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 May 28, 2015

Mr CHESTER  (Gippsland—Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence) (13:05): It gives me great pleasure to speak on behalf of Gippslanders on the Prime Minister’s motion on the 100th anniversary of the landings at Gallipoli. 

One month ago I was in Afghanistan and other parts of the Middle East in my role as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence, participating in the Australian Defence Force Parliamentary Program. There are walls at the Australian headquarters in Kabul and also at other bases in the Middle East which carry the photographs of the 43 Australians who have died on deployment to the region over the past decade. They join the 102,000 other Australian service men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice throughout our nation’s history. 

Even today, as the parliament commemorates the Centenary of Anzac, Australian and New Zealand forces are standing side by side in Baghdad, in Kabul and in the skies above the Middle East working together again, this time to train and support local forces in the fight against Daesh and the Taliban. As we pause to remember the original Anzacs on this occasion, I urge everyone listening today throughout Australia to also remember our modern-day warriors and peacekeepers—the young men and women who have been drawn together from all corners of Australia and New Zealand once again to serve our nations. 

As we tuck ourselves into bed at night, safe in the knowledge that no harm will come to our families, spare a thought and a prayer, if you are so inclined, for the almost 2,000 Australians currently serving on deployments throughout the world in places like Kabul, Kandahar and Baghdad. In places where the summer temperature is about to scorch past 45 degrees and winter temperatures will plummet below freezing, some will be sleeping in tents and others in prefabricated huts or dormitories with bunks and precious little privacy. Regardless of where they sleep, they will be away from their families and their loved ones. So pray for their safety, pray for the people they are trying to protect and pray that their missions are completed successfully and that they return as soon as possible to the arms of those they love. When I was in Kabul, I thanked the troops on behalf the government and on behalf the people of Gippsland and told them that we were proud of them, that we supported them and that we wished them well in their mission. 

I recall the comments from the former member for Bradfield and former leader of the Liberal Party in this place, who is now the chairman of the Australian War Memorial, Brendan Nelson. He said in this place several years ago that there was no greater service that anyone could give to Australia than to put on the uniform of the nation they love and then place themselves in harm’s way to help those who cannot help themselves. That was true in 1915 and it is true in 2015. We do not seek to glorify war as we commemorate the sacrifice and extraordinary service of so many young Australian men and women, along with our New Zealand allies.

I wrote this speech on board an Australian C-130, high above the mountains and valleys of Afghanistan where many of those 43 young Australian men lost their lives. I used a fair bit of its content in my Anzac Day address at the Sale Memorial Hall on Anzac Day this year. There was a huge crowd, as others have reflected. There was a huge crowd to commemorate Anzac Day this year at events right throughout Australia. In my electorate in Traralgon, the dawn service had several thousand people attending. In Sale itself, there was a couple of thousand people. In Tyers, a small community, more than 500 people attended.

When I was flying above Afghanistan, I looked around at the young faces on that plane and I could not help but think about those other young faces on the walls in their headquarters in Kabul. They were all someone’s son, someone’s father, someone’s brother, someone’s husband or someone’s boyfriend. We can ever bring them back, but I believe that we can honour them and make sure that they are never forgotten.

I told the gathering in my electorate on that day that we cannot fulfil the promise of their young lives cut short, the we can honour them in the way we choose to live our lives. I think we need to regularly think about that: what others have given us and have allowed us to do in enjoying the freedoms and safety we enjoy today. I think our tribute to the fallen, to the original Anzacs and to the 102,000 people killed in countless conflicts, is the manner in which we live today. Our world is being challenged by people who would seek to do us harm. There are enduring values that the Anzacs demonstrated and fought to protect are as important today as they ever before. It is our commitment to peace, freedom and fairness; our determination to protect the innocent; the courage and the adventurous spirit to travel to far-off lands and help others; the bonds of mateship and comradery and to stand together in hard times; and perhaps most importantly the resilience, perseverance and dedication to duty. These are all eternal values and personal attributes that our nation need from us today.

That is what Anzac Day means to me. I take it as a personal challenge to ask myself, ‘Am I worthy of that sacrifice that others have made? Am honouring the people who have given so much and still serve our nation’s defence force today?’ I think they have shown us the way. It is up to us. We must commit ourselves to respecting their enduring legacy.

I also want to take this opportunity to reflect for a moment on the manner in which the Turkish people and their government honour and respect the Australian soldiers killed and injured in the Gallipoli campaign. Recently, I had the great pleasure and privilege to visit Turkey to represent the Minister for Defence at a defence industry fair in Istanbul. At the conclusion of the official duties, we travelled with the defence attache for Turkey, Colonel Jim Burns, to Gallipoli—or Canakkale, as it is known in Turkey.

As Australians, we understand that Gallipoli remains at the heart of our own national story; but we perhaps often do not reflect on how this pivotal event is critical to Turkey’s struggles, particularly in the early part of the 20th century. At Gallipoli, the immortal words of Mustafa Ataturk are recorded. He said in 1934:

You, the mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

That is a remarkable statement from the leader of the Turkish government at the time: ‘They have become our sons as well.’ Is an extraordinary statement. It is respectful, it is insightful, it is empathetic and it is dignified. I think it is a sign of great leadership. It helps to explain the relationship we enjoy today with our friends in Turkey.

We do have an active friendship and engagement which culminates for most Australians each year, and perhaps most visibly, with the Anzac Day service at Anzac Cove. But the generosity of spirit and the respect shown by Turkey to allow such commemorative events on their homeland and to support such activities speaks volumes about the relationship today but also throughout history. I could not help but wonder, as I walked the battlefield, whether we would be equally as generous ourselves if we had been on the other side of the invasion. I just simply thank and congratulate the Turkish people for the honour they bestow upon us each year. I thank the Turkish people for extending such remarkable courtesies to Australians, New Zealanders and people of other countries who visit what is sacred site for Australian people, given particularly the enormous losses suffered by the Turks in that conflict.

On our visit to Anzac Cove, like many before and many more to come, I was struck by the beauty of the peninsular, the magnitude of the battles which occurred, the severity of the losses on both sides and the hopeless futility of it all. Under Colonel Burns’ expert guidance, we paid our respects at places I had only ever read about, like a North Beach; Ari Burnu; Anzac Cove; Hell Spit; Shrapnel Gully; Brighton Beach, so named because it looks just like the Mornington Peninsula; Artillery Road; Johnston’s Jolly; Quinn’s Post; Walker’s Ridge; Lone Pine and the Nek. We were walking the ground were so many lives were lost. It is such a sombre and sobering moment for any visitor.

I extend my appreciation and thanks to Colonel Burns, our guide, for the education and lessons he provided as he took us amongst the trenches and explained to us just the extent of tunnelling that occurred. That is something that I had not really understood, as to how much tunnelling activity occurred during this conflict. He gave us some insights into what it must been like 100 years ago. The Commonwealth war graves that are maintained on the peninsula are in quite beautiful locations in many respects. We were very fortunate. We were there on a quiet day. It was well after the centenary events had occurred. At most the grave sites we attended, we were the only people there. You could hear the birds. On some of the waterfront gravesites, you could hear the gentle lapping of waves. It was a peaceful resting place.

I can report to the House that the Australians who lost their lives lie on hallowed ground and are respected by the Turks, just as we respect our foes. As we gather here to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli, we must be forever thankful for their service and remember all of those who were killed or injured in this conflict. We should also remember all of those who have been killed in battles since that day. Most of all, I plead with the Australian people and members of this place to remember those who continue to serve today. They have all earned the respect and the enduring gratitude of this island nation. Lest we forget.


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