MP welcomes WWI headstone program
Federal Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie has welcomed the announcement of a $420,000 two-year pilot program to identify and commemorate the unmarked graves of WWI veterans.
Caption: Federal Veterans' Affairs Minister Darren Chester, left, Rebekha and Goolwa RSL President Bob Plummer at the roundtable discussion held at Strathalbyn last week.
The Unmarked Graves of the First World War Funding Assistance Program will provide funding to help ex-service organisations such as the Headstone Project to identify unmarked graves across Australia and properly acknowledge the sacrifices made by these previously unknown veterans.
Rebekha has previously written to the Minister of Veterans' Affairs, Darren Chester, about this issue and has also spoken in Parliament about local efforts to recognise WWI veterans and the importance of establishing a national program to fund headstones for WWI veterans lying in unmarked graves.
Rebekha raised the issue again last week when she hosted a visit by the Minister and organised a roundtable discussion with veterans, RSL sub-branches and other community groups.
“I’m pleased that the Minister has listened to the feedback from our roundtable discussion as well as the lobbying of other organisations around Australia and has introduced this pilot program,” Rebekha said.
“It’s estimated around 12,000 WWI veterans are lying in unmarked graves in Australian cemeteries and, with the assistance of dedicated individuals who volunteer at our RSL sub-branches and community groups, these veterans will finally receive the acknowledgement that they deserve.
“The individual grants of $450 offered under the pilot program will enable applicants to cover the most significant costs associated with unmarked graves, the brass plaque."
While welcoming the project, Rebekha does have some concerns regarding the eligibility criteria for the pilot program.
“I am disappointed that the initial criteria does not extend to the graves of those veterans who have died outside the 20-year period following the end of the First World War, and I hope in time the program will be extended to cover all graves,” Rebekha said.
“We don’t put a deadline on ‘Lest we forget’ on Anzac Day so why start now?”
Below: Copy of the letter sent to the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Darren Chester, in March last year on this issue.