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Previous Ministers' releases and speeches - The Hon Stuart Robert MP

The Hon Stuart Robert MP
Minister for Veterans' Affairs
Minister for Human Services
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC

30 November 2015

Ministerial Statement
Centenary of Anzac National Program

Introduction

I ask leave of the House to make a Ministerial Statement relating to the Centenary of Anzac national program.

It is with great pleasure that I rise to deliver this Ministerial Statement—my first as the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of Anzac—to apprise the House of the Government’s continued commitment to commemorating the Centenary of Anzac.

This significant period in Australia’s history commemorates the centenary of the First World War and a Century of Service. It provides an unprecedented opportunity to honour the service and sacrifice of past and present generations of Australian servicemen and women, who have defended our freedoms and values since Australia’s Federation.

It is also an opportunity to acknowledge the role of those on the home front. Its objective is to leave an improved understanding of Australia’s military experience, its impacts and lessons for current and future generations so that the sacrifices made by our young nation and her people is never forgotten.

Though there was understandably a significant focus in 2015 on the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings on Anzac Day, this does not mark the end as the Centenary of Anzac national program will continue until the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day on 11 November 2018. I would therefore like to take this opportunity to reflect not only on the program’s great many achievements to date but also outline a number of the key future components of the program, particularly the commemorative events planned for the coming year.

2015 Events

The Government recognises the significant community wish to participate in domestic commemorative events and I am in no doubt that the Anzac Centenary period is a time when Australians will want to engage in commemorative activity in substantially greater numbers at home.

This year there have been a number of events to commemorate the centenary of ANZAC, with the highlight being the amazing service at Gallipoli. Millions more Australians gathered at local services right across the country in what was an extraordinary display of commemorative spirit.

I personally spent ANZAC Day with the men and women of the Special Forces Task force in Iraq before joining our Ambassador in Baghdad for a service that included the diplomatic corps. I finished the day with an ANZAC evening service with our air task force and commemorated the start of the Mesopotamian Campaign in the Middle East that saw the start of the Australian Air Arm.

Domestic Commemorative Events in 2016

The program for 2016 reflects this growing need and enables solemn, dignified and respectful commemoration of more than a century of service and sacrifice by the men and women who have served, and continue to serve Australia during war and on peacekeeping and humanitarian operations. In addition to services that will be held at memorials on Anzac Parade in Canberra, some of the key domestic activities in 2016 will include:

  • Events to recognise the 25th anniversary of the Gulf War on 28 February 2016;
  • A reception at the Reg Saunders Gallery at the Australian War Memorial, for veterans and their families for the 75th anniversary of the Siege of Tobruk on 10 April 2016;
  • An event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Greece and Crete on 15 April 2016; and
  • A Government hosted reception at Parliament House’s Great Hall, for veterans and official guests on 17 August 2016 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan and Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War.

International Commemorative Events in 2016

Gallipoli

The Dawn Service held on Anzac Day in Turkey this year at the Anzac Commemorative Site, and the Lone Pine service later that morning, were significant milestones in the Centenary of Anzac national program. They poignantly commemorated the centenary of the Gallipoli landings and the extraordinary bravery of troops from both sides.

Following the successful conduct of these services, this is an appropriate time to reconsider the approach to Gallipoli commemorations.

On reflection, as there are risks to Australians and New Zealanders in attending multiple services, often over two days with little sleep, with the Lone Pine service held in an exposed and isolated location, a review of the continuation of the Lone Pine service is appropriate.

The Government takes its duty of care to attendees to all services very seriously. The review of the Lone Pine service will be made in consultation with Turkish agencies.

The Anzac Day Dawn Service at Gallipoli will remain one of Australia’s most significant commemorative events each year, and plans are well underway for the 2016 service. Our commitment to maintaining a very close and productive working relationship with the Turkish Government in providing a solemn and dignified Dawn commemorative service at Gallipoli will continue.

France

Despite the special place that Gallipoli holds in our nation’s story, Australia’s greatest achievements and greatest losses of the First World War were on the Western Front in France and Belgium.

Between 1916 and 1918, more than 290,000 Australians served on the Western Front. Of these, some 47,000 died and more than 130,000 were wounded. They shaped the course of history in a way that Australians had not before, and have not done since. This story deserves to be better known both in Australia and in Europe.

When complete in April 2018, the Sir John Monash Centre will commemorate the extraordinary achievements of the First Australian Imperial Force in France and Belgium. It will provide a focal point for visitors of all nationalities to the Somme battlefields, and educate a new audience about the costs and outcomes of Australia’s early involvement in that conflict.

During a recent visit to France, I had opportunity to meet with my counterpart Minister Todeschini in Paris, as well as with local officials in the Somme region. I thanked them for the strong support national, regional and local French authorities have given and continue to provide to the Centre. As a result, construction of the Sir John Monash Centre will commence in late January 2016, with a sod turning ceremony planned for 20 January 2016.

