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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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Wednesday, 29 January 2014
MINVA002

TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW WITH BEN DAVIS
DRIVE - 4BC BRISBANE

Topics: Centenary of ANZAC ballot closure

BEN DAVIS: First of all, we've got a guest in our studio. Did you know that there was a ballot to get to Gallipoli next year, for the 100th anniversary of our diggers landing there? Well, there is, and if you're thinking of going, you'll need to get a wriggle on because there's only about two and a bit days left until that ballot closes. Senator Michael Ronaldson, Federal Minister for Veteran Affairs, joins us in the studio. As I said, we have a visitor.

Now, Minister, you actually just flew in from Townsville, can I quickly ask you weather up there? We've heard from Davina what's going to happen. What was it like when you left?

MINISTER MICHAEL RONALDSON: Ah, Ben, I'm not too sure what all the fuss was about. Seemed alright to me!

BEN DAVIS: Police cars?

MINISTER: Having said that, I was pleased to get out. They're talking about a lot of rain and I'm a Victorian and from Ballarat actually, so we are desperate for some rain down there, so...

BEN DAVIS: It seems that the whole eastern seaboard is [inaudible]...

MINISTER: Yeah, if they get some that'd be great. Hopefully they won't get the flooding. So, hopefully the best of both worlds.

BEN DAVIS: Well, and you've just come from Brisbane Airport. I don't know if you saw it, if you were aware, but there was a Qantaslink plane that had to go for an emergency landing there. Did you - any trouble when you were coming in, or did you see, or were you experiencing any of that?

MINISTER: I could have paid more attention, clearly, to the weather in Townsville and the planes on the tarmac!

BEN DAVIS: [Laughs] Everything was fine, the Qantaslink plane did touch down, but I thought...

MINISTER: Good, I'm pleased to hear that.

BEN DAVIS: ...I'd best ask you, considering you've just come from there, so...

MINISTER: No, I didn't see it.

BEN DAVIS: But look, let's now talk about why you are here, and that is the Gallipoli ballot. For those who don't know, next year, 2015, the 100 year anniversary of the landing of Gallipoli, there is a ballot to get to the dawn service. Can you tell us how it's working? How many people have perhaps even applied and what conditions are?

MINISTER: Well, look, firstly, most importantly, is that your listeners who might be interested will need to get a wriggle on, because it closes at 11:59 PM this Friday night. So if anyone is interested, they need to go to the DVA website, and that will direct them through to Gallipoli. In fact it's www.gallipoli2015.dva.gov.au. So people need to get on there, and don't leave it until Friday afternoon because there is a bit of work that needs to be done. As of yesterday, Ben, there were 28,253 people had...

BEN DAVIS: Wow.

MINISTER: ...lodged applications. Now that's the raw data. That doesn't include applications that might have been lodged incorrectly, but at the moment there's - and I would assume by Friday night we're probably talking 30,000 plus.

BEN DAVIS: Thirty thousand plus. How many can go? How many...?

MINISTER: For 8000 places. There's 2000 for the Kiwis, 8000 for ourselves, which is roughly the numbers that were at Gallipoli. And we are working with the Kiwis in relation to this. Ticketek have got the contract for it; they're doing the New Zealand and the Australian one. We open the same time, we'll close the same time. So that 8000 is in three categories, basically, although there's a very special group. I'll perhaps talk about them first. There's 500 places that are set aside for the Turkish officials and others and included in those will be invitations I've sent out to 160 marvellous women who are the widows of the First World War veterans.

BEN DAVIS: Oh really?

MINISTER: Yeah. They're obviously...

BEN DAVIS: Hundred and sixty?

MINISTER: Yeah, 160. So...

BEN DAVIS: That's...

MINISTER: Some out there will be reflecting perhaps on what the age difference might be between the men and their wives, but in any event there's still 160 alive, and I've personally - the Prime Minister and I have personally invited them to come to Gallipoli. But, look, it's not an easy trek and people have got to be pretty fit. There's uneven ground and, you know, the facilities aren't all that flash, so anyone who's going got to be pretty fit and prepared to rough it a little bit.

So I'll just go through the categories. There's 400 double passes. That's 800 for direct descendants with preference for sons and daughters. There's 400 passes, so 800 people for those with veterans with qualifying service or have served overseas. That includes peacekeepers. And then there's 3000 double passes, which is 6000 people, for those who miss out on the first two ballots. So direct descendants or veterans, they'll go into the general one. And then there's another 400... 200 school children plus their chaperones. So that's our 8000.

And before your phones light up, can I tell you the only pollies who are going? Which is the first question I get, is... the Prime Minister, myself, the leader of the opposition and the shadow Veterans' Affairs Minister, and anyone else who goes will have to get - any pollies who want to go will have to go under the ballot. So, premiers haven't been invited as part of the official party. So the Prime Minister and I very strongly share the view that this is an event for all Australians, and we don't want pollies taking up seats.

BEN DAVIS: Common sense.

MINISTER: Yes, I think it is.

BEN DAVIS: Yeah.

