Mr WALSH (Murray Plains) – I rise to speak on the motion of the member for Bendigo East. As any member of this house would know Remembrance Day is celebrated at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month to show respect for the signing of the armistice that occurred 97 years ago at the end of World War I when the guns of the Western Front fell silent after four years of war. Services are held right across Victoria in all communities because a lot of people served in that war and a lot of people paid the ultimate sacrifice in that war so that we could enjoy the democracy we do in this country today. We all owe respect to those people who did that.
One of the things that the then Leader of the Opposition Ted Baillieu did the last time this became an issue when Parliament was sitting on Remembrance Day was to give a commitment that if we were elected to government we would structure the sitting week such that we would not sit on Remembrance Day. For the four years we were in government we did that because the very issue we have before us today was an issue in one of the years of the previous government.
In compiling the sitting program for this year the government has listed a sitting week that falls when Remembrance Day is occurring. In discussions with the RSL it has been keen to ensure that Remembrance Day does not become a political issue and I do not believe it should be one. Everyone in the community should show respect for those people who served this country in previous wars but I am afraid the motion of the member for Bendigo East has made it a political issue. Whether we like it or not it has now become a political issue because the member’s motion forms two classes of MPs in the house. We have a class of MP whose electorate is less than 2 hours from Melbourne who can go and attend a community service and lay a wreath on Remembrance Day and we have a class of MP who represent electorates more than 2 hours from Melbourne who cannot do that and be in this place at 2 o’clock for question time. It is an absolute shame on this government that it is setting up two classes of MPs – some who can attend services in their community and others who cannot because of the sheer physical difference. That is something the government needs to reconsider over that particular time.
The RSL holds those services. We play an important role in a lot of these events where as the community representative you go along and lay a wreath. Country MPs who are more than 2 hours from Melbourne will not be able to do that in their communities and I think that shows a total lack of respect for country Victoria by the Labor Party by the Labor government and particularly by the member for Bendigo East who has moved this motion. We will not be able to show that respect for those people who served in World War I and in other conflicts into the future.
This discriminates against country MPs. The Labor Party may not think country Victoria exists but country Victoria does exist. It is important to Victoria. I think it is important as country MPs that we can go back to our communities the same as a city MP can but also fulfil our roles as parliamentarians in this place.
Unfortunately the sitting program has been set. What we have here is exactly the same situation we had under the previous Labor government whereby the house was sitting later so that city MPs could go back to their electorates – but country MPs could not. I think it is an absolute shame. I note that the Minister for Veterans is the minister at the table and I would like him to take on notice that country MPs are not happy about this particular situation and our communities are not happy about this particular situation. They expect us to attend services. We should have the same rights as any city MP and any Labor Party MP and be able to get back to our electorates but fulfil our roles as parliamentarians as well.
I ask the member for Bendigo East as the mover of this motion perhaps to reconsider the situation so that we can attend services in our communities because this motion just shows a total lack of respect for country Victoria for country MPs and more importantly for the RSL branches in our communities.