When it is completed, the Centre will anchor the 12 sites of the existing Australian Remembrance Trail. Comprising museums, interpretive walks and memorials, the Trail has built on the efforts of local communities over many years to commemorate the service and sacrifice of the First Australian Imperial Force. I thank the people of France and Belgium for their unflagging effort to ensure the legacy of Australian achievements and losses on the Western front is not forgotten.

To further recognise the service of those on the Western Front, two commemorative events will take place in France in 2016 to mark the 100th anniversaries of the Battle of Fromelles and the Battle of Pozieres. The services will be held on 19 and 23 July 2016 respectively, with Australia also likely to be involved in the 14th July Bastille Day celebrations in Paris. All of this is in the planning stage.

Given the significant public interest in attending the Fromelles and Pozieres events, a registration system to attend one or both of these services will soon be launched. National advertising will commence in December to inform Australian citizens and permanent residents on how they can apply to attend the commemorative services.

Those wishing to participate in one or both of the commemorative services will require an attendance pass to gain entry to the commemorative sites. The system will allocate passes on a first-in basis until all passes have been allocated. Once all passes have been allocated, anyone registering will be placed on a waiting list. If passes are returned, they will then be allocated to the next person on the waiting list.

There are 3,200 places available for the public at the Fromelles commemorative service and 3,500 places available at the Pozieres commemoratives service. For those who don’t receive an attendance pass there will be an alternative site close by where the commemorative service can be viewed on large video screens.

Vietnam War Commemorations

18 August 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan, Australia’s single most costly engagement of the Vietnam War, with the loss of 18 Australian soldiers.

I am pleased to announce a number of commemorative activities planned to honour the service and sacrifice of our veterans of the Vietnam War in 2016. These include:

  • a reception at Parliament House, Canberra on 17 August;
  • a national commemorative service, with a broad focus to commemorate Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, which will be held on the morning of 18 August, at the Australian Vietnam Forces Memorial on Anzac Parade in Canberra; and
  • a commemorative service to specifically commemorate the Battle of Long Tan, to be held on the afternoon of 18 August, at Gallipoli Barracks, Enoggera Military Base, Brisbane.

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs is working closely with representatives from the Vietnam veteran community on the arrangements for these events, and to ensure that Vietnam veterans’ who wish to attend the reception and the services receive appropriate support to do so.

Discussions are currently underway with the Government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam on a small and most appropriate way to mark the shared sacrifice of both our nations on the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan service at the Long Tan Cross Site in Vietnam.

It is envisaged that the Vietnamese Government will permit Australia to run a small commemorative service at the Long Tan Cross Site with access to those Australians and Vietnamese who may wish to attend. Discussions are ongoing between both Governments.

Korean War Commemorations

2016 will mark the 65th anniversaries of two significant Australian military campaigns of the Korean War—the Battle of Kapyong on 23-25 April 1951 and the Battle of Maryang San on 3-8 October 1951.

To commemorate these anniversaries, and more broadly, the service and sacrifice of Australians in the Korean War, the Government is planning for a veterans’ commemorative mission to the Republic of Korea in October 2016, with a particular focus being the commemorative service at Busan at the United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Korea on United Nations Day on 24 October.

This commemorative mission will conclude an era of commemorative missions, dating back to their commencement in the 1990’s. It will be the last mission run from Australia by the Government.

The veterans’ commemorative mission to Papua New Guinea in September 2015 to commemorate Victory in the Pacific, was the final commemorative mission for the Second World War. The magnificent men and women who are the surviving veterans of the Second World War and Korean War are now mostly in their 90s and the rigours of an overseas mission, with its demanding schedule and often testing locations, are no longer the most suitable way for acknowledging their service and the sacrifice of the comrades.

It is essential, however, that their service and sacrifice continues to be acknowledged by a grateful nation. Commencing in 2016, the Government will conduct commemorative services at memorials on Anzac Parade in Canberra, and other relevant military memorials of national significance, to mark significant anniversaries from the Second World War and the Korean War.

The first of these will be a commemorative service at the Rats of Tobruk Memorial, Anzac Parade, on 10 April 2016 to mark the 75th anniversary of the siege of Tobruk.

Commemorative Events in 2017-18

As I noted early, the Centenary of Anzac commemorative period extends to the Armistice of 11 November 2018. Planning for commemorative events in 2017 and 2018 to recognise a number of significant battles has commenced and will include services at the following locations:

  • Polygon Wood in Belgium on 26 September 2017;
  • Beersheba in Israel on 31 October 2017;
  • Jerusalem in Israel on 8 December 2017; and
  • Le Hamel in France on 4 July 2018.

An event will also be held in France on 11 November 2018 to commemorate the end of the First World War. There are also plans to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Fall of Singapore on 28 February 2017 at the Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial in Ballarat.

Spirit of Anzac Centenary Experience

On 4 September this year, the Spirit of Anzac Centenary Experience was officially opened in Albury-Wodonga by the then Prime Minister, the Hon. Tony Abbott MP. Created to be the flagship community event of the Anzac Centenary national program, this travelling exhibition will visit cities and regional centres across Australia until April 2017.

