Push for harsher punishments for vandalising war memorials

The damaged Seville War Memorial. Picture: ON FILE

By Callum Ludwig

Ahead of Anzac Day, Evelyn MP Bridget Vallence and local RSLs are continuing to push for stricter penalties and a greater deterrent for those who vandalise, desecrate and damage war memorials.

In recent times, the Mafeking Tree in Lilydale (Anglo-Boer War Memorial), Lilydale War Memorial, Lillydale Lake Militia Camp Storyboard, Seville War Memorial, Mt Evelyn War Memorial, Montrose War Memorial and the Mooroolbark War Memorial in the Evelyn electorate alone have been targeted and sometimes on multiple occasions.

Ms Vallence who has brought up the question multiple times in Parliament and did so again at the beginning of April said the increase in vandalism of war memorials across the Yarra Valley is devastating and disturbing.

“I have received an overwhelmingly positive response from Veterans and many residents in our community about advocating for stronger penalties for the desecration of war memorials in Parliament,” she said.

“Veterans and community members have told me of the sadness they have experienced in seeing these sacred war memorials being desecrated,”

“I hold grave fears we will see more attacks. These attacks are not just happening here in Evelyn, they are happening all over Victoria, with many public monuments being disrespected and destroyed. Unless the Government takes stronger action against these crimes, I fear these attacks will worsen.”

Attacks in Evelyn have largely included ‘tagging’ and theft;

The Mafeking Tree had a 124-year-old plaque stolen

The Lilydale War Memorial was tagged with texta, which also happened to the Lillydale Lake Militia Camp Storyboard (also scratched), Mt Evelyn War Memorial (also had flag pole pulled down) and the Montrose War Memorial (also scratched and graffitied with political slogans on the eve of Remembrance Day).

The Mooroolbark War Memorial had a tile plaque stolen off the plinth which was later recovered in a park in Croydon while the Seville War Memorial had two glass panels shattered with a ball bearing.

Ms Vallence said currently the maximum penalty under law is 10 years jail for criminal damage to property.

“In my view, given the sacred nature these war memorials have for our community and country, I consider there needs to be a higher tariff of between 15 to 20 years,” she said.

“Given these attacks are becoming more frequent, the current penalties are not providing an effective deterrent to these crimes.”

Larger war memorials throughout the country have also been targeted in recent times, including the Cross of Sacrifice in Victor Harbor, South Australia in October last year and the Australian Vietnam Forces National Memorial spray-painted with a message about the ongoing Israel-Palestine War in March this year.

It’s not restricted to Australia either, with the ANZACs across the ocean also seeing an increase in attacks, including at the Bridge of Remembrance in Christchurch and the National War Memorial in Wellington as well as a plaque in Hawke’s Bay damaged this month.

Ms Vallence said she wishes to acknowledge Yarra Ranges Council for acting swiftly to clean the atrocious vandalism of the Montrose War Memorial on the eve of Remembrance Day last year.

“I hope Council can give more serious consideration to providing improved security in Yarra Ranges parks and gardens where war memorials are, to protect these sacred places that commemorate those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice serving our country,” she said.

“People who disgracefully desecrate a war memorial do not deserve the freedom that was hard fought for by those valiant Australians who paid the ultimate sacrifice so that we could enjoy democracy and freedom today.”

On 31 January 2019, $440,000 in funding from the Department of Home Affairs was allocated towards the Yarra Ranges Safety Camera Network following an election promise from former Casey MP Tony Smith set to bring a network of CCTV cameras to Seville, Warburton, Montrose, Monbulk and Millgrove.

Despite this and the recent attacks at the Seville War Memorial and the nearby Seville Splash Park, no camera is currently operating in the area near the memorial, nor is there camera surveillance near other memorials.

Local historian and Chair of the Seville War Memorial Committee Anthony McAleer OAM said vandalism of war memorials is in the same bracket as vandalsing a grave site.

“For a lot of families, a lot of their loved ones who died while on active service, are buried overseas and for a lot of them there was never any chance for their families to get overseas to see the graves of their loved ones so these memorials and tributes serve as a replacement,” he said.

“The Seville War Memorial is probably the example of the worst things that can happen, though it was heartbreaking to see the Mafeking Tree plaque stolen and gone and though we were able to get a new plaque placed at the site, the fact that it had sat in that one spot for such a long time and then for someone to come along and steal it was greatly disappointing,”

“But for something significantly expensive like the Seville War Memorial, it’s an added burden on the community to replace that, just because people are being absolutely mindless or have no concern for the community.”