|Beauty and the barb, by Martin Davies. www.daviesart.com|
Here is the letter John Howard wrote to Kylie Russell’s MP Graham Edwards in reply to Edwards’ letter of protest the day after Howard failed to invite the war widow to a wreath laying ceremony by George Bush in honour of our war dead.
I’ve also republished Mr Edwards’ letter, a letter from Gini Hole in The Canberra Times on Wednesday and a reply from the War Memorial’s head of public affairs Ian Kelly which indicates deep dismay at the lack of respect shown by the Prime Minister to Kylie Russell. War Memorial staff are determined to ensure that the snub does not diminish an Australian sacred site.
My Sun Herald column on Sunday is about this matter. In Question Time next week Edwards will ask Howard to reveal who is responsible for the “oversight”, whether the SAS officers invited to attend requested the inclusion of Kylie in honour of their dead colleague Andrew, and how this unforgivable cold shoulder to Kylie and her baby daughter Leisa occurred. In a terrible irony, George Bush chose to dedicate the wreath he laid to Sgt Andrew Russell – the only soldier so far killed during our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – and Howard failed to invite his widow to the ceremony.
I hope Edwards has more success in getting the truth out of Howard than we journos, who’ve been unable to penetrate Howard spin doctors’ cone of silence.
29 October 2003
The Hon Graham Edwards MP
Member for Cowan
PO Box 219
KINGSWAY WA 6065
Dear Mr Edwards,
I have received your letter of October 24 about Mrs Russell.
As you may now know, Mrs Russell’s failure to be invited to attend the wreath laying ceremony at the Australian War Memorial last Thursday was a most regrettable oversight.
President Bush had indicated in his speech on the same day that he would dedicate the laying of his wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to her late husband, Sargeant Russell, and the long line of Australians who had died in service for our country.
I can assure you that neither Mrs Russell’s activities nor criticisms of the Government in relation to war widows in any way contributed to her failure to be invited.
I have written to Mrs Russell extending the Government’s deep regret that she was not invited to the War Memorial at which her presence and that of her daughter would have been entirely appropriate.
Hon John Howard
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.
Canberra Times letters published October 29 and 30
Hearts of steel
How can some of your correspondents carp and complain at Senator Bob Brown’s behaviour towards George Bush when our Prime Minister’s behaviour towards SAS trooper Andrew Russell’s widow, Kylie Russell, was to forget that she existed?
How can the collective memory of the Prime Minister’s department, the War Memorial, the Defence Force and the Embassy of the United States of America overlook the young widow? All the words of gratitude and sympathy fall emptily amongst the grandstanding.
These people must have hearts of steel and short memories.
GINI HOLE, Red Hill
Out of the blue
In reply to Gini Hole (CT letters, October 29), the Australian War Memorial would like to reiterate that at no time was it informed President Bush was planning to dedicate his wreath laying specifically to Sergeant Russell.
Like most people, the first we were aware of this was when the President referred to Sgt Russell in his address to the joint sitting of parliament.:
“This afternoon I will lay a wreath at the Australian war memorial, in memory of Sgt Russell and the long line of Australians who have died in service to this nation.”
102,000 Australians have died in the service of their country during war. The Australian War Memorial commemorates each and every one of them.
I can assure Gini Hole that there are no hearts of steel here, and when it comes to honouring our war dead, we have very long memories.
IAN KELLY, public affairs, Australian War Memorial
1. Snub for war widow, October 27
2. War widow’s long wait for PM’s apology, October 29
3. Kylie’s statement, October 30