TOP IA STORIES OF 2011: Diggers versus the Gillard Government

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Independent Australia was, with this June story, the first media organisation to pick up on the disgraceful story of the Federal Government's betrayal of veterans by not fairly indexing their pensions, though the story has now received widespread mainstream media coverage. Editor Tess Lawrence has been at the vanguard of this fight, which continues to this very day — while the discussion board after the story has become a forum for veterans to share information and words of encouragement, with comments numbering into the thousands.



by Tess Lawrence

By Tess Lawrence | Contributing editor-at-large


"In 30 years as a member of the Labor Party, I continually found greed, corruption, self-interest, branch stacking and elected representatives who often scoffed at the plight of their constituents..." ~ Former NSW Labor politician Ian McManus

Our Diggers are at war.

Not with the Taliban.

Not with Al-Qaeda.

But with the Australian Government.

Our Diggers have been betrayed.

Not by the Taliban.

Not by Al-Qaeda.

But by the Australian Government.

They have been subjected to political waterboarding and demeaned by the 'scuttling' of the Coalition's Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Amendment Bill (Fair Indexation) 2010 that would have afforded them and their heirs a few more paltry dollars in the event they lived long enough — or didn't.

Yesterday was the first anniversary of what must rank as the most ill thought political assassination in Australia since Federation.

It saw Julia Gillard, the Red Queen, eased by her ambitious and needy courtiers into the Labor Party's High Chair, already heavily stained with bodily fluids, over the (quelle horreur) workaholic incumbent Kevin Rudd.


Julia Gillard kisses retiring former head of the Armed Forces Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston


The previous night, in fitting ceremony, all sides of parliament quite rightly paid tribute to the retiring Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, who is stepping down as Defence Chief.

Never mind that he's reigned over a period of extraordinary disquiet — one enquiry alone dealing with about a 1000 allegations of sexual assault.

No doubt, as a civilian, Mr Houston will quite rightly enjoy a pension suitable to his station in life.

Sadly, our Vets and serving Diggers will not.

Some soldiers become bureaucrats more easily than others.

Retired Brigadier Neil Weekes is not one of those.

Yep, he was called up in Nasho and served with the 1st Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, serving in South Vietnam where as a Platoon Commander he was awarded the Military Cross for Gallantry.

Fast forward to a lifetime of deaths. Today he is Patron of the Vietnam Veterans' Association (Townsville Branch) and Patron of the National Servicemen's Association of Australia (Townsville Branch and Patron of the Townsville Branch of the Returned and Services League of Australia (RSL) and a whole lot more.

He's also a bit of a sacred elder. Not only to retired Diggers. But also to younger Diggers overseas.

But Neil and other military elders have told these kids to keep their heads down. He and others will take the hits for them.

One of those 'others' is none other than former NSW Labor politician Ian McManus. Neither Neil nor Ian intend to surrender. There will be no white flag.


Letter from Neil Weekes to Kate Lundy - click to open full letter


On June 22, a couple of days ago, Neil Weekes wrote to our prime minister Julia Gillard.

She's the one who, in rightly sombre voice, wears the widow's weeds for our grieving nation.

And we have much to grieve about in our unwinnable wars.

Especially given the increasing death toll in Afghanistan, where the body bags number 27 with about 179 of our kids now wounded. Our grieving family members are in their hundreds.

We have all witnessed the prime minister and leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott express their profound sorrow and sympathy. These are becoming common prayers. Amongst us all.

America's withdrawal leaves a vacuum that we can never fill. Save for our young corpses.

The tears of our politicians might as well be courtesy of Actor's Equity.

Neil also sent Senators Xenophon, Wong, Brown and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott a copy of the letter.

And he also sent Senator Kate Lundy a copy. And this is important. Because Senator Lundy, as it turns out, is the Tokyo Rose of the Labor Party. Might as well make that a whole bouquet.

How so?

Firstly, in Neil's words:

"It is a complete mockery for members of our Parliament to attend the funerals of our young warriors who have been killed in action, and to observe a minute's silence in the House of Representatives and in the Senate and yet you reject a Bill which would have aligned the increases...with our old age pensioners.


"....This is immoral, it lacks the principle of a "fair go" espoused by all politicians and especially by the Labor Party.

"How do you explain this to a Veteran who has fought for his country, who has been sent into action by his Government, who has seen his mates fall in action, who has readily surrendered his own freedoms so that our nation can meet its international commitments and to ensure our nation remains free?"

How so indeed.


In an extraordinary and forthright letter to Senator Kate Lundy, Ian McManus vented a injured spleen.

The Bill was lost by one vote. That one vote was Kate Lundy's. She had pledged her vote to the lads. Silly us. We forget the basics of war. It is the enemy within that will undo us.


Ian McManus email to Kate Lundy (click on image to see email at full size)


I quote McManus:

"It has come to my notice that you may have voted in the negative recently on a motion, supported by the "peoples" house against the above bill (Fair Indexation Bill).


"...this is a shameful act against veterans of the past, present and future....”

Ian McManus outlined agonising with his conscience between his Labor working class family ethics — and the veterans.


He chose his brethren. The Vets.

His outpouring is astounding and reveals the hypocrisy and contempt shown for 'ordinary people'.

"In 30 years as a member of the Labor Party, I continually found greed, corruption, self-interest, branch stacking and elected representatives who often scoffed at the plight of their constituents.


"In contrast, I continued to meet with veterans who continue to help each other find peace in their troubled lives.

"I am giving up on the once great ALP.

"Countless Millions of taxpayer dollars is (sic) pouring out of this country every day to placate countries who have little regard for our way of life, seemingly in a vain effort to win their governments over, at the expense of people like our returned servicemen and women."

There is much that is disturbing in all of this; not the least is the morale of our defence forces serving overseas. And their families here in Australia. They also serve who stand and wait.



Australians in Vietnam


Every time there is a news flash about a bombing or an incident, Australian defence families hold their breath.

The reality is that morale is at an all-time low. The Gillard Government and the Coalition are preoccupied with popularity polls.

The obscene and tragic reality of spinmeistering means that presiding over sombre and funereal rituals of our fallen military dead, and donning faux camouflage in situ in protected and fortified green zones, can indeed enhance one's popularity ratings. Except it isn't working for either the Government or the Opposition.

Australians have had a gutful. The Vets have had a gutful.

The morale of our mostly young Defence Forces is at stake. On home ground, it is clear from the level of bullying and sexual harassment that has been publicly identified that leadership has been wanting. Don't forget that there is much that hasn't been made public.

Kids serving overseas are concerned that if they are killed or wounded, disabled, or suffer from post-traumatic stress, or from the impact of deadly and toxic weaponry, their families may not be looked after by our Government.

It is simply not fair that our defence personnel should fight two battles. One, against an impervious 'enemy' and the other, against their own miserly Government.

Independent Australia salutes Neil Weekes and Ian McManus, and the many others who are fighting for justice for our Vets.

Lest we forget to remember.


George Mansford poem on the issue


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