TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW

MORNINGS WITH JOHN CECIL – ABC GREAT SOUTHERN

Tuesday, September 16 2014

Senator the Hon. Michael Ronaldson
Minister for Veterans' Affairs
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC
Special Minister of State

MINVA054

Topics: Comments by Member for Albany, Peter Watson.

PRESENTER: The Minister is holding his line. The Minister for
Veterans' Affairs Michael Ronaldson, good
morning.

MINISTER RONALDSON: Good morning, John.

PRESENTER: Thank you for joining us this morning. First of all,
right of reply - response to Mr Watson's comments.

MINISTER: Well, look, I am concerned there's a bit of politics
being played, John, but this, I think, is above
politics. The little cubicle in Canberra, I find
interesting.

I actually live in Ballarat. I don't know whether
Peter Watson's ever been to Ballarat, but I've been
to Albany at least half a dozen times, and I think
I've probably spoken to you on three or four of
those. So that's a bit of a cheap shot, and had
Peter Watson bothered to talk to me about it, I
would have advised him that I've been a very
passionate supporter of the Creswick Light Horse.

Creswick's about 20 kilometres out of Ballarat, and
they've had a group out there for 20-odd years
now. So I do understand it. I have been to Albany,
but in relation to the issue itself, it's interesting that
Peter didn't acknowledge that the former Labor
Government established a committee for the
planning of commemorative events, and that
comprised the city of Albany, the Western
Australian State Government, the Albany RSL subbranch,
the Australian New Zealand Defence
Forces and was chaired by the Department of
Veterans' Affairs.

This decision, John, was not taken by me, and it
was not taken by the Department. When I heard
about it, I wrote to Major General Dave Chalmers,
who's the chair of the Steering Committee, and
asked him to review the decision on the back of
representations that I had had, and General
Chalmers came back to me and said the
committee had reconsidered this matter and their
view was that there was too great a risk to people
who are in York Street.

Now, the one thing I do agree with Peter Watson is
he said that York Street will be packed, and,
indeed, York Street will be packed, and that's the
very reason why some of these issues have been
raised.

Look, John, ultimately, would I, in a perfect world,
have liked to have seen them march with the
troops? Yes, but I have been advised that on
safety grounds it's not appropriate, and I don't
know how anyone could possibly imagine that
having had that advice from a committee set up by
the former government to oversee the
commemorative event, having got that advice, how
I can, in all conscience, go against that, and quite
frankly, I couldn't live with myself if something
happened on the day, having got that advice, and,
therefore, the decision stands, even if I had the
ability to overturn it, which I don't. I am supportive
of the decision made by that committee.

PRESENTER: Our guest is Senator Michael Ronaldson, the
Minister for Veterans' Affairs, and we're talking
about the debate that continues to roll on
regarding using volunteers and their horses as part
of the commemorative march. Minister, the point
Dave Chalmers made was that it was for serving
members and former serving members. It's not a
re-enactment. Does that carry any currency with
you?

MINISTER: Well, that is one of the issues that the committee
looked at, and I accept their view in relation to that,
and they say that there are current serving
members of the [indistinct] and 10th Light Horse
will be marching with the ADF contingent, but it's
the safety issue, ultimately, John, that I was
concerned about, and as I said, I couldn't - I think it
would be unconscionable for me to try and direct
this committee to overturn that decision when it's
made on public safety grounds.

Now General Chalmers is discussing some other
options with others, and potentially we're looking at
something at the corner of York and Serpentine to
see whether we can have a presence of the light
horse there. That's where the Veterans will march
down York Street. That's where the ADF will come
up and turn around and go back down again. So
there are some options there, and [indistinct]…

PRESENTER: Can I just follow - sorry to jump in. Can I just follow
you through on that point. One of the things you'd
have to say is coming through very strongly about
this is an acknowledgement from the community of
the horses and the work they did and a love of
them, and there would seem to be a desire to have
them included somehow, to have them
acknowledged. Would that be a fair statement, do
you think?

