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Monday, 7 March 2005
Page: 34

Senator MARK BISHOP (2:51 PM) —My question is to Senator Hill, the Minister representing the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs in this place. Has the minister’s attention been drawn to reports of damage being caused by roadworks to the beach at Anzac Cove in Turkey at the site of the Australian landing on 25 April 1915? If so, can the minister advise the Senate of the true nature of the damage being done to the beach, what approaches have been made to the Turkish government and what remedial action will be taken to ensure that this very important site is protected? Can the minister also advise the Senate of the veracity of reports that skeletal remains have been uncovered during this work and whether there is any possibility that such remains might be Australian? What action has been taken to ensure that any such remains are recovered, identified and buried with the dignity they deserve?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I have been provided with some information on this matter. The Turkish government have over the decades taken very good care of Anzac Cove and the national park in which it is situated, and the Australian government wants to place on record its appreciation of their interest in preserving the military heritage of the peninsula. Over the past several years there has been erosion of both the beach and the road above the cove, resulting in hazardous coach access for visitors.

Australia’s Ambassador to Turkey has had very positive meetings with Turkish government officials about the work at Anzac Cove. As a result of these meetings, further discussions are planned to consider options for reinforcement and stabilisation of the road past Anzac Cove. The road requires urgent reinforcing in advance of the 90th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings for safety reasons. Turkish authorities responsible for the work are well aware of the historical and environmental significance of the site. The work is expected to be completed by Anzac Day but, in any event, will not impact on traffic plans for the dawn service. The Director of the Office of Australian War Graves, Air Vice Marshal Beck, returned recently from Gallipoli and reported some delay to roadworks due to weather. He will be visiting Turkey again later this month in connection with Anzac Day services and will report further on the work’s progression on his return.

I will have to seek advice on the part of the question that referred to the finding of skeletal remains. Whilst I, like others, no doubt, have been watching the television reports on these roads and have been concerned about damage that might be caused, from my own personal experience of having been lucky enough to attend Gallipoli celebrations on two separate occasions, I can say that the Turkish government and people take their responsibilities seriously in relation to lives that were lost not only of their own people but also of others. It is very important to work with them cooperatively in what they are seeking to do, which is not only to continue to provide such an environment for the remains of those who have died but also to meet their responsibilities of allowing visits in a safe environment, particularly, in this instance, by Australians.

Senator MARK BISHOP —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question arising from the minister’s response. Will the government heed the view of the RSL that work ought to be suspended, pending a closer examination? If the government does not have regard to that view, why is that not the case?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I do not quite appreciate the point. Is your question in relation to any remains that are found?

Senator Mark Bishop —The road repairs and the remains.

Senator HILL —Obviously, you have to treat remains with respect, and I am told that it is not uncommon for remains to be found as a result of erosion in the area, let alone necessary roadworks. There are established procedures for notifying the authorities and for dealing with remains under the terms of the Commonwealth war graves agreement. Therefore, if remains are found they would be reburied in appropriate circumstances. I think the RSL understands, with a very large number of Australians expected to visit on the 90th anniversary, the difficulty of coach transport. This is a difficult dilemma for the Turkish government, which they are seeking to address. (Time expired)