Distinguished friends, Parliamentarians, Ministers and Leader of the Opposition, Brendan Nelson, Chairman Kerry Stokes, Defence Chiefs and servicemen and women here, boys and girls.
Tomorrow, the Governor General will open the 45th Parliament of Australia and so we will be back, bells ringing, debates raging, rhetoric soaring. Indignation, inspiration, exasperation. But as we rush along the corridors, we know that across the glassy stretch of Lake Burley Griffin, sits this place, quiet reflection of respect, of remembrance, of internal gratitude.
Here forever we keep safe, honour and never forget the stories of the two million men and women whose service and sacrifice have secured and continued to secure the freedom of our nation. Above all, this place serves to remind us - our nation’s leaders - of our responsibility always to seek to resolve conflict by peaceful means. And when we do put our troops in harm’s way, to do so with the resources of wise leadership, the considered strategy that best ensures their success and a safe return.
And when our veterans do return and when they do not, we honour them and all the ANZACs who went before them, by supporting them and their families, whose love and loyalty made their service possible.
The new Parliamentary term we are about to enter coincides with the anniversaries of significant engagements in our military history. Over the next three years, we will commemorate the 100th anniversaries of the First World War battles of Polygon Wood, Beersheba and Villers-Bretonneux. And we will commemorate the battles of 1918 when Australian forces were at the forefront of the advance to victory that finally ended that terrible conflict. We will also mark the 75th anniversaries of the Kokoda campaign, the fall of Singapore, the bombing of Darwin in the battles of Milne Bay and El Alamein.
This year already, we have honoured those who served in the battle of Fromelles for the Australian 5th division, that suffered more than five and a half thousand casualties in one day. We’ve honoured those who fought on that ridge more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth – at Pozières, where Australian forces lost almost as many men in less than seven weeks as they did in eight months at Gallipoli in the previous year.
Just two weeks ago, you stood at the Vietnam Memorial on Anzac Parade and commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan, where the soldiers of Delta Company resisted an enemy at least ten times greater in number.
Decades on, these chapter of our wartime history still rightly occupy a place in our nation’s memory. This evening we particularly remember the sacrifice of Lance Corporal Robert Alex Bolton-Wood of the 13th Infantry Battalion, who died near Pozières 100 years ago today. Lance Corporal Bolton-Wood’s name remains etched on the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux which bears the names of almost 11,000 Australians who died in France and have no known grave.
It was important that we remember those today, who never came home from war and for their families who never had the chance to lay their loved ones to rest.
The reason we tell the stories of our servicemen and women like Lance Corporal Bolton-Wood, is not to glorify war, but to lend context and meaning to our present and our future. The stories of these brave Australians will continue to be told in the Canberra twilight for years to come, and will continue to remind us that the values of liberty and democracy, the rule of law that Australians hold dear, have been hard-won. It is the duty of all of us, but especially those of us in the Parliament, that rather more boisterous building across the lake, to remember that.
Today, tomorrow and always, we will remember.
Lest we forget.