PARLIAMENT, CANBERRA: I rise today to speak about the Vietnam War and to thank our war veterans on this important day, Long Tan Day. As you would be aware, Long Tan Day commemorates a battle that occurred on 18 August 1966. In this battle Delta Company 6RAR, which consisted of 105 Australian men and three New Zealanders from 161 Battery, Royal New Zealand Artillery, fought an encounter battle against enemy forces in Long Tan rubber plantation, which is located only a few thousand metres from the 1st Australian Task Force, based at Nui Dat.
The soldiers battled against over 2,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops and suffered 42 casualties, more than one-third of its strength. Eighteen Australians lost their lives and 24 were wounded. They fought in torrential rain for four hours. They were nearly overrun but were saved by a timely ammunition resupply, accurate artillery fire from the nearby Australian base and the arrival of reinforcements by armoured personnel carrier. The two 9 Squadron RAAF helicopters negotiated torrential rain and almost zero visibility to drop cases of ammunition wrapped in blankets down to the embattled soldiers.
On 19 August, Delta Company 6RAR, together with 6RAR’s Alpha, Bravo and Charlie companies and Delta Company 5RAR, returned to the area with APCs to search for the Australians who were killed in the battle. They found two of the missing men from Delta Company alive and 13 Australian bodies were retrieved. After the battle, the bodies of 245 enemy soldiers were found, but there was evidence that many more bodies had been carried away. It was apparent that the Vietcong commanders had failed to appreciate the effectiveness of artillery fire and had paid dearly as a result.
The battle of Long Tan, a courageous battle, has achieved symbolic significance for the Australian military and indeed for the Australian community, in the same way that Gallipoli did for World War I, the Kokoda Track for the Second World War and the Battle of Kapyong for the Korean War. We now properly commemorate this day, 18 August, every single year. On this day we remember and reflect upon the courage and the sacrifice of all the men and women in Australia who served in Vietnam.
In my electorate of Aston, Gerry Turner, president of the Outer Eastern Melbourne Sub-branch of the Vietnam Veterans’ Association of Australia, with his members, friends and other local residents, commemorated Vietnam Veterans’ Day this morning at a dawn service locally. Were I not required here in Parliament, I would have been at that ceremony.
The guest speaker this morning was a remarkable Vietnam veteran who lives locally, in Boronia: Mr Jim Bourke. He served as a platoon commander in Vietnam in 1966, and established Operation Aussies Home, which sought to return the bodies of six Australians listed as missing in action during the Vietnam War. I commend Mr Bourke and Operation Aussies Home for their work in successfully returning four of those soldiers. I understand they remain hopeful that the last two of the six Australian servicemen missing in action in Vietnam may be returned home soon.
I would like to take this opportunity to express my thanks to all of the Australians who served in the Vietnam War, the men and women who served in Vietnam and also those who served in supporting roles back home. They deserve our honour, our thanks and our respect as much as any other person who has contributed to Australian campaigns abroad. I understand that they were not treated well when they returned home. In fact, I hear terrible stories of people who were literally spat at and were verbally abused; they did not get the respect they deserved. Thankfully, we as a nation have moved on from that and we recognise that they served our nation and made a tremendous sacrifice, despite the war being unpopular in many quarters at the time. We should honour their sacrifice and their courage as much as we do for any other war veteran. Today we stop and reflect upon the Vietnam War; we say thank you to the men and women who served and we honour their sacrifices.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. Peter Slipper ) (12:43): I thank the member for Aston. I believe I speak for all honourable members when I say that I associate myself with the sentiments expressed by the member. I believe other members would join me in doing that as well. I now call the member for Melbourne Ports.