Opinion pieces

“We Need to Remember Them"

An unmarked grave. No details. No name. No age. Nothing. A void. Desolate. Forgotten. A bare plot revealing nothing.

Devastatingly sad. Especially so when you know the plot is the resting place of one who was willing to sacrifice his life for you and me.

700 World War I veterans in unmarked graves just in Tasmania alone. And around Australia, it would be thousands. It doesn't bear thinking. They deserve better.

Men who had fought for our safety, our values, our way of life.

The same service personnel we commemorated and honoured on Remembrance Day just six days ago, promising "we will remember them".

Yet many of them lie unknown, unrecognised, unacknowledged. We forgot them.

A national disgrace. We didn't care as we should have cared. We didn't remember them.

Alienated from family, from society, or the ravages of the depression making a headstone unaffordable, whatever the reasons our Nation didn't honour our returned men in death.

Into this void, this blot on our nation entered Andrea Gerrard OAM - a diminutive lady with tenacity, passion and professionalism.

And so the Headstone Project was born.

Through her involvement in the Families and Friends of the First AIF Inc Andrea Gerrard brought this disgrace to light. Not satisfied at just finding this neglect Andrea set about to rectify this appalling situation.

In Tasmania, about 500 out of the 700 veterans who languished unrecognised are now acknowledged with an appropriate headstone and plaque thanks to a wonderful team effort spearheaded by Andrea Gerrard.

Private support from the corporate sector including - Mitre 10, Cement Australia, Sika, Kings Trailers, Nyrstar, Crossroads Concrete and My Pathway, together with RSL's and the 12th/40 Battalion Royal Tasmanian Regiment display the strong and generous community spirit and support. Local Government from Launceston to Hobart, the Derwent Valley to King Island have chipped in as well.

It was my privilege to assist with facilitating a number of Work for the Dole programmes to assist. Rewarding not only for myself but the participants who found their involvement exceptionally rewarding. More recently DGR (Deductible Gift Recipient} status for tax purposes was granted. Not much advocacy was needed on my part with the Treasurer readily accepting the worthiness of this wonderful cause.

In typical style for Andrea the placement of headstones was simply not enough. As each group of headstones was completed a fitting ceremony was held with the Governor, Chief of Army, Director of the War Memorial, the Minister for Veterans Affairs, variously officiating at the unveiling ceremonies. The ceremonies included local students researching and providing a brief biography of each digger whose dignity in death has been restored.

The Headstone Project has allowed families to be reunited with their ancestors and loved ones as well.

Not surprisingly the Headstone Project initiative has been observed and replicated on the mainland leading the Minister for Veteran Affairs at the last election to start a national pilot programme of co-funding with communities.

As we rightly saluted our veterans last week, we should also salute the Andrea Gerrards of this world who see a need and selflessly dedicate themselves to seeing the need fulfilled. An OAM in 2018 was deserved recognition for Andrea's efforts, as was the Community Group of the Year Award at last years’ Tasmanian Community Achievement Awards.

Anyone wishing to be involved in the worthy Headstone Project can contact

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

Bare plots have been transformed into enduring memorials of appreciation thanks to Andrea Gerrard OAM. Her committee is converting community goodwill into practical action to ensure we live up to our commitment to remember them.

ABC pay increase reflects entitlement mentality

The ABC's refusal to delay a 2 per cent pay rise for just six months is indicative of an entitlement mentality that is so out of touch with mainstream Australia.  

In April and May, the Communications Minister, the Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Australian Public Service Commission wrote to the ABC asking - along with all non-public service agencies - to not take their mandated 2 per cent pay rise.  

112 Commonwealth Government agencies elected to defer the mandated pay rise, including those playing a vital role in the COVID-19 pandemic such as Centrelink and the Department of Health, displaying a social awareness that escapes the ABC which continually purports to assert itself as our social conscience. The ABC clearly thinks itself as more important than these agencies as a staggering approximately 80 per cent of staff voted against the proposed pay rise deferral.  

Commercial media organisations have significantly cut back to deal with the economic effects of the pandemic with redundancies and pay cuts yet the ABC feels no need whatsoever to tighten its belt.  

"The ABC seems to seize every possible opportunity to highlight how out of touch it is with the rest of Australia and fellow public servants," said Senator Abetz.  

"The decision to take the pay rise was not even a close decision which is a further reflection of the entitlement mentality which prevails in so many areas of the ABC. Approximately 80 per cent of staff voted not to take the pay rise in circumstances where many have shown leadership and sacrifice to help Australia through this COVID recession." 

"When it comes to the ABC, 'we're not all in this together'. As hard-working Australians lose their jobs and financially tighten their belts, they will be forced to pay for the ABC and its pay rises." 

End-of-life bill requires far greater scrutiny

Originally published in The Examiner 22 September (Available here)

Most of us can imagine crimes which in the abstract are deserving of the death penalty.

