Will Australians travelling on Virgin Australia flights soon be rising in their seats to applaud servicemen on board as they do on most US airlines?
A new campaign being driven by News Corp Australia – and which has been backed by the prime minister, Scott Morrison – aims to recognise veterans and their service using newspapers and Foxtel in association with select corporations.
Using the hashtag #ThanksForServing, NewsCorp says it is fostering “a movement to acknowledge the service of veterans, past and present, and the sacrifice of their families”
On Sunday Virgin announced it would join forces with News and acknowledge defence force veterans on its flights before take-off. It also plans to offer priority boarding but has stopped short of offering discount fares.
In the US, airlines which ask passengers to stand and applaud servicemen on board their aircraft and to offer a “Thank you for your service”.
Australia’s veterans affairs minister, Darren Chester, appearing on the ABC’s Insiders, welcomed the Virgin announcement, but acknowledged many veterans would sooner embrace discounted airfares.
“Australians, by nature, tend to keep their light under a bushel,” Chester sad. “Some would be happy to get on the plane without anyone knowing they are there.”
The Lowy Institute’s research fellow Rodger Shanahan, himself a veteran, wrote an opinion piece last week, arguing that a US approach to acknowledging veterans would not necessarily go down well in Australia.
He said Australia was in danger of reaching “peak veteran’” as governments, media and business all tried to capitalise.
“It seems to be all about branding and veterans are the brand du jour,” he said. “I think they should dial it down a little.”
He said the veterans’ community was a very broad church – it included people who has served just one day in the military through to people like himself who had served on multiple deployments overseas.
“Most of my cohort would rather not be defined by their military service,” he said. “They find this kind of acknowledgement disconcerting.”
Shanahan also argued that people got carried away with the veteran identity while other groups, such as paramedics and aged care workers, who also served their communities went unrecognised.
Some of these groups routinely saw far more trauma than Australian veterans.
“There is a narrative that veterans are highly traumatised, have seen horrible things in hostile environments – and some have – but it’s a small proportion [of Australian veterans],” he said.
“There seems to be this disturbing desire to attach yourself to this term ‘veterans’. I would much prefer we recognised veterans in a laidback way, and we do that through Anzac Day.
“I don’t want to be thanked for my service. I gave them good service and they looked after me.”
The Morrison government has made several announcements aimed at veterans since the Invictus games and as News Corp ramps up its campaign.
It has promised a UK-style veterans’ covenant, which includes a discount card and lapel pin so participating businesses can offer discounts or benefits to veterans.
“We acknowledge the important contribution veterans have made to keeping our country safe and the role they play in our community. Once the veterans have their cards and lapel pins, they will simply need to present them during the boarding process to be given priority boarding and be recognised on board,” Virgin Australia Group CEO John Borghetti said.
Qantas has not committed to the idea.
On Thursday the government announced $500m to extend the Australian War Memorial to include exhibits acknowledging recent conflicts and missions, such as Iraq and Timor.
On Friday Morrision announced plans for a new veterans’ employment commitment to be rolled out to businesses that want to employ veterans.
“We want to translate Australia’s culture of respect for veterans into action. Simply put, hiring a veteran is good for business,” Morrison said.