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The Hon Darren Chester MP
Minister for Veterans' Affairs
Minister for Defence Personnel


26 Feb 2021
Time: 12:49 PM - 12:55 PM

Sky News, Tom Connell interview discussing another year without overseas Anzac ceremonies due to the COVID-19 pandemic and alternative ways to pay tribute

Channel: Sky News
Program: News Day


Description: Tom Connell interview with Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Darren Chester discussing another year without overseas ANZAC ceremonies due to the COVID-19 pandemic and alternative ways to pay tribute.

TOM CONNELL: Welcome back. Well, some breaking news coming in: there will again be no official Anzac Day ceremonies overseas for Australians this year of course due to the ongoing issues to do with COVID. Joining me live now is Darren Chester, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs. Minister, thanks very much for your time. So this decision was, of course, based around the main ceremonies we always think about – the commemorations in Turkey and also France. Were they close to going ahead, and why was the final decision made?

DARREN CHESTER: Well, g’day, Tom. This has been a decision which has been a long time in the making. We’ve been monitoring the situation overseas now for several months, and it’s based on the health advice. And it’s disappointing. Obviously it’s disappointing for a couple of main reasons – one is because it means that the conditions on the ground in Turkey and in France are not of a level where people could feel safe gathering in large numbers. So for the resident populations, the host populations, that’s very sad to know that the pandemic is still causing enormous problems there.

But it’s also naturally disappointing for Australians who may have wanted to travel at some point. The travel bans remain in place. We can’t be encouraging people to travel to places where the pandemic is still causing such big problems. So we can’t have those big public gatherings in Turkey and France this year, but keep in mind, we’ll still be commemorating the day in a respectful way at the embassies in each location. So there’ll be some private services, but we can’t in all good faith and the interests of public safety we can’t be encouraging people to gather in large numbers at the moment.

TOM CONNELL: There’s a pretty good facility in France in Villers-Bretonneux, of course, and plenty of Aussies around. Was there thought to maybe a small one, at least show, “Look, we’re still doing this,” albeit with all the sort of precautions we’d need to take?

DARREN CHESTER: Well, Tom, at its heart, as you know and I’m sure your viewers respect, Anzac Day is really about personal reflection and a moment to respect all those who serve. And while we do traditionally gather in large numbers to commemorate the day we can still pay our respects – as we did here last year in Australia with the Light up the Dawn – and we’ll be encouraging people who are living abroad at the moment to still recognise Anzac Day with their own personal reflections. But we just can’t be sending staff from the embassy or the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to coordinate these bigger events. We can’t be putting security staff in danger. We don’t want to put the public health in danger. So, you know, it’s with a bit of a heavy heart, Tom, I’ve got to say that we’ve had to cancel the event again this year. But we need to make sure that we do everything we can here domestically here in Australia to encourage people to attend the Anzac Day dawn services and marches in their home states. And they’ll be coordinated by local RSLs in accordance with the health advice in each state.

TOM CONNELL: Now we should stress that it’s overseas ceremonies not going ahead – they will go ahead in Australia. You mentioned the Light up the Dawn, so there might be – or there will be essentially restrictions again. What sort of crowds are you expecting will be able to attend, and could it be a sort of ticketed expect again to some of these places that are normally, you know, the more the merrier?

DARREN CHESTER: Well, in my view, Tom, our challenge here in Australia is to hold the events obviously in accordance with the public health advice in each state, but we want to see as many as possible safely attend Anzac Day marches and dawn services. So it will depend on each jurisdiction. And I know the RSLs in each state work closely with their state government officials to coordinate these events. The federal government’s role is more the national service at the Australian War Memorial and we’ll be having some more to say about that in the coming days and weeks as we finalise the arrangements with ACT Health.

But the bottom line is, Tom, there will be Anzac Day events around Australia this year. For those who may be vulnerable and maybe at risk of the pandemic more than others, we’ll be encouraging them to continue to Light up the Dawn, as we did last year. And that was, you know, a successful way of allowing people to pay their respects. A lot of people took up that opportunity and then viewed the national service that was broadcast live on television. So, again, Anzac Day is a very sacred day. It’s one where we obviously pay our respects to those who have given their lives in the service of our country, but it’s also a chance for us to say thank you for your service to the modern day servicemen and women who just these last 14 or 15 months have come our aid with Operation Bushfire Assist, they’ve been at the frontline with the COVID-19 response, and also we sent a large delegation across – a large contingent across to Fiji to help there as well with humanitarian aid and disaster relief. So we have a lot of to be proud of with our servicemen and women and we need to recognise them on Anzac Day and thank them for that service.

TOM CONNELL: Yeah, we’ve seen a lot of uniforms, haven’t we, travelling around the country? Just finally, on the Light Up the Dawn approach, so is there anything that might be new this year or perhaps that you want to tweak from last year?

DARREN CHESTER: Well, I’ve had some conversation with the RSL National President, Greg Melick, and we have no intention of stealing the thunder of the RSL. They organised Light Up the Dawn, and I’m sure Mr Melick will have something to say about that in the coming weeks. Look, I thought that was a very good initiative last year. It allowed us all to sort of be together even though we were apart if that makes any sense at all. And I thought it was a very good way of letting individuals show their respects to our servicemen and women, our current servicemen and women, our veteran community. But, look, I’m looking forward to Anzac Day being a bit more normal than last year. But we obviously have to pay all due respect to the health authorities in each jurisdiction as they organise these events.

TOM CONNELL: All right. We tried to get a sneak preview, but I don’t want you getting in trouble. Minister, thanks for your time today.

DARREN CHESTER: All the best, Tom. Have a great day.

End of Transcript.

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