Aboriginal Veterans Commemorative Service

The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS (17:55): I rise to commend this private members' motion which acknowledges the contribution and sacrifice of Aboriginal servicemen and women and to reflect the support for the motion by the Liberal joint party room. As many will know, Reconciliation SA is a not-for-profit organisation that promotes the movement for reconciliation at a state level. That body was formed in 2002.

In addition, the motion notes the work of Aboriginal Veterans of South Australia (AVSA). AVSA has collected almost 500 names of Aboriginal servicemen and servicewomen from the Boer War to the present day. These names and their stories are on a register hosted by Reconciliation SA on its website. The goal is to improve and extend the information available on the register by, firstly, linking names to the individual service records in the Australian War Memorial and the National Archives; secondly, finding out the identity of service personnel in the 'Seeking further information' section of AVSA; and, thirdly, the service of Indigenous Australians.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have a very long and proud history of serving in all sectors and units within the Australian Defence Force through the wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations that Australia has participated in, from the nation's first engagement in the Boer War in 1899 through to present-day conflicts.

Like their male counterparts, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have also made an important contribution to the defence of the nation through their service with the armed forces and civilian organisations such as the Women's Land Army, or work in wartime industries, and of course that very much includes primary industries. When the workforce for food production, etc., was in short supply, many women, including women of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent, were very much involved in that.

Many of these men and women pushed through adversity to enlist and serve their country. Their contribution is all the more significant when viewed against their lack of citizenship rights and early policies that discouraged and limited their enlistment. In particular, many Indigenous Australians volunteered to fight in the First and Second World Wars at a time when they did not enjoy the same rights as their fellow Australians. This commitment has continued post service.

Many of today's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ex-servicemen and women work tirelessly in the ex-service community to assist others in need. That has been demonstrated to me with the interest shown by members of that group in the work that I do in suicide prevention. I have been very grateful for that support, which was demonstrated to the Hon. Mr Maher and myself at a function in the parliamentary complex after the Hon. Mr Maher moved the motion.

In recent years, the contributions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander veterans have become more widely acknowledged. In 2017, Indigenous veterans and their families led the national ANZAC Day march in Canberra for the first time. In 2018, the Australian War Memorial's exhibition For Country, for Nation has become a national tour that will last until June 2021. The exhibition will be at the Samstag Museum of Art at Adelaide University from 26 April to 19 July 2019.

The exhibition highlights stories of service by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and explores themes of remembrance and tradition through family histories, objects and photographs from across Australia, drawing inspiration from cultural traditions and symbols of discipline, knowledge, leadership and skill.

At least 1,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander soldiers served in World War I, and they were present in almost every Australian campaign of that war. It is estimated that about a third of the Indigenous soldiers who served overseas between 1914 and 1918 were killed in action or died of wounds or disease. After the war, however, Indigenous veterans found that their war service counted for little. Very few of them were granted a soldier settler block. They were not given full citizenship and rights and still had to live under the so-called protection acts that imposed strict control over many aspects of their lives.

As many as 8,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people may have enlisted during World War II, although the exact number is not known because there was no Indigenous identification process in the Defence Force until the 1990s. A Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion was formed in 1941 primarily to protect Torres Strait. Indigenous troops usually received less than half the pay of non-Indigenous troops and, unless they served overseas, did not have access to many veterans' benefits. It took more than four decades of campaigning for some of these anomalies to be rectified.

Indigenous Australians continued serving after World War II. This included involvement in the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan, the Korean War, the Malayan Emergency, Borneo, the Vietnam War, East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan. The Australian Defence Force now actively recruits in Indigenous communities for reserve and regular forces.

In 2013, an Aboriginal War Memorial was unveiled at the Torrens Parade Ground by the then Governor-General Quentin Bryce. The bronze sculpture shows a World War I male soldier and a World War II female nurse standing above a coolamon, a traditional Indigenous Australian holding vessel. The rainbow serpent surrounds the two figures. This creature is part of the Indigenous Australian creation story and the Dreamtime. A walkway of honour leads to the memorial bearing the names of those Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women who have given service.

Veterans and their families received $100 million in additional funding in the recent federal budget. This funding is in addition to ongoing funds allocated to the Department of Veterans' Affairs. I think there is much more that we can do to work with veterans from an Indigenous background. They have demonstrated, in my mind, that they are proactive in their recognition of the service of people who have gone before them and those who have come after them. I commend them for that. I am very pleased to support this motion. I note the Hon. Mr Stephens is also going to speak on this matter. I commend the motion to the chamber.