policy of 1 July 2020. Understandably, the delay in the start drew much criticism and some strong advocacy from members of parliament, from the former service community and from their families and supporters. Why delay this policy? The recipients of this health cover have waited long enough. Some of them especially need the health care now. So I'm pleased to see that the government have brought the start date forward.

Labor welcomes the expansion of the gold card to members of the Australian civilian surgical and medical teams who put their lives on the line to assist as part of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization aid program in South Vietnam. Service should be recognised, and it should be valued by all of us. That is the purpose of the gold card for eligible veterans and former members of the ADF, their widows or widowers and dependants: to recognise that great service to our country.

It is important that this parliament and all Australians recognise the unique nature of military service. We know that it is challenging. We know that it causes extra stress and possible health complications. We know that they are prepared to put themselves in harm's way on our behalf, on behalf of this nation, so we should not be complacent about our defence forces and those who are called to serve. We need to look after them while they're serving, and obviously we need to look after them when they return.

I'd like to particularly mention one of Australia's greatest institutions, and that is our returned and services leagues and all of their associated entities. I note the great work they do in supporting both current and ex-serving members of the Australian Defence Force and their families. I have five RSL clubs servicing Moreton: the Sherwood-Indooroopilly RSL, the Salisbury RSL, the Stephens RSL, the Sunnybank RSL and the Yeronga-Dutton Park RSL. I've spent quite a bit of time with these clubs over the last decade and worked very closely with them in recent years, particularly on their ceremonies for the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings and a few other community projects associated with this.

The RSL has a very proud tradition. All over this nation, RSLs have been working hard for veterans and their families—since 1916, in fact. As well as supporting and serving our ex-service men and women, the RSLs promote a secure, stable and progressive Australia. We're indebted to them for the services that they continue to provide, not only directly to the returned service men and women but indirectly through the community work that they do.

I want to touch on some of that. I mentioned the Sunnybank RSL and their work with the local Chinese Australian community, led by the indefatigable Lewis Lee. As the make-up of the Sunnybank area has changed over the years, the RSL, rather than watch the community change, decided to engage with the local community. So they created a memorial for all the people of Chinese heritage who have served Australia in past wars. The memorial recognises soldiers like Billy Sing and Caleb Shang, who fought in World War I, and Jack Wong Sue, who served for Australia in World War II. Often these people were shot at, put in harm's way, but they weren't actually able to vote in the country that they call home, the country that they were prepared to die for.

There are many other great stories of courage and bravery from the Chinese-Australian diaspora, and they have been partly commemorated by this memorial at the Sunnybank RSL. One of the stories I want to focus on is that of private Billy Sing, a sniper with the 5th Australian Light Horse Regiment. He was originally a kangaroo shooter from Northern Queensland, but he was lucky to be able to weave his way through what was quite a racist call-up process and go to Gallipoli. He is credited with, conservatively, 150 kills in Gallipoli. He was known to his fellow soldiers as 'the assassin' and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for conspicuous gallantry as a sniper at Gallipoli. To this day, the Australian Army snipers recognise the skill of Billy Sing, a Chinese Australian who could not vote back here.

The physical memorial at the Sunnybank RSL was a labour of love for the Chinese community and it has contributed to stronger links between that community and their local RSL. It is a continuing reminder of the diversity, cooperation, understanding and friendship that exists on Brisbane's southside and also goes a long way to recognise some of the slights and horrible racism that existed in an earlier time when people were able to fight and die for their country but not actually allowed to own land because they were not seen to be Australian. Why? Irrespective of being born here, it was basically because they looked 'too Chinese'.

Whilst there is a physical memorial in Sunnybank, there is also an ongoing series of bursaries, with funds raised by the local Chinese community. Local school students enter an essay competition. They own the stories and tell them over and over again. Basically, the flame is renewed every year; it is kept alive by the Sunnybank RSL and the local students on Anzac Day.

I would also point out that the success of the Chinese war memorial project has inspired commemoration contributions from other communities. Now, the Indian community has a project underway. They have erected a memorial for the Indian Australian service men and women who contributed to Australia's war efforts in the past. This also is a great project. I enjoyed working with the Indian Australian community and seeing that memorial completed, dedicated and become a part of the local community. Like the Chinese memorial, there are also bursaries associated with this physical memorial, which is also located in the grounds of the Sunnybank RSL. Again, there is a living bursary, where students from local high schools do the research and tell stories of Indian service men and women. It is a way to keep the Anzac tradition alive and reflect the local community.

It is important to show, whenever we can, our respect for all Australian service men and women. The Chinese and Indian war memorials are a permanent show of respect for these brave Australians. They sit alongside all the other war memorials in the grounds of our RSL clubs which mention the names of service men and women who gave their lives for this country and some of the famous battles and wars.

Sadly, some of these men and women may not have been shown the respect they deserved when they were alive and wearing the uniform of the nation that they call home—and I know that similar stories have been told of Indigenous Australians. We have had protections in our laws from being offended, insulted, humiliated or intimidated on the basis of race for only the last 20 years or so. It is a reality, but we need to make sure that we work with our RSLs wherever we can to make sure that they are strong, vibrant service organisations that reach out and connect with former ADF personnel and make sure they have strong connections with their communities and the supports that come with it.

I have mentioned the Sunnybank RSL. I do recognise my other RSLs, so I do apologise to them for focusing on Sunnybank, but I want to commend Hugh Polson and all of his leadership team for their initiative to erect these memorials for the Chinese and Indian service men and women. These activities will create greater awareness of the role of all Australians in our history. As I said, it will counter some of the racist rhetoric that occasionally gets spouted in some political quarters. All Australian service men and women deserve to be looked after when their service is completed, and when they are serving this nation they deserve to be respected.

I take this opportunity in talking about this legislation to also recognise a local returned serviceman who was very active in the community and was a member of the Sunnybank RSL. His name is Kim Chang. Kim Chang, a relatively young man, sadly, passed away recently. Kim was secretary of the Australians of Chinese Heritage War Memorial Committee. He did great work there. He served in the Army, the Reserve and, later, in the Queensland Police Service—a lifetime of serving his community. As I said, he was a valued member of the Australians of Chinese Heritage War Memorial Committee and all the great work that flows from that and the great message it sends to our community.

Kim Chang also helped run RSL improvement projects like the interior repaint of the hall in Sunnybank RSL, which is used by not only RSL members from the local area but also many community organisations and groups. I've certainly used it on many occasions. Kim Chang was also a keen dragon boat racer, something that is quite an event held on the south side of Brisbane every year. Kim's love of dragon boating was not just a personal hobby; he was working with Mates4Mates, a support organisation for veterans in RSL Queensland, to create a program supporting veterans' recovery through dragon boating. I certainly hope it's Kim Chang's legacy that this work is not lost and the program to support veterans will continue to be developed and implemented, perhaps in his name.

Sadly, earlier this year Kim unexpectedly took his own life, leaving many of his close friends from the RSL in shock. I particularly mention Adam Lowe, a serving member of the RAAF, who was completely surprised. Kim, you'll be sadly missed by many in the local community and at the Sunnybank RSL. I extend my condolences to his family.

I mentioned Kim Chang and the great work of the RSLs in my community because we must recognise and continue to remember the sacrifices made by those who serve this country either on the front line or when they return home. As this bill reminds us, some of those who serve are not necessarily in the Defence Force uniform, but they serve alongside them and let them do their job. They also should be recognised and remembered. I commend this bill to the House.