The apologies and statements started at 2 pm. I have extracts below. First up was the Prime Minister of behalf of the Crown:
The Crown extends to New Zealand Viet Nam Veterans and their families an apology for the manner in which their loyal service in the name of New Zealand was not recognised as it should have been, when it should have been, and for inadequate support extended to them and their families after their return home from the conflict.
On all sides, strong views were held with conviction. My own party, the New Zealand Labour Party opposed New Zealand involvement in the war, and acted immediately to withdraw the troops on election to office in 1972.
Many others also spoke out, often coming under attack from the government and other establishment voices of the time for doing so.
Oh Good God, get over yourself. This is an apology to Veterans, not an apology to protesters that some people disagreed with their protests.
For too long, successive governments ignored concerns being raised by Viet Nam veterans. It was the emergence of Agent Orange as a serious health and veterans’ issue in the United States which began to change the way in which issues surrounding Viet Nam veterans came to be perceived and then treated in New Zealand.
In 2003 the Health Select Committee undertook its own inquiry into the concerns raised by veterans. It investigated whether New Zealand defence personnel had been exposed to Agent Orange. It also assessed the health risks to defence personnel and their families, and the health services available to them. The Committee concluded that New Zealand personnel who had served in Viet Nam had indeed been exposed to Agent Orange, and that this exposure had had adverse health effects not only for the personnel themselves, but also for their children.
It would have been nice to acknowledge what led to that Select Committee inquiry. Certainly not your own Minister suggesting the map was a fraud.
Today the Crown has offered a formal apology to the New Zealand Veterans of the Viet Nam war and their families. The Crown places on record recognition of the service of those personnel; and acknowledges the many consequences of that service, including the physical and mental health effects. The failure of successive governments and their agencies to acknowledge the exposure of veterans to dioxin contaminated herbicides and other chemicals is itself acknowledged, as is the way in which that failure exacerbated the suffering of veterans and families.
In concluding, the Crown thanks the members of the Joint Working Group who provided a way forward for dealing with these troubling issues of New Zealand’s relatively recent past. This has led to the opportunity for the Crown to put on record its thanks for, and its apology to, those brave service personnel who became the veterans of the Viet Nam war, and to pay tribute to those who never came home. We will remember them.
And a good ending. Just a pity about the first half.
I rise today to support the apology from the Crown and to offer the gratitude and thanks of the National Party to those New Zealanders who served in the then-Republic of Vietnam. I also offer our apologies to them and their families for the failure of the Crown to properly acknowledge or address the results of their service in a toxic environment in Vietnam.
They have had to suffer the indignity of two reports – the Reeves report and the McLeod report, both of which reached conclusions that all veterans knew to be wrong. These reports were factually incorrect, fatally flawed, and deeply offensive to many veterans.
Good to have the explicit condemnation of those reports which were offensive with their incredibly wrong conclusions.
I also wish to acknowledge the role that John Masters played in reaching the point we are at today. John was the last commander of 161 Battery in Vietnam, and it was his perseverance, and finally the map he produced, that proved that New Zealand service personnel had been exposed to defoliants in Phuoc Tuy Province. Without his hard work, the findings of the inquiry would not have happened.
One gets the feeling his sense of duty to his troops did not end with his active service. A real leader.
Vietnam was a war that divided New Zealand, and the period was one of bitter sentiment from some towards those who served. But the New Zealanders who were asked to serve in this war were not responsible for the decisions taken by politicians at the time, and they should not have been treated as though they were.
A point, some may wish to reflect on. People should have directed their protests towards the Ministers and MPs who made the decision, not the returning troops who had no say in where they get posted to.
So, to the members of Victor and Whiskey Companies of the 1st Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment; to 4 Troop New Zealand Special Air Service; to the members of the New Zealand joint services medical team; to 161 Battery Royal New Zealand Artillery Regiment; to the Royal New Zealand Engineers; and to those other New Zealand service personnel who served attached to units of the Australian and United States military, we finally say sorry.
Nice to name the units, as they mean a lot to those who served in them.
New Zealand had a responsibility to these people. They were asked by their country to do a dangerous job, and they did so with honour and dignity.
The treatment they received, both in Vietnam and then in the years after their return to New Zealand, was unfair and unacceptable.
I hope that this apology, and the acceptance finally that New Zealanders were exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam, will go some way to making up for our previous failings.
Excellent all round.