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Thursday, 12 May 1994
Page: 780

Senator McGAURAN (4.33 p.m.) —In continuation of my speech, I should note that in the time that has elapsed since we last addressed this motion by Senator Short the federal budget has come down and we see that there has been an increase of funding to the Vietnam veterans for their health and care. Without doubt, the government has made this move after realising the very callous and uncaring actions of the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) in his visit to Vietnam. The government's action was obviously influenced by the great political damage caused by his actions.

  I am sure it is appreciated by the veterans, but whatever their appreciation might be it simply cannot eliminate the perception of absolute disregard of the veterans by the Prime Minister when he was in Vietnam. I want to make it quite clear that the Prime Minister's decision not to recognise the veterans distinctly lacked an understanding of Australian history because Gallipoli has never been celebrated as a victory. Indeed, Gallipoli was a political and wartime disaster, not dissimilar to the Vietnam experience.

  However, Australians recognise the valour of our service men. We uplift our service men and we celebrate their return home. We recognise their duty to their country of those who did not return home. Australians have had this long tradition since Gallipoli and it is not going to end with Vietnam. Regardless of the political turmoil that surrounded the Vietnam War, Australians take a separate view towards their service men and women.

  This is a distinct failure of perception of the Australian character by the Prime Minister, in spite of the pretty weak defence offered by this government. This seems to be very much a singular attitude by the Prime Minister. He failed to understand that Australian characteristic and was so engrossed in the politics of the day that he was willing to sacrifice the respect and dignity of our service men and women and, in particular, the families of those service men and women who did not come home from Vietnam. The Prime Minister sacrificed them for political expediency and favour.

  I would like to return to a point I made last week regarding Senator Gareth Evans's comments in defence of the Prime Minister's actions. Senator Evans asked what would be the point of recognising the actions of Australians in Vietnam when there were no service men or women buried in that country. We do not have the graves in Vietnam that we have on the Western Front, in the New Guinea highlands or on the Thailand-Burma railway.

  As I pointed out to Senator Evans, that is a pretty weak defence because there are known to be six Australian service men missing from that war. In the week that has elapsed I was able to collect their names. I recall a very distinct incident. The opening of the Vietnam memorial in Canberra some 18 months ago was a most significant event in this country. Anyone who turned up that day and in the weeks after could see that on the outside of that memorial there are some granite stones recognising the very men who did not return home. Those men get a significant recognition at that Vietnam War memorial.

  There were more crowds gathered around those particular plaques than at the main memorial. Beside Richard Harold John Parker's plaque was a wreath of flowers from those who served with him. That wreath carried a most touching comment saying: `At last, Richard, we have brought you home.' That is the individual significance that Australians give to their service men and women. That is simply the Anzac tradition, a tradition which was forgotten by the Prime Minister when he went to Vietnam.

  In conclusion, I would like to read out the names of those six missing servicemen who undoubtedly lie in the soil of Vietnam. Their names are Richard Harold John Parker, Peter Raymond Gillson, Michael Patrick Herbert, Robert Charles Carver, John Francis Gillespie and David John Elkington Fisher.