Australia has always had a special place in our memory for our peacekeepers: an unmarked, shadowy alcove – near a storage area – in an obscure section of the Australian War Memorial.
The book where Australia honours those who have died while trying to prevent war has only recently been made available to the public. For years it was locked away in a cabinet. Out of sight, out of mind, perhaps.
Those who die in battle absolutely deserve the high recognition they receive. But it’s a strange aspect of our culture that we almost ignore those who work in our name to promote international peace and security; to prevent more Australians being sent into battle.
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It’s a pretty special set of circumstances when a tax-payer-funded body releases a series of reviews exposing decades of cultural problems, including 775 allegations of sexual assault, and the Minister is the one facing questions over why he won’t apologise for standing down one of the people in charge.
Last night on the ABC’s 7.30 Defence Minister Stephen Smith was asked in numerous ways why he wouldn’t apologise to Australian Defence Academy Commandant Bruce Kafer, who has been reinstated this week, 11 months after being stood down over the so called “Skype” scandal.
When the scandal broke, involving an 18-year-old woman cadet being filmed without her consent having sex, and the vision broadcast via the internet to some of her classmates, Smith went in pretty hard and fast.
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“The willingness of future generations to serve in our military will be directly dependent upon how we have treated those who have served in the past.” George Washington.
So the politicians have seen fit to grant themselves another pay rise. No, sorry, the Federal Remuneration Tribunal has granted them a pay rise and they have accepted its ruling. Changing the legislation to say no is apparently not an option.
What many may not realise is that politician pay rises benefit not just current politicians, but all qualifying pre-2004 retired politicians. If those retired politicians are survived by their spouse this pay rise also goes to them.
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As another Australian family endures the soul-destroying grief of the loss of a young son in Afghanistan - the fourth in a week - the debate about the nation’s role in the campaign has shifted into fraught territory.
Some surveys show that the majority of Australians want the troops to be brought home immediately. Our political leaders say we must hold our nerve and harden our resolve for more losses in the weeks ahead.
Given that only two of the four latest casualties, Sgt Brett Wood and special-forces combat engineer Rowan Jaie Robinson, were killed in action fighting the Taliban the bipartisan position is the right one for a host of reasons.
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“We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.”
“Ragheads’‘, “dune coons’‘, “sand niggaz’’ and “smelly locals’‘. Last night we were exposed to ADF soldiers with experience in Afghanistan acting in prejudicial, discriminatory, racist ways. That is what we call it in the civilian world.
A group of soldiers, some who have served overseas in contemporary conflicts, and apparently some who are serving, have allegedly posted their discontent on the social networking site Facebook. They have expressed their disdain, their hatred of the Afghanis, their racist and pejorative perspective of those they are charged to ‘liberate’ and their insubordination to their boss, Lieutenant General Gillespie.
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Jamie Larcombe is the fifth Australian Army combat engineer to be killed in action in Afghanistan. He is also the first to be shot during a firefight rather than blown up by an insurgent’s improvised explosive device (IED).
The engineers are a tight-knit and dedicated group of soldiers who bring a raft of skills and a great deal of courage to the fight against the Taliban. The Darwin based 1st Combat Engineer Regiment has now lost two of its best within a fortnight following the death of Corporal Richard Atkinson at the hands of an enemy bomb maker.
In addition to the five KIA they have also suffered much higher rates of injury as they take the lead role whenever a patrol leaves the security of an operating base.
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The intonation is crucial.
Australians use the phrase in two quite different ways, and the clue to whether what Mr Abbott said in Afghanistan was disrespectful or not lies in the modulation of his voice.
Did he say ‘shit happens’, meaning ‘get over it, suck it up, spilt milk’? Or did he say ‘shit happens’, meaning ‘nothing could have been done, it was fate, or God’s will.’
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In the aftermath of the Brisbane floods Kevin Rudd cast himself in the role of volunteer-in-chief, wading through the waters in his uniform of rolled up chinos and sodden business shirt. It’s easy to be cynical, I guess.
The real volunteers, of course, sought no recognition for their work. Over 22,000 of them, ably commanded by Lord Mayor Campbell Newman, rolled though Brisbane to lend a hand.
These volunteers are a testament to the Australian spirit of generosity and mateship. But Kevin Rudd could still do something genuinely useful to help the cause of volunteering.
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The flooding in Pakistan was an unavoidable natural disaster. The measures we take now will decide if we can avoid an ongoing humanitarian disaster.
Last Thursday I visited Pakistan to inspect the flood damage and the Australian response in Kot Addu, near Multan in the Southern Punjab.
The UN High-Level Meeting on Pakistan today met to discuss the adequacy, or inadequacy, of the international response. This meeting has one challenge – to prevent a natural disaster becoming a humanitarian calamity that could have been avoided.
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If it’s possible that anything positive could come out of the Fort Hood shootings in the United States last week let’s hope it raises the much maligned profile of mental health in the armed forces.
One third of American troops return home from Iraq suffering from some form of mental health issue.
High divorce rates and domestic violence are also increasingly common.
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It is safe to assume that Australia has the only high court in the world to have an important case of constitutional and military law decided over an incident of “teabagging.”
Following the High Court’s decision in Lane v Morrison on the illegitimacy of the Australian Military Court, the practice of “teabagging” will be forever etched in the legal lexicon of this country.
While Big Brother’s turkeyslapping incident introduced us to genital based attempts at humour taking hold of the national agenda, turkeyslapping was only brought up in Parliament while teabagging made it all the way to the High Court - and won.
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