MINISTER: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. Look, John, I grew up
with horses. I wasn't quite as keen on going to
pony club as my sister was, but, I mean, you know,
I was at pony clubs from a very early age. I've
grown up with horses. This is an issue about public
safety, and I referred before to the Creswick Light
Horse.

I mean, they have been doing things for local
communities since Adam was a boy at home, and
they're fantastic, and I'm great supporter of them,
but I was advised by a committee made up of a
large number of local groups and others about the
safety aspects of this, and I just - it beggars belief
that having got that advice that anyone could in all
conscience try and overturn that decision.

PRESENTER: Can I just throw at you a comment that is made
regularly to this program and to others. The Queen
manages to have horses in her parades, and
safety doesn't seem to be an issue. Why can't we
have horses?

MINISTER: Well, this committee, as I've said before, John,
which is made up of a wide number of groups,
have made the decision that for safety and other
reasons they don't believe it's appropriate, but we
are trying to do something to accommodate the
light horse men and women. It may well be at the
corner of York and Serpentine. That hasn't been
finalised yet, but I gather General Chalmers is
discussing that.

Look, John, I think it would be a real pity if this one
issue overshadowed what is going to be a
remarkable weekend for the people of Albany, for
the people of Western Australia and for many
other Australians, and a lot of people [indistinct]…

PRESENTER: Do you think that's a danger?

MINISTER: A danger, John, in what sense?

PRESENTER: In terms of overshadowing and the issue becoming
bigger than the commemoration.

MINISTER: Yeah. Look, I think the decision's made, and I
suspect that your listeners in the main, I hope, will
be thinking - well, look, he's asked for this to be
reviewed. They've come back again and said they
have got genuine safety issues, and on the back of
that the issue is going to stand.

Now, look, I'm a parent and a grandparent, and as
I say, I couldn't - if something happened with me
having intervened, I quite frankly could not live with
myself. It's just completely untenable for those
issues having been raised.

Now, I note in Alannah MacTiernan and Peter
Watson and others are trying to stir things up a bit
in relation to that. In all conscience, if they were in
my position, having been told there were very
genuine safety issues, are they really saying that
they would just override that and let it go ahead
anyway. I would be very, very surprised if that
were the situation. And I think what everyone
wants is for people to have a safe, secure and
enjoyable experience. And that undoubtedly is
going to happen over that weekend. I think it will
be very exciting. I'm personally really looking
forward to it.

Everyone when I've spoken to in Western Australia
is really looking forward to it, so I think we need to
start focussing on the event now, accept that this
is the decision made by a committee set up for the
former government who have made the decision
and I'm not going to overturn that decision. As I
said before, I did ask for it to be reviewed because
I have a - quite frankly - deep personal affection for
this Light Horse bridge like the Creswick Light
Horse that I referred to before. But having asked
for that to be reviewed, the committee having
again confirmed their decision, then I of course - I
wasn't prepared to intervene further which I'm sure
most of your listeners will understand.

PRESENTER: Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Michael Ronaldson,
one final question. We're getting very close now to
the pointy end of things - not long to go now, six
weeks or so - are you happy with how
developments are coming on?

MINISTER: I'm really, really happy about it John. I just think
this is going to be - it's going to be a fantastic local
event which is going to be viewed in a national
sense as a really, really important event. And, as
you know, this is kicking off the centenary
commemorations for us as a nation. All eyes will
be on Albany. I'm very, very grateful and deeply
grateful to the people of Albany who have really
taken up the challenge in relation to this and I think
they will be very proud of the outcome and I
believe the nation will be equally proud of what
they will see over those two days.

PRESENTER: Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Michael Ronaldson,
thanks for making some time for us this morning.

MINISTER: Thanks very much, John.

PRESENTER: Nice to talk with you.

MINISTER: 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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