Hon JIM ANDERTON (Leader—Progressive) :
In supporting the Prime Minister’s statement, and in speaking as leader of the Progressive party, may I say that as one gets older it is increasingly possible to see and participate in examples where history offers the prospect of learning lessons in the hope that things might be done better in the future. Today is one such example. The purpose of this very public statement in the House is to increase the chances of learning—as a country, as a Government, as armed forces, and as families. I believe that lessons have been well learnt, and that when push comes to deployment it is supported on all sides of this House. For today’s purposes, the risks include the fact that it will be difficult to address properly any resulting problems, including those of a health or welfare nature, that emerge from deployments like this. So we find ourselves in the House today, decades down the track, at last coming to terms with the deployment of our troops to Viet Nam. We have focused on two key questions: what did this mean to those who served and to their families, and how did the various authorities respond to the evidence of problems associated with that service?
Today we pay tribute to those who served, and I thank them for doing their duty as they saw it, even though I, personally, with others, criticised the foreign policy decisions to send them there. I pay tribute to those who have fought more domestic battles since, to rehabilitate veterans both in medical and health terms and before the public and Government of New Zealand.
I pay particular tribute to one of those soldiers whom I have got to know well in Christchurch: John Masters, who served as a major in Viet Nam and retired as a colonel. I acknowledge that it was his personal copies of operational maps, kept for over 30 years, that completely destroyed the misconception that New Zealanders had not been exposed to Agent Orange in Viet Nam. I also acknowledge not only John’s service to Viet Nam but his service for decades for the welfare of all veterans, especially those at his beloved Rannerdale Home in Christchurch. I acknowledge him as an exceptional human being—straight, decent, and concerned for others. John, I know that you are unwell at the moment, but if you are listening I want you to hear the following words clearly stated in Parliament, even if I am at risk of repeating what the Prime Minister and others have said this afternoon: it was wrong for authorities at all levels not to have dealt appropriately with the issue of exposure to Agent Orange. I am sorry that this issue was not better dealt with by successive Governments and authorities over nearly 4 decades. I am sorry that our armed servicemen and servicewomen, who served in good faith, have suffered physically, psychologically, and socially.
It is time to come home, learning the lessons and rebuilding the trust and confidence that is at the heart of the New Zealand spirit. There are simple matters here that go to the heart not only of good government but also of being a good New Zealander—acknowledging problems, saying sorry, and trying to fix those problems. That is exactly what we are doing today.
Source: parliament.nz | [Volume:647;Page:16443] | Wednesday, 28 May 2008 | Ministerial Statements | Viet Nam Veterans—Crown Apology