Yet we have wisely abolished the death penalty because as a community we believe in the inherent value of human life and that the state should not have the power or authority to dispense with the life of any of its citizenry. Once you give the state such power, where do you draw the line?

Coupled with this fundamental principle is the pragmatic real-life experience that even with the best justice system in the world (which we do enjoy in Australia) errors are nevertheless and regrettably made.

Doubts about the appropriateness of previous convictions continually arise.

It is all too late when the convicted person is no longer with us because of the death penalty. These same considerations of principle and pragmatism need to be embraced by our Tasmanian legislators as they consider the Bill before the Parliament which seeks to provide state sanction for suicide or more euphemistically described as "end-of-life choices".

It's human nature to want to be the master of your own destiny. As it is human nature to seek as pleasant a death as possible.

We all agree with that in principle.

We would be silly if we didn't.

Yet there are two fundamental key issues.

Can state-sanctioned suicide be safely legislated? And in any event, is it right and possible to so legislate?

The wise truism "the devil is in the detail" is sage counsel and exceptionally apt when considering whether the state ought to allow the taking of another human life.

Another maxim worthy of adoption is that "tough cases always make for bad law".

When a former distinguished Chief Justice of our Tasmanian Supreme Court, the Hon Bill Cox AC, persuasively exposes the dangers of this latest version of the proposal along with the Australian Medical Association, which notes the confusing nature and contradictory aspects of it, we can't glibly dismiss opposition to this Bill as some have sought to do to avoid discussing the details.

And without forming a judgement on the principles of the proposal, the state government has raised a litany of technical issues with the legislation.

Given the host of issues - technical, legal, medical, ethical - all in a community climate of ever-increasing elder abuse and suicide, we would be well served to have the proposal fully considered by a qualified panel to consider and proffer advice on the detail.

Having been so self-satisfied by his Bill, the mover told the community "there is nothing an inquiry could improve on...".

The mover is now in the unfortunate position of having to propose his own amendments to at least five separate clauses and inserting a new section dealing with "objectives and principles".

One may have thought that when dealing with life-and-death issues the matter of objectives and principles may have been a first-order issue and settled before drafting the Bill and not as an afterthought.

Yet that is what is happening.

Most of us won't go past the euphemistic title of the Bill "End-of-Life Choices".

No set of choices on offer by the way - just an earlier death. And it's not only for the terminally ill in the latter stages of their life, as most think because that is what we are continually being told. The detail tells a very different and chilling story.

Section 5(1) tells us the "relevant medical condition" means a disease, illness, injury or medical condition that is advanced, incurable and irreversible and is expected to cause the death of the person. Note the condition needs only to be "expected" to cause death.

We expect many things in life which ultimately don't happen. Further, despite having the best medical system in the world, incorrect diagnoses and treatments occur.

Section 5(2) tells us a condition is "incurable and irreversible" if there is no reasonable available treatment that is acceptable to the person and that can cure or reverse the condition. So, no objective assessment by a panel of qualified medical practitioners, just the patient's subjective assessment that the treatment is not acceptable.

There is many an incurable condition which may be expected to lead to death of which we can think, e.g. diabetes and heart disease. Section 6 refers to "intolerable" suffering, but Section 13 tells us this is to be determined not by medical experts but by the opinion of the person.

And the "intolerable" aspect of it can be simply the "anticipation of the suffering" as per Section 13(b)(ii). Thankfully there is a word limit imposed by the editor, but these few examples highlight how essential it is for this Bill to be fully and professionally examined. After all, life-and-death are serious topics - worthy of exceptionally careful scrutiny especially for parliamentarians seeking to legislate in this area.

NZ-Australia manuka honey trademark fight hurting producers

Originally published in The Examiner 8 September (Available here)

Our cousins across the ditch (Tasman not the Bass Strait) are laying sole claim to the botanical name "Manuka" so that New Zealand can have the world rights to marketing.

They are doing so with a New Zealand government-backed fund. The main, if not only, reason anyone would want sole rights to a name is because of its marketing value. A casual glance at the supermarket shelf informs the buyer that Manuka honey carries with it a premium price compared to other honey - even our cherished leatherwood.

Manuka honey happens to contain a naturally occurring compound - methylglyoxal. In 2006 this compound was identified as the dominant antibacterial constituent of Manuka honey. Ever since then the honey has gained in reputation as a food and in medicinal and cosmetic applications. Taxpayers are currently funding six separate research projects into its qualities and potential uses.

Manuka is the honey sector's equivalent to abalone in the fishing sector. For a long time, it was worthless but now commanding top dollar. Of such nuisance value was Manuka honey that it was once washed away in the river. If only the bees could be trained to stay away. No market, no value.

