Your Excellency’s, the Honourable Bill Shorten MP, my ministerial colleagues, the Honourable Chester Borrows MP - Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives of New Zealand, my parliamentary colleagues, Chief of Defence of the ADF - Mark Binskin, Chief of the New Zealand Army, leaders of our ex-service organisations who are here today. But above all, you, the veterans of the Vietnam War including here today 100 veterans of the Battle of Long Tan.
Your nation’s leaders are here to honour and thank you - the veterans of that War for your service and your sacrifice. And we join you, the Vietnam Veterans, including our Governor General, who has spoken so warmly and so wisely, in remembering and honouring those 521 Australians who laid down their lives in the service of our country in Vietnam.
Fifty years ago a small band of Australian soldiers, 100 of whom are here today, repelled an attack by a much larger, well-armed force that was fighting on terrain very familiar to them.
Vastly outnumbered and in the midst of a torrential downpour, the men of Delta Company, 6th Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment, showed the tenacity, the comradeship and the selfless courage that is ANZAC.
The Viet Cong forces arrayed against them were denied the victory they expected by the courage of Delta Company supported by the crucial assistance of New Zealand, Australian and American gunners and the resupply missions by Royal Australian Air Force helicopter crews.
Determined that they would not let their mates down, the intense and effective fire support from the coalition guns at Nui Dat helped deplete the enemy’s numbers.
Overhead, our helicopters braved atrocious weather and ground fire to drop blankets for the wounded and resupply dwindling stocks of ammunition as the defenders, 100 of whom are here today grimly held their ground.
In the end, Australian infantry and armoured personnel carriers proved decisive, disrupting the enemy, fighting their way through to their mates and helping bring them back to safety.
This battle was the most costly single engagement for our Australian forces during the Vietnam War. 18 Australians were killed and 24 were wounded.
When we honour Australia’s military service, we remember many battles. Each is defined by similar qualities of courage, honour, tragedy and loss.
But each battle and each war is unique and only those of you who served in Vietnam can truly know what you endured. These are the bonds of war, woven in hardship and sacrifice.
When we pause on the 18th of August, we recognise the servicemen present at Long Tan and Nui Dat that day and all of the veterans of Australian service in the Vietnam War.
We remember the battles at Fire Support Base Coral and Balmoral, at Binh Ba and Hat Dich and many others, the medical staff who tended the wounded as a result of these actions, and the servicemen who worked tirelessly to keep our troops supplied and in the fight.
Now like you, I’m deeply disappointed at the Vietnamese Government’s decision not to permit tomorrow’s 50th anniversary commemorations of the Battle of Long Tan to go ahead.
Australia has been working closely with Vietnam for the past 18 months to prepare for this event. We had sought and received assurances from local authorities in Vietnam – as we have every year – that the Long Tan commemorations would proceed.
Now we understand it is a matter for the Government of Vietnam to decide what commemorations are held in its country but this decision and especially its timing shows a disregard for those Australians who have in good faith travelled to Vietnam to participate in this week’s events.
And each of those commemorations, like ours in Australia, have acknowledged and honoured the many more Vietnamese whose lives were lost in that battle.
I have requested a telephone call with the Vietnamese Prime Minister to express our disappointment and we will continue to do all we can to persuade the Vietnamese Government to reconsider its decision.
But in these circumstances, it is more important than ever that, tomorrow all Australians pause and reflect on the service and the sacrifice of our Vietnam veterans. We honour you and we thank you for your service.
I recently had the privilege of addressing the soldiers at Lavarack Barracks in the week of its 50th anniversary. They follow in your footsteps inspired by your example. Like you, they have trained with our New Zealand and American allies and will be serving overseas with them - this time in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As today’s servicemen and women return from today’s overseas conflicts, I know that you will share with them your experience of comradeship, in the face of the enemy and also in helping each other return to civilian life.
The Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service is just one example of the contribution that Vietnam veterans make to our community.
Once again, thank you to all our Vietnam veterans for your selfless service and sacrifice. With the help of our Department of Veterans Affairs under the leadership of our Minister Dan Tehan, your grateful nation will continue to support you and your families as a sign of our enduring thanks.
The thanks of a grateful nation that honours you, respects you, embraces you for the service and the sacrifice you made in the name of our nation, Australia.