Remembrance Day Adjournment

As the Senate would be aware, we recently had Remembrance Day, when we remember those who have served our nation and the cause of peace around the world. I also spoke on the adjournment last night about the unveiling of the first war memorial to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander personnel—people who have served since the Boer War but have not been remembered. Tonight I wish to briefly make some remarks about another group of Australians who have served this nation who are often not remembered on official memorials here in Canberra or elsewhere and who are often overlooked when people talk about the conflicts that Australians have fought in. The two conflicts I wish to mention are the Malayan Emergency and the Indonesian Confrontation.

The Malayan Emergency was declared in June 1948 after three estate managers were murdered in Perak in northern Malaysia. The guerrilla movement that had grown out of the Malaysian Communist Party was disgruntled with the current government and sought to overthrow that by force. A state of emergency was declared and, over the next 12 years, the British, Malayan and Commonwealth armed forces fought against the insurgency led by that Communist Party. The state of emergency was not lifted until 1960, some three years after the Federation of Malaysia had received its independence.

Australia’s emergency began in 1950 with a number of RAAF aircraft and personnel—the 38th Squadron deployed on cargo runs and Lincoln bombers which, in the end, delivered the majority of ordnance that was dropped during that campaign. By October 1955, the 2nd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment arrived. Over the period of the conflict, not only were the 1st Squadron and 38th Squadron of RAAF involved, but between 1955 and 1962 the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the Royal Australian Regiment rotated through Malaya. There were also members from the corps of artillery, engineers and signals specialist troops as part of Australia’s involvement. The Royal Australian Navy had a number of ships, including HMAS Anzac, Arunta, Melbourne, Quadrant, Queenborough, Quiberon, Quickmatch, Sydney, Tobruk, Vampire, Vendetta, Voyager and Warramunga. Some 250 Australian personnel were either killed in action, killed as a result of accidents or wounded in that conflict—a sizable contribution in sacrifice by Australia. At 13 years, the Malayan Emergency was in fact the longest continuous Australian commitment in Australia’s history at that time. Some 39 Australian servicemen were killed, although only 15 of these were directly as a result of operations.

The Indonesian Confrontation was a small but undeclared war fought between 1962 and 1966 predominantly along the border between Indonesia and Malaysia, including Borneo. There were a number of cross-border raids into Malaysia against the Malaysian Peninsula itself, and Australian forces who were based there as part of the British Commonwealth Far East Strategic Reserve participated in the defence of the peninsula, particularly between September and October of 1964. By 1965, Australian troops joined British forces and New Zealand forces in Borneo, and the confrontation only ended in 1966 when Indonesia and Malaysia signed a peace treaty in Bangkok. In all, Australia contributed two infantry battalions, two squadrons of the Special Air Service and artillery, Australian engineers, Royal Australian Navy ships and the 5th Squadron of the RAAF. Twenty-three Australians were killed and five wounded during that confrontation.

At the end of those conflicts, which were undeclared wars, no territory had been lost. They were victories. There were no demarcation zones put in place. The commitment and service of those men and women is as relevant as in any other conflict that Australians have served in, and yet for a range of reasons their service and sacrifice has not been recognised to the extent that it should. To quote Brigadier Alf Garland:

No one knew we went up there, No one knew we fought there, Now, no one cares, it’s a disgrace.

I am glad to report to the Senate that some things have improved. There is now a national day on 31 August to commemorate the service and sacrifice of these men and women who served Australia. I am pleased to report that some steps have been taken to initiate a memorial in Canberra at the Australian War Memorial. It is early days yet, but dialogue has commenced with the War Memorial. Certainly the South Australian chapter of the National Malaya and Borneo Veterans Association of Australia has been heavily engaged in that. I commend for their work Mr Brian Selby and many others who are seeking to make sure that there is a permanent memorial and that the service and sacrifice of these Australians is as recognised and valued as any.