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Monday, 21 October 2002
Page: 5558

Senator LIGHTFOOT (9:50 PM) —I want to speak tonight during the adjournment debate on one of Australia's greatest men. His name is Francis Philip Serong, but he is better known as Brigadier `Ted' Serong. Brigadier Serong was the last senior officer to leave Saigon after its fall in 1975. After the Second World War, he played a pivotal role in reorienting the active service preparedness of the regular Australian Army. He did not want to see the sacrifices in jungle expertise so hard won in Papua New Guinea in 1942-45 lost to Australia.

As a director of military training, he reopened the Canungra jungle warfare school in Queensland. He designed courses that are still used almost half a century later. In 1957, he pioneered a course in counterinsurgency in Burma and was the officer of choice from the UK, US, Yugoslavia and Israel applicants, until 1957. From 1960 to 1962, he returned to Burma and the Burma armed forces. He established military schools in Rangoon, the capital, and at Mount Popa. He made dangerous reconnaissances along the China, Thailand and Vietnam borders.

As the involvement of the United States and Australia increased in South Vietnam, Serong became the logical soldier-expert to lead the Australian military advisers to the South Vietnamese government. Brigadier Serong was appointed senior adviser in counterinsurgency to the US military assistant command in South Vietnam, under General Harkins and the better-known General Westmoreland. Ted Serong also advised the South Vietnamese President, Ngo Dinh Diem, on counterinsurgency before his assassination in 1963. The brigadier shared an interest in Catholic theology and anticommunism with the former President of South Vietnam.

Shortly after May 1963, Ted Serong warned President John F. Kennedy's Special Group on Counterinsurgency that the war could not be won under the current stratagem: he was interviewed by the US National Security Council and Robert Kennedy—the brother of the US President, who was later assassinated, and closest adviser to the President—but the President did not follow Brigadier Serong's advice. Ted Serong was seconded to the US State Department in early 1965 for another tour of South Vietnam, where he was pre-eminent in counterinsurgency until 1967. His responsibilities included being a very senior adviser to the South Vietnamese Police Field Forces. The brigadier established a permanent training centre for the field police at Dalat, in the mountains north of Saigon, at the behest of the South Vietnamese government. Ted Serong retired from the Australian Regular Army in 1968 but stayed on in Vietnam composing stratagems for the South Vietnamese government and private defence force think tanks. He stayed on until 1973, until funds from the United States started to dry up.

Brigadier Ted Serong was the last Australian officer to leave South Vietnam on 29 April 1975—less than 24 hours before the bloody surrender of the South Vietnamese forces. If his advice to the US Army had been followed, there may very well have been a different outcome in South Vietnam. Ted Serong believed that communism needed to be resisted at all costs. He formed and shared that opinion with one of Australia's great religious personalities, none other than B.A., or Bob, Santamaria. They met at their common college St Kevins in Victoria and remained friends for life. Brigadier Francis Philip Serong believed in a strong Australian Defence Force. Books written on Ted Serong include There to the Bitter End and the definitive biography by Ms Anne Blair titled Ted Serong: The Life of an Australian Counterinsurgency Expert as well as others.

Brigadier Ted Serong was truly a great Australian, an extraordinary soldier, a very brave man. If he had a single purpose in life, it was to rid the world of evil before it was uncontrollable. Ted Serong received awards which included the OBE, DSO, Officer of the Legion of Merit (US), the Vietnam Medal of Honour, the Cross of Gallantry and Chevalier of the National Order. He is survived by his wife, Kathleen; his three daughters, Julia, Elise and Rosemary; and his three sons, Michael, Richard and Anthony. We need a Ted Serong today.