Remarks, Australian War Memorial

18 Nov 2019
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you Brendan for that introduction and in particular for honouring Brett, and remembering Bree. Brett and Bree’s son Ziggy goes to school with my daughter and I remember when Brett was killed, it made me reflect deeply that someone in my own community who had fallen, a family that was terribly bereaved, that in today’s society these events occur but when we think back to the Second World War and the First World War, they were a multiple daily event.

I am pleased that it’s no longer a daily event, but each and every case and on each and every occasion it happens, it is as deeply grieving, it is as deeply impacting, and leaves that deep scar.

Scars are physical reminders or memories of what has taken place and particularly for Sharon to share, of the lives that had been lived, not how they were ended necessarily, but how the lives were lived.

So it’s a great pleasure to be here today with you Brendan, to Kerry as well, I want to thank you for the tremendous work you do and the Minister Darren Chester, and Shayne the opposition spokesperson, representatives of all the Forces here particularly the Chief of the Defence Force Angus Campbell.

Can I also acknowledge the Ngunnawal People, their elders past and present and emerging, but can I also acknowledge our serving men and women who are with us here today and all of our veterans and say, as I always do, thank you on behalf of a grateful nation.

I like to speak of Australia as a promise.

A free nation that allows its people, quietly going about their lives, to realise their simple, honest, decent aspirations.

In Australia, you are rewarded and respected for your efforts, and your contribution. Regardless of who you are - your age, your religion, your ethnicity, your gender, your sexuality, level of ability, your income. It doesn’t matter.

25 million of us can live out that promise today because of those who serve today and who have served on our behalf. And part of our promise is to them: is to honour their service, to remember their sacrifice and their lives, and to stand with those who return. It is a promise that is both of memory and of memorial.

Memory of keeping our commitments – that’s the foundation: to the health, the well-being, the family support, training for new jobs and support for our veterans.

And memorial - to honour the sacrifice, as this memorial does, the courage, the life, and the loss.

But memory and memorial are intertwined.

Before I speak of this memorial, let me speak of our living memorial, and memory for our veterans of today.

Last year, we committed $11.5 billion in benefits and support to our veterans and their families.

We have overturned a century of outdated processes and systems, so veterans and their families can get the support they need when they need it. But there is more to do. And I particularly want to acknowledge the work of the Chief of Defence Force in leading so much of this change.

Part of that support means we are now offering free mental care for anyone who has served a day in the ADF. This funding is uncapped and is demand driven. We are providing some $200 million annually to support the mental health needs of our veterans. Again, uncapped, demand driven.

There’s support for families. There’s training. There’s re-skilling. There’s jobs programmes. And importantly today, we are preparing for those who serve in our Defence Force for their post-service life from the day they start their service which is an important initiative of our Defence Force today.

These are big challenges. They are hard issues. They’re soul-wrenching.

We so often feel that we don’t measure up to the mark and that is true. But that cannot prevent us from doing all we can within our power and our resource to ensure that we do the best by those who have served us, both in uniform today and when they leave that service.

So we keep our promise to veterans, to their families - and to those who have never returned.

I spoke on ANZAC Day about the mortally wounded soldier on the battlefield of Pozieres who asked Charles Bean “Will they remember me in Australia?” And our answer is yes, and always yes. And this Memorial is a reminder of the answer to that question. That remembrance is found in families sharing their stories, in communities undertaking commemorations, and nationally, here at this great Memorial. It’s found around us in the names in bronze on the Roll of Honour, the artefacts, the diaries, the photos, the uniforms and histories; as well as the tears, the memories, the tender touches and poppies that bring a nation’s love and honour to this place. 

Here in this place is the soul of our nation.

Conceived on the French battlefields of the First World War, and built while the Second World War raged, this place was never a tribute to war. It was always a memorial to the fallen. An honouring of endurance, sacrifice, loyalty, mateship and courage, of devotion. It recorded and does record great deeds. And it stirs us to think about the countless sacrifices and deprivations that will only ever be truly known by those who endured them.

Over the years, it has become a place of pilgrimage. A place for families to remember loved ones with graves far way, or who have no graves at all. A place for veterans to find solace and reflect. And a place for new citizens and younger Australians to learn about the sacrifices that have been made for all of our freedoms.

In its lifetime, the Australian War Memorial has seen a number of expansions and evolutions. When it opened its doors on Armistice Day in 1941, most of its artefacts were from the Great War. After the Second World War, its collection almost doubled.  And so, within a few years of its genesis, it was time to expand.

Sadly, the story of Australians at war did not end there — and it still has not ended. Over the years more space was needed. More plans were made. We needed to house the stories of Korea and Vietnam, of peacekeeping operations, and of this century’s wars.

Just over a year ago, I announced a new expansion to the Memorial, so we could add the service Australians have given in Somalia, Rwanda, Cambodia, the Solomon Islands, East Timor, Iraq, Afghanistan, Northern Iraq and Syria. And so today we turn another page in telling this incredible story. Today is the next phase of the Memorial’s plan, and the opening of the public consultation process for the design of the New Anzac Hall, glazed courtyard, and the Southern Entrance.

This is the largest re-investment in the War Memorial since it was opened in 1941, and not before time. All of these works will involve veterans. All of the major construction tenders will include a criteria to employ or engage veterans or their families. A vital new chapter.

When this Memorial first opened, its driving force was Charles Bean. In 1948 he wrote: “Here is their spirit, in the heart of the land they loved; and here we guard the record which they themselves made.” It was true then, and it will remain true throughout the years to come. Bean was indeed the father of this Memorial.

But today, I also want to acknowledge that we have had a successor here worthy of his grand vision and passion for this special place.

He has been I think a very appropriate and dutiful heir of the inheritance of being a director of this Memorial.

Brendan, as we all know, is retiring as Director at the end of the year.

He has been a truly great director.

And I’m sure none of us would say there’ll be one greater than Charles Bean, but Brendan stands amongst the greatest.

He brought the Memorial closer to so many people.

It’s not just the plans that we announce today which will tell the stories as he said of our generation, it’s not just the building, it’s just not the exhibits, it’s the way he connected this place to the people of Australia.

Every time I come here and I see the visitors, I see the young children, I see those in wheelchairs who are barely able to be mobile. And there the touch is.

There’s a human element to this Memorial now that I’m not sure we’ve known in the same way we do today.

And for that Brendan we are truly grateful for your leadership.

This work is best typified in the words of a veteran called John Ainley.

Who served in Special Operations Command.

He’s stood at the foot of C-17 ramps and farewelled mates back home.

Like so many who have served, he doesn’t live in Canberra.

But here - in the stillness and quietness - he visits, and he takes it all in and he remembers.

He recently wrote to the Memorial, saying he wanted to thank Brendan for “his service and devotion through many years of public service...and his dedication to the memory of our Fallen”.

John Ainley is right.

So thank you Brendan for everything you have done for our veterans, as a Minister for Defence you had a keen insight into your duties when you came into this role, and here as we stand outside Poppy’s place, I know how meaningful that is to you and your time as Minister for Defence.

And here you have been able to honour not only his but all of our fallen members in a way in which our nation owes you a great debt.

But here it’s not just to praise obviously the work of the Director of the Memorial, it is to praise all those who’ve served.

I look forward to taking my own children, my grandchildren one day perhaps through this new area of the memorial so they can hear your stories, hear the stories of the lives, exchange those with others they’re standing in the memorial with.

Go to the Last Post ceremony that has been instituted here and just reflect.

Australians will always be Australian so long as they remember this place.

And the remember those who have given them the best title anyone could claim to have, and that is of being Australian.

Thank you.