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National Policy An Endorsement Of The Government

Veterans' Affairs Minister Mark Burton today confirmed that the government has been committed to establishing a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier since last year, with a proposed date of mid 2003.

"Today’s announcement by Bill English of National’s Veteran Affairs policy is effectively an endorsement of all that this government has done, following the abject failure of the previous National government to do anything for veterans," Mr Burton said.

"The Prime Minister last year instructed her officials to work on establishing a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as a form of remembrance of the nation’s sacrifice in overseas wars. The Prime Minister also visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington DC in March. Officials there offered to assist New Zealand with advice on establishing our Tomb, as they have considerable experience in these matters.

"The Tomb will provide a focus to allow current generations to remember the sacrifice of New Zealanders in overseas conflicts and peace-keeping operations.

"Almost all of the New Zealanders who lost their lives in war while serving overseas are buried overseas, and access to the graves can often be beyond the means of relatives. An unknown warrior tomb would provide a symbolic grave here in New Zealand.

"The government will repatriate one body of a New Zealander buried overseas as a symbol of all 28,000 New Zealanders who lie in foreign lands."

Mark Burton said the Tomb would be another in a list of initiatives undertaken by this government since coming into office.

In April 2001 the Government announced a $9 million package of new initiatives aimed at improving the services to veterans. These measures included:

- A one-stop-shop service in the Office of Veterans' Affairs for the provision of health and other services to veterans;

- Better health treatment for Vietnam veterans and for those who witnessed nuclear testing in the Pacific, and their families;

- Ex gratia payments to ex-POWs and other internees held by Japan;

- New legislation that gives formal recognition to the special status of veterans; and provision for veterans of working age to be in employment without losing their pensions.

Medallic recognition grievances spanning decades have been addressed. The government believes that there should be proper public recognition of service for one's country, and that the system of recognition must be seen to be credible, fair, and consistent.

- A New Zealand Operational Service Medal (NZOSM) is now offered to all personnel who have been on operational service since 1945.

- Medallic grievances arising from a number of specific overseas since 1945 operations have also been dealt with. These include:

1. The service of HMNZS Achilles and Gambia in Japanese waters in 1945-46

2. Royal New Zealand Navy involvement in the Malayan Emergency 1948-60

3. Service off Malaya by the Royalist and Otago in 1965 and 1966 respectively.

4. HMNZS Royalist involvement in the Suez Conflict 1956

5. A range of unrecognised service in Vietnam

6. Royal New Zealand Air Force service in Rwanda 1994.

7. HMNZS Waikato and Canterbury in the Indian Ocean in 1982-83

- Created the East Timor Medal in recognition of the outstanding contribution made by many New Zealanders, in both a civilian and military capacity, to the reconstruction of East Timor since 1999.

- Accepted the INTERFET medal for those New Zealand personnel who deployed to East Timor between September 1999 and February 2000.

Other measures taken to address the concerns of veterans include:

- Keeping our promise to provide a one off grant to the NZ Nuclear Test Veterans’ Association for research into health issues and support of nuclear test veterans.

- Establishing a grant system for assistance for commemorations.

- Establishing research capability within the Office of Veterans' Affairs to provide information on the health status of the children of Vietnam and Operation Grapple veterans.

- Offered funding assistance to enable the homes run by the Patriotic and Canteen Funds Board to move to local community control.

"In addition to this long list of achievements, the government has also been carefully working through the issue of a Veterans' Card," Mark Burton said. "I am having a variety of options costed - so that we know what services we can provide to veterans, what is the best way of doing that, and how much will need to be spent.

"In contrast, Bill English has already been forced to acknowledge that National hasn't worked out what their proposed Gold Card will and won't provide, and they don't know what it will cost.

"The National Party has already admitted that its support level among the over 65s is the lowest of any conservative party in the world. This is a desperate attempt to try and boost that support - but it won't work.

"Right through the 1990's National had the opportunity but did nothing to address the concerns and grievances of veterans. And veterans haven't forgotten that National cut New Zealand Superannuation.

"This government has done more than any other to address the concerns of veterans. There are still issues to address, and the government continue to work closely with the Royal New Zealand Returned Services Association and other veterans' groups. We are taking a constructive, consultative approach - while Bill English continues to promise everything to everybody."

Ends


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