This is the text of the Anzac Day speech delivered by the Minister for Defence, Senator Robert Hill, at the Dawn Service, on HMAS Kanimbla, in the Persian Gulf.
The speech was given just a month after the start of the Iraq war.
On this day last year I had the honour to present the ANZAC Day address at the national commemoration in the forecourt of the Australian War Memorial. The War Memorial in Canberra is a poignant reminder of the enormous sacrifice that has been made by so many Australians over the generations. They were lives lost to preserve our freedom and that of our friends and allies – often very distant from Australian shores and in many instances in this region of the world.
Thus it’s an equal honour this year to be able to speak to today’s service personnel, back in the Middle East again, risking their lives in an effort to remove threats associated with weapons of mass destruction.
As I talked last year of what it means to be Australian, our values and our responsibilities, I did so to the background of this generation of Australia’s armed forces fighting in the war against terror, including those on ships in this Gulf. They were responding to what was then a new threat, that of an attempt to subvert our values through fear of an attack on innocents.
The successes of our fighting forces, in terms of the major destruction and dislocation of al-Qaeda command, training networks and weaponry in Afghanistan and helping rid Afghanistan of a cruel regime that was prepared to host this global terror network were impressive to say the least.
Nevertheless despite these successes Australians in the last year did suffer terribly at the hands of Islamic extremists. It was a stark reminder of the horrors of this type of unconventional warfare and that the task of ridding Australia and Australians of the threat of terror was far from over.
The terrorist attacks of recent years remind us also that despite our best efforts – diplomacy, containment and deterrence don’t always work. Sometimes there is no alternative, in order to effectively combat a threat, than to meet it head on with military force.
Our failure to effectively contain and deter terror, led us to reassess other threats, particularly those posed by weapons of mass destruction in the hands of despots who were clearly prepared to use such weapons for their political objectives, internally and externally.
For 12 years the Australian Defence Force had been part of international efforts to remove the threat posed by Saddam Hussein – diplomatic efforts, economic pressures and the use of limited force. Our ultimate conclusion was that these efforts had not succeeded, that Saddam Hussein’s regime was founded in fear and oppression of which these unconventional weapons were a cornerstone and that the only way in which the threat could be removed with certainty was the removal of the regime itself. We further concluded that in this increasingly borderless world, the removal of this threat was in Australia’s national interests.
In the same way as we could not isolate ourselves from the threat of global terrorism, neither could we quarantine Australia and Australians from threats associated with weapons of mass destruction.
You and your coalition colleagues have been mightily successful. You have removed the immediate threat. You have also given the Iraqi people the opportunity of freedom. Through the success of the campaign there is now a renewed hope of progress in other intransigent regional issues which could in time contribute to a more stable region. Bearing in mind the sacrifices of Australians in the past in the Middle East, and the risks being taken by Australians of today, that would be a major achievement.
You have also drawn a line in the sand on the issue of weapons of destruction. Others of like mind to Saddam Hussein, who hold out weapons of mass destruction as a tool to strategic advantage, will know that the civilised communities will no longer tolerate such threats. You have in my view therefore significantly contributed to what can be a safer world.
The work is far from done. Winning peace will in itself be difficult and although this new task will be shared by others in civil society there will still be a role for the Australian Defence Force. The tasks will remain dangerous. But the potential benefits are great. I know that our forces will continue to serve, as they have in the Operation, with great distinction.
ANZAC Day is a day of solemn remembrance. We pause and recall the sacrifice of Australians who have been lost in war. We think of others who were wounded in action and others who suffered in so many other ways. We think of their families in their pain and grief. We express our profound gratitude.
ANZAC Day should also be a day of commitment. Values such as freedom, respect and tolerance are not just the legacy of those who fight our wars. All Australians can contribute to a better society, and if all Australians make that effort, the result will be an even better Australia.
On ANZAC Day we should remember that with privilege comes responsibility. But ANZAC Day is also a day of celebration. Even with restraints imposed by these uncertain and unpredictable times, we remain a free and much envied society. It’s something worth celebrating. It’s what the ANZACs would wish.
I’m proud to join men and women of our Defence Force, who have served our nation as capably as any previous generation. I’m pleased that I can do so with the Chief of the Defence Force and the Secretary of the Department of Defence. It reminds me that there are many in uniform behind those on the front line who have also been crucial to our military success. And behind them is a wider Defence organisation and an Australian defence industry – all of which play an important role. And Defence families, without whose support our forces could not do their job, deserve our specific thanks. The Defence community as a whole has again earned the admiration and gratitude of all Australians.
So you deserve a beer and a game of two-up. And if that’s your choice, then I’m looking forward to enjoying it with you. Thank you for hosting me on what is Australia’s special day.