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ANZAC spirit in the 21st century

Speeches in Parliament
Penny Wright 14 Nov 2013

Senator WRIGHT (South Australia) (09:51):  I rise to speak on the motion that the Senate take note of the statement by the Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC, Senator Ronaldson. As the veterans' affairs spokesperson for the Australian Greens, I support the notion that there be a fair and equitable allocation of tickets to the special commemorative ceremony and that this is an important aspect of our history that is owned and shared by all Australians. It is therefore fitting that the number of tickets available to the public be maximised. The Greens particularly endorse the special provision to be made for First World War widows and direct descendants of World War I veterans and other veterans.

As we approach the centenary of the First World War and the battles that have contributed to the Anzac identity, I welcome this opportunity on behalf of the Greens to reflect on just what the Anzac identity and tradition are and what that means for 21st century Australians. There is no doubt that the word 'Anzac' holds an enduring resonance for many Australians both old and young. It is important to recognise that the battles at Gallipoli and on the Western Front were bloody, often totally misconceived and disastrous. We lost many of Australia's young generation-young men, and some young women who served as nurse-and many others came back with a legacy of damaged health, spirit and wellbeing that then had far-reaching consequences for them and the families they returned to.

This cast a shadow over many lives for many, many years. It also foreshadowed the experience of service personnel who have returned from subsequent conflicts: World War II, Korea, Vietnam, both Gulf Wars, Afghanistan and the many arenas of conflict and danger in which Australians have served as peacekeepers.

It is also important to recognise that, despite the argument by some that it was our participation in World War I that forged the Australian identity, the Anzac experience came at a time when Australia was already showing great leadership in relation to many social reforms of which we have the right to be mindful and justly proud. This has been pointed out by Australian historians like Marilyn Lake. She said:

Before the outbreak of World War 1, Australia had won for itself an international reputation as an egalitarian democracy and progressive social laboratory, a place that legislated to secure the equal rights of women and men, state pensions for the aged and invalid, the rights of mothers, the recognition and remuneration of citizen soldiers and citizen mothers, all paid from general revenue rather than constrained by the principle of social insurance.

... As an advanced social democracy, Australia, it was often said - here and abroad - led the world.

It was from this socially advanced democracy that young Australians set out to fight - at Gallipoli, in Palestine and in France. And here, despite the naivety that saw many expecting to be home by Christmas, they demonstrated the remarkable resilience and other qualities that have come to be known as the Anzac spirit.

Now, as the centenary approaches, we have an opportunity to think about how to bring that renowned Anzac spirit home - that courage, that can-do attitude and that mateship, the concern for and commitment to their friends. We need those qualities - courage, resourcefulness, loyalty and compassion - as we approach 21st century challenges.

Australia's Anzac tradition is shown not just in how we go to war but in how we fight for peace. It can be boldly accepting our responsibilities to our international allies and to one another. It can be leading, not following. It can be never giving up and never thinking we are too small to achieve big things and make a difference. In a century where there will be an increasing call for diplomacy and united action to avert crises and maintain peace, it will be our peacekeepers who will play an increasing role in global security. They too have served our nation in places of great conflict and danger. Like other veterans, they continue to embody the Anzac tradition. They do us proud.

Bringing the Anzac spirit home also means looking out for one another and, particularly, looking out for those who have served. As a nation, we have been willing to send men and women to every corner of the globe. It is crucial that we honour their service and contribution to our nation by caring for them properly when they return. The real cost of war is much higher than the figure in the defence budget. It is the lives of these men and women, and their partners and children. As happened with those who returned from the Great War, all defence personnel return from conflict zones changed. Some have physical scars and some have mental scars. Veterans support programs must be proactive, ongoing and holistic-dealing with all their needs. Caring for veterans means addressing their physical and mental health needs and helping them to live full lives when they are integrated into a civilian setting.

My family, like so many others all around Australia, has been directly affected by war. I had great uncles in World War I, one of whom landed at Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915. I visited that place in 1990 and had cause to imagine the horrors of what those Australians endured at that time. We must all take full responsibility for what we ask of each one of our service men and women, and we must look after them and their families if they are killed or injured.

Military service is valuable and it is unique. Our Defence Force personnel, in doing their work, must surrender their basic human rights in the protection of our nation. It is the only occupation in Australia that makes such a demand of its workforce. When ordered, ADF personnel are required, without question, to take up arms and defend Australia from its enemies using lethal force, at the risk of their lives and wellbeing. Again uniquely, they face criminal sanctions if they fail to do so. Clearly, they deserve nothing less than our respect, our consideration and our honour.

The Anzac tradition is not the whole story of our nation, but it forms an important part. This legacy is not something to be taken lightly. The British World War II RAF veteran Harry Leslie Smith wrote this week about the co-opting of British veterans' experiences to tell a new story. He wrote:

... today's politicians in Britain use past wars to bolster our flagging belief in national austerity or to compel us to surrender our rights as citizens ...

In Australia, where we pride ourselves on giving people a fair go, with our diggers, we must be careful not to make the same mistakes. We must avoid the temptation to gild the lily or jump on jingoistic bandwagons.

Rewriting history pays a disservice to the real experience of those who have been there. Instead, we must truly recognise what the experience of conflict exacts from our veterans and acknowledge that in the way we treat them when they return home. The Anzac legacy continues today. We will truly honour those veterans and all veterans if we are clear-eyed about the realities and costs of war. Allowing more people from the Australian public to attend the Anzac Day ceremony will advance this cause.

Our Anzacs showed our nation that we could act on the world stage. They showed us how they were capable of rising to unthinkable challenges. They demonstrated values of leadership, passion and audacity. In the lead-up to the 100 year commemoration, let us bring the Anzac spirit home. Let us rise in this 21st century to the challenges that we face. Let us be leaders. Let us be passionate and brave.

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