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Tuesday, 26 November 1985
Page: 2302

(Question No. 212)

Senator Macklin asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice, on 17 April 1985:

(1) Was the decision not to allot HMAS SYDNEY for `Special Service' during the Vietnam conflict made by the Cabinet of the day.

(2) Was the southern zone of Vietnam designated a `Special Area' from 31 July 1962 and were all Vietnam waters designated as `Special Area' from 1 March 1967.

(3) Were Army personnel who performed duties in Vietnam awarded `Special Duty' while on board HMAS SYDNEY.

(4) Did Mr Justice Toose, in his report `Independent Inquiry into the Repatriation System', draw attention to the fact that although a soldier and a sailor were both injured in the same accident while assisting with the unloading of HMAS SYDNEY in a South Vietnam port, the soldier, having been allotted for `Special Service' was covered by repatriation legislation, whereas the sailor was not.

(5) Have numerous approaches been made to Ministers of Defence both in this and the previous Government, on behalf of RAN personnel, in their efforts to obtain repatriation benefits.

(6) Will the Minister for Defence ensure that this matter is looked into, and remedied, before the revised repatriation legislation is finalised, in view of what appears to be gross discrimination against these veterans.

Senator Gareth Evans —The Minister for Defence has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1) In 1965 Government decided that the Services be directed that allotment for special duty should only be made at a time when personnel were exposed to potential risk by reason of the fact that there was a continuing danger from activities of hostile forces or dissident elements.

Personnel, such as the crew of HMAS SYDNEY who were employed on transit duties between Australia and Vietnam and who would not be employed on special duty in Vietnam on arrival there, were not allotted for special service because, at that time, there was no assessed sea or air threat to the convoy routes. The then Government believed there was consequently no `continuing danger from activities of hostile forces or dissident elements'.

(2) Yes, in the Repatriation (Special Overseas Service) Act 1962. The new Veterans' Entitlements Bill Schedule 2 designates Vietnam waters as a special area from and including 31 July 1962.

(3) The Special service of those Army personnel who had been allotted for special duty in Vietnam and who were being transported to or from Vietnam by whatever means, included the transit period.

(4) Yes (page 106, Vol. I of the report).

(5) There have been a number of representations relating to repatriation benefits, made by or on behalf of personnel who were not allotted for special duty in a special area.

(6) This Government has reviewed the question of allotment for service in Vietnam and has decided that, in the spirit of an act-of-grace, that all Australian Service personnel on continuous full time service who served in the declared special area of Vietnam's land and waters during the period from and including 31 July 1962 to and including 11 January 1973 will be deemed to have been allotted for special service and will have access to repatriation and Defence Service Home loan benefits.