Radio interview, 2GB

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The Hon Matt Keogh MP

Minister for Defence Personnel

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

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Stephanie Mathews on 0407 034 485

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2 April 2024

SUBJECTS: Medallic recognition, Defence Culture 

BEN FORDHAM, HOST:  Medals have been a hot topic recently. It all started a few weeks ago following a tip off from a Navy veteran Todd Sheaves, Todd served on HMHS Manoora in the year 2000. Helping Aussie soldiers in East Timor. Due to a technicality he was advised not to wear his Australian active service medal and he was told the Minister was making a decision on whether he should hand it back. He wrote to us – “I'm a fourth generation veteran, my family service goes back to the shores of Gallipoli and Vietnam. I've worn my medal proudly since 2012. I find it hard to believe the Government is going to ask me to remove it.” When we alerted the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Matt Keogh, it ticked off a wider discussion about military medals and Matt Keogh, the Minister for Veterans’ and Defence Personnel is on the line. Good morning to you, Matt.


BEN FORDHAM: We'll go through a few cases here. First of all, should Todd Sheaves have been sent that letter? 

MINISTER KEOGH: He needed to have a response to a letter he'd written to the Department, but I think the terms in which you've just gone through there shouldn't have been put to him in in those ways about the medal that he’d been sent. There has been a long discussion and consideration of the ship that he was on and medallic recognition for those, that company, through the Defence Honours and Awards Tribunal. And I know he's aware of that, as are the people who brought those claims through the Tribunal, but no one needs to go seeking return of medals or anything like that.

BEN FORDHAM: Can you understand the reaction when you tell the Defence Force member or a veteran we are thinking of taking back your medal?

MINISTER KEOGH: I completely understand the reaction and that's why I hadn't taken any action around that particular issue, because I understand how that goes down with veterans completely. And that's why I hadn't made any decision like that, that the Department had referred to. 

BEN FORDHAM: So you have now decided that that won’t be happening, correct?

MINISTER KEOGH: So there was a recommendation that was made by the Tribunal that any medals like that have been issued should be taken back and I wasn't going to follow that recommendation. I've made that clear now to Todd as well.

BEN FORDHAM: Okay. We've also been contacted by other veterans who want us to look into the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, it was awarded to veterans who served 181 days in Vietnam. But for those who were under 181 days, they missed out and the US recognises soldiers, if they're in Vietnam for 60 days, or certainly the US soldiers received that medal if they were there for just 60 days. And prior to the last election, the Shadow Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Shayne Neumann, said Labor is calling on the Coalition to recognise thousands of national servicemen with the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal. That was pretty clear. But then you became the Minister and you said we're not going to do anything about it.

MINISTER KEOGH: This is one of the most complex medallic issues I've had to deal with as Minister Ben, and I've met with many veterans about this issue. People have been campaigning around this for years and years. And it's important to recognise that this issue has been dealt with by the Defence Honours and Awards Tribunal three times. One of those cases even went to the Federal Court. But what we're talking about here, the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal. For people who don't follow this, because it is a complex group of medals. This particular medal is not an Australian medal. It was a medal issued by the Republic of Vietnam, or as we probably more commonly referred to as South Vietnam. So it's issued by a government that doesn't exist anymore. All Australians who served in Vietnam have other medals, as well. So they received either the Vietnam medal or the Vietnam logistics and support medal. And they also would have received the Australian active service medal 1945 - 1975 with a clasp. So there's been quite a deal of medallic recognition. But in order to get that South Vietnam medal, the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, you did have to serve for over 180 days. Except for a period right at the end of the war, from the end of January 1973 onwards, you only had to do 60 days. Now that wasn't about America, anyone who was in Vietnam, for forces supporting the South Vietnamese for only 60 days after that point. And there might have been a handful of Australians then, but nearly all Australians had been withdrawn by December of 1972.

BEN FORDHAM: What about the outstanding people we’re talking about? And what about the Shadow Minister at the time Shayne Neumann, a member of your party, saying Labor's calling on the Coalition to recognise thousands of national servicemen with the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal. He was talking about those who missed out, those who are still campaigning for it. Was he wrong in promising that because you can't follow through on it?

MINISTER KEOGH: So I think what you saw from Shayne and many of my other colleagues and other people was certainly the intent with which we have approached this issue, which is we certainly understood that the concern being raised by the campaigners wanting to see if there was a way to have this medal issued for people having to serve 180 days, only serving 60 days, I've looked at this thoroughly, there is no way for me to do

BEN FORDHAM: That’s because it's a decision that's made by another nation. And it was made by South Vietnam, which doesn't exist anymore.

MINISTER KEOGH: That's right. So it's not our medal. It's not an Australian medal so as the Minister, I can't determine or change the criteria, where a government responsible for issuing it to people where the criteria has been met, just like the Americans issue it to their forces where their forces meet the criteria. And for the bulk of the war, where their people had to serve 180 days just like ours.

