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Outraged vets to boycott Anzac parade
Astrid Volzke/The West Australian Outraged vets to boycott Anzac parade

Dozens of war veterans and their partners will boycott this year's official Anzac Day parade through the City of Perth amid a controversial decision by RSL WA forbidding a women's association from marching.

Members from the Partners of Veterans Association of Western Australia say their association has been "embarrassed" and "denigrated" by an RSL WA decision deeming the group ineligible to participate in this year's Anzac Day parade despite being allowed to participate last year.

PVAWA president Sandra Cross, an RSL member herself, said although she will commemorate Anzac Day locally, she would not participate in the central Anzac Day celebrations along with other outraged war veterans, RSL members and partners

"On April 1, I received a phone call that we were not eligible unless we were a veteran wearing medals, a war widow wearing her veteran's medals and marching in his unit or wearing our medals," she said.

"Some of our veterans were so upset and disgusted with the response from the RSL that they sent in resignation letters and have declared that will not participate in this year's march."

Vietnam veteran Ray Firth and his wife Judy, PVAWA vice-president, said they would also not participate in the celebrations.

"We will attend a dawn service in Armadale but we will not go anywhere near the city for any part thereof his parade," Mrs Firth said.

"It was very deflating and it was also very embarrassing for our association because we had told everybody that we would be marching.

"It was degrading to us. We've always hidden in the background and when we were acknowledged, as it were, last year by being able to march, we just thought it was so great that we were able to be there."

Mr Firth said he would not be marching because of "the RSL's attitude towards these people".

"It's just a bloody disgrace," he said.

"There are other people there that they are allowing to march but their only interest is their own interest. They don't do anything for the RSL, they don't do anything for the servicemen yet they're allowed to march and I think that's just ridiculous.

"Unless they change their attitude, I won't be a member of the RSL next year either."

This morning Premier Colin Barnett called on the RSL to reconsider its decision.

Mr Barnett said the Anzac Day march was "quite properly under the control of the RSL" and he wouldn’t want to intervene.

“But my own view is that were there are organisations and groups that are supportive of the RSL ... I think they should be a part of the parade,” he told ABC Radio.

“The women at home went through a lot, they dealt with the trauma of war and I think Anzac day is about recognising them as well.

“Let the diggers be up the front where they should be but let the organisations march as well”

Ms Cross said the PVAWA had been allowed to march in last year's parade after receiving approval from the RSL WA.

"We felt very honoured to be there, supporting our husbands and most of us are their carers, which means we can march with them but we can march together as friends. It meant our war widow members were able to march with their husbands' medals and march with us," she said.

"If they had said we don't fit the protocols, that wouldn't have bothered us and we would've said 'fine, that's the ruling of the RSL and we'll live with that' but what they've done to us is said yes, then said yes, and then pulled the rug from under us in such a public way with no real dialogue between us and then to speak of us in such a derogatory way that we were forcing our way into that march."

But RSL WA branch president Bill Gaynor said the PVAWA should not have been allowed to march in last year's parade in the first place because the group was not a veteran's organisation.

"They shouldn't have marched but they ended up marching," he said.

"The qualification for marching is that you are a veteran or the next of kin of a veteran so if the partner of a veteran was representing a deceased veteran and wearing their medals, then they would be able to march.

"It's a day for veterans but if there is a veteran in a wheelchair who needed a carer to push them, then that carer would be able to push them."

Mr Gaynor said the decision preventing auxiliary organisations such as PVAWA from marching reflected the wishes of veterans.

"It is a march for veterans, not for other people and that's the premise we are using, which has been around for a long time," he said.

"With respect to who can march, it's supporting what the veterans want and the veterans want it be a veterans march and that's the situation that's evolved after consultation with the veteran community.

"If the veteran is deceased, then the next of kin wears the veteran's medals on the right handside and marches in the veteran's place.

"That's been a longstanding tradition and that was all sent out from the start with the invitations to issue and the qualification was that if you met that criteria, you could march."

But Ms Cross said in most cases, partners and carers play a crucial role in the lives of veterans.

"If not for us, many veterans would not even participate in the parade," she said.

"We get them there, we support them, we keep them safe if they become suicidal, we have our children and grandchildren accompany them during the march to ensure they feel safe and not overcome on the day.

"Our association is for partners of veterans and peacekeepers and peacemakers but we are also war widows, ex Australian defence personnel, ex-reservists and RSL members.

"We're the ones that pick up the pieces so we're pretty annoyed at the way they did it and the derogatory way Mr Gaynor has treated our association. It has caused a lot of embarrassment," Ms Cross said.