The exhibition utilises a mix of visuals, over 200 artefacts usually housed at the Australian War Memorial, audio and film to provide visitors with an interactive experience that guides them through a chronological Century of Service timeline spanning from pre-First World War Australia to the present day.

In the short time since its launch, in excess of 50,000 people have visited the exhibition in Albury-Wodonga, Launceston, Hobart, Ballarat and Bendigo. A ‘Community Zone’ is created in each location in close collaboration with the communities being visited to tell the stories of local servicemen and women.

I would like to acknowledge the significant contributions made by the Spirit of Anzac Centenary Experience’s corporate supporters, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Telstra, which have allowed this exhibition to be brought to life.

I believe the Spirit of Anzac Centenary Experience will leave a legacy of increased understanding of Australia’s wartime history and, through this, help carry forward the Anzac spirit and values. I encourage all those who have the opportunity to attend to do so.

Anzac Centenary Local Grants Program

I turn now to the Anzac Centenary Local Grants Program. The Government is committed to ensuring that the Anzac Centenary was not just about large-scale commemorative services at iconic international and national locations, such as Gallipoli and the Australian War Memorial, but also leaving a legacy in communities right across Australia.

The Australian Centenary Local Grants Program was instrumental in enabling this local engagement, as many Members from all sides have already attested when reporting the scope and resonance of community commemorative activities and projects that have occurred in their electorates.

I remind Members that of the over 1,800 applications received, 1,651 grants totalling $16.8 million (ex GST) across 150 electorates have been approved for projects demonstrating high levels of community engagement, innovation and educative value.

I thank once again the members of the many communities who have collaborated to devise these varied and ingenious projects, who joined local electorate committees, hosted by Members of this Parliament, to assist in the assessment of projects, and who, once the funding had been provided, volunteered their time and energy to ensure their delivery. It was the involvement of ordinary people, with extraordinary vision and commitment, who have made the Anzac Centenary Local Grants Program the outstanding success it has been.

Anzac Centenary Public Fund

The Anzac Centenary Public fund was established to collect donations from the public and the business sector to pursue a range of Anzac Centenary initiatives. I am pleased to report that, to date, the Fund has received approximately $35.7 million in donations. This result would not have been achieved without the assistance of the Fund’s private fundraiser, Mr Lindsay Fox, and I would like to thank him for his efforts. He is an extraordinary Australian.

I would also like to thank several of the corporate donors who have made significant contributions to the Fund, including: ANZ, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, National Bank of Australia, Telstra, Woodside, BHP and Rio Tinto.

The Anzac Centenary Public Fund Board, which is chaired by Mr Gary Humphries, provides advice to the Government on the merits of proposed projects seeking funding, and I thank them for their work. Based on the recommendations of the Board, some of the projects that have received funding include:

  • the Northern Territory’s The Borella Ride, which received $1.7 million;
  • the Queensland Remembers Gallery and Exhibition—a new permanent exhibition gallery—which has received $350,000 of a total commitment of $6.9 million;
  • the Victorian Shrine of Remembrance Galleries of Remembrance, which has received $8.3 million of a total commitment of $22.5 million;
  • the New South Wales’ Hyde Park Memorial, which has received $3 million of a total commitment of $19.6 million;
  • the Adelaide Memorial Garden Walk, which has received $5.5 million;
  • the Hobart Pedestrian Bridge, which has received $3 million of a total commitment of $8 million; and
  • The Sir John Monash Anzac Centenary Scholarship, which has received $4 million to provide for one new three-year scholarship to be granted annually in perpetuity.

Australian War Memorial World War I Gallery

Australia in the Great War is the Australian War Memorial’s new permanent exhibition on display in the First World War galleries, created in recognition of the centenary of the First World War and as part of the Memorial’s key contribution to the Anzac Centenary.

The exhibition presents the story of Australia in the First World War chronologically, covering all major theatres of operations, including Gallipoli; the Western Front; Sinai and Palestine; and the war at sea. The events taking place on the home front and the immediate and enduring legacy of the war are also included.

The First World War galleries integrate a wide variety of items, including dioramas and other works of art, uniforms, medal, technology such as artillery and firearms, photographs, film and personal items such as letters and diaries. Since the opening of the Memorial in 1941 the First World War Galleries have undergone several major alterations and many smaller updates.

The new state-of-the-art galleries now occupy the entire west wing of the Memorial’s ground level and contain ready-made content for the media to draw upon for the centenary years from general overarching themes down to individual stories from Australia’s service men and women.

The $32.5 million redevelopment of the galleries received $28.7 million from the Federal Government, $3.82 million from the Memorial’s existing capital reserves, and an additional $1 million donation from BHP Billiton Sustainable Communities. It provides a world class display and presents the story of the First World War in a unique, memorable and relevant way for all Australians.

Conclusion

The delivery of the Anzac Centenary national program constitutes a major national effort involving all facets of the Australian community, and I would like to acknowledge the effort of all those who have contributed. I am confident that the initiatives that have already been delivered by the Program, and those that are planned, will ensure that the Centenary of Anzac period will leave a legacy of reinvigorated national awareness and increased knowledge of Australian’s military history and the service and sacrifice of all those who have served.

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