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Thursday, 10 May 2018
Page: 3719

Mr SHORTEN (MaribyrnongLeader of the Opposition) (15:15): On indulgence, I want to join the Prime Minister in welcoming Bill and Kathy McLellan and Harry and Marietta Northwood to the House today. In welcoming you we pay tribute to your 26 brothers who never returned home and the 100 who were wounded over this 3½-week battle. Indeed, we also pay tribute to the 60,000 Australians who served in the Vietnam conflict. Many of the nashos were barely 20 and the regulars often enlisted at 19.

We also acknowledge that all too often in those weeks and months after young Australians had fought for their lives many found themselves back here in Australia. The conflict you fought in was hard to imagine, but it's hard to imagine also coming back here, being demobilised, handing back your rifle and your pay book, and being plunged straight back into civilian life, with no counselling, no rehabilitation and no attempt to reconcile what you had endured in the realities of war with the realities of civilian life. It is the hard truth as we approach the memorial this weekend that too many Australians were sent into jungle dark and they were shunned on their return.

These words of a serviceman are inscribed on the Vietnam memorial, not very far from where we are here now: 'I don't seem to have many friends since I came home. If you weren't there—you can't understand.' You remind us today, gentlemen, that not only did we fail to understand then but, with a few noble exceptions, we failed to try. You remind us, gentlemen, that for too long Australia closed its eyes and its heart to our Vietnam veterans. Thank you, Bill, Harry and all those who served in that conflict. We renew our most sacred promise: lest we forget.

The SPEAKER: I thank both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.