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Reader riposte: Gillard's last military funeral

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COMMENTS

25 August 2011 17:08

Prashanth Shanmugan writes:

James Brown raises some valid points in his recent opinion piece. He argues that the prime minister and opposition leader should make the upcoming funeral of Private Matthew Lambert their last, and that it is time to depoliticise military funerals.

Military funerals should never be politicised. But I disagree that this should be the last funeral attended by the prime minister and opposition leader. Brown writes that: 'The presence of our most senior politicians at military funerals in Australia reinforces the myth that Australian military deaths in war are extraordinary and unexpected.'

I disagree. The presence of our most senior politicians at military funerals reinforces the reality to the public that Australia is at war. And people do die in wars.

Last year on Remembrance Day I wrote that 'It is easy to forget that our defence force is engaged in several peacekeeping operations around the world, and a war in Afghanistan — a war that has witnessed some of the fiercest fighting since WWII.' I also wrote that 'The same politicians who wave troops off to battle should be on the tarmac when the injured return, and we need to do a lot more to look after our servicemen and women when they come home.'

Members of my family are serving in the Australian Defence Forces. My friends in the Australian, Dutch and German armed forces have served in Afghanistan and have lost comrades. Most families appreciate the attendance and involvement of senior politicians at funerals. To a degree, it seems to deter feelings of futility and to be a form of genuine comfort.

There are some families who do not wish to have any politicians involved, and this wish is complied with. There have been some junior politicians, for whatever reason, have attempted to 'crash' funerals on occasion, and they have been firmly denied access.

As I wrote last year, I strongly believe that it is appropriate for politicians to be personally involved in the outcomes of their decisions. It is respectful and is a worthwhile gesture of accountability and responsibility.

Military funerals are planned specifically in line with the wishes of the family. Families are assisted by a dedicated team that includes military staff, counselors, and chaplains, whose priority is to ensure that the families’ requirements are met and the utmost care and maximum assistance is given to them.

While we focus on the war dead, we should also remember that there are servicemen and women who are injured in war. Mostly, those injuries are physical, but at times those injuries are not always visible. James Brown is right to raise this issue, but he forgets to acknowledge that military funerals are planned in accordance with the wishes of the family. And politicians have a moral obligation to be involved in the outcomes of their decisions.

Lest we Forget.

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