Thursday, March 14, 2013


I would like to pay my tribute to Geoff Braybrooke who died late last week. Although clearly he and I were on different sides of the political fence I acknowledge and respect him for his work in trying to get recognition of the Agent Orange problem long before it was fashionable to do so. In my experience timing in politics is everything and Geoff would have been hugely frustrated with his inability to progress the issue.
In late 1989 and with Labour in power he introduced a Private Members Bill calling for the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry into the extent that exposure to Agent Orange and the like may have had on the health of Vietnam veterans. He would have been disappointed that his Party would not agree to progress this as a Government measure but rather, forced him to take the Private Members Bill route. The Bill did not go anywhere and lapsed in the early 1990s. As I said, part of the issue was timing. In the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s there was no great public sentiment to address the issue. 

But Geoff did not help his/our cause by once claiming in the heat of debate that, while in Vietnam, he shot VC with a crossbow. This led to his Parliamentary nickname of 'Crossbow' used derisively by MPs of all persuasions. I suspect Geoff regretted making the claim which was used by some to discredit VVets as a 'strange lot'.     There is a lesson to be learned in making extravagant claims. They can sometimes come back to bite with a vengeance.

Geoff would have taken great satisfaction that 12 years after he first tried it was a Labour Government (albeit with huge prodding from Judith Collins) who agreed to hold a formal Select Committee Inquiry into the AO issue. He was also present in the House to hear the cross-party apologies that followed the signing of the MoU when he was honoured by being accorded a seat to the left of the Speaker on the floor of the House.

Geoff was an ex London Bobby who emigrated to New Zealand in the mid 1950s joining the Army to serve operationally in Malaya as a medic with 1 NZ Regiment and later in Vietnam with the Services Medical Team. He entered Parliament in 1981 as the MP for Napier, a seat he help for seven terms (21 Years). He was on the Right of his Party as a social conservative and campaigned aggressively against homosexual law reform which would not have endeared him to many of his Labour colleagues. In 1996 and following Helen Clark's election as Labour leader he briefly toyed with the idea of establishing a new Centre Party under the leadership of Mike Moore. Clearly that was not to be. In his final term he was elected Deputy Speaker. On his retirement he was honoured by the Queen being made a Companion of the Queens Service Order (QSO).

You knew where you stood with GB. He had friends across the political divide. There was always the bit of the WO2 in Geoff.  I can remember in the March to Parliament, part of Tribute 08, and GB standing on the sidewalk as you approached Parliament and bellowing out his his best WO2 voice "come on you hairy-arsed medics show them (us) how to march" ... priceless.

Geoff, thank you for all your work on our behalf.  Thank you for your service to New Zealand.   Sleep well.



Anonymous said...

I also remember vividly Geoff Braybrook rearing up to a senior naval officer who attempted to stand over him and pull rank. Geoff was exactly the wrong person to try and pull that stunt on.
The MP reminded him that he was no longer in armed service, would not be talked down to and that he was now one of this officer's political masters.

All caught on TV, to the delight of every 'other rank' in NZ.

Anonymous said...

It was actually a comment made by GB that the good admiral should learnt to respect politicians. The erudite admirals reply was "that respect had to be earned and was notautomatically given" - silence!

Noel said...

A simple evaluation of historical documents clearly shows that in 1989 his Private Members Bill would fall on deaf ears.
But ironically prior to that date the Australain Army report with grid references for all Ranch Hand defoliant missons in the ANZAC TAOR had been entered in NZ Defence archives, with out any evaluation of Kiwi exposure, and before it had been formally presented to the Australian Government.
Even more ironic was the non avaliability of the report to both the Reeves and McLeod investigations but that it would eventually be the foundation for evidence to the Select Committee by Brig. Ottaway in the new century.
Understandably some are calling it a "lack of duty of care" by politicans and senior military personnel.

The Veteran said...

Noel ... actually Brigadier Harry Honnor forwarded a detailed report on the Ranch Hand missions in the 1ATF TAOR back to Wellington in 1981when he was DA in Washington (probably the same report you refer to). It was received and filed.

It lay 'undiscovered' until 2005 when, after John Masters and I produced 'The Map', Defence Minister Burton wrote a PR rubbishing it and sent it to NZDF (Army) for comment. The PR ended up on Brigadier Rick Ottaway's desk where he declined to sign-off on it. That resulted in him and Colonel Ray Seymour being directed to check the files and that was when Harry Honnor's report was discovered.

I cannot tio this day understand how Colonel Jessie Gunn in her role as Military Assistant to the Reeves Inquiry failed to search the files and make that report available to the Inquiry although in her later statement of evidence to the Select Cttee Inquiry she said she did. Someone was telling porkies.

That same failure was repeated five years later when Jessie Gunn, now Director of VANZ,commissioned the McLeod Report.

The rest of course is history.

Anonymous said...

The Veteran said
"In late 1989 and with Labour in power he introduced a Private Members Bill calling for the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry."

There would be no National support for that call.

Earlier in Confidential 1983 Cabinet documents it is plain that "it considered there were insufficient Vietnam Veterans in New Zealand to justify an inquiry in this country" and agreed "that no good purpose would be served by setting up a commission of Inquiry..."

Noel identified the Australian Army report.
Earlier in 1982 the same Government stated that "The Australian Defence Department report....unfortunately shed little light on the possibility of exposure of New Zealand servicemen..."

Yet it was to become the foundation document in 2006 for a Defence submission and not "The Map" or the Herbs tapes sent from Washington in 1981

The Veteran said...

Anon 2.57 ... as I said earlier, timing is everything in politics and in the 70s, 80s and early 90's there was little appetite from either politicians and/or the public to debate the issue. It was left to a small group of VVets including Geoff Braybrooke and Vic Johnston to keep the matter alive.

Your ascertion that the Australian
document became the foundation document in the NZDF submission to the Select Cttee Inquiry is simply incorrect. I refer you to pages 240-41 of the HSC Report. You will note the statement by Colonel Ray Seymour that their submission was compiled using both the HERBS tapes (sent back by our DA in Washington - Harry Honnor) and the Aust Report which drew heavily on the HERBS tapes.

But all that aside. It was the production of 'The Map' that opened Pandora's Box.

As it happens I still have the stupid and quite offensive letter from the Minister of Veteran's Affairs (Hawkins) where he demanded that I send the map to him so as to allow for its authenticity to be confirmed ...
this was after he had declared on TV1 that the map was a fake.

John Masters and I discussed this and we decided not on your nelly. We knew it was genuine. Hawkins was a prisioner of his own rhetoric and would have probably destroyed it.

At least Clark recognised he was an idiot and fired him from her Ministry a short time later.

Anonymous said...

Help me understand this.
"....there was little appetite from either politicians and/or the public to debate the issue...."

Yet NZ Defence had documents in their possession that were never investigated for decades but could have produced the same findings as was submitted to the pollies in 2006.

Nah... I think you explanation for accuracy should be tripartite.