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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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Thursday, 11 September 2014
MINVA052

DOORSTOP BITA PAKA WAR CEMETERY RABAUL, PAPUA NEW GUINEA

Topics: Bita Paka memorial service, Centenary of Anzac, First World War.

MINISTER RONALDSON: Good Morning everyone. It’s a great pleasure to be with the Vice Admiral Tim Barrett, the Chief of Navy, we just attended a couple of commemorative services this morning at one of the Bita Paka cemeteries, a very important commemoration.

We lost five naval men as part of the expeditionary force and one from the military. It is an untold story; regrettably in Australian war time history. Also, we’ve got the loss of the AE1 with 35 men aboard and despite extensive searching to date we haven’t been able to locate that submarine.

Vice Admiral Barrett and I want to ensure that all Australians understand that this indeed was our first engagement in the First World War. These six men were the first six men lost as part of the Australian forces. It’s an untold story. It needs to be told and that’s why I’m here today and that’s why the Chief of Navy and I are here today to ensure that as part of the Centenary commemorative period that we are here at Bita Paka, that we do remember these six men and we are here to support their families for whom this is a very emotional time as you will appreciate.

CHIEF OF NAVY: I’d reiterate that for us - clearly - there was a strong naval element in this and so I’m here to lend support for those members but clearly we recognise this as both a Naval and a Military expedition. I was fortunate enough to be in Sydney to commemorate the departure of this force a few weeks ago so I find it quite poignant to be here to actually stand on the spot where they came and they fought and where six of our people died.

JOURNALIST: This conflict is sometimes suggested as a good example of when Australia becomes engaged in overseas conflicts that an example like this shows that we must also keep an eye on our own region as well.

MINISTER: Well I think what this shows is that this is a long time ago. It was a completely different world, the Germans who had been slower to colonise than the British and others had of course came to this area.

They had very sophisticated wireless set ups scattered across the Pacific, they were a very real risk to Allied shipping and they were a very real risk to Allied forces generally.

So these men were sent here with a specific purpose to take these wireless operations out and of course we had six men here, and then over the duration of the First World War, sixty thousand plus men who lost their lives in the War.

JOURNALIST: Minister why do you think it is an untold story?

MINISTER: I suspect that the focus was lost over the last 25 years and this nation started to forget, regrettably, for a period of time. I give great credit to the former Labor Veterans’ Affairs Minister Con Sciacca with the Australia Remembers programme which reignited this nation’s interest again.

But I think the focus has always been on Anzac day and on Gallipoli. The First World War was a four year war. There were episodes like this at Bita Paka, Rabaul and then there were episodes right across the world. And so part of this commemorative period is to teach young Australians particularly, that it just wasn’t Gallipoli and we lost most of our men in the Western Front and the Somme.

So it’s about educating young Australians about this Centenary period. The Chief of Navy and I have talked about this before, this is about educating young Australians that there has been an enormous price paid for the freedoms that we enjoy today.

And that’s why at the Australian War Memorial - when you walk down those cloisters - there is around one hundred and two thousand names there; men who paid the price of freedom in blood.

I want the Centenary of Anzac to be about educating the next generation of young Australians to understand just what that service and sacrifices meant in a modern context.

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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