This morning I rise to pay tribute to the Vietnamese War veterans amongst us in our community as well as the Australian Vietnam veterans, who have paid an enormous price — physically, emotionally and financially — for many, many decades.
I, like so many others in this chamber, have not been directly involved in war. However, as a young woman I did find myself in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, 12 months after the conclusion of that war, and what I saw was the fallout of war — a city that essentially was on its knees, where the local economy was non-existent, where people were walking around the streets still injured, where people had obvious health problems. We had a situation where people were absolutely hungry — they were starving. We had a situation where there was no sanitation and we were surrounded by devastation. This also continued when I spent time in the Nong Khai refugee camp across the Mekong, where we had a town that was almost the size of the capital of Vientiane, full of Laotian refugees.
It was during that time that I got to know the real meaning of the fallout of war. My relationships with those in that camp and also with Laotians, Vietnamese and Cambodians in this state since, has been so enlightening and has opened my eyes wide to a whole range of things. It was a privilege to be amongst those who did manage to either be processed through the camps or escape by boat and find themselves here. The things they went through included not knowing whether their mother or their father was still alive or where they might be — they had no idea. Many still do not know exactly what happened to their family members, but some do and some are now hopefully resting in peace.
I also acknowledge and applaud the efforts of the then Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, for what he did in recognising the responsibility this country had to the people of Vietnam and ensuring that there was a home for them to come to, and we do thank them for making our place their home. It is our home now. You have made a significant contribution to the culture of this state. You have made a significant contribution to the way we live. We really respect you in every sense, we thank you so much for everything you have done and we applaud you for what you have been able to do with your lives and your children’s lives. Thank you.