MINISTER: The Prime Minister was very passionate about that, and I agreed with him. So...

BEN DAVIS: We are speaking with the Federal Minister of Veteran Affairs, Michael Ronaldson, who's telling us about Gallipoli 2015. So not this ANZAC Day but next, it is the 100 year anniversary and there is a ballot for Australians who would like to go there. We've just heard that there is only a certain number. There's over 30,000 or expecting over 30,000 to apply by Friday night's cutoff, 11:59 PM. Minister, can you just paint the picture for us a little bit? You mentioned that you have to be fairly fit and it's not the... you know, it's not a stable ground to get in on. Can you take us through what a trek to ANZAC Cove and Gallipoli involves?

MINISTER: Yeah, look Ben, I'm not suggesting it's walking Kokoda…

BEN DAVIS: No.

MINISTER: But there are - there's uneven ground, and people have got to be mobile enough to clamber up the steps to mobile loos and those sorts of things. So it's got to be a level of fitness. I mean, for people who aren't terribly able-bodied, they need to think twice about it. Because the last thing we want is someone to get there and not been able to participate in the event.

BEN DAVIS: How do you decide who makes the cut? I mean, it's a ballot, so is it literally drawing names out of a hat?

MINISTER: Absolutely. I have no say in it whatsoever, and quite frankly with the number of phone calls I've had asking for tickets, I'm very pleased that I'm not involved in it. But KPMG is oversighting the whole ballot process.

BEN DAVIS: Okay.

MINISTER: It is a completely clean process, and if your...

BEN DAVIS: Yup.

MINISTER: If your number comes up, your number comes up. And if it doesn't, it doesn't. There is a box for people to tick if they'd like to go into the overflow, if you like. So people who say yes and then can't go...

BEN DAVIS: Okay.

MINISTER: ...those tickets will be offered to others. Indeed we're having a, for want of a better word, a dry run this time round, so we will put all the processes that are in place for next year in place this year.

BEN DAVIS: So you have to get tickets to go this year as well?

MINISTER: Well, not tickets so much as the gating and the entry...

BEN DAVIS: Okay.

MINISTER: ...and all those things. So the separation that'll be there.

And no, you certainly don't need a ticket this year. But it will effectively be a dry run for next year, and I should say we have got very gracious hosts in the Turks. They are very, very gracious hosts and we very much respect that.

BEN DAVIS: 131332 is the number, if you're thinking about going to Gallipoli in 2015. The 100 year anniversary of our troops landing there. They're etched into our history forever and time. We are speaking to Michael Ronaldson, the Federal Minister for Veterans’ Affairs about the ballot. About how you go into it. Now, if you're successful in the ballot, that's just the first part. You obviously need to pay your own way. It's just a ticket to get in. It's - you have to make your own way there and - or is that part of it?

MINISTER: No, no, you've got to make…

BEN DAVIS: Is there itineraries, or...?

MINISTER: Yeah, the only people the Government will be paying for will be the First World War widows.

BEN DAVIS: Sure.

MINISTER: So, I've written to all of them and offered to pay for them to go. Everyone else will have to pay for themselves.

BEN DAVIS: And is there an itinerary, or is that something you have to do separately - you have to sort of make your own arrangement to get there?

MINISTER: Well look, I imagine a lot of people will get on some sort of tour.

BEN DAVIS: Yep.

MINISTER: There are cruise ships that are going. But this is just, literally, a ticket to get in, and people will need to make all their travel arrangements to get there, what else they might sort of put around the trip as well. So this will get them into…

BEN DAVIS: And that's the thing. A lot of times like this there are tour operators that offer packages to go to Gallipoli. But don't be fooled, you cannot buy into this, can you?

MINISTER: No.

BEN DAVIS: You've got to have - be successful in the ballot first. So don't get sucked into any tour operators who might be saying you can get there…

MINISTER: Look, I know that there are a lot of very scrupulous tour operators who do this in Gallipoli. And I'm sure - well I hope there won't be - but I'm sure there'll be some unscrupulous people. You should not book a tour which says you will get entry into the dawn service. You can only get there with a ticket.

BEN DAVIS: Now Minister…

MINISTER: And you'll only get the ticket through the ballot.

BEN DAVIS: Through the ballot.

MINISTER: Yes.

BEN DAVIS: Now, there have been suggestions that the PM is a little bit unhappy with the way the ballot has gone, or it's been represented. Because there are a few people - or I say more than a few people. There have been a lot of calls to our station saying oh, we didn't even know this was on.

MINISTER: Well, it has been very heavily advertised. It's been advertised on radio, it opened in December… in fact it was earlier than that. So there has been a lot of time. I'm surprised to hear that the Prime Minister has made any comment about it, that's news to me.

But we have got a process that has been very well advertised, and I think the fact that 30,000 people have applied would probably indicate that it's been out there pretty widely.

BEN DAVIS: So there were no concerns, maybe, perhaps how the previous Government handled it and kicked it off, or…?

