The member for Wannon, Dan Tehan, is minister for a number of things, although we mostly track his activities as Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of Anzac. A clutch of media releases from the Minister this week – 11 of them, in fact – were of interest. He was wearing his Defence Personnel and Veterans’ Affairs hats, as well as his Anzac centenary one.
First, there were three pressers on Anzac centenary matters or the ‘century of service’, which is also being commemorated about now. One was about arrangements for the commemoration of the centenary of the Battle of Polygon Wood in September, one was about honouring (with a travel grant to attend commemorations in Europe) the remaining veterans of RAF Bomber Command from World War II (the release rightly mentioned the high casualty rates of Bomber Command but did not refer to the deaths and injuries inflicted on enemy civilians), and the third announced the latest round of grants to small commemorative projects in communities across Australia (lots of display cases, plaques, honour boards, and repairs to same).
Then, there was an interesting one calling for information from the descendants of Indigenous members of the Light Horse in the Great War. This may lead to a more straightforward outcome than the War Memorial’s current exhibition For Country, for Nation, which is replete with allusions but blows an uncertain trumpet.
Most useful, however, for veterans and their families were the initiatives and events announced by Mr Tehan as Minister for Veterans’ Affairs or Defence Personnel (or jointly announced by him with colleagues). These covered: an increase in veterans’ pensions; the report of the National Mental Health Council into veterans’ mental health; veterans’ employment; an educational booklet about mental health for the children of ADF members; and promoting mental health for veterans.
Historian Clare Wright, endorsing The Honest History Book, was critical (as the book itself is) of ‘the flimflams and taradiddles of Anzackery’. Practical actions for service people and their families – like some of the measures announced by Minister Tehan – are what governments should be doing for ADF members, past and present.
On the other hand, Anzackery does little for these members and takes money away from more worthwhile objectives, even if the Anzackery money is only delivered in small amounts like $2958 to the South Australian Branch of the RSL to ‘[c]reate an interactive mobile display in SA as part of a Pop Up Museum Project to engage young people in the history of the First World War’ or $4000 to the Barham and District sub-branch of the RSL to ‘[r]estore and relocate a Bofor [sic] Gun from the Barham and District Memorial Club to the Barham Cenotaph’.
31 March 2017 updated