Recognising sacrifice - Speech, House of Representatives


Two and a half thousand years ago Pericles delivered a funeral oration, reading in part:

… for the Athens that I have celebrated is only what the heroism of these and their like have made her … none of these allowed either wealth with its prospect of future enjoyment to unnerve his spirit, or poverty with its hope of a day of freedom and riches to tempt him to shrink from danger … reckoning this to be the most glorious of hazards, they joyfully determined to accept the risk …

Thucydides quotes Pericles:

So died these men as became Athenians. You, their survivors, must determine to have as unfaltering a resolution in the field, though you may pray that it may have a happier issue.

In honouring those who have fallen in service of Australia, we follow in the footsteps of Pericles. The manner in which that is done fundamentally shapes the character of nations.

When I was at school I was often struck by the way in which the acknowledgement of Australia's military activities sometimes descended into vague bromides about courage and sacrifice, and honour and valour—all important notions, but somehow a little too divorced from the real individuals who had borne great burdens on our behalf. An initiative of Brendan Nelson's that will stand the test of time is the Last Post ceremony initiated in April 2013. The first person to be so honoured was Private Robert Poate, a Canberran who had spent two-thirds of his short life as a student at Canberra Grammar School. He died in a green-on-blue attack in Afghanistan. He was remembered by his close friend Rugby Paralympian Cody Meakin:

He was cheeky, always had a cheeky grin. Nothing ever fazed  him. … He was just a top bloke, one of the most genuine and loyal blokes I had the pleasure of hanging out with.

Cody Meakin says that, after Private Poate's death, he had his wheelchair inscribed with a special tribute to his fallen friend.

Private Poate was acknowledged too by Justin Garrick, the head of Canberra Grammar School, who recalls his mother, Ms Jenny Poate, had been the receptionist at the front office of the senior school for much of the time that Private Poate was at school.

It is by telling these stories of real individuals, of their valour and their sacrifice, that the War Memorial comes to life for so many Australians. There's a good reason why it's the most visited site for tourists coming to Canberra: it is because they look to the wall of remembrance and to the galleries to understand what Australians have done on our behalf and to understand the importance of always treating war as a last resort. The 102,000 Australians whose names are recorded on the memorial's wall of honour come to life through these Last Post ceremonies. My friend and college Shayne Neumann has said of his own role:

There is no greater service than the defence of our nation, and no greater honour as a Parliamentarian than to advocate for the welfare of our service and ex-service personnel.

He notes that Labor took to the last election a comprehensive plan for the funding of a national family engagements support strategy to better engage and support families who experience suicide, suicidal ideation, post-traumatic stress disorder and major issues pre and post military service.

I commend the member for bringing forward this important motion and pay tribute too to Brendan Nelson for his work heading the War Memorial. I make the important point that Brendan Nelson was appointed to this role by a Labor government as he had previously been appointed to his diplomatic role by a Labor government. They recognise the fact that no party has a monopoly on talent. Labor in government chose to make appointments of appropriately qualified coalition former parliamentarians. But, from the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to diplomatic appointments, we haven't seen very much of that kind of bipartisanship under the Abbott, Turnbull or Morrison government. I think that's a pity for Australians. I think Australians miss out by an overly partisan approach to appointments.


Authorised by  Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.