MINISTER: Oh I had very real concerns. And when I was first sworn in - maybe that's what you're referring to - I didn't think that there had been sufficient testing of this process. I wasn't prepared to sign off on it until I was satisfied. And I said to the department, you go back, and when you can come to me in full conscience and say that you have tested this, and retested it, and this thing's not going to collapse when the ballot opens, then when you do that, I'll tick it off. And it was delayed by two weeks to ensure that that occurred.

And so, I wanted to - the last thing I wanted is for this system to collapse when the ballot opened.

BEN DAVIS: Yeah. Now, Keith's been in touch, he wants to know, if you get selected and for some reason can't go, can you pass it on to a family member?

MINISTER: No, no.

BEN DAVIS: You can't hand it on?

MINISTER: No, no. But what I have said is if - say someone, a week before they're due to go - so the applicant who's…

BEN DAVIS: Yep.

MINISTER: …who might be a wife for example, if her husband died a week before the event, then I had written into the rules of the ballot that - in that situation, that the non-applicant could be replaced.

BEN DAVIS: Okay.

MINISTER: So, either way around. I thought it was grossly unfair that with a tragic accident both people couldn't go.

BEN DAVIS: Couldn't go.

MINISTER: Yeah.

BEN DAVIS: And so you could be - you could have a replacement…

MINISTER: Yes.

BEN DAVIS: You could get perhaps a family members to go in that instance.

MINISTER: Yeah, yeah. But look, the reason we've done this - I understand the question - the reason we've done this is that a lot of people have put in, and we wanted to make sure the only people who did go were those who did the - who put the ballot application in.

So, you know, unlike the stories about the Telstra - the initial shares of Telstra, we had dogs and cats and things I think bought a lot of shares. We wanted to make sure that didn't happen with this ballot, with people putting in multiple entries and then just putting someone else in.

BEN DAVIS: Uh Minister, we've got Marsy here on the line, she just wanted to clarify a point earlier. We'll go - hello Marsy, how are you?

CALLER MARSY: I'm well thank you Ben. Just wanted to clarify something, I've only just come in on this conversation. I have actually registered for the ballot. I am a direct descendant of a World War One veteran, not a Gallipoli veteran, but in the Battle of the Somme.

I understand direct descendants - are they given any preference in the ballot?

MINISTER: Uh, good afternoon Marsy.

CALLER MARSY: Thank you.

MINISTER: Yeah look, the first generation sons and daughters will get preference. There are 400 double passes for direct descendants. So yes, there is a special category, they're at the top of the four categories.
So yes, there is 400 passes there. And if you miss out on that, you then can go into - you'll go into the general ballot. So good luck.

BEN DAVIS:  Friday night. You can - the only way you can enter it is getting online at Gallipoli2015.dva.gov.au. Is that correct, have I got that right, Minister?

MINISTER: Yeah, well done Ben!

BEN DAVIS: Well there you go, off the top of my head. So you must do it online, and you must do it before midnight on Friday night.
Minister, while I've got you here I do want to change a little bit of a tact, and ask you about I guess the reduction in danger pay to our troops that are serving overseas, and in harm's way perhaps. Your thoughts on that?

MINISTER: Well it's been - I became aware of this this morning when I was having breakfast at a hotel in town. So this is not my portfolio area.

So, from what I've been able to read, it would appear that the field payments will still continue, but it will be on a case by case basis. Which I think reflects perhaps the reduction in numbers in Afghanistan, and the fact that there are now a number of troops who are not in dangerous areas per se. But we still have - will have people in the field, in as wide as possible use, and they will still be eligible for it.

Look, nose to the needle, the Defence Association thought it was an appropriate move. But look, I can't give any more than that, as I say I'm not the responsible minister, and I don't know the full background to it.

BEN DAVIS: As the Minister for Veteran Affairs though, do you believe that we should be paying our troops more, rather than taking money off them? Especially if they're overseas serving.

MINISTER: Well, I have a lot of issues that I've got to address as the Veterans Affairs Minister, which will require considerable ongoing funding. And that of course Ben, is our obligation to these men and women when they return, and that's when I pick them up…

BEN DAVIS: Yeah.

MINISTER: …when the transition out of defence. We have got some significant - our mental health issues, this community has got to accept its responsibilities. We cannot do to this returning group what we did to the men returning from Vietnam. We cannot repeat those mistakes, and I am determined to look after these young men and women when they do come back, and when they exit out of the Defence Force - they transition out, and that's a huge obligation for all of us.

Your listeners mightn't be aware that as many people now have served this country overseas in the last 20 years as served in the whole of the Vietnam War.

BEN DAVIS: Yeah.

MINISTER: So, we've got a huge obligation and I intend looking after them.

BEN DAVIS: There you go. That's your portfolio. The Federal Minister for Veteran Affairs, Michael Ronaldson. Thank you for joining us in the studio today.

MINISTER: Thanks Ben.

BEN DAVIS: I hope that answers a lot of questions we have out there about the Gallipoli ballot for 2015, and also our troops overseas serving there in the Middle East at the moment.

 

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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