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Clark: Address at the Year of the Veteran launch

Address at the Year of the Veteran launch

Premier House, Wellington

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Premier House, Wellington


I am very pleased today to be launching the "Year of the Veteran", a year when we in New Zealand express our appreciation of the contribution made to our country by the service and sacrifice of our veterans.

Our government has given a high priority to recognising the service of New Zealanders overseas - through the erection of major memorials, commemoration of significant military anniversaries, the commissioning of new histories of past conflicts, dealing with past medallic grievances, boosting the Office of Veterans' Affairs, and providing a pathway for reconciliation for Viet Nam Veterans.

Last year a decision was taken, with the full support of the Royal New Zealand RSA to designate 2006 as the Year of the Veteran as a further step to show our nation's gratitude for what our veterans have done, and to enable a greater public understanding of the service they undertook on behalf of New Zealand.

In recent years we have commemorated six significant sixtieth anniversaries from World War Two: for the Battle of Crete; the Battle for El Alamein; the Battle for Cassino; the D-Day landings; and the end of the war in Europe and then in the Pacific. We also commemorated the ninetieth anniversary of the ANZAC landings at Gallipoli last year.

In this Year of the Veteran, 2006, we also commemorate a sixtieth and a ninetieth anniversary; the sixtieth anniversary of the return home of New Zealand troops from Europe and the Pacific, and the ninetieth anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.

This year, preparations are also underway for next year's ninetieth anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele, which remains the worst military disaster in New Zealand history in terms of lives lost in a single day.

For a small nation, New Zealand's service commitment has been huge.

In the First World War, New Zealand, with a military-age male population of barely 250,000, sent more than 100,000 soldiers overseas. 18,000 of these men never returned home; another 41,000 were wounded.

During the Second War, New Zealand once more made a massive commitment. Over 200,000 men and women served in our armed forces, and 135,000 of these were mobilised overseas. With over 36,000 casualties, our casualty rate was proportionally the highest of Britain's Commonwealth allies.

The last time that New Zealand as a whole had to face the reality of a state of war was during World War II. Since then, however, our service personnel have served in many conflicts, emergencies, and peace keeping operations all over the world.

The veterans who are here with us today represent deployments ranging from WWII to Korea, Malaya and Borneo, Viet Nam, Bosnia, the Gulf, East Timor, Bougainville and Afghanistan.

These varied deployments, some of which are still in progress, attest to the ongoing impact and significance of our veterans' service.

I want to especially acknowledge the Viet Nam Veterans here today. The Viet Nam War was this country's longest and most controversial military engagement of the last century.

I know that for many veterans of that conflict, there is still a feeling that the country doesn't fully understand the realities of New Zealand's involvement, and the aftermath for veterans and their families.

Outstanding issues remain around the exposure of New Zealand forces to a toxic environment, and we established a joint working group to look into these and other issues.

Former State Services Commissioner, Michael Wintringham, has been appointed to chair the Joint Working Group and a consultative process. A final report to Government on what action can be taken to assist in the resolution of the grievances felt by veterans and their families is expected soon.

I understand that around seven hundred people, a high proportion of whom are actual Viet Nam veterans, have been consulted during this process.

It is important for us to remember that the impact of military service is felt not only by veterans themselves, but also by their families, and their communities. During the Year of the Veteran, we should also recognise the role played by families and friends in supporting our veterans.

The Year of the Veteran will see activities and initiatives taking place nationwide to honour and commemorate the service of New Zealand's veterans and our nation's proud service history.

The key aim of the Year of the Veteran is to provide opportunities for veterans to be recognised in their own communities. To assist that, the government has established a one million dollar, contestable Community Grants Fund.

This fund will be available to local authorities, ex-service associations, and other community organisations such as schools and local museums which seek support to organise commemorations of the work of New Zealand's servicemen and women.

Applications are already rolling in for various projects, and decisions will be made soon on the first round of grant allocation.

Local projects might include the refurbishment or rededication of local war memorials and honour rolls; local veterans "appreciation days"; collections of veterans' stories; or concerts, exhibitions, and other events in the community which commemorate local veterans.

In addition, $200,000 is being made available for events with a nationwide focus, to be planned in conjunction with the RSA.

2006 also marks the ninetieth anniversary of the founding of the Royal New Zealand Returned Services Association, an organisation with a proud history of dedication to the welfare and commemoration of our sevicemen and women, past and present.

Special Year of the Veteran Certificates of Appreciation and Lapel Badges will be presented this year as an expression of appreciation to those who have served New Zealand in a recognised war or emergency.

Every veteran of a recognised war or emergency is eligible for this recognition of New Zealand's enduring appreciation and gratitude for their service. Any veteran can apply, and the RSA has already made veterans aware of the process.

Shortly I will be very proud to present the first of these certificates and lapel badges to the veterans who are here with us today.

In this Year of the Veteran, we wish also to recognise those members of our communities who have done outstanding volunteer work for veterans. The service recognised could include volunteer welfare work and maintenance of cemeteries and memorials. Year of the Veteran Commendations will offer a way of saying thank you to those who undertake such service.

In 2006, the Year of the Veteran, New Zealand will have the opportunity to show our veterans that our gratitude for their service does not dim with the passing of time or changing circumstances. We must as a nation continue to be aware of the value and meaning of their service.

It is my pleasure now to formally launch the Year of the Veteran: 2006.

ENDS

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