BEN FORDHAM:  Okay. Paul Scarr, the Liberal Senator says there is a way if you were really committed to it, there is a way of making it happen. You are saying absolutely no way in the world, you've explored all those options? 

MINISTER KEOGH: That's absolutely right. I've met with Paul about this issue, to go through it because I understood that he you know, he's been supporting people in this campaign, just like Labor people have been as well. And I met with Paul and I went through his arguments, they just unfortunately, don't stand up. And to give you a sense of the seriousness in which I've taken this, there's so many people I've met with, have written to me with, despite the fact that there have already been three tribunal cases. We looked at all of the arguments, I wrote everyone back a nine page letter setting out each argument, how we addressed it, is it possible to do it this way? And we can't find a way through, as you said, exactly, right, it's not our medal, it's a medal from another country, and that country doesn't even exist anymore. So it's just not possible to go and even seek to change the rules that govern this medal. And I get that this is very distressing for people, especially national service people where they had to be withdrawn from Vietnam before they could reach 180 days…

BEN FORDHAM: I'll go back to those leading the campaign and I'll take to them what you're saying. And I'll see what they've got to say about it. Because they, I think erode that right of reply. If I could just ask you about Defence more broadly, about 4,000 people below the authorised strength of the Defence Force at the moment. One of the things that I'm hearing from people in the Defence Force is the political correctness that's overtaken the Defence Force. And I know that you'll push back against this but if you have a look at, for example, ADF cadets being pressured into removing their uniforms for Wear it Purple Day, an annual LGBTIQ+ event, if you're looking at unmanned drones being changed to uncrewed aerial vehicles, the Defence Force allowing men to wear makeup and have pierced ears and have long hair, has the Defence Force become soft or woke? 

MINISTER KEOGH: No, I don’t think there is anything about our Defence Force that is soft. I mean, you look at our Australian personnel serving overseas right now, all the work they've done historically, there's nothing soft about anything they do. And I think people who choose to try and focus on you know, the things that you've just mentioned, and some of those things had varying degrees of veracity at the time, but like, you can focus on all of that, but I'm much more focused on the warfighting capability and what we do, but having…

BEN FORDHAM: Sure, but you need people to sign up. And if they are hearing these cases, like the cadets who are told remove your uniforms and wear it purple for LGBTIQ, I mean, can you give a guarantee that's not going to happen in the future?

MINISTER KEOGH: Well, the issue that was blown up there wasn't quite as it was described there Ben, but I think more to the point is celebrating diversity is a good thing. That's what like, our country is a diverse country. We want to have a diverse Defence Force. And I think people should focus on the work that the Defence Force does, that's why they sign up for it…

BEN FORDHAM:  When you say this was blown up, I mean, the cadets were told you're not to wear your uniforms. The Defence cadets were told you’re not to wear uniforms on Wear It Purple Day. There's nothing exaggerated about that. That's what they were told it was in writing.

MINISTER KEOGH: Yes, they were told that they didn't have to wear their uniforms because in order to facilitate wearing purple which is not part of their… 

BEN FORDHAM: They were told not to wear the uniforms, 

MINISTER KEOGH: They were told they didn't have to wear the uniforms and that allowed them to wear purple for Wear It Purple Day, they weren't wearing uniforms because what they didn't want to have happen, some people in uniform, some people out of uniform, as you would appreciate. We like consistency in Defence. So the rule for that day was we're not wearing uniforms. I don't think that's that difficult. 

BEN FORDHAM: On the other things when we're worrying about, you know, people being told, look, we don't call them unmanned drones. Now it's uncrewed aerial vehicles. When we have the Defence Force allowing men to wear makeup and have piercings and long hair, you don't think that's an issue?

MINISTER KEOGH: No, I really don't think, people are trying to make this, to politicise our Defence Force by focusing on these sorts of issues to make it mean something that it doesn't have to mean. And I rather people in our Defence Force, as they do, focus on their warfighting capability, issues that are important to our Defence Force. That's what Australians want Ben, they want our Defence Force to focus on those things instead of some other people… 

BEN FORDHAM:  Oh, no, I think they I think they want people to sign up. And I think this is one of the obstacles you have in the way and I would just like to correct you if you don't mind. The recruits were instructed not wear uniform on Wear it Purple Day, so that's what they were told, not wear uniform, as opposed to it's up to you what you wear.

MINISTER KEOGH: I agree they weren't wearing uniforms. I'm saying they didn't have to wear purple…

BEN FORDHAM: They were told wearing of uniform tomorrow will be seen as an active protest. That's what they were told.

MINISTER KEOGH: That was not the official communication.

BEN FORDHAM:  Well, they were sent that in writing. It came from the Executive Officer in Canberra, the directive says wearing of uniform tomorrow will be seen as an active protest against LGBTQIA+, which is not in line with Defence policy. So that's what they were told.

MINISTER KEOGH: I understand somebody said that, that was not the official communication.

BEN FORDHAM: We appreciate you jumping on the line. 



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