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Parliament overlooked cyclone Tracy hero Stretton

Date

Chris Johnson

The funeral of Major General Alan Stretton at the Royal Military College Chapel in Canberra.

The funeral of Major General Alan Stretton at the Royal Military College Chapel in Canberra. Photo: ADF

The recent death of the man who led the recovery effort after cyclone Tracy devastated Darwin in 1974 was not noted in Federal Parliament, even though a condolence motion or ministerial statement was suggested in a government planning session.

Retired Major-General Alan Stretton died at Batemans Bay on October 26, aged 90, and was farewelled with full military honours last Friday in a service at Canberra's Royal Military College.

But during last week's parliamentary sitting, which was the week immediately following General Stretton's death, his name was not uttered in either house of Parliament.

<i>Woman's Day</i> reporter Gerri Willesee talks with Major General Alan Stretton, director-general of the Natural Disasters Organisation, in the midst of the desolation that was Darwin.

Woman's Day reporter Gerri Willesee talks with Major General Alan Stretton, director-general of the Natural Disasters Organisation, in the midst of the desolation that was Darwin. Photo: Wal Easton

The Canberra Times has learnt that General Stretton's death was discussed at the beginning of last week during a House of Representatives planning meeting.

Leader of the House Anthony Albanese was represented at that meeting.

Mr Albanese's office said Prime Minister Julia Gillard had made a statement on indulgence ''according to precedence'' as it was ''not a matter done as a condolence motion''.

Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and Major General Alan Stretton after Cyclone Tracy.

Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and Major General Alan Stretton after Cyclone Tracy. Photo: John Hart

But when no statement could be found on Hansard, the Prime Minister's office acknowledged that Ms Gillard had in fact not spoken on the death of General Stretton.

''The Prime Minister recognises and honours Major-General Stretton's lifetime of service,'' a spokeswoman told The Canberra Times.

 

But other MPs have expressed dismay that the ''man who saved Darwin has been snubbed'' by Parliament. ''What this man did for Darwin made him a national hero,'' one Labor MP said. ''Parliament should have paid tribute to him when he died.''

A Coalition MP said General Stretton should have been included among the notable Australians being remembered in Parliament last week.

''Of course not all retired generals get mentioned in Parliament when they die, but this man was an Australian of the Year and deservedly so,'' the MP said.

''There should have been some mention in the chamber.''

None of the federal MPs or senators representing the Northern Territory - Labor's Warren Snowdon and Senator Trish Crossin, and the Country Liberal Party's Natasha Griggs and Senator Nigel Scullion - noted the general's death in either the House or the Senate.

Parliamentary secretary for defence and member for Eden-Monaro Mike Kelly said he would take the case up with ministers to have a minute's silence for General Stretton in Parliament's last sitting week of the year.

Dr Kelly said the previous sitting of Parliament had been marked with commemorations for fallen Diggers and a late MP, Gordon Bilney.

''That probably means we just haven't caught up with it yet but I do want to salute General Stretton's service to the nation,'' he said.

During a 38-year military career, General Stretton served in World War II, Korea, Malaya and Vietnam and was highly decorated.

But it was his extraordinary effort evacuating more than 35,000 people after Tracy hit Darwin on Christmas Day 1974 that led to him being made an officer of the Order of Australia and being named Australian of the Year in 1975. In later years, he became a more controversial figure, publicly criticising some political and military identities. And he was highly critical of Australia's involvement in the Iraq war.

Australian Defence Association executive director Neil James said he thought General Stretton's death would have rated a mention in Parliament.

''Generals, admirals and air marshals die reasonably regularly without getting a statement in Parliament,'' he said. ''But this is a little bit different considering what he did in Darwin and the fact that he was an Australian of the Year.'' with Ross Peake

3 comments

  • My wife and I have good memories of General Stretton when, many years ago, acting as our solicitor we were buying our first house. He was kind and considerate knowing that we were a couple of innocents in such matters and we remember his taking great care to explain, in words we could understand, every detail. He was obviously a fine gentleman.

    Commenter
    Ron Kerr
    Location
    Ballina
    Date and time
    November 09, 2012, 9:45AM
    • What a disgrace, an absolute disgrace. Shame on both Houses for this unforgiveable slight on a deserving man.

      Commenter
      Julie Coker-Godson
      Location
      Batemans Bay
      Date and time
      November 09, 2012, 11:53AM
      • I agree Julie, disgusting

        Commenter
        Irene
        Date and time
        November 09, 2012, 2:56PM
    Comments are now closed
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