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Thursday, 21 June 2001
Page: 28386

Mr QUICK (10:52 AM) —I will be brief. I am glad to see the minister is here— no, he is disappearing again. I would like to endorse the comments by the honourable member for Cowan. The minister is quick to take the credit for a lot of things. He is always there for his photographic opportunities, unveiling plaques at various places. I think it was in rather poor taste that he went over to the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Crete and unveiled the wonderful obelisk—and there were lots of photos—and then not long afterwards there was the announcement in the budget about the POWs in Japan and nothing for the thousands of Australian servicemen who were captured in Crete and Greece and deposited in German POW camps for 3½ years. I do not know how he sleeps.

He was over there embracing and kissing the cheeks of the Cretan or Greek minister for defence or minister for veterans' affairs. I commend him for taking some of the war widows and some of the guys who were over there who did the hard yards but I do not know how he can look them in the eye and say, `I am sorry, guys, your suffering was not as great as the poor bastards that were captured by the Japanese and did the hard yards there.' I spoke to two of the POWs, Jack Sheppard, 88, and Jack Doddridge, 83, who were captured at Crete. They saw the paratroopers coming down and thought, `You beauty, here are the reinforcements.' Unfortunately they were not reinforcements, they were the Germans. Both these guys managed to survive by looking after each other. Both were young blokes from Hobart—Jack, 28 and Jack, 23—and they looked after each other in appalling conditions in German POW camps. Their wives are still alive and they are still alive, and they think the minister is a bit of a mean-spirited bloke—I will not tell you exactly what they said.

We are not talking about dray loads of people. There are only 54 POWs in Tasmania who were captured and who served time as prisoners of war in German camps. Consider the amount of money that is being wasted on television every night trying to extol the virtues of this government, yet this minister and this department are so mean spirited they cannot say that all POWs or their widows are going to get it. I think if you are going to be up front, get your face on TV and say, `I unveil this wonderful plaque to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the battle of Crete. Well done, fellas. We'll take you and your wives over there, fete you and look after you,' you cannot then say, `I'm sorry, your hardship wasn't enough to get the $25,000.' I just think it is absolutely appalling. My mum is a war widow. My late father was an ANZAC.

I commend the minister for some of the initiatives that he has taken, such as for the cobbers at Fromelles, where my father was wounded on 19 July 1916. He is so quick to take the initiative and to get the credit for a lot of things, but not when it comes to the hard decisions like the German POWs—and we are not talking about dray loads of them. There is all of this money being expended on television advertisements saying, `This is a wonderful, wonderful government.' I just think a bit of social justice from the minister would be well deserved.

I know Jack Sheppard and Jack Doddridge and their wives and the 52 other veterans in Tasmania who did it bloody hard in Germany. My mother-in-law is a Lithuanian and she served time in some of those camps, doing it hard. I know from first-hand experience just what those blokes suffered. To say to them, `Fellas, you did 3½ years in Germany. The other poor bastards did 3½ years or so under Japanese control. They get the lot; you get nothing,' and to go over to Crete and take all the kudos and say, `Yes, wonderful things, but we're not going to give you anything,' I think is bloody appalling and reprehensible. I would like the minister to stand up here today and tell us why.