Vietnam Veterans Day 2016
I thank the member for Ryan for moving this important motion, and also commend her on her powerful speech. It really is imperative that we as a nation take the time to pause, to reflect on the enormous sacrifice made by our defence personnel. And in the case of the almost 60,000 Australians who served in the Vietnam War, including the 521 who were killed and the 3,000 wounded, we must also reflect on the way we as a society treated them upon their return. We must acknowledge the emotional scars this created, we must learn from our mistakes, and we must now show the appreciation and recognition that was in many cases absent immediately after the war.
This year Vietnam Veterans Day will hold a special significance, because it will be 50 years to the day since the Battle of Long Tan. The Battle of Long Tan represents a very important turning point in the war in Vietnam, and is often called a defining moment in our involvement in the conflict in Vietnam, as we have just heard from the member for Ryan. It was 18 August 1966 that this famous battle took place, a battle between an Australian battalion of just over 100 men and up to 2,000 enemy troops.
As we approach the 50th anniversary of this battle, I am very aware that many of our Vietnam veterans are now well and truly in the autumn of their lives. This is often a time when they need the most support, and so I want to take this opportunity today to pay tribute to and to thank the wonderful organisations who work tirelessly to support our veterans. There is the RSL, of course. My own father-in-law, a Vietnam veteran, passed away late last year, and the RSL was a great support to him in his final months and also to our family following his death. And here in the ACT we also have the ACT branch of the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia and the Vietnam Veterans and Veterans Federation ACT. Both of these organisations do a wonderful job in supporting the veterans of the ACT: in advocating on their behalf. in providing assistance to individuals lodging claims with the Department of Veterans' Affairs or dealing with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, in providing social and emotional and even financial support when it is needed.
As we know, these organisations are predominately run by volunteers, and often, usually, on the smell of an oily rag. But the role they play and the support they provide is vital to the physical and emotional wellbeing of our veteran community, so I want to take this opportunity to thank them. Today, I would like to single out one individual who has made an enormous contribution to the veterans community here in the ACT. Peter Ryan was president of the ACT branch of the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia for a decade, from 2002 to 2012. He is currently a national vice president, and vice president of the ACT branch. Peter has personally assisted hundreds of veterans to ensure they receive their entitlements. He even gained a law degree late in life to make himself a more effective advocate. He has made a significant contribution to the interests of the war veterans community not just here in Canberra but also nationally. In particular, he has been the driving force for the success of Vietnam War commemorative activities in the ACT. Unfortunately, Pete is battling poor health at the moment, and I know this is of great concern to his many friends and his colleagues in the veterans community. So I want to take this opportunity to publicly acknowledge his enormous contribution and to thank him for his ongoing dedication and to hopefully cheer him up in the process.
In summing up, Vietnam Veterans Day is an incredibly important day. It is a chance to pay tribute to the men and the women who served in Vietnam, to those who made the ultimate sacrifice and to those who were wounded either physically and/or emotionally and who still bear the scars. And in summing up, I also want to acknowledge the sacrifice of the families who supported those Vietnam vets. As I mentioned, my late father-in-law was a Vietnam veteran, and my late mother-in-law maintained that she got a different husband when he came back from the war. He really did bear the scars, both physically and emotionally, from the war. I do want to acknowledge and thank the families. They went through a very tough time. Chris tells me about a time when protesters stormed one of the bases that they were living on, and that was terrifying for the women and the children who had to see that. They were there just trying to mind their own business, just living their lives without their fathers, so thank you to them. Lest we forget.