TO the eternal shame of this country, the 15 years post the Vietnam War where there was no recognition is a dark stain. It was unforgivable.
It’s probably not well known that close to the same number, the 60,000 men and women who served in Vietnam, have almost now served in Afghanistan.
We as a community must never, ever, ever forget the mistakes of the past. I know that you’ve been asked, on behalf of this nation, to serve before and to sacrifice before.
But I ask you again, to ensure that we make sure these young men and women returning from Afghanistan, some of who are on their fifth, sixth, seventh, eight, ninth and 10th rotations, that we look after them and we look after their families.
I want to acknowledge another group of people – the mothers and the fathers and the wives and the sisters and the brothers and the girlfriends and the boyfriends of those who served in Vietnam.
It’s too easy to forget the contribution they made to this nation.
They were the ones who we asked to pick up the lives of those who returned, many of whom were shattered. And we asked the wives and the girlfriends and the brothers and mothers and sisters to do what this nation should have done.
We should only have asked you to be partner on that, not bearing the sole responsibility for that. For that I am deeply, deeply sorry.
When these young men and women return, we must commit to making sure that the past mistakes are not repeated. They may not need the help on day one and day two – they probably will, but I suspect they won’t acknowledge that. But when they are ready, then we must stand ready to provide them with the support they deserve.
We saw the extraordinary bravery which is epitomised at Long Tan. It was epitomised all over Vietnam. We look at the service of those in 6RAR and say: Why did it take so long for them to be recognised? And we ask the question: Despite the request of Harry Smith and the veteran community and people all over Australia, why, why, why is that Unit Citation for Gallantry not being given by the Governor-General in Canberra?
It should be in Canberra. Harry Smith, who I spoke to a couple of weeks ago, has been fighting the fight for that citation to be awarded by the Governor-General in Canberra where it should have been.
It’s not good enough, in my view, for those in Canberra to say that cost will determine where that award is made.
This is far too important to be driven by cost and Harry Smith and those who wanted to attend from 6 RAR should have been flown to Canberra at the community’s and the nation’s expense, rather than it happening at Enoggera in Brisbane.
We are extraordinarily grateful for what you have given us.
It’s because of you, and those who came before you, that we are the free and stable country that we are today. We will not forget your contributions.
Senator Michael Ronaldson is Opposition spokesman for veterans’ affairs.