Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester has encouraged Gippslanders to “find their own mission” and become more involved in community and civic activities.
Mr Chester said there were many examples of leaders within our own communities who were dedicated to making Australia a better place.
He also urged Gippslanders to stand together against extremists who seek to undermine our culture and values.
The Federal MP attended Australia Day ceremonies in Orbost, Sale and Morwell on Monday, where he joined state MPs, Councillors and residents in celebrating the region’s most outstanding citizens.
The following is a copy of Mr Chester’s speech at the Wellington Shire Council Australia Day celebrations at The Botanical Gardens in Sale.
I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we gather and pay my respects to elders both past and present.
I would particularly like to thank Gavin O’Shannesy for the welcome to country; and his incredible skills on the didgeridoo.
Australia Day should be a great occasion to unite our country – from the original inhabitants with thousands of generations before European settlement – right through to the most recent arrivals.
At this time in our nation’s history, the need to stand united is arguably more important than ever before.
We need to believe in the strengths of our democracy: the rule of law, the national institutions which give our community structure, and the shared values which underpin everything we do.
I’d also like to acknowledge:
Mayor Carolyn Crossley and her fellow Wellington Shire Councillors and senior staff;
My longtime friend and political colleague, the State Member for Gippsland South Peter Ryan;
Ladies and gentlemen – boys and girls,
Firstly, please join me in a round of applause to thank the Rotary Club of Sale, and president David Strauss for organising today’s event,
And also thank the magnificent Sale City Band along with the Sale Scouts flag-raising party.
Just three of the important community organisations I want to talk about today in the context of my opening remarks about the need for tolerance and to remain united.
Australia Day will be celebrated by an estimated six million people joining in events just like this, right around the nation.
It is wonderful for our community to come together and celebrate what’s great about Australia, after such a troubling year.
We all know that Gippslanders have shown themselves to be tough and resilient in the face of natural disasters.
We will need all of that resilience and strength in our communities as we are challenged by what I would describe as ‘unnatural disasters’ in the form of terrorism by extremist organisations and individuals.
And I deliberately refer to extremist organisations, this is not about a single religion – it’s about extremists who use religion as an excuse to do us harm.
As we commemorate Australia Day, it’s important to remember that right now, right around the world, there are young Australian servicemen and women who are placing themselves in harm’s way to protect the lifestyle we cherish.
The events of last year in Syria and Iraq along with the shooting down of MH-17 and the Sydney siege, remind us that we live in troubled times.
We must stand united against a common foe of religious extremism which has no place in Australia and no place anywhere else in the world.
In 2015: the year we commemorate the centenary of the first Anzacs, it is timely to remember the service of all our Army, Airforce and Navy personnel.
As we remember their service, and the 100,000 Australian lives lost in conflict since Gallipoli, we must steel ourselves for further losses in the ongoing fight for peace and freedom.
The lifestyle we enjoy here in Gippsland has not come cheaply and we must be prepared to defend it against future challenges.
The freedoms our forebears have fought and died for, have to be won again – our freedoms and values we hold dear are under constant threat and must be guarded ferociously.
Our soldiers stand on the shoulders of the original Anzacs, an unbroken line of Khaki-clad warriors stretching back 100 years.
They serve to keep us safe, and to keep others safe who cannot defend themselves in conflicts on foreign shores.
But defending our culture and our values can never be just about security forces and military activity – we all have a role to play.
In many ways it is quite fitting that – the new chair of the National Australia Day Council is former Army corporal, Ben Roberts-Smith
Roberts Smith is one of the most courageous soldiers to proudly the wear the uniform of Australia.
A recipient of the highest military honor – the Victoria Cross for his service in Afghanistan along with being awarded the medal for gallantry.
In his recent Australia Day address he talked a lot about the journey from citizen to soldier … and ended with a couple of compelling messages about tolerance and the future:
“Let’s just commit to making Australia a better nation”.
“You have to find your own mission – the motivation and the passion have to come from you”.
As I mentioned, Gippslanders have always rallied together in times of trouble – the ethos of helping out a mate is ingrained in Australian culture.
The challenge from Ben Roberts-Smith is for us to retain that passion – retain that sense of community spirit – capture the energy and enthusiasm which we have mustered in troubled times and apply ourselves to making Gippsland an even greater place to live in the future.
In challenging us to find our own mission – to look within ourselves for the motivation and the passion, I think we was telling Australians to recognize that leadership comes at many levels in our communities.
He was telling us to be the type of person who is prepared to take action – to make a difference in our community by getting involved through our work or participation in voluntary organisations.
We need more active participants in community and civic life.
We can’t afford to have too many passengers or to sit back and leave the jobs for someone else.
We need to get better at sharing the load in our community by becoming a nation of joiners – we need more people to join community groups and organisations like Rotary, Lions, Red Cross, Scouts, the SES and others.
And for any of us who are already members of community and sporting organisations, we need to get better at recruiting new people from different racial and cultural backgrounds.
I’m very confident that one of great cultural values of voluntarism and helping a friend in need will be pivotal in overcoming the threat posed by extremists.
It helps to strengthen our community – it builds understanding and tolerance and enforces many other positive values.
It helps to make sure that our culture of tolerance, freedom, justice and a fair go for all – will triumph the extremists culture of oppression, discrimination, murder and tyranny.
Across Australia today there will be thousands of people recognized by their communities as their citizens of the year.
They have a shared bond of selflessly giving to their communities – striving to make a difference in the mission they have chosen for themselves.
These are people who are leading by example – they are demonstrating that you only get out of life what you are prepared to put in.
Leadership doesn’t have to be taking on the enemy in a hail of bullets like Ben Roberts-Smith and it doesn’t have to be standing up in the Federal Parliament and making speeches about national issues.
Some of the best leadership work I do in the community is as a volunteer water safety officer at local surf lifesaving carnivals and umpiring junior football in winter.
In both examples: I’m putting something back into my community – I’m giving my time, experience and skills in return to nothing more than the knowledge that I am helping to make a difference.
In the surf, it’s helping young children overcome their fears and be safer in the water – on the footy field it’s encouraging young boys to respect the umpire’s decision, to try their best and be part of a team working towards a common goal.
These are lessons for life – and it’s an honor and a privilege to play a small role in helping to encourage young Gippslanders to achieve their absolute best in whatever activities or career path they pursue.
I know it’s difficult to find the time – but our community needs you more than ever.
Thank you – Happy Australia Day.