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Monday, 1 September 2014
Page: 9106

Mr BROUGH (Fisher) (11:33): I commend the member for Hinkler for his ongoing battle, and his predecessor Paul Neville, who was also great friends with Harry Smith. I also acknowledge the member for Bruce, who I know feels very passionately about this issue.

I come to this position both as a former minister who got to know Harry Smith and the tenacity that the member for Hinkler speaks of, but also as a former member of the 6th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment. As part of that battalion, to this very day Delta Company—no matter whether you are an 18-year-old soldier today or whether you are an old hand—still wears the US recognition of that unit and its gallantry very proudly. It is something that 6RAR holds very much to its heart as part of what it means to be a member of that battalion.

But I come to this debate with I guess that little bit of history. It was on the way back from Iraq with Prime Minister Howard that I convinced him that the 30 years of bureaucracy was wrong in not allowing the recognition that the member for Hinkler spoke about. That recognition was denied on 2 September 1966 on the parade ground in Nui Dat, and it goes back to the history of what we are as a nation. It was because the Queen and her representative had to ensure that we were able to allow our soldiers to receive foreign decorations; hence, the officers received cigar boxes and the soldiers received traditional dolls. When you consider the enormity of this battle and what these men had been through, it is hard to imagine what must have been going through their heads on that day.

I want to concentrate on two quick aspects; first of the all battle itself. I was a platoon commander in 2/4RAR and a company 2IC of Alpha Company in 6th Battalion. We trained, but I am fortunate enough to say that I never went to battle. So, whilst I understand the concepts of battle and what these formations mean, I do not for one moment pretend to stand in this place as a person who has been in a two-way rifle range and say that I have experienced what these men have.

But to know that 11 platoon was out on the front and encountered the enemy—not being able to ascertain that they were what they were—formally trained and well equipped, but perhaps less qualified soldiers. They went after them in the way that Australian soldiers do. It would have been a formation that went forward; they then encountered much stronger resistance. In fact they were starting to be attacked on all sides. I think it was then a 10 platoon that was ordered to rejoin them, and they were unable to catch or join up with them. Then 12 platoon, the third platoon of the company, was ordered to make the same encounter.

What then transpired is 11 platoon had to make a fighting withdrawal to come back into a defensive line—one of the most difficult manoeuvres that you can imagine—with an incredibly determined, well-equipped and large force coming at them. The fact that this was not a catastrophe on a monumental scale—although still a disaster obviously with so many dead and wounded Australians—is testament to the training, the command, the discipline and the courage of the men of the battalion and the company and those that came to their rescue.

This is a bill about an antiquated quota system—a quota system which says that, in any particular theatre of war when Australian soldiers were there, there was a ratio of awards given for valour. I will put this in sporting parlance: imagine the Australian cricket team being told, 'Yes, everyone that scores 100, well done, you get a century, but in the history books we'll only record one per game.' There would be outrage. Being denied by nothing more than a quota system means that we have continued to disregard the valour and courage of these men and their disastrous return to Australia that was the experience of most Vietnam veterans.

As the member for Bruce said—and, as I know, the member for Hinkler feels—this can be rectified: just as 30 years of bureaucracy saying that, because South Vietnam no longer existed as a country, the soldiers who had been awarded those South Vietnamese valour medals could not wear them, was overturned in 2004, this decision can also be overturned.

To Harry Smith: what a great man. No wonder they were successful on the battlefield that day, because his tenacity and his leadership did not finish on 18 August; it has continued on in the memory of the soldiers whom he led so valiantly.