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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, 18 September 2014
MINVA055

TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW 6PR BREAKFAST WITH STEVE MILLS AND BASIL ZEMPILAS

Topics: Gallipoli Ballot, Commemorative Services at Albany

STEVE MILLS: Michael Ronaldson has been kind enough to join us. He's the Minister for Veterans' Affairs and the Minister assisting the PM for the Centenary of Anzac. We're right behind it here at 882 6PR. A lot of cash in regards to the centenary celebrations. Minister, good morning.

MICHAEL RONALDSON: Good morning.

STEVE MILLS: We're talking about 600 Gallipoli centenary ballot tickets have been handed back. Did this surprise you?

MICHAEL RONALDSON: Well, I don't think that figure's right, for starters. It's about 297 of the 3800 offers that have been made have been declined, but, look, I think it's really important for people to understand that we've made it quite clear that people do need to really, after they were successful, to really think about whether they were prepared to meet the demand.

It is quite physically demanding. There is a lot of walking. There is rough terrain, and I suspect some people have had a look at it and decided that they're possibly not up to it physically. But it is about 66 per cent of people who have responded. It is the same with our New Zealand counterparts. They're finding about the same numbers as well.

People have got until the 25th of October to finalise their arrangements. They have got to provide us with passports and transport details. So they will just be reallocated. I have to say to you, there is not a day that goes by where someone doesn't pull me up on the street and say I'm really disappointed I missed out and is there any chance of going, and I say, yes, I think there will be some reallocation.

We have already allocated about 100 passes back into the ballot from the official numbers that we had offered the Turkish Government. They didn't need all of them. So they have gone back into the pool, and those who have declined, those will be again offered to people who want to go, and I have no doubt they'll be snapped up.

But, this is not a walk in the park. It is not going for a stroll down to the café. It is quite physically demanding, and I am actually pleased that people have had a good long, hard look and made the decision, well, maybe it's not for us.

STEVE MILLS: So those tickets will be put back in those that applied for the original ballot?

MICHAEL RONALDSON: Absolutely.

STEVE MILLS: Okay. Cool.

MICHAEL RONALDSON: Yes.

STEVE MILLS: Well, that's fair enough.

MICHAEL RONALDSON: And we've had a very significant - we've got a very significant waitlist.

BASIL ZEMPILAS:  I'm sure you have. Yeah.

MICHAEL RONALDSON: There are people [indistinct] that definitely want to get on to that.

STEVE MILLS: Minister, we've been talking about the 10th Light Horse and their involvement in the Albany march, which a lot of people are going to.

MICHAEL RONALDSON: Sure.

STEVE MILLS: It's going to be a big event in Albany, and we've been trying to get behind the 10th Light Horse, as you know, Michael, where so many horses went, and, you know, they never returned, they had to be put down, and it's significant to the 10th Light Horse they're not allowed to march.

I know that you've had discussion with those that are organising it. Is there any way you can overturn that?

MICHAEL RONALDSON: Well, I actually asked them - there's been a committee formed some time ago that included the RSL, the City of Albany, the State Government, some reps from, and chaired by General Chalmers from my department, and they made this decision.

I wrote to General Chalmers about, I think, three weeks ago now and asked the committee to review their decision. They have come back and they have said that the safety issues they have still stand.

Look, I am not entitled to tell them what they should or should not be doing, but it was raised with me, and I have more than a passing interest in this, because I'm a Ballarat boy. You know, I was dragged off to pony clubs when I was three years old while my sister was trotting around. The Creswick Light Horse is a re-enactment group just out of Ballarat, and I have had a lot to do with them over the years.

So I am not coming from this with a position of not being supportive, but, ultimately, if I have been advised that there are genuine safety concerns, then I think it would have been quite irresponsible for me to try and get them to overturn that decision. I am sure you appreciate that if those issues have been raised and something happened, well, I would - - -

STEVE MILLS: Yeah, but - - -

MICHAEL RONALDSON: - - - I, quite frankly, couldn't live - - -

STEVE MILLS: But Michael - - -

MICHAEL RONALDSON: I couldn't live with myself - - -

STEVE MILLS: Michael, you've seen the parades. You've seen the parades, even in your own home town.

