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Previous Ministers' releases and speeches - Senator The Hon. Michael Ronaldson

Senator the Hon. Michael Ronaldson
Minister for Veterans' Affairs
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC
Special Minister of State

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Monday, 4 August 2014
VA045

TRANSCRIPT CAPITAL HILL- ABC NEWS 24

Topics: One hundred years since the commencement of the First World War 

PRESENTER: Minister, thanks for joining me. Now you are at the War Memorial today for the commemorations. Australia was only a very young nation back in 1914. How significant was World War One in shaping the country?

MICHAEL RONALDSON:Today is a very special day for all Australians. The population of Australia in 1914 was under five million - about 4.7 million. 417 000 young men joined, 330 000 served overseas, one in five died on active service and about 240 000 odd who returned - more than half of those were wounded. This completely changed our nation. We’re a very young nation.  Regional and rural areas in particular, the heart was literally taken out of those country towns all over Australia. It did have an extraordinary impact that lasted for a generation. 

Today is not just about events of a hundred years ago and the start of the First World War but today gives us an opportunity to commemorate a century of service. And it’s about making sure that the next generation of young Australians understands the when and where and the why. The when we fought, the where we fought and the values we fought to protect and they, they need to understand that when they walk the streets of Sydney or Canberra or Melbourne or my home town of Ballarat in relative freedom that’s been paid for with the sacrifice of the lives and the blood of 62 000 Australians.

PRESENTER: You’re the Minister in charge of looking after the Centenary for Anzac next year. How’s the planning for that shaping up?

MINSTER: It’s going very well.  It’s a huge challenge as you will appreciate and we’ll commence with commemorations in Albany at the end of October - start of November.  From Gallipoli next year we move back to the Western Front and the battles there. So it is a really important commemorative period for this nation. My view is it is the most significant commemorative period in our history and I think it’s very important that all Australian’s irrespective of where they are, have the opportunity to commemorate that sacrifice.

PRESENTER: Minister how, on that, how do you ensure that you do get those local communities involved and that they have the funding to have their own commemorations?

MINISTER: Well this process started well over twelve months ago, initially with a hundred thousand dollars put into each federal electorate. As part of a budget commitment, we put another twenty five thousand in.  This is completely a-political and bipartisan.  So there is one hundred and twenty five thousand dollars for each hundred and fifty electorates. All local members were asked to form a committee with ex-service organisations and others to ensure that local commemorative events took place. So we’ve got the hundred and fifty electorates with commemorative events; re-enactments, book writings, storytelling, a huge range of different applications.  In fact my Department is processing about 1700, 900 of which came in the last ten days. So we are getting through those as quickly as possible and there are some fantastic projects and a lot of community groups have done a lot of work to make sure we do have those local commemorations as well as the national ones.

PRESENTER: Now there has been so much focus, rightly so, on Gallipoli and Anzac day but do you think the message about the impact of other areas such as the Western Front for example, do you think that is understood and that message is being heard by the community?

MINISTER: No I don’t think it is and I had the great honour to be in Fromelles the week before last to open the Fromelles museum and then to attend the rededication at Pheasant Wood, the Fromelles mass grave cemetery. And I made the comment on opening the museum that there isn’t a great level of understanding and I think in some respects the focus of the moment is on Gallipoli next year.

We’ve had a ballot process, so I think all the focus is on Albany and Gallipoli but after that we do need to start concentrating on the Western Front. That is where we lost the bulk of our men over there. That’s where there were some terrible defeats but some also quite stirring and absolutely significant victories. And so the focus will naturally move away from Gallipoli next year. The Turkish government, who I’ve got to say are incredibly generous in the way they allow us to have an annual commemorative event, have also given us permission to have an event at Lone Pine - another commemorative event - on the 6th of August next year and then we will obviously move across to the Western Front.

And the government is now looking at an interpretive centre at Villers-Bretonneux and the focus will clearly go across to the Western Front, the Somme….

PRESENTER: …Minster we will have to leave it there. Thank you very much for your time.

MINISTER: Thank you very much Julie. Thank you.

Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS) and Veterans Line can be reached 24 hours a day across Australia for crisis support and free and confidential counselling. Phone 1800 011 046

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