Subject: Veterans accuse Govt of disregarding Anzac spirit

Last Update: Monday, April 18, 2005. 10:13am (AEST)


Veterans accuse Govt of disregarding Anzac spirit

A Melbourne businessman has paid for a series of television advertisements featuring World War II veterans condemning the Federal Government for the way it has handled negotiations with East Timor over the oil and gas rights in the Timor Sea.

The advertisements will air in the lead-up to Anzac Day but the Returned and Services League (RSL) says the campaign has misappropriated the Anzac spirit.

The ads, paid for by Melbourne businessman Ian Melrose, feature WWII veterans who served in East Timor and are angry at the Federal Government's handling of negotiations with East Timor.

They makes comments such as: "That's not the Anzac spirit" and "John Howard, I'd rather you didn't come to my Anzac parade".

Paddy Kenneally, 89, served with an Australian unit in East Timor in 1942 and features in the advertisements.

He says the help the East Timorese gave Australian soldiers in World War II is being ignored in the Timor Sea negotiations.

"Quite frankly, I and all the members of the unit believe that if we hadn't been assisted by the Timorese and the Portuguese at that time, we wouldn't have lasted 10 weeks in the mountains," Mr Kenneally said.

"They fed us, they sheltered us, they guided us, they carried the wounded." 'Fair go'

Mr Kenneally supports the view of the East Timorese Government that it is being denied its rightful share of billions of dollars in future oil and gas revenue.

East Timor says Australia's position that the sea boundary between the two nations exists on the continental shelf rather than halfway between the two nations is incorrect.

The Australian Government has also faced criticism for withdrawing recognition of the international court to avoid facing a ruling on the disputed boundary.

Mr Kenneally says the advertisements are airing around Anzac Day to remind the Government that it is disregarding the Anzac spirit.

"We're always boasting about a fair go and now we are depriving the poorest country and one of the newest countries in the world of the only resource they have," he said.

"Do you think the blokes who fought in World War I and World War II would agree with kicking a defenceless person when they're down?" Offensive

The RSL's national president, Bill Crews, says his organisation does not support the adds and says some veterans would justifiably find them offensive.

"They should not, in my view and I'm sure in the view of the members of the RSL, use the Anzac spirit as the basis for criticising the Government on this particular issue," he said.

"The danger that most veterans would see is that we are misappropriating the Anzac spirit for this particular cause."

Prime Minister John Howard says Australia is negotiating a "fair" deal with East Timor over oil and gas rights in the Timor Sea.

Mr Howard says Australia has "bent over backwards" to accommodate the East Timorese, and made several concessions in the first round of talks.

"The stance taken by the Australian Government is fair and considerate and decent, but it is also a stance that looks after the interests of the Australian people, which is my first responsibility," he said.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says negotiations over resources in the Timor Sea are ongoing and "third parties" making "emotional but incorrect statements" will not help anyone. In other developments:

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