17 August 2023
SUBJECTS: Vietnam Veterans’ Day, Saluting Their Service program.
MICHAEL CLARKE, HOST: Well, this week is a very special one for many reasons. Not just because of all the excitement we've been having with the World Cup. It's also a chance to reflect and remember and think of mates too, because this week marks Vietnam Veterans’ Day and it's the 50th anniversary since Australia ended its involvement in the Vietnam War. A number of national events and activities are taking place, including right here in North Queensland. Some details on what's happening tomorrow for you in just a moment. But first, let's talk to the Minister for Defence Personnel and Veterans' Affairs, Matt Keogh, who's with us today as part of this very special week. Minister, thank you for your time this morning. What's your message to veterans for this week?
MINISTER FOR VETERANS AFFAIRS, MATT KEOGH: Good morning, Michael. It's great to be with you. I think the really strong message with this being the 50th anniversary of the end of Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War and Vietnam Veterans’ Day tomorrow is for the Vietnam veteran community to understand that the Australian community, the Government, but people across the country, recognise and thank them for their service, and that we do appreciate that that proper recognition didn't occur at the end of the Vietnam War. It was different to other conflicts. And it's not about the politics, it's not about why those conflicts occurred. It's about recognising that service. People wearing our uniform, fighting under our flag and commemorating that. Remembering those lives that were lost, the mates that were lost as part of the Vietnam War, but also for those that returned injured, both physically and mentally. Commemorating that service, remembering that service and thanking people for the service that they provided to our country.
MICHAEL CLARKE: Do we owe them an apology?
MINISTER KEOGH: The Prime Minister at the beginning of the year apologised to Vietnam veterans when we were launching the commemorative medallion for the 50th anniversary, that there had been that sort of political disagreement back during the time of the Vietnam War, that Vietnam veterans weren't properly treated when they returned home, that they copped a lot of abuse actually. There were protests, but recognising that it wasn't about them. Certainly, there might have been disagreements about decisions by previous governments, but for those who actually wore our uniform, those disagreements weren't around them. And the Prime Minister did issue that apology, saying that on behalf of the country, that we're sorry we didn't treat those people properly when they came home. And recognising the work that we've done with Vietnam veterans since then, making sure they're supported as a veteran community and also thanking them for the great work that they've done in developing support services since that time, not only for their own cohort of veterans, but for the veterans that have come after them as well.
MICHAEL CLARKE: But, what more can we do to say thank you for the effort that they gave?
MINISTER KEOGH: Well, we repeat the Ode on every Anzac Day with those final words, lest we forget. And as a country, it's important that not just those that were alive at the time, but all future generations as well. Don't forget the sacrifices that have been made by our Defence service personnel, no matter the conflict that they've gone to fight. In that we remember that sacrifice. Some have made the ultimate sacrifice, but many returned injured, physically, mentally. There's huge impacts on their families as well and we shouldn't let that be forgotten. And that's important to not repeat mistakes from the past as well. And that's really a key part of the message with the commemorative ceremonies tomorrow is that we don't forget that people who do put on our uniform today and might have to go and fight in a conflict know, that as a nation, we won't forget their service in the future.
MICHAEL CLARKE: I know that something else that you've got this year is community grants to support commemorative projects. Is it important to have those reminders, those events that happen not just for Vietnam Veterans’ Day, but beyond that, that really mark that service?
MINISTER KEOGH: Our Saluting Their Service grants are an important program that we roll out to enable communities to recognise that service. I think we know in a lot of older communities we have cenotaphs, we have memorials dating back from World War I, but of course, Australia is an ever-growing country. New communities need other ways of remembering and commemorating the service of contemporary veterans and their Vietnam veteran community and making sure that there is a program to support that opportunity. People being able to apply for those grants, being able to commemorate that more contemporary service as well, is a terribly important thing. Making sure schools can have a way of remembering that service.
MICHAEL CLARKE: And it comes at a crucial time too, doesn't it, Minister? Because in a number of communities, including here in North Queensland, we're at the stage where we're saying farewell to a lot of those Vietnam veterans.
MINISTER KEOGH: We are. Certainly they are an ageing population and they are no longer all with us. And that's why it's important also to remember a critical anniversary like this 50th anniversary, so that future generations are able to understand and learn what has happened in the past, to commemorate and thank people for that service. And especially places like Townsville, where it's such a garrison city, where we have such a significant population of current serving and ex-serving personnel. There's over 14,000 people in Townsville that are or have served in our defence forces. And so, making sure that the broader community there are able to recognise that, pull out the local stories, understand the commitment that was made by the community there, obviously with significant defence bases that were integral in the training and support of those personnel before they went to Vietnam and then when they came back as well. And so, it's really important that it's not just about the national ceremony that's on tomorrow in Canberra, but also the local community commemorative services that are occurring. So, I think there's one at the cenotaph in Townsville at four o'clock tomorrow, for example, and so that local communities can come together as well.
MICHAEL CLARKE: Yes, you're absolutely right about that. Minister, we do appreciate your time this morning. Such a momentous week and a big day tomorrow. Thank you for sharing your thoughts today.
MINISTER KEOGH: Thanks, Michael. It's great to be with you.
MICHAEL CLARKE: That's the Minister for Defence Personnel and Veterans' Affairs, Matt Keogh with us today, ahead of Vietnam Veterans Day important year this year, it’s the 50th anniversary of the end of Australia’s involvement in that War. And as he mentioned there will be local events happening as well as the national commemoration.