The meeting between Kim Beazley and I and Veterans’ Affairs Minister Alan Griffin yesterday afternoon was positive and constructive but significant challenges still lie ahead of the Montevideo Maru Memorial Committee.
Mr Griffin understands the issue of the relatives’ need for closure and supports greater recognition of the 1942 tragedy in which more than 1,000 Australian troops and civilians died.
He said the federal government is keen to assist the work of the committee and will start an immediate investigation on how the site of the sinking in the South China Sea can be declared an official war grave.
The government supports the erection of a memorial at the Australian War Memorial but insists that private as well as public funding is required.
Therein lies a big rub, as a memorial of the type envisaged is likely to cost between $500,000 and one million dollars. The implication is that the committee will have to now turn its attention to fund-raising on a massive scale, which the government will support.
There were other breakthroughs in the meeting, which was attended by Maj Gen Paul Stevens, director of the Office of Australian War Graves, and a number of other officials.
The War Memorial will include a permanent Montevideo Maru display in its revamped World War II galleries.
The government will work with the committee in a search for the missing Japanese roll that lists the names of all the prisoners on board the Montevideo Maru when it sank.
And the government will be represented on and support the formation of a working party to ensure the story of the invasion of Rabaul and the sinking of the Montevideo Maru becomes a more recognised part of Australian history.
Overall, a productive meeting. The government has set us a challenge and has indicated it is prepared to contribute in a range of useful ways, including by making some funding provisions.
The government at both political and bureaucratic levels is very much engaged.
And, very importantly, both Alan Griffin and Kim Beazley, have pledged their support in the challenge ahead.