But along a market came with an appetite so vociferous right across the world it isn't easy to satisfy. Within 10 years it was worth more than $1 billion per annum.

The humble unwanted Leptospermum, which produces the necessary blossoms, is now so sought after, entrepreneurs are trialling plantations as the wild-growing areas can't produce sufficient supply.

This is the first time a plant has been domesticated and planted just for honeybees, according to Dr Barbour, the chief executive of the Cooperative Research Centre into Honeybee Products. Australia is blessed with 83 varieties of this Leptospermum growing down South East Australia's coastline from Queensland right through to Tasmania, and across to Western Australia. It grows in New Zealand as well.

In both our countries, Leptospermum grows wild. New Zealand has just the one variety, yet they're claiming the right to sole usage of the name. It has long been accepted in world trade that geographical names can be protected if it is analogous with a product, for example, Champagne. Saving a botanical name which occurs naturally in different countries such as Manuka would set a disruptive world precedent.

New Zealand's honey producers are going full bore in their attempt to snatch the rights to the name "Manuka" with a clumsily attempted arms-length yet obvious slush fund of $6m from the New Zealand government.

From their own sources, our hard-working, enterprising beekeepers can't match such an exorbitant fighting fund provided by New Zealand's taxpayers.

While in relative terms our honey sector mightn't be large it is worth protecting in its own right and should be exciting more significant government support, both diplomatically and financially in this fight with New Zealand. Apart from the correctness in supporting our own is the vital principle of maintaining an open world trade protocol whereby botanical names cannot be opportunistically claimed.

If New Zealand believes it has the best Manuka honey in the world, it should market it as "New Zealand Manuka honey". And we would market ours as "Tasmanian" or "Australian".

A fair, reasonable, sensible solution protecting everyone's interest without disrupting long-established and fully acceptable international understandings.

Why devote a column to this topic? A bit of nostalgia perhaps. I kept bees with my father as a hobby, even taking them to the South West for the leatherwood season. It was hard work, yet a rewarding hobby. Those who do it all day every day - our beekeepers - deserve our full support.

Imagine their response after detailing their plight to Canberra, and the suggestion to consider changing the name of their honey. They were entitled to be angrier than a poked beehive.

These officials, who may well think honey comes from jars (like milk from bottles), need to show as a minimum greater empathy as well as a fighting commitment to our hard-working regional enterprises and job providers which ultimately provide the tax base which pays their wages. All societies seem to replicate the culture of the beehive with its workers and freeloaders (drones). Like a beehive in winter, the Manuka honey sector has no room for the drones of officialdom who are willing to live off the rewards but who make no contribution in working for or protecting the hive.

Eddystone Point Lighthouse a gem keeping history alive

Originally published in The Examiner 25 August (Available here)

A potential jewel in Tasmania's ever-growing list of must-see destinations is the underappreciated Eddystone Point Lighthouse and its precinct on our state's most easterly protrusion.

In its prime, its 1000-watt tungsten halogen lamp flashed twice every 15 seconds with an intensity of one million candelas sending out its beam some 26 nautical miles. Steeped in history, situated in sensational scenic surrounds and supported by an active group of local champions Eddystone Point has a lot of potential on offer. The potential is there ready and available. It only needs to be effectively harnessed.

The Break O'Day Council rightly describes the lighthouse as the "jewel in the crown" of the heritage listed structures in its municipal boundaries. Three of the staples that make Tasmanian tourism so unique are our people, our scenery and our heritage. Eddystone Point has all three in abundance.

Friends of Eddystone Light Inc. provide the people (including the last keepers, John and Christine Denmen), the enthusiasm and drive. Their passion is built on their knowledge and understanding of Eddystone's beauty, heritage and significance. The president, Lindsay Dawe, along with his committee is a treasure trove of history and vision.

Deemed a vital piece of infrastructure given the ever-growing number of shipwrecks occasioned by the hazardous coastline together with the ever-growing maritime trade, Eddystone first started operations on May 1, 1889.

But the history of getting there was not easy.

It was an inter-colonial board established to recommend lighthouse sitings which recommended its construction in 1856. Seventeen years later the Conference of Principal Officers of the Marine Department of the Australasian Colonies also recommended its construction. Despite the decision of the body, the name of which would've taken all day to say, building only commenced in 1887 - 31 years after the initial suggestion.

Researching the history is instructive - a couple of inquiries, 31-year delay while ships kept getting wrecked and no town planners, heritage officers or Greens to blame. And for those who may entertain thoughts about infrastructure and cost over runs - nothing was different then either. On an £18,000 project, there was an over run of £3900. The Lighthouse's construction so many years ago without today's mechanical support is a story in itself.

About Eric

Eric Abetz has been a Liberal Senator for Tasmania since 1994 and has served in a range of Leadership, Ministerial and Shadow Ministerial roles.

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