Mr HUSIC (Chifley—Government Whip) (17:20): I would like to associate myself with the comments made last week by the Prime Minister on Vietnam Veterans Day. Although we were all here on that day, I did take the opportunity last Friday back in the electorate to commemorate this important day by hosting an afternoon tea and recognising the service of three veterans. It was a privilege to present these ex-servicemen with Saluting Their Service certificates, the first I have had the pleasure to present. In their own way, these men made a significant contribution to Australia’s wartime efforts—two in Vietnam and the other in Japan. I would like to recognise in this place the service of Michael Anthony Gillett of Rooty Hill for his service in the Vietnam War; Roy Tootell of Blacktown for his service in the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan, and Allen Peter Williams of Hebersham for his service in the Vietnam War. Michael Gillett served with the 7th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment in Vietnam. Roy Tootell served in the British Commonwealth Occupation Force workshop in Kure, Japan and told some really great stories about his time there in 1946 and walking through Tokyo at that time. Allen Williams served seven months as an infantry rifleman before serving with Army aviation for the next year and a half in Vietnam, and again he recounted some of the things that he had to do—in particular marking targets and having to be placed in a position of great risk evading fire to do the work that he had to do and did so proudly. All three men were delighted to receive their certificates, but so too were their families—and in particular Jenny, who is Roy Tootell’s daughter—who came with them for their presentation.
It is well documented that veterans of the Vietnam war suffered terribly after their return to Australia, particularly from the lack of recognition and appreciation by the broader community, divided as it was at that time in the political debate surrounding that conflict. There were also people in the community at that time who had lost interest and confidence in the war. But those people who had served had done so responding to a call by their nation and should never have been placed in the position that they were on their return as a result of their services and their respecting that call. Veterans themselves suffered innumerable health complaints such as post-traumatic stress disorder and the effects of the chemicals they used in jungle warfare. More than in any war before, Vietnam veterans suffered lasting psychological damage as a result of what they saw in battle and what they were required to do. The war itself was one of the longest major conflicts in which Australians had been involved, lasting 10 years from 1962 to 1972 and involving some 60,000 personnel. A limited initial commitment of just 30 military advisers grew to include a battalion in 1965 and finally in 1966 a task force. Each of the three services was involved, with the dominant role being played by the Army.
Vietnam Veterans Day, originally a day to commemorate the Battle of Long Tan in 1966, has now been adopted by all veterans. Last Saturday I had the pleasure of attending the Long Tan memorial dinner at Rooty Hill RSL, a dinner hosted by the Rooty Hill naval subsection of the Naval Association of Australia. The subsection themselves were celebrating their 35th birthday on the night and had Commodore Bruce Kafer, Commandant of the Australian Defence Force Academy, there to cut their birthday cake. For me one of the highlights of the dinner was an address given by Mr Vin Cosgrove from the St Mary’s Vietnam Veterans Outpost where he recounted key events in the Battle of Long Tan. He certainly captured everyone’s attention through the events that he recounted on the night, and it was an important part of the evening to recognise what had gone on and the odds that were faced by our servicemen in that particular battle as part of the broader conflict. It was Australia’s most significant contact with the Viet Cong in the 10 years of the conflict itself. In May and June 1966 soldiers of the 6th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment, or 6RAR as they are known, arrived in South Vietnam. By August 1966 the Australian task force base at Nui Dat was only three months old. Concerned at the establishment of such a strong presence in their midst, the Viet Cong determined to inflict an early defeat on the Australians. In the days before the battle itself radio signals indicated the presence of a strong Viet Cong force within five kilometres of the base, but patrols found nothing. On the night of 16-17 August Nui Dat came under fire from mortars and rifles. While the Australians believed an assault would follow, none came.
Patrols continued the following day, 18 August, and Delta Company 6RAR left the base at 11.15 that morning bound for Long Tan rubber plantation. They entered the plantation at 3.15 that afternoon and less than an hour later the Viet Cong attacked in force, putting the Australians under mortar, machine-gun and small-arms fire. Only the quick response of a New Zealand artillery battery to desperate calls for support saved Delta Company from annihilation. Captured documents and information from prisoners suggested that Delta force had faced some 2,500 Viet Cong. On returning to the plantation the following day, the Australians counted 245 enemy dead with evidence that others had already been removed from the battlefield. Eighteen Australians unfortunately lost their lives in that battle and 24 were wounded. All but one of the dead were from Delta Company.
It is understandable, given the toll our soldiers paid in the Vietnam War, that so many were left alienated by their treatment after returning home. The war itself was an important theatre of war for Australia strategically and politically and deserves to be recognised as such. I hope that students in Australian schools are being taught about the war, in particular this battle, the Battle of Long Tan. It is an important part of our history. I am grateful to hear of Vin Cosgrove’s account. Finally, I would like to thank Mr Peter Hamrol, President of the Rooty Hill Sub Section of the Naval Association, for their invitation to attend the dinner and I congratulate them on their 35th birthday. I indicate my personal thanks, a debt of gratitude and the gratitude that many feel for the services that have been carried out by these people who operated under extreme circumstances.