New Minister gets (smaller) commemoration bandwagon rolling

The latest Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of Anzac, Dan Tehan MP, was on his feet today in the Parliament taking note of the 25th anniversary of the end of the Gulf War in 1991 and setting out a program for other commemoration during 2016. The statement included a succinct summary of the Gulf War, noting that no Australian service personnel were killed although 100 000 Iraqi civilians were.

The Minister went on to anticipate commemorative activities during 2016.

I am also keen to update the House on the significant domestic and international commemorations planned for 2016, and beyond. While we are well-aware of the significance of the 100th anniversary last year of the ANZAC’s [sic] landing at Gallipoli in 1915, this year represents the 100th anniversary of Australia’s entry into battle and the horror of the Western Front.

The Minister then mentioned the centenary of Fromelles-Pozieres-Mouquet Farm, the 75th anniversary of the siege of Tobruk, the 75th anniversary of the Greece and Crete campaign, the 50th anniversary of Indonesian Confrontation, and the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan. He reiterated arrangements for Anzac Day at Gallipoli and Villers-Bretonneux (no tickets needed this year for either) and Fromelles and Pozieres in July (tickets needed). Fromelles and Pozieres seem to be the big ones in 2016, as foreshadowed by the previous Minister, Stuart Robert.

Busy Dan the Defence Materiel man

Those commemoration buffs who can’t get overseas in 2016 will have to be satisfied with the Spirit of Anzac Centenary Experience, a roadshow which is making its way around the country and to spruik which the Minister took a moment. Minister Tehan himself may fall into this category of Australia-bound commemorators, given that he is also the Minister for Shopping for Defence Kit aka the Minister for Defence Materiel. How big a job that is depends ultimately on how much his senior Minister, Senator Marise Payne, lets him do but it may well keep him off the Anzac commemorative circuit (even the modest one projected). Our remarks about Minister Robert being too busy to do three jobs properly could apply, with very little tweaking, to his successor.

Senator-the-Hon-Marise-Payne-Home1Dan-TehanSenior and junior Minister (Department of Defence)

Lone Pine less lonely, though

Yesterday, the Minister announced that, after all, there would be a Lone Pine ceremony close to Anzac Day, if not exactly on it, though people could make private arrangements at Lone Pine on the actual day. (It’s difficult to see that the safety and crowding reasons which led to the original decision to cancel Lone Pine 25th April would be much less salient the day before but then we don’t work in either Canberra or Canakkale.)

The Minister’s predecessor had previously announced that Lone Pine 25 April was off, after consultation with the Turkish Government, but after cries of ‘outrage’ (led by the Leader of the Opposition), Lone Pine in April is sort of back on again, although the Minister reminded people that there would also be a Lone Pine ceremony in August on the actual 101st anniversary of the battle there. (This latter was the ceremony that last year attracted approximately one-sixth of the expected crowd – scroll down – although there was apparently a break-down in communications with Turkish tour proprietors and it was a hot day.)

Are we well and truly past Peak Anzac?

Despite the new Minister’s ritual mentions of ‘ultimate sacrifice’, ‘Century of Service’ and defending our values and freedoms, and despite his listing of anniversaries in 2016, there was a distinctly low-key tone to his remarks today. We are a long way from the palmy days of the Hawke-Fraser report to the then government in 2011, which listed more than 50 potential commemorative dates in 2016, or even from the passionate speeches of Minister Tehan’s predecessor but one, Senator Ronaldson. For the Tobruk 75th, Minister Tehan just urged us to attend a commemorative ceremony in our local area. Minister Ronaldson was quite gung-ho about the Long Tan-Vietnam War commemoration but the current Minister covered it in one sentence. (Perhaps there is more to come.)

To further support the idea that there has been a commemorative apogee (or perhaps a zenith) we can report that Honest History representatives who waited a month ago upon the senior staff of the Minister-in-between, Stuart Robert, took away from the meeting the strong impression that ‘Peak Anzac’ had passed and that commemoration was expected to be a ‘fringe’ activity in 2016 and beyond. We have also had a report – which we are happy to have denied or confirmed – that the commemoration specialists within government are rather ‘over it’.

Bottom lines

Every war creates tragedy. In Australia’s case, there have been 102 000 individual tragedies if we measure tragedy just by the number of dead service people since Federation. Many more than that if we tally the wounded and deranged. Many, many more, but uncountable, if we try to count the numbers of non-uniformed family members affected by war. Many more again if we go back, as we should, and count the deaths in the Frontier Wars. And all of those tallies are just the Australians, a tiny proportion of the world total of deaths in wars and conflict.

As in every war [the new Minister said, hitting at least some of those notes], defence force personnel leave behind husbands and wives, partners, children and friends, for long periods of time, in challenging and dangerous environments. That is sacrifice enough.

Good thought. But then there are the Minister’s words about legacies and passing the torch to children:

One of the most important legacies that can come from the Anzac Centenary is improved community understanding and awareness of our wartime history, particularly for younger Australians. The Anzac Centenary gives families, schools and communities an opportunity to start important conversations that continue long after the national program has concluded, and in doing so ensuring an enduring and unifying legacy for current and future generations.

Minister Ronaldson waxed rather bloodthirsty about the martial responsibility of children. Minister Robert delegated wreath-laying to his young son. If, by the passing on of legacies, Minister Tehan means planting in younger Australians a rounded understanding of the impact of war not just on soldiers but on all of us, and if he concedes that war and its effects is just one of many interwoven strands in our history, then that is good to hear.

Honest History hopes that is what he means. We hope also that he keeps those impacts of war in mind while he is shopping for defence kit.

David Stephens

29 February 2016

Photo credit HH home page 2 March 2016: Dan Tehan web page.

P02768.007Lone Pine memorial, 1936 (AWM P02768.007)

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