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The Hon Darren Chester MP
Minister for Veterans' Affairs
Minister for Defence Personnel
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC


Date: 18/04/2018
Time: 7:12 AM

Darren Chester with Michael Rowland (ABC News Breakfast)

Station: ABC
Program: News Breakfast


MICHAEL ROWLAND: The Prime Minister arrives in London today for a trip that will see him lead a delegation to France as well as part of the Anzac Day commemorations next week. That delegation will officially open a new Australian facility dedicated to one of the great World War One generals, Australian Sir John Monash. The Veterans Affairs Minister Darren Chester will also be there and he joins us now in the Breakfast studio. Minister, a very good morning to you.

DARREN CHESTER: Good morning, Michael.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: A very big day next week, commemorating that facility honouring Sir John Monash, and yet we awake to the news this morning that the government has decided against posthumously promoting him to field marshal. Why was that position taken?

DARREN CHESTER: Well, they're two quite separate things. But first of all, on Sir John Monash's current rank - which has obviously been the subject of a great deal of speculation in recent weeks - now, the government has a view that basically, Sir John Monash was duly recognised both a military leader and also in civilian life post the work he did on the Western Front. Now, Sir John Monash was knighted on the battlefield. Having left the military, he went on to become quite an extraordinary citizen, engineer, here in Victoria, where he was responsible for the SEC in the Latrobe Valley. We had a freeway named after him, a university named after him, a federal electorate has been named after him by the Australian Electoral Commission. And of course, the Sir John Monash Centre on the Western Front is about to be commissioned in his name on the eve of Anzac Day. We believe he's been well recognised and there's actually not a precedent for posthumously promoting a military figure in this way.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: But there's also a first time for anything, Darren Chester, and if anybody deserves a promotion to the highest rank, it's this man, who effectively helped win World War One for the allies?

DARREN CHESTER: Well, I understand the historical reference you're making about Sir John Monash - quite an extraordinary general and an extraordinary Australian. And we would argue, and I argue, that he's been well-recognised. There is no precedent for promoting someone posthumously. Part of the requirement to be promoted in Australia is to be on the active service list. He obviously can't be on the active service list, given he passed away several decades ago. And I can't think of a single serving senior military person in Australia right now who believes that a promotion is warranted. And that's not being disrespectful in any way to Monash himself. He's an extraordinary Australian and he's been well-recognised.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Now, this year, of course, we're marking the centenary in November of the end of World War One and the Anzac Day commemorations are focusing on the Western Front and not Gallipoli. Looking forward though, do you think there'll be more of a focus on commemorating the battles on the Western Front versus Gallipoli?

DARREN CHESTER: I think almost inevitably, there will be, with the creation of the Sir John Monash Centre at Villers-Bretonneux and the Villers-Bretonneux centre really does commemorate extraordinary sacrifice, but also extraordinary achievements by Australians on the Western Front. I mean, in the order of 46,000 Australian troops lost their lives on the Western Front. Up to 200,000 killed or injured during those battles, and Villers-Bretonneux was a great triumph where they repelled the Germans only a day after they'd taken the town. So, it was a great achievement, but also a great deal of sacrifice. And the security situation in Turkey has got to a point to- I think a lot of people are reconsidering their travel plans to Turkey at the moment. I mean, the Department of Foreign Affairs' travel advice is urging people to show caution and to reconsider some of their travel options in terms of the risk of terrorist attacks in Turkey. So, I think, we might see more people choose to do their battlefield pilgrimage to the Western Front, if you like, and get a greater appreciation of those battles.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: And that's a shame, isn't it, given the place Gallipoli holds in Australia's history?

DARREN CHESTER: Absolutely. It is a shame that the security situation in Turkey has deteriorated to some extent and we just encourage people to check the DFAT travel warnings before they undertake any travel overseas. Personally, and I know you've been there as well, to go to Anzac Cove is something quite extraordinary. For an Australian to get that sense of place and what occurred there. Many of us regard that as the birth place of modern Australia and our coming of age as a nation. And I'm not saying people shouldn't travel, but they should at least consider the travel warnings, and I think given the establishment of the Sir John Monash Centre on the Western Front, we may see more people choose to go to the Western Front and gain a better appreciation of those battles.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Joining you and the Prime Minister there next week will be the former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, whose idea this largely was to set up the Sir John Monash Centre. That will be pretty awkward?

DARREN CHESTER: No, not at all. It won't be awkward at all. Tony had the vision to establish this centre. It's a great legacy for future generations. It's actually a lasting legacy from the Centenary of Anzac commemorations. It's important that future generations understand the level of sacrifice and the way Australian troops travelled such a long way from home, fought on French soil and really helped to secure their freedom and I think that that legacy is an important project in that regard and it will allow those future generations to understand it even better. And Tony deserves credit for initiating it and Malcolm deserves credit for following it through.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: So, no No Man's Land Christmas-style truce between Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull?

DARREN CHESTER: Look, I think these events of this nature will obviously be more important than any personal rivalry which may exist between the pair. I mean, the Prime Minister and the former Prime Minister have both got a great sense of place when it comes to our veterans and our servicemen and women and their sacrifice.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Before you go, Australia, of course, is proudly hosting the Invictus Games later this year that celebrates the achievements of soldiers wounded in battle, and as part of your trip to London on the way to France, along with the Prime Minister, you'll be meeting Prince Harry, of course, who is very much behind these Games - an ambassador for them. A very important day for both you and the Prime Minister.

DARREN CHESTER: I'm looking forward to that as well. I mean, Prince Harry is someone who has really driven this Invictus Games and the service of veterans and their transition into civilian life. And I think he should be very proud of the work he's done in that regard and having the Invictus Games in Australia this year, I think, will demonstrate to the Australian public that our veterans do have a role after the Defence Force, whether it be in their sporting pursuits, but also whether it be through future employment, future community involvement, and we need to keep making sure we're working to put our veterans first and put their families first and recognise their great achievements and their willingness to put themselves in harm's way for the benefit of others.


Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS) can be reached 24 hours a day across Australia for crisis support and free confidential counselling. Phone 1800 011 046 (international: +61 8 8241 4546). VVCS is a service founded by Vietnam veterans.