27 October 2003

Snub for war widow

Western Australian Labor MP Graham Edwards, a Vietnam War veteran, broke the news to Mrs Russell after Bush's speech. He wrote to the Prime Minister the next day:

Hon John Howard

Prime Minister

Parliament House

Canberra 2600

Dear Prime Minister

I write to urge you to contact the widow of Sgt Andrew Russell and apologise for her not being not invited to attend the wreath-laying ceremony in honour of her husband at the War Memorial.

Mrs Russell was distressed that she had no prior knowledge of this event, until she was advised by media outlets about the mention of her husband in President Bush's address to Parliament.

I am not sure whether Mrs Russell would have wanted to make the trip. I am sure, however, that she would have liked to have been advised and at least invited.

I contrast your dealings with her to your dealings with the victims of Bali. Those who lost loved ones and those who were victims in Bali have been brought to Canberra on two occasions and quite deservedly treated with a great deal of compassion, sympathy and given much support in the process of healing.

Why was Mrs Russell not extended the same comfort and support at this most important time when both you and the President of the United States made much of the sacrifices of our Defence personnel?

Mrs Russell is a constituent of mine and I know she has been very active in seeking a better deal for war widows and that she has at times been critical of you, your Government and your Ministers.

I believe the people of Australia would be affronted if this is the reason she was not invited to attend the ceremony at the War Memorial or the barbeque at The Lodge.

You may not have known that the President was going to mention Sgt Russell, although I would be surprised if you did not. You certainly knew, however, that members of the Australian Defence Forces who have been involved in the war against terrorism were invited to the Australian War Memorial for the wreath-laying ceremony.

Mrs Russell should have been extended the same courtesy and she deserves your apology.

Yours sincerely

Graham Edwards

Join the army. Serve your country. There should be something here about the thanks of a grateful government but I can't write anything.

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