Photo: AAP Image/David Mariuz
PRIME MINISTER: There’s only one thing I wanted to come here to do, whether it’s here or up at Taji; it’s just to say thank you. That’s it, thank you. Not just from me – I am saying thank you from me and Jenny and my two girls, just as Australians – but I’m also saying thank you on behalf of my Government.
I sat in our National Security Committee of Government for the last five years pretty much, I’ve been there when we’ve made all the decisions that we’ve made, which is why we’re here doing what we’re doing here as a Government, what we’re doing now and what I know many of you have been doing for many, many years now. The Government thanks you, the Parliament thanks you and the other thing is that the country does. I have been a member of Parliament now for over a decade and at this time of year when you say to people in your community - and some of you here come from our of the part of Sydney where my electorate is and where I’ve lived with my family down in southern Sydney – and you say: “Just think about our serving men and women overseas this Christmas”. They all nod and they go: “Yeah we will, I’m glad you said that.” Because they want to, because they know you’re here doing your job and this is where you do your job and you know that. But that does mean that for many of you this will be the first time you haven’t been there with your kids at Christmas, the first time when you haven’t been there with your wife or your girlfriend or your parents. For some of you, you’ve done it many, many times and you’ve worked out routines and things to make sure it’s just that bit easier on the kids – I’m a dad, I know what it’s like to be away from your kids at important times in their life – and that’s something you give for your country. It’s something you give in your service, to come here and you do what you do.
Now I know this team here is the best of the best. I know a lot more about Two Commando than I do about SAS, but SAS’ reputation precedes it. But when you chose to do what you do, you make a conscious decision about the contribution you’re making and I would hate for you to think that as you’re doing that – you’ll have great days and you’ll have really difficult days – but that on any of those days, that you didn’t know how much your country appreciates what you do. Because they really do. Kids, do, little kids do, grandparents do, right across all the generations of Australians, there’s no group of Australians I think, that is more respected than our serving men and women and that respect continues when you no longer wear the uniform and you go back into civilian life as a veteran. Australians absolutely support what you’re doing and you’re doing what you’re doing based on decisions the Government has made. You don’t get to make those decisions, but the choice you’ve already made is that you’re going to serve in whatever conditions, or in whatever task that you’re asked to do. So as a Parliament, as a country, as a Government, as a Prime Minister but also just as a fellow Australian, I want to tell you how grateful we are.
The other thing I wanted to do is pay honour. That’s an important word, not just in the military but in our community and our society and one of the things I love about the various parts that make up our defence forces, is that everyone has a good sense of the heritage of whatever part of the military they’re from. I’m someone who likes to understand the heritage of things and I have all sorts of people that I think about when I go about my own job. There was a guy I came across a number of years back when we were trekking the Wau to Salamaua Trek, the Black Cat Track. We’d done this as few times – not Black Cat, we’d done Kokoda and Sandakan as I was mentioning to a few of you before – and we learned of a bloke called George Warfe. Does anyone remember George Warfe? The Mad Major he was called and he was one of Australia’s first commandos. He had been in the Battle of Bardia over in the Middle East there when they took Tobruk, all of those things. He was well-decorated and he found his real calling when he found himself in the jungles of New Guinea when there was the surge on following Kokoda. They were going, advancing towards Salamaua which was a movement that was occurring while at the same time, they were coming around the other way to Tarakan Island which was a critical battle as you’d know, in the Second World War. But this was a bloke who was a builder and a cabinet-maker from Melbourne. He wasn’t trained really in any of these things like jungle warfare. But he had to use his ingenuity, he had to use his determination and his sheer drive to sort of understand how to fight in those environments. I think a bloke like George Warfe is absolutely emblematic of what you guys and girls do; the ingenuity, the capability, the commitment, the problem-solving but most of all the passion for what you’re doing. So I think you’re a great tribute to guys like George Wharf who went before you and you’re really honouring I think, that tradition so it’s my great privilege to come here and honour you in the same way. We recognise it, we get it and we thank you for it. So I hope you have the best Christmas you can have here and I hope you enjoy those moments that you have to Skype and Facebook and WhatsApp video and all the various things we have these days, which is much better I suppose, than it used to be. I hope you enjoy those moments but more importantly, I look forward, as I’m sure you do, to when you can go home and be with your families and friends, your mates and parents, kids and all of that. You can tell them you have served your country because you have and I know you’ll keep doing so.
Thank you very much and God bless.