Source: parliament.nz | [Volume:647;Page:16443] | Wednesday, 28 May 2008 | Ministerial Statements | Viet Nam Veterans—Crown Apology
JOHN KEY (Leader of the Opposition) :
I rise today to support the apology from the Crown, and to offer the gratitude and thanks of the National Party to those New Zealanders who served in the then Republic of Viet Nam. I also offer our apologies to them and their families for the failure of the Crown to properly acknowledge or address the results of their service in a toxic environment in Viet Nam.
Over the 8 years of involvement of the New Zealand force, nearly 3,260 New Zealanders served in Viet Nam. Some 37 were killed in action, and nearly 200 were wounded. At the height of New Zealand’s involvement in the war, in 1968, 540 New Zealand troops were deployed. New Zealand has not treated those veterans well. The service they carried out in the name of this country has often gone unacknowledged or has been conveniently forgotten. At times, some people have shown outright hostility towards them. More often, the personal legacies of their service, for both them and their families, have been ignored or denied. They have had to suffer the indignity of two reports—the Reeves report and the McLeod report—both of which reached conclusions that all veterans knew to be wrong. These reports were factually incorrect, fatally flawed, and deeply offensive to many veterans. I wish to state for the record that National rejects those reports as a basis for policy making now or in the future.
In 2004 Parliament’s Health Committee finally acknowledged what had long been denied, which was that New Zealand service personnel serving in Viet Nam had been exposed to a toxic environment, and that toxic environment had had a detrimental effect on the health of those veterans and on the health of their children. I would like to acknowledge the role that my colleague Judith Collins played in pushing for that select committee inquiry.
I also wish to acknowledge the role that John Masters played in our reaching the point we are at today. John was the last commander of 161 Battery in Viet Nam, and it was his perseverance and, finally, the map he produced that proved that New Zealand service personnel had been exposed to defoliants in Phuoc-Tuy Province. Without his hard work, the findings of the inquiry would not have happened. Today, as a direct result of that inquiry, veterans and their families are here to receive a formal apology for their mistreatment.
But they are also here to remember and commemorate New Zealand’s role in a difficult war, and to allow us as a country to finally say thank you to those who served when called upon. It is also a time for us to remember the 37 New Zealanders who died in the service of their country in Viet Nam, and the 600 or so service personnel who have passed away in the intervening years. Viet Nam was a war that divided New Zealand, and the period was one of bitter sentiment from some towards those who served. But the New Zealanders who were asked to serve in this war were not responsible for the decisions taken by politicians at the time, and they should not have been treated as though they were.
So to the members of Victor and Whiskey Companies of the 1st Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment, to 4 Troop, New Zealand Special Air Service, to the members of the New Zealand joint services medical team, to 161 Battery, Royal Regiment of New Zealand Artillery, to the Royal New Zealand Engineers, and to those other New Zealand service personnel who served attached to units of the Australian and United States military, we finally say sorry. New Zealand had a responsibility to these people. They were asked by their country to do a dangerous job, and they did so with honour and dignity. The treatment they received both in Viet Nam and in the years after their return to New Zealand was unfair and unacceptable. I hope that this apology and the acceptance, finally, that New Zealanders were exposed to Agent Orange in Viet Nam will go some way towards making up for our previous failings.