As Veterans’ Affairs Minister, I am fortunate enough to meet veterans who have served our country in one of the most selfless and brave ways a person can. Thank you for your service to New Zealand. It is a pleasure and privilege to be in your company.
The world of 2017 is a very different place from when many of you served with the Armed forces of our Commonwealth nations. However, certain things remain constant. Like their forebears in the First World War, the men and women of today’s New Zealand Defence Force continue to be actively engaged across the globe promoting and defending our national values.
In the 21st century our task is to be prepared before the worst occurs. Threats to our nation are varied and develop extremely quickly. All too commonly our forces have to deal with people who have no regard for human rights - something which many of you have seen first-hand.
As in the past, the young men and woman who are the faces of the New Zealand Defence Force are required to face a range of challenges due to ongoing conflict, including serious health threats like malaria, dysentery and typhoid. It is a credit to New Zealand that our personnel have established a record of service that is second to none.
The high tempo of operational deployments in recent years has changed the face of our former service-personnel population, which currently numbers more than 30,000 ranging from the ages of 19 through to over 100.
Compared with the older generation, our younger veterans have and will continue to have a range of different experiences. With the constant tide of changing technology and more advanced weaponry we need to stand together and support one another.
Earlier this week we were able to right a wrong.
New Zealanders are rightly proud of the service and dedication of our military personnel. They have represented New Zealand with courage and dignity and selflessness in conflict zones around the world for decades.
The Government upholds its duty to them by ensuring they are well equipped and resourced to do their job properly and by making sure they know we stand behind them and their families.
That is part of the reason we have recently announced we will offer the families of our military personnel who were buried in Singapore and Malaysia between 1955 and 1971 the opportunity to repatriate their loved ones.
The decision is based on the recommendations of the Veterans Advisory Board which the Government asked last year to look New Zealand’s repatriation policy.
This was the result of the efforts of the RSA and the families of those soldiers buried in Malaysia and Singapore, who wanted the remains of their loved ones returned. Prior to 1955, military personnel were buried close to where they fell. Since 1971 we have brought all of our military personnel home, with the costs met by the Government. The Board identified a number of inconsistencies in our repatriation policy between 1955 and 1971 and the Government has listened. During that period families could opt to meet repatriation costs themselves, but not all could afford to do so. Other civil servants were also repatriated. We want to restore fairness for those families affected.
Today I get the opportunity to stand with you at the unveiling of the Marsden Valley War Memorial. Standing together as one we will commemorate the past and remember those who went before us in a contemporary setting.
Beside you stand the young cadets who are following in the footsteps of their forebears. From the memorial they will see the mana shown by the men and woman of our forces. They will take away from this, the history and the ability to utilise that knowledge as they look to the future.
Before we hear a bit more about what is to happen at the ceremony this morning, I would like to take this opportunity to present some of the residents here today with a Certificate of Appreciation and a lapel badge to signify how grateful our country is for their service, for standing with us, and for us.
I would like to end today with the words of the Royal New Zealand Army Logistics Regiment. “Ma Nga Hua Tu Tangata”. By our actions we are known.