Address at the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea Commemorative Dinner

05 May 2017
New York, USA
Prime Minister


Thank you very much. Thank you.

And thank you Mr President and Mrs Trump for your warm family welcome to New York.  Lucy and I are honoured to be here. It is always wonderful to be back in this city and it is wonderful to meet your family, to be here with our son and our son-in-law, it has been a great evening and thank you so much.

And well done, congratulations – it is always good to win a vote in the Congress, or the Parliament as we call it.

And I’ve got to say, it is always reasonably satisfying to win a vote when people predict you’re not going to win it too. So keep at it. It is great. Well done Mr President.

There are so many distinguished guests here tonight – I want to thank you all so much for joining us and in such a great cause.

But there none more distinguished than the Veterans of the Battle of the Coral Sea. From the Royal Australian Navy Rear Admiral Andrew Robertson, Norm Tame, Gordon Johnson, Bill White, Derek Holyoake and from the US Navy John Hancock, Wendell Thrasher and Roger Spooner.

Gentlemen we salute you and we thank you. And I have to say you’re all in great shape. You’re all in great shape!

Earlier this week in Townsville we thanked and welcomed Cecil Wizwell, 93 years young, who served on the USS Lexington as a 17-year-old.

Now, 75 years ago the Japanese advance seemed unstoppable.

Their infamous surprise attack on Pearl Harbour had sunk or disabled much of the United States Pacific Fleet - with the notable exception of the carriers.

The impregnable fortress of Singapore had fallen.

The Royal Navy’s battle ship Prince of Wales and the battle cruiser Repulse had been sunk by Japanese bombers off the coast of Malaya. HMAS Perth and USS Houston had been sunk off Java as had the carrier USS Langley.

Most of Australia’s army was either fighting in the Middle East or were prisoners of the Japanese.

Darwin, as Andrew reminded us, had been bombed. Indonesia, then the Dutch East Indies was taken, as was the north coast of New Guinea and the great naval base of Rabaul.

And Japan’s next inexorable advance was to seize Port Moresby in New Guinea, from which it would isolate Australia, take us out of the war, to be invaded as and when it suited the convenience of the new masters of the Pacific.

And in so doing deprive the United States of the forward base from which to mount its counter attack.

These were dark days indeed.

But then, as so often today, it was signals intelligence that cut through the darkness. From Melbourne, American and Australian code breakers revealed the Japanese plans to the Pacific Commander Admiral Nimitz.

Nimitz sent two carrier task forces led by USS Lexington and the USS Yorktown into the Coral Sea. They were joined by another Task Force led by the Australian cruisers HMAS Australia, HMAS Hobart and the United States ship Chicago.

For the first time, Australian ships were under the overall command of the United States Commander, Rear Admiral Fletcher, and within Task Force 44 itself, Australian Rear Admiral John Crace commanded American ships.

Unity of purpose, unity of command, shared and collaborative signals intelligence - the Battle of the Coral Sea took to the water and the sky, the mateship that had fought and won the Battle of Hamel 99 years ago.

The victory in the Coral Sea was the first setback to the Japanese in the Pacific War, the Moresby invasion force was turned back and by sinking one and damaging two Japanese carriers, it laid the foundation for the decisive victory at Midway a month later.

Churchill called this time the ‘hinge of fate’ and he was so right. The ‘hinge of fate’ turned to victory for America, Australia and our allies.

But it had a high price. The aircraft carrier USS Lexington was lost, as was the destroyer USS Sims and the tanker USS Neosho - over 600 American and Australian sailors and airmen died to secure that victory.

Our nations’ freedom was secured by the bravery of the men on those ships and the pilots who flew through everything the enemy and the weather could throw in their way.

Now this evening, President Trump and I have discussed the bond our great nations forged in freedom’s cause - from the battlefield of Hamel nearly one hundred years ago to our forces fighting side-by-side in the Middle East at this very moment.

And as we reflect on the Battle Coral Sea we are reminded of how the stability and prosperity of our region over so many decades has been secured and is secured today by the United States. A commitment to the peace stability, the rule of law in our region renewed by President Trump for which we thank you sir.

Each of our great nations defines its national identity, not by race or religion or ethnicity as so many others do, but by a commitment to shared political values, as timeless as they are inclusive - freedom, democracy and the rule of law.

Shared values. A shared destiny.

Fiercely competitive, we always want to win, but we know we are always more assured of winning when we are fighting together.

We are confident and we trust each other - that is why the United States is the largest foreign investor in Australia and the United States is our largest overseas investment destination.  And as we have heard from Anthony about to become even larger.

And this relationship is built on the work of millions of Australians and Americans - many of whom here with us tonight - creating thousands of jobs in the USA and in Australia.

Today together we condemn and resist North Korea’s reckless provocation. We fight together in Iraq and Afghanistan to defeat and destroy the terrorists who threaten our way of life.

From the mud of Hamel to the waters of the Coral Sea to the sands of the Middle East today, Australians and Americans stand shoulder to shoulder defending our freedoms.

Recently, I travelled to Baghdad and Kabul to visit our troops and to commemorate Anzac Day.

I brought with me the gratitude of our nation.

And the certain knowledge that we best honour the service and sacrifice of generations past by supporting the servicemen and women, the veterans and their families of today.

I commend the board of the Australian American Association – Chairman Jennifer Nason and President John Berry – for their initiative in launching a new Veterans Fellowship Fund tonight and I thank you all for being so generous. 

The proceeds from this evening’s dinner will enable a new generation of Australian and American veterans to be recognised for their service, and rewarded with the experience of earning a degree in either Australia or the United States.

We thank all those Australians and Americans who served— and remember the more than 600 who died—in the Battle of the Coral Sea.

And to all those who serve in the United States and Australian defence forces, we honour you, we thank you, you and your families - with your courage and your service, you keep us free.

Thank you.