PMB – Battle of Long Tan recognition
Mr PITT (Hinkler—Assistant Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment) (18:27): It is a great pleasure to be here finally speaking about this matter. The Battle of Long Tan took place on 18 August 1966, before I was born—well before I was born. It was the most costly single battle fought by Australian soldiers in the Vietnam War. It involved 105 Australians and three New Zealanders from D-Company 6RAR and more than 2,000 enemy troops. A total of 17 Australians were killed in action; 25 were wounded, one of whom later died from his wounds.
I, like many others in this place, have met many veterans, and many of them from the Vietnam War. In fact, Delta Company actually had a reunion couple of years ago at the small Toogoom RSL sub-branch in my electorate. It was very well attended, well turned out. They are still a very tight group of individuals. This has taken far too long, and many of their number have actually passed on due to natural causes. I would like to mention at this stage the enigmatic Buddy Lea, a very well-known veteran who we lost a couple of years ago. He was one of my constituents, whom I got on incredibly well with. He was a force of nature, Buddy Lea; an absolute force of nature.
Delta Company were greatly assisted by an ammunition resupply by RAAF helicopters, close fire support from New Zealand’s 161 field battery, together with additional artillery support from the Australian Task Force Base at Nui Dat, and the arrival of reinforcements in APCs as night fell. There is no more entertaining discussion than talking to the gentleman from Delta Company and the APCs about who was the best on the day, who arrived and who did what. It is certainly something I am sure they argue about and discuss for long hours into the night.
I took up the fight for former constituent and retired Lieutenant Colonel Harry Smith when I was elected in 2013. It is a fight that has taken 50 years to resolve. The previous member for Hinkler, Mr Paul Neville, had presented Harry with the Star of Gallantry on 9 March 2011, which had been upgraded from the Military Cross after many years of campaigning for better recognition of Long Tan veterans. In my maiden speech I gave Harry this commitment:
We will find a way to recognise his soldiers. As a nation, we are indebted to Harry and to his team. We live our lives in this wonderful country because of their sacrifice.
On 1 September 2014 I moved a PMB calling for justice, recognition and acknowledgment for the soldiers who fought in the Battle of Long Tan, and it was well supported by those opposite. I said in that speech:
Fifty years is ample time to do what is right. We are the government of the day, and, in my opinion, an injustice has been done that must be addressed.
Finally, on 10 August 2016, just before the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan, the Minister for Defence Personnel, Dan Tehan, announced that he would recommend that 10 soldiers be awarded a military honour or have their existing honour upgraded after 50 years.
At the service last week at Government House, Medals of Gallantry were awarded to Lieutenant Adrian Roberts, Sergeant Frank Alcorta—now a constituent of mine in Hinkler and a well-known Northern Territorian—and Lance Corporal Barry Magnussen, deceased. Commendations for Gallantry were awarded to Second Lieutenant Gordon Sharp, deceased, and privates Neil Bextrum, Ron Brett, deceased, Ian Campbell, William Roche, Geoffrey Peters and Noel Grimes. I was privileged to have some small part in assisting Harry, by bringing his plight to the attention of the federal government—although he did a pretty damn good job of that himself, I have to say—its ministers and members of parliament. And, at long last, justice, recognition and acknowledgement have finally been delivered.
On a personal note, I would say about Harry Smith—who I got to know very well over recent years—that, if you look up ‘resilience’ in the dictionary, you will see a picture of this man. He is dogmatic. He is determined. He is tough. He is irrepressible. In fact, he is just downright bloody-minded. He is one of the most determined individuals I have ever come across. To maintain the rage for this long and to get an outcome, is, I think, an absolute credit to him. It is his determination that allowed this to happen, just as it did at Long Tan, to get the best outcome he possibly could for his soldiers and the people who relied on him. I think this is a great reflection on Harry and the rest of his troops.
The enduring photo that I will recall is not the one from Long Tan or the photo in the rubber plantation that is so famous to most Australians; it is actually a picture of Lieutenant Colonel retired Harry Smith on the front page of the local phone book, standing on the beach at Hervey Bay in absolute joy. I certainly commend this motion to the House.