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Honouring our veterans, past and present

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Sharing the stories of South Australia’s involvement in World War One more widely is an important step forward after the symbolism of our nation’s four-year commemoration of our costliest conflict, writes Labor frontbencher Tony Piccolo.

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The conclusion this month of our four-year commemoration of South Australia’s involvement in the First World War is a time to reflect on our next step.

In my recent meetings with RSLs and the 20 or so representative ex-service organisations, the following proposals were advocated by them:

Firstly, while recognising the past is essential to understanding present and future challenges, we should be better at providing employment and education opportunities for service personnel as they move back into civilian life.

When in Government, Labor committed to creating a Veterans’ Hub as a ‘one stop shop’ for former defence personnel seeking to transition to new defence industry jobs.

As I recall, this proposal received bipartisan support from the then-Opposition and I urge the Marshall Government to put than plan into action.

Work had already been done a year ago on transforming the administrative areas of Torrens Parade Ground for that purpose, so Labor’s support for such a move is a given.

Secondly, the growing relationship between defence industry and government defence agencies has provided the opportunity for ex-service personnel to find new careers in new technologies. I applaud the recent initiatives of the Defence Teaming Centre (a body that represents local, national and multinational defence contractors) to build links between Adelaide-based jobs in defence supply companies.

Thirdly, let’s make sure veterans’ families are a key part of government strategies to assist ex-service personnel.

Again, I applaud initiatives such as former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s Veteran’s Employment Program, but awareness of its objective, along with state services, appears to be low among the people it’s trying to assist – especially among veteran’s families. It’s time for a broader review of how these recent initiatives, arising from the four-year commemoration, can be made more effective.

Finally, there were two successful education initiatives during the commemoration; the online Virtual War Memorial and the locally produced book “Valour and Violets”.

The Weatherill Government funded a copy of the book to be sent to every school and library.

It’s South Australia’s story; a story of how the Great War impacted every corner of society – from Adelaide to the outback; from country towns to inner city suburbs.

It’s the story of the heroism of individuals, of groups of men, of groups of women, of families, townships and communities.

The book was compiled by military historian Robert “Dogs” Kearney, who donated his author’s fee back to the Virtual War memorial, an online history portal for use by school students.

Kearney travelled to almost every town and community in the state to document the impact of World War One on South Australia; from the dual perspective of those who served and those who were at home.

I urge the government agency Veterans SA to consider making this book even more accessible for young people via technological educational tools.

It’s the modern way of telling the history of our state’s costliest conflict in terms of deaths, casualties and post-war complexities.

Lest We Forget.

Tony Piccolo is Labor MP for Light and Shadow Minister for Veterans’ Affairs.

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