Standing up for Canberra

Remembrance Day

I want to take this opportunity to thank the member for Goldstein for this private member's motion. Not a single community across Australia was spared the tragedy of the First World War. No matter where you go across this great nation, be it Thursday Island, be it Norfolk Island, be it a country town, be it a remote centre or be it a bustling metropolis, there stands an avenue of trees or a memorial remembering those men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in the many wars that Australia has participated in—the Boer War, the First World War, the Second World War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Iraq or Afghanistan.

And, of course, they are all honoured, including the unknown soldiers, here in our nation's great capital at the Australian War Memorial—a memorial that according to CEW Bean is 'a monument to great-hearted men', because, to quote him:

What these men did nothing can alter now. The good and the bad, the greatness and smallness of their story will stand … It rises, as it always will rise, above the mists of time, a monument to great-hearted men; and, for their nation, a possession for ever.

In speaking on this motion, we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice, those who have been identified and those unknown soldiers and we also remember the women—the mothers who were crippled with grief after losing their sons, sometimes more than one; the wives who lost their husbands and never remarried; the fiancees whose weddings were never celebrated, whose dresses were mothballed, whose hearts were broken; the fathers, the sisters, the brothers and the friends. And we remember the children—the children who had to bear the pall of grief cast over their home and family, who had to witness mothers whose lives had been shattered, fearful of their future, fearful of their security; the children who lost their fathers, or whose fathers returned from war broken, with missing limbs, or minds filled with confusion and rage and images of death, and with impossibly busy heads filled with demons. In remembering the tens of thousands who made the ultimate sacrifice, we must also remember those hundreds of thousands who came home, and have come home, wounded, be it physically or mentally. We must, as a nation, commit ourselves to providing every possible support to those who have served our country and have been injured in the process, be it mentally or physically.

Last week, I joined with the member for Herbert in Townsville to meet with the Quine group. I had met a number of the members of the group last year when I held a roundtable on the antimalarial drug mefloquine. As with last year, the trauma of the group was palpable. Along with my colleague the shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs, I continue to urge the government to listen to these people, and not just listen to them but to actually hear them. I continue to urge the government to reach out to these people in a genuine and meaningful way. Last year, the government committed to address concerns about mefloquine in four ways: it committed to community consultation to provide an open dialogue between DVA and Defence; it committed to a comprehensive online resource; it committed to a dedicated mefloquine support team; and it committed to an interdepartmental DVADefence Links Committee to discuss the issues and provide advice to the government by November 2016.

From last week's discussions, it would appear the consultation has all been one way and more a process of providing information from Defence to the community rather than a genuine open dialogue. The online resource is just a one-way information source, not a resource, and the hotline, I understand, does not operate for 24 hours and some people have found it very difficult to get through. November 2016 has been and gone, and if the advice from the committee has been given to the government it has not been made public. I urge the government to reach out to the Quinn group and other groups on the mefloquine issue. By reaching out, I mean listening to them, hearing them, and learning about their pain, their suffering and their heartbreak. We must care for and support all Australians who have served our country. Lest we forget. We will remember them.

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