This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the deployment of Australian Army troops to the Airbase at Butterworth in Malaysia. However, it seems that a deliberate strategy has been made by Australian authorities to airbrush out the true story of the service of 9,000 Australian Army troops deployed to Airbase Butterworth during the period 1970 to 1989.
The Australian Department of Defence is at the root of this strategy by insisting that Australians were sent to Butterworth on a training mission with the Malaysian Armed Forces.
The reality however is that following the withdrawal of British and New Zealand forces in 1971 the Australian Government decided to deploy personnel to protect the Airbase, aircraft and service families from threats associated with the Malaysian communist insurgency (1968-1989).
Ample proof is available from formerly classified documents that when the decision was taken to deploy forces to Butterworth to undertake security related duties the Chiefs of the Armed Services recommended to the Australian Government the deployment of forces “… could be presented publicly as being for training purposes”.
Despite being rebuffed by successive Australian Governments, a group of veterans, who have over many years called for their service to be recognised as warlike, believe the position taken by the Australian Government is a calculated deception to deny formal recognition of the service of nearly 10,000 Australians that served at Butterworth during the period 1970 to 1989 during Malaysia’s Insurgency War (1968 – 1989).
On 24th November 2020, the Minister for Defence, Senator Linda Reynolds, in her media release acknowledging the fiftieth anniversary, took the opportunity to sustain the Government’s position that service at Butterworth was peacetime by making no mention whatsoever of the security-related duties undertaken by ADF personnel at Butterworth.
Similarly, on 25th November 2020 the Army Newspaper published a feature about the fiftieth anniversary which also made no mention of the security related tasks undertaken by Army personnel deployed over the years to the Airbase at Butterworth, instead focusing on training related activities since 1989.
That the Australian authorities have continued to sustain the deception started in 1973 is disgraceful and an insult to the service of the many Australians that served at Butterworth during Malaysia’s Insurgency War. However, their service has been recognised by the Malaysian Chief of Defence Force, who, when addressing the 50th anniversary of deployment of Australian Army personnel to Butterworth said in a message posted on the official Malaysian Ministry for Defence website:
“Your presence and sacrifice here in Malaysian soil in protecting RMAF Butterworth Air Base during the resurgence of the Communist Insurgency in 1970-1989 was a remarkable contribution and has always been a highlight of your presence here in Malaysia.”
The generous message of thanks and appreciation by the Malaysian Chief of Defence Force has been very well received by Australian veterans. However, it is a sad indictment on the part of the Australian Government and Minister Reynolds and her Department of Defence in particular for media releases and articles that have airbrushed out the truth of tasks undertaken by the many Australians who faithfully and loyally served the nation when deployed to Butterworth under warlike conditions.
Using the Media for politically expedient purposes to deny veterans the recognition they deserve is shameful.