MICHAEL RONALDSON: Yes.

STEVE MILLS: You've seen them in the AFL grand final.

MICHAEL RONALDSON: Yes.

STEVE MILLS: We see them for the Melbourne Cup parade. I mean, there's more people there and the horses don't go out of control. They don't understand why we couldn't have at least a token representation of the [indistinct]

MICHAEL RONALDSON: Well, there will be. Yes [indistinct]

STEVE MILLS: So, there will be a horse in there now.

MICHAEL RONALDSON: No, no. There won't be a horse marching but they will be at the top. For those of you listeners who know Albany, the march will - the defence force will come up York Street, turn around and go back down the [indistinct] stretch and Serpentine Street. I understand there will be a presence of the light horse - pardon me - at the corner of York and Serpentine.

But look, I think people will understand that if a committee that has wide representation. So, the state government, DVA, City of Albany, the RSL - if they have made a decision [indistinct] York Street is not wide. We're expecting anything between 40 and 60,000 people to be in Albany over the weekend. The capacity of York Street, which is not a wide road, it will obviously be packed. They've made the decision that there are some safety issues.

STEVE MILLS: Have you been to York Street?

MICHAEL RONALDSON: And I think - - -

STEVE MILLS: Sorry, Minister. Have you had a - - -

MICHAEL RONALDSON: Absolutely. I have - - -

STEVE MILLS: You have.

MICHAEL RONALDSON: I have been down to Albany about six times and nearly seven times, I think, so - - -

STEVE MILLS: So, the march is going down one side of York Street. Is that what you're saying? Because it's - - -

MICHAEL RONALDSON: Well, it is going down the whole of York Street, I think, yes. It is going down the whole of York Street so - but look, in any event, the decision of this commemorative committee was that there were genuine safety issues. It would be totally inappropriate for me to try, even if I could and which I can't, to overrule that them having made a decision and I think people understand that if someone had overturned good constructive advice, then they would do so at their own peril and I certainly don't think it's appropriate for [indistinct]

STEVE MILLS: I understand what you're saying but I don't think - - -

MICHAEL RONALDSON: Yes. We have got - - -

STEVE MILLS: - - - they understand. Agree to disagree.

MICHAEL RONALDSON: I mean [indistinct]

STEVE MILLS: Yeah, yeah. I understand your point.

MICHAEL RONALDSON: And so I come from this with a position of support for these groups.

STEVE MILLS: Sure.

MICHAEL RONALDSON: [indistinct] You know, I've spent a lot of time with the Creswick Light Horse. They're fantastic. In a perfect world, I would've loved to have seen them there. Having been advised that there are safety issues - - -

STEVE MILLS: Sure.

MICHAEL RONALDSON: Having asked the committee to get back together and have another think about this and then coming back with the same advice, and I think everyone, including me, needs to be guided by that.

STEVE MILLS: Minister, you're in Arnhem land. What's it like up there?

MICHAEL RONALDSON: Look, I have [indistinct] an indigenous memorial event this morning which I am really looking forward to. There are some fantastic stories with indigenous servicemen, particularly during the Second World War where they patrolled the northern parts of Australia. It is a bit of an untold story, I have got to say, the level of indigenous service. They go back to the Boer War, First World War, Second World War, Vietnam, Korea, Malaya, Borneo and on from there so the [indistinct] we have got is trying to ascertain exactly who those indigenous servicemen and women were.

We have got a project underway to try and identify them and one of the reasons for me coming up here was to speak to some of the local indigenous leaders and Mick Peters to enable us to talk about how I can get into the communities and get them to start identifying those who served because it is a very important - - -

STEVE MILLS: It is very important.

MICHAEL RONALDSON: - - - part of our military and social history.

STEVE MILLS:  Thank for your time this morning. I appreciate it.

MICHAEL RONALDSON: No, I appreciate it. Thank you.

STEVE MILLS: Minister for Veteran Affairs and Minister Assisting the PM in the Centenary of ANZAC, Michael Ronaldson.

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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