What does Anzac Day mean to Australia's ex-military MPs?


Ahead of Anzac Day 2018, SBS News meets seven federal politicians who previously served in the military.

Among the Australians commemorating Anzac Day this year will be the country's politicians who served in the military.

They come from a variety of backgrounds; there's the former experimental test pilot, the ex-special forces soldier, and a retired general.

Their offices are filled with medals and souvenirs - one even has a collection of (inactive) grenades.

And though they no longer wear a uniform, their military backgrounds remain ever present, particularly around 25 April.

Andrew Hastie, Liberal MP: Former SASR officer
Andrew Hastie
Andrew Hastie.
Supplied / AAP

For former special forces soldier Andrew Hastie,  the significance of Anzac Day was impressed on him from a young age.

“I used to go and watch my grandfather march through the Sydney CBD on Anzac Day," Mr Hastie told SBS News. “He was a wireless air gunner on board a Catalina aircraft in World War Two. He almost lost his life conducting a rescue of a downed aviator.” 

The Liberal MP and member for the Western Australian seat of Canning, spent five years in the Special Air Service Regiment (SASR), Australia’s most elite military unit, before entering politics. He did several combat tours in Afghanistan.

“I think, ultimately, Anzac Day is about sacrifice and service and it’s about remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice in giving their lives for Australia,” he said.

But, he says, there is a levity among those who served that some may not understand.

“The other side of Anzac is also the great mateship and bonds of kinship that are formed in military service, and that’s why soldiers, sailors and airmen love to go for a beer and have a good time.”

Luke Gosling, Labor MP: Former soldier and commando
Luke Gosling
Luke Gosling.
Supplied / AAP

Military service also runs in Luke Gosling’s family. The member for Solomon in the Northern Territory has an office at Parliament House filled with old family photos; in one, his father is wearing his slouch hat - a trademark of the Australian Army. 

“Anzac Day, for me, has always been about remembering the fallen, those that fell with my grandfather, those that fell with my father in Vietnam and those we’ve lost since,” he said.

Anzac Day, for me, has always been about remembering the fallen.

The former soldier performed a variety of roles in the Army, from infantry officer to commando.

“Nowadays, it’s also a very important way for me to have a lot of conversations with veterans about how they’re going.”

Stuart Robert, Liberal MP: Former Army officer
Stuart Robert
Stuart Robert.

Liberal MP Stuart Robert’s office is filled with memories from his time in the “dark arts” of Army intelligence. Several inert grenades sit on a shelf near his desk, surrounded by medals and pins from his 12-year military career.

The member for Fadden in Queensland sees an irony in Australians pausing to remember the day the Anzacs landed on a beach in Turkey.

“Most nations celebrate victories. We mark a day that started seven, eight, nine months of defeat,” he said. “When we left the Anzac Cove in December [1915], it wasn’t as victors; we were beaten.”

Video below: How is your party like the military?

How is your party like the military?
How is your party like the military?

But, he says, it was the moment Australia became a country, only 14 years after it federated.

“On 25th April 1915, was when men from all over Australia, different faiths, different backgrounds, different colours, different accents, together as one emerged on a beach as Australians. That’s what we commemorate.”

Linda Reynolds, WA Liberal Senator: Former Army brigadier
Linda Reynolds
Linda Reynolds.
Supplied / AAP

The hallowed shore of Anzac Cove on the Gallipoli peninsula holds a special place in Linda Reynolds' heart. Her grandfather served in Gallipoli and on the Western Front in World War One.

“We had the opportunity to take my father [to Turkey] and it was an extraordinarily cathartic thing, not just for him, but for my family. He grew up with a father that had returned physically intact from four years at war … but he wasn’t mentally intact,” she said.

“Seeing my father standing at the beach where his father came ashore on that first dawn in Gallipoli was very moving and I could see my father was finally, in his seventies, getting some degree of understanding of why his father was like he was in the day before we really knew what PTSD was.”

The Liberal Senator served in a number of combat support roles in the Army and became the first woman to rise to the rank of brigadier in the Army Reserves.

Mike Kelly, Labor MP: Former Army officer
Mike Kelly
Mike Kelly.
Supplied / AAP

Mike Kelly, the member for Eden-Monaro in NSW, has several personal ties to the military. His family served in both world wars; his grandfather was captured by the Japanese in World War Two and forced to work on the Thai-Burma railway.

“Still, to this day, I have his loincloth from that experience. And whenever I think I’m doing it tough, [I] sort of pull that out and say ‘harden up sunshine’.”

The former Army officer was deployed to Somalia, Bosnia, Timor-Leste and Iraq during his 20-year career. He says it is important to mark Anzac Day each year. 

“One of the good things about the day is we focus on trying to prevent wars and try to keep the peace in the world,” he said. 

“But also to celebrate some of the fantastic aspects of the Australian character that have come to the fore in those terrible circumstances; the sacrifice, the compassion, the mateship, the courage.”

Jim Molan, NSW Liberal Senator: Former major-general
Jim Molan
Jim Molan.
Supplied / AAP

Jim Molan is one of the newest senators in Parliament, having only been in the job for a few months. But, he spent nearly 40 years in the Army and rose to the rank of major-general.

In 2004, he was the international Coalition’s chief of operations in Iraq, running the day-to-day aspects of the war. For him, 25 April is not only a day for Australians to remember the fallen.

“You’ve got to learn from Anzac Day because what other day of the year do we think about military activities as a society?” he said. 

“Many people believe Australia’s experience of war over the last 100 years is the Anzac experience. I don’t agree with that. Australia’s experience of war over the last 100 years is unpreparedness overcome by the Anzacs.”


David Fawcett, SA Liberal Senator: Former test pilot
David Fawcett
David Fawcett.
Supplied / AAP

While the other MPs SBS News spoke to worked on the ground, Liberal Senator David Fawcett spent much of his military career in the air, as an experimental test pilot.

But, he said it wasn't just soldiers, sailors and airmen who had made sacrifices for Australia.

“We have veterans and, therefore, friends and families of veterans from East Timor, the Solomons, Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. 

Video below: What didn't the military prepare you for in politics?

What didn't the military prepare you for in politics?
What didn't the military prepare you for in politics?

Senator Fawcett said he is encouraged each year when he sees the faces at Anzac Day services.

“I see people from many cultures, including some of our previous enemies, who come out on Anzac Day to remember the fact people have fought.”

Anzac Day: 'A day for all'

All of the ex-military MPs SBS News spoke to agreed Anzac Day was a day for all Australians.

“Anzac Day is our history, it’s Australian history and we invite every new migrant to come in and embrace it,” Senator Molan said. 

Mike Kelly pointed out the diversity of the allies who fought alongside the Anzacs.

“The Greeks fought in a campaign with us in the Second World War, the Timorese communities here or Vietnamese communities,” he said. 

“It’s a great opportunity to celebrate that diversity as well and the commitment to those Australian values.”

Andrew Hastie said all Australians, including new migrants, are welcome to join the commemorations, this year and every year.

“I don’t think there’s a burden to inherit Anzac Day,” he said. “I think there’s a great tradition they can invest themselves in.”


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