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Thursday, 1 November 2012
Page: 8868

Senator RONALDSON (Victoria) (18:12): Mr Deputy President, I do not think you were in the chamber before, but I spoke today of Corporal Daniel Keighran VC, who received his VC from the Governor-General today. I thought it would be of interest to senators that, indeed, Daniel Keighran was a driver of the Bendigo-built Bushmaster vehicle, an Australian-made vehicle. Our newest VC, of whom we are so terribly, terribly proud, was actually a driver of those Bushmaster vehicles.

I want to also talk about some matters that I was raising in the context of a matter earlier on. I was talking about the Department of Veterans' Affairs, and I mentioned to the chamber the number of World War II veterans who unfortunately are passing away at such a rapid rate. This year, of course, we remember the 70th anniversary of the darkest days of the Second World War, a conflict which cost more than 39,000 Australian lives. Earlier this year we commemorated the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Darwin, the first ever enemy attack on the Australian mainland. We commemorated this event on the first ever Bombing of Darwin Day, and I want to pay tribute to the fantastic efforts of my colleague from the other place Natasha Griggs, whose motion to establish the day was unanimously adopted by both houses of parliament. Natasha, you have left a quite remarkable legacy by pushing this issue so hard. We have also marked the 70th anniversary of the fall of Singapore, the Battle of El Alamein and the Battle of Milne Bay. And 1942, of course, marked the turning point in the war both in our region and in Europe. I want to make some comments about Kokoda. Notwithstanding the views of academics like Professor David Horner, who I notice is currently a member of the Gillard Labor government's hand-picked Anzac Centenary Advisory Board, the battle for Kokoda was an extremely important part of Australia's campaign against the Japanese. Defeat on Kokoda, as in Milne Bay, was not an option. The stories of those Australians who served in the mud, the rain and the jungle terrain in one of the world's last untouched wildernesses are timeless. The courage of these men is without question and their contribution is without question. For someone to come out publicly to reflect on both that battle and, by default, those who fought in it, I think, is a deeply, deeply disappointing outcome.

I was talking before about the young men and women who have served this country in the last 20 years, and what we need to do to not repeat the mistakes we made for those who returned from Vietnam. I spend a lot of time with Vietnam veterans, and I am quite frankly sickened to hear some of their stories of being spat upon on their return from Vietnam. These young men were doing no more and no less than serving this nation at the request of the nation.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Jim Spigelman.

Senator RONALDSON: Indeed. For them to be treated in that way, I still believe, is a matter of deep national shame. We have 60,000 young men and women who have served in the last 20 years returning to this country. They are going to require this nation to support them for at least the next 70 years. Honourable senators might not be aware that the youngest client of DVA is under 12 months of age. This nation is going to have to support those young men and women and their families for many, many decades. If we as a nation forget what the uniqueness of military service is and, if we as a nation stop supporting and reflecting on the sacrifices those young men and women have made, then we will repeat the mistakes of Vietnam. This nation cannot afford to do so. This nation owes these young men and women for their service to this country. We cannot continue to slash those support mechanisms, such as BEST funding, which is about— (Time expired)