Statements on Indulgence: Vietnam Veterans Day

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (11:20): I rise today to add my comments to the statements made by the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Minister for Defence and the shadow minister for defence to the parliament on Monday and to commend the contributions made by my colleagues, the members for Fowler and Paterson, immediately before my contribution today.

Vietnam Veterans Day is commemorated in Australia on 18 August each year. It is a time to reflect in particular on the battle of Long Tan and the Australians who served during the Vietnam War and it is an opportunity to remember those who, most sadly, did not come home. At the request of the South Vietnamese government, a team of 30 Australian military advisers were sent to Vietnam during July and August 1962, 50 years ago this year. This was followed in August 1964 by the Royal Australian Air Force, sending a flight of Caribou aircraft. Australia sent the first battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment, 1RAR, in June 1965. As hostilities escalated, the Australian government introduced the National Service Scheme, which saw conscripts involved in that conflict as well as all nine RAR battalions over the period of the war. Public opposition to the war eventually led to the Allied political leadership announcing the gradual withdrawal of Allied forces from 1971, and the Australian commitment ended in June 1973.

The commemoration of the Vietnam War in Australia is held in August to mark the Battle of Long Tan. I would like to use the words describing the battle directly from the Australian War Memorial website. It says:

On that day, 108 Australian and New Zealand soldiers fought a pitched battle against over 2,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops in a rubber plantation not far from the small village of Long Tan. The Australians prevailed, but only after fighting in torrential rain for four hours. They were nearly overrun, but were saved by a timely ammunition resupply, accurate artillery fire from the nearby Australian base, and the arrival of reinforcements by armoured personnel carrier. Eighteen Australians lost their lives and 24 were wounded, the largest number of casualties in one operation since the Australian task force had arrived a few months earlier. After the battle the bodies of 245 enemy soldiers were found, but there was evidence that many more bodies had been carried away.

Last Saturday evening I joined many local people at the Vietnam Veterans Day commemoration service organised by the Illawarra Vietnam Veterans Sub-Branch and held at the memorial at Flagstaff Hill in Wollongong. I have attended this service regularly since I was elected, as many of my colleagues in this House do, in order to show respect to the service and sacrifice it honours and to show support for the excellent work carried out by the Illawarra Vietnam Veterans Association. We were joined—and it has been a regular occurrence—by members of the Vietnamese community in the Illawarra, who regularly support the activities of the Vietnam Veterans Association.

The memorial was extended by a walkway which holds the plaques of returned veterans who have subsequently passed away. It is a moving and important recognition of their service as well. Each year, sadly, more names are added to the wall and this year six more veterans were honoured. The address for the service was delivered by Major General Hori Howard AO MC ESM, retired, who regular supports local service events and always has an important and well-received message for those gathered for the occasion. I want to congratulate the Illawarra Vietnam Veterans Sub-Branch on their continued work on behalf the veterans and their families and for their contribution to the better understanding of their service and sacrifice by the wider community. I will take a moment to acknowledge them by name: the President, Peter Mitchell; Senior Vice-President and Treasurer, Pam Bowmaker JP; secretary, Kathy Kielbicki; Junior Vice-Presidents, Graham Parsons and Ian Birch; and committee members Eraldo Bensi, Alan Groome JP, Greg Keir, Gerry O'Leiry, Bob Green and John Kielbicki.

I would make the point that I am sure that each of those soldiers we remember on occasions such as this, those who fought for their country and, particularly, those who gave their lives for their country, hoped that their war would be the last time that anybody would have to undergo that sort of service and sacrifice for the country, hoped that their children, their nieces and nephews and their grandchildren, would not be called upon to do so as well. Sadly, that has not been the case since the Vietnam conflict. I would like to also take this opportunity to say that those present on Saturday night recognised and sent their thoughts and best wishes to those in our armed services who are currently serving in places around the globe on behalf of our nation and hope that their families take some support from our expressions of goodwill, concern and hope for their safe return. Lest we forget.