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Thursday, 1 November 2012
Page: 8869

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (18:18): I support what Senator Ronaldson said in relation to the last document. It is important that we learn from Vietnam. Without putting too fine a point on it, what happened in those Vietnam War days—and, regrettably, I am old enough to have been around—was that the government of the day pilloried the effort in Vietnam. They had a particular political aversion to the war in Vietnam. Unfortunately, the government of the day could not distinguish between their aversion to the political implications of that war and the Australian troops who fought in it. The Australian troops went there, as Senator Ronaldson rightly said, as servants of their nation. The government of the day had sent them there. They did not make the decision. They did not particularly have a political ideology on that war. They went there because they were told to go there, and they did.

But when they returned there was a different government in charge and the new government had a political aversion which, regrettably, it allowed to roll over, disgracefully, onto the returning troops. There were some horrible incidents, as Senator Ronaldson has indicated, and some of those veterans even today still talk about the way they were treated. It was not their fault they were there. The government of the day stands condemned, and always will stand condemned, for the fact that they could not draw the line between the troops, between the diggers, and their political aversion to that particular conflict.

It would have been so easy for the Prime Minister of the day to have said: we totally oppose this fight against communism, we totally oppose the war in Vietnam, but we are very, very proud of our troops who have been doing what their government asked them to do. Unfortunately, the government of the day did not say that and the returning troops were pilloried in the political groundswell that occurred at that particular time. It was a disgraceful part of Australia's history. That is why John Howard and people like Senator Ronaldson are going overboard to make sure that, when troops come back—and it does not matter the reason or the cause for their deployment overseas—they are treated as heroes.

There would be many things for which John Howard will have a real legacy for his prime ministership, but one of them will clearly be how John Howard, who went through the era that I did, was determined to make sure that every returning troop was treated as a hero. He set out to increase the prevalence, relevance and support for every military celebration from Anzac Day to Kapyong. It was John Howard, because of his experiences after Vietnam, who put money—and more than that, he put his own personal aura—into making sure that all of those troops were treated as heroes. In that respect I agree with Senator Ronaldson's remarks on this document.