Anzac Day 2022: NSW Veterans Minister opposes Labor push for Iraq and Afghanistan war memorial

The NSW Veterans Minister has said he won’t support a Labor suggestion to honour troops who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan for one reason.

NSW Veterans Minister David Elliott has opposed Labor’s push for a Sydney memorial for Middle East veterans on the grounds the conflicts there are still ongoing.

Opposition Leader Chris Minns and his veterans affairs spokesman Greg Warren on Saturday called for a “significant” new memorial to honour Australians who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Across Australia, memorials have been erected dedicated to remembering the sacrifice of Australian soldiers, nurses, personnel and those who have died in war, as well as the men and women who have served for our country,” Mr Minns said.

“It is time that NSW has a significant memorial for the recent Middle East conflicts too.”

But Mr Elliott said it was too soon.

“I wholeheartedly support commemorations and war memorials for our veterans, but this idea is premature given the Commonwealth has not yet declared an official end date for the Middle East conflict,” he told NCA NewsWire.

“Our Middle East and Afghanistan veterans will lead the march this Anzac Day as a sign of respect and gratitude for their service during the 20-year conflict in the Middle East, the longest engagement in Australia’s military history.

“In the interim, and until an end date for the conflict is decided, the NSW government is focused on providing real support and services for our veterans, including education, employment, health and other transition services.”

The Department of Defence lists several ongoing operations in the Middle East, including two in Iraq.

One of them, Operation Steadfast, is described as the Australian Defence Force’s contribution to the NATO mission in Iraq, supporting the Iraqi Security Forces.

The other one, Operation Okra, is aimed at helping those same Iraqi troops prevent the resurgence of the terror sect ISIS.

However there are no ongoing Australian operations in Afghanistan.

A fact sheet on the federal parliament’s website says the last ADF personnel withdrew from that conflict last year, after a 20-year involvement.

Both Iraq and Afghanistan continue to grapple with terrorist insurgencies.

Mr Warren said he “respectfully disagreed” with Mr Elliott’s position.

“I know in times gone by we’ve left a bit of time to (create memorials), but that doesn’t mean we can’t be on the front foot now,” he said.

“Soldiers and service personnel don’t choose where, when or what they do, but what we do know is that when they serve our nation, it’s only appropriate that we acknowledge their service adequately.

“This is a matter of bipartisanship that’s ultimately not about politics. This is a matter of doing what we’ve long done in NSW and Australia: providing memorials to commemorate those who have served and paid the ultimate sacrifice.”

The Australian War Memorial lists four Australians who died serving in Iraq between 2003 and 2013, and 45 who died in the Afghanistan conflict between 2001 and 2021.

Mr Elliott and Mr Warren, who are both veterans, have previously found some common ground over honouring troops.

Both federal and NSW Labor have backed in-principle an earlier suggestion by Mr Elliott to establish a national veterans’ burial ground inspired by the Arlington National Cemetery in the US.

Federal Veterans Affairs Minister Andrew Gee stopped short of supporting the idea and said more consultation was needed.

Originally published as NSW Veterans Minister opposes Labor push for Iraq and Afghanistan war memorial

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