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Monday, 14 March 2005
Page: 36

Senator MARK BISHOP (3:00 PM) —My question is to Senator Hill representing the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs. Given that 4,000 Australians were missing presumed killed at Gallipoli, isn’t it highly likely that the risk of exposing bones during the current roadworks on the site is very high? Can the minister confirm that this work is being done at the request of and using funds provided by the Australian government? Can he say what funds have been contributed and can he advise what research was conducted by Australian authorities at the site before the work commenced? Can he also advise what contingency plans were in place in the event of bones being uncovered, and did these plans include halting the work if necessary?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —A number of those questions have been asked and answered in recent times—

Senator Mark Bishop —The issue is still running.

Senator HILL —Yes, the issue is still running, and I think that that illustrates the genuine concern of Australians over this issue. It is a sacred place to Australia, but I think that a number of ministers have also made the obvious point that it is also a sacred place to Turkey. It is also Turkish land, and the Turks have done a really good job in preserving our interests, which is our concern for the graves of those that we lost in Turkey, and that they try to do it in a way to that will allow Australians to visit—and, if you look at what is happening now on Anzac Day, allow very large numbers of Australians to visit—in a safe environment on that occasion.

I am told that the Australian ambassador has informed the Minister for Foreign Affairs as a result of her visit to the site that there was no obvious evidence of human remains being unearthed by the road construction. I am told that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission inspected the area carefully for human remains prior to new excavations and none were found. The commission advises that the cliffs were thoroughly searched in the 1920s and remains were interred in cemeteries and that it continues monitoring the road work.

It cannot be ruled out of course that remains could be turned up as happens on other battlefield sites. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has long established protocols and procedures in place should human remains be found. The Turkish government has undertaken to cease work immediately if that occurs. I am told there has been no damage to any cemeteries at the site. As I indicated, roadworks are necessary for safety and access for the large and increasing number of visitors. The area is of course under Turkish management and control, and we will continue to discuss with Turkish authorities what action is necessary to minimise impact, including removal of earth from the beach. So the situation, I think, is being handled sensitively, but we have to understand that there is an obligation to provide a safe environment for Australian visitors and visitors from elsewhere. It is important that we work cooperatively with the Turkish authorities to achieve that goal. It is important for us to work with them in a way that shows respect for those who lost their lives and are buried at that place.

Senator MARK BISHOP —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Does the minister recall the frenzy of representations to France in 2004 to stop a planned airport lest Australian bodies be disturbed? How then does the government explain the contradiction between that case and the current road construction at Anzac Cove which carries exactly the same risk, the only difference being that the current roadworks are being undertaken with direct Howard government encouragement and funding?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I am surprised that Senator Bishop would ask that supplementary. If he cannot see the distinction between an airport and a national park that is being made a park in memory of those who lost their lives then something is missing. What happened in France was a proposal that was incompatible with the concept of conservation of war graves; what is happening here is the conservation of those war graves in a way that will allow those who want to share the memory and show respect to be able to visit those graves in a safe way. This is not an easy issue and a bit more constructive support from the opposition might be a better contribution, I would respectfully suggest to Senator Bishop. Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.