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Thursday, 26 March 1987
Page: 1428

Senator LEWIS(6.54) —I rise tonight to give my total approval to the Australian Vietnam Forces Welcome Home Parade '87 which is to take place in Sydney on Saturday, 3 October of this year. The Australian forces that served in Vietnam were a combination of volunteers plus those selected by a birthday ballot. The fact that servicemen were selected by way of a birthday ballot is very interesting because I understand that twice as many people as were required attended the medical selection board on the basis of birth date. The doctors who examined those young Australian men were able to choose the cream of Australian youth. As a result, the force that we sent to Vietnam was a crackerjack professional force. Honourable senators would understand precisely what I am talking about if they had had the opportunity of seeing any of these young men on parade. Their turnout was absolutely incredible. As I said, they were a crackerjack professional force, every bit as good as the volunteers who served in the First World War and the Second World War.

However, on their return to Australia in 1973 they were not treated in the same way as we had treated the forces that we sent overseas previously. Instead of proudly marching these people through the streets of our capital cities saying `These are the nation's finest; we sent them to Vietnam and they were marvellous over there; we can be proud of these young Australians', instead of giving them a warm welcome back and a ticker tape parade through every capital city and regional areas around the nation, the Whitlam Government brought them back into this country as though somehow or other they had done something wrong, that these young Australians were not worthy of our praise and thanks. They were never treated properly by the Whitlam Government because of the problems that the Whitlam Government had had with those of its supporters who were totally opposed to the war in Vietnam. This is the only war that Australians have been in when our troops have not been acknowledged as heroes when they came back home.

Now there is at last an opportunity to redress that shabby treatment. Under the patronage of that distinguished soldier Major General C.M.I. Pearson AO, DSO, OBE, MC, and the sponsorship of the New South Wales Branch of the Returned Services League, a group of Vietnam veterans have organised a Welcome Home Parade '87 to be held in Sydney. The parade has been approved by the Sydney City Council. I would like to read some extracts of a letter from Mr P. E. Curtis, the Assistant Secretary of Australian Vietnam Forces, which is organising this welcome home parade. The letter states:

The Parade is to take place in Sydney on the 3rd October, 1987 and we anticipate that approximately 30,000 Veterans will be attending, including contingents from our overseas allies.

The Parade will be run on the same lines as one recently held in Chicago and which was one of the largest gatherings of reunion ever to be held in the United States, and one that we hope will be the largest reunion ever staged in Australia. Many of these Veterans have not seen each other from the time when they returned to Australia until they meet for this Parade.

Later the letter states:

As a further activity of celebration of the weekend, there is to be a public concert in the Domain on Sunday 4th October, put on by many of the performers who entertained the troops in South Vietnam, often in deplorable conditions. The majority of these artists will be donating their time and talent free of charge, just as they did long ago.

I call on the people of Australia to acknowledge the achievements of these fine Australians by supporting this Welcome Home Parade '87. I ask the Hawke Government to endorse it and to give its support to this reunion in acknowledgment of the shabby treatment that these people have had dished out to them in the past.