Later today we will have an official apology to the Vietnam Veterans for their treatment over the years. It is not just overdue, but is the end of some shabby behaviour from both the former National and current Labour Government.
In 1998 a National government commissioned the Reeves Inquiry (headed by Sir Paul Reeves) to look at the effects of Agent Orange on the children of Vietnam Veterans. The Inquiry Report stated that our troops were not exposed to Agent Orange. That untruth was repeated in the later McLeod Report (authored by Dr Deborah McLeod from the Wellington School of Medicine and Health Sciences) commissioned by Labour in 2001.
In the uproar that followed the release of the McLeod Report John Masters, commander of the last artillery unit to serve in Vietnam, remembered that hidden away at the bottom of an old trunk he had a classified map which detailed the extent to which Phouc Tuy Province had been sprayed. He got Ross Miller to approach Judith Collins to see if she might be prepared to help. She was (it turns out one of her cousins also served and still has chronic ill health from the experience) and Judith went public with the map.
On the day existence of the map was revealed, the then Minister of Veterans Affairs (Hawkins) went on the 6.00 News and derided the map as a possible forgery. This allowed Judith to persuade the the Health Select Committee to unanimously proceed with an inquiry.
Of particular interest to Vietnam veterans is that the inquiry revealed the existence of a secret file in the New Zealand Defence Force which detailed chapter and verse how NZ servicemen in Phouc Tuy Province were sprayed with just under 2 million litres of Agent Orange. That file was never made available to either of the two Inquiries.
Thanks to John Masters, Ross Miller and Judith Collins, the truth came out. Without them, the Agent Orange story would have never been told.
The ‘Apology’ will go some way to healing the wounds. For then 700 who have died since then, many before their time, it comes too late. We all owe Judith Collins a debt for taking up a cause no-one else wanted to listen to.