75th Anniversary of Australian Peacekeeping

Good morning.

I also acknowledge the Ngunnawal people, the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet today, and pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.

I would like to extend that respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who join us today.

I acknowledge the current and ex-serving members of the Australian Defence Force, police forces, and other services and civilians from peacekeeping operations who are with us today. Thank you for your service.

And I also acknowledge the families of ADF personnel and veterans, police and others who have served. Thank you for your support and the sacrifices you make.

And finally, I acknowledge my Parliamentary colleagues:

  • Assistant Minister for Defence and Veterans’ Affairs, Hon Matt Thistlethwaite MP
  • Shadow Assistant Minister for Defence, Phillip Thompson OAM MP
  • Emma Davidson MLA, representing the ACT Chief Minister; and
  • ACT Opposition Leader, Elizabeth Lee MLA

It is a privilege to be with you today here at the National Commemorative Service recognising Australia’s involvement in peacekeeping operations.

Today, we honour the many thousands of Australians who have served as peacekeepers.

This service is an important occasion in which to pause, remember and honour the service and sacrifice of all of Australia’s military, police and civilian peacekeepers; Australians who continue to put themselves in harm’s way, who deploy to some of the world’s most dangerous places, sometimes unarmed, to help bring an end to conflict, to stand between warring armies, to clear landmines, to assist in the exercise of democratic expression, to deliver humanitarian and medical assistance to those in need.

Australians have been peacekeeping since 1947. Three quarters of a century have passed since then and in every one of those years, Australia has had peacekeepers in the field. Sometimes they have numbered just a handful, sometimes in the hundreds or thousands.

Australians have served on operations from the Middle East to the Pacific, from the high Himalayas to the tropical climates of Timor, the Solomon Islands and Bougainville.

The history of Australian peacekeeping takes us back to a time when the Second World War was fresh in the memory of all Australians, a time when the United Nations under whose flag so many Australian peacekeepers have served, was a fledgling organisation, it’s role still being defined.

It was a time when the world was beginning to understand that there were other uses to which armed forces might be put, that perhaps international coalitions could act in the cause of peace. Each of Australia’s three services – regulars and reservists – has been engaged in peacekeeping. So too have the men and woman of the Australian Police forces and civilians.

Australia has a proud and unique history of peacekeeping – we were there for the first United Nations operation in the Netherlands East Indies – now Indonesia – during 1947. Aussies were the first to go into the field, making us the very first nation in the world to have active peacekeepers on deployment.

From whichever service in the Australian Defence Forces they come, from whichever branch of the police, the public service or elsewhere, Australians have earned their reputation as good peacekeepers, well trained, disciplined and effective.

Many outside the immediate Defence and police community hear of peacekeeping but know little of it. Those who have returned and served know that peacekeeping missions can be perilous, dangerous and uncertain. But peacekeeping operations, are not an end in and of themselves.

Peacekeeping is important – both in each individual mission and for the particular region.

That nations of the globe will act together to protect peace locally in the interests of world peace and protect the dignity of our fellow human beings is no small thing. It is a unique and modern concept only existing in these last 75 years of human civilisation.

When we reflect on the often unsung work of Australian peacekeepers, certain images come to mind:

  • Australians in the streets of Dili,
  • or patrolling the streets of a Somali village,
  • or at the historic Angkor Wat in Cambodia,
  • but few are as well-known as those of blue-helmeted Australian soldiers caring for the displaced and wounded at Kibeho, Rwanda.

Our involvement in peacekeeping is key to our standing in the global community.

For three quarters of a century Australians have served around the world in the cause of peace. Their contribution to the international community has been significant and in the case of some operations, enduring.

Australian Peacekeepers have been on operations since 1956 to the present in Israel and Palestine, Cyprus, Sinai, the former Yugoslavia including Kosovo, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Sudan and Darfur.

In the words of one of Australia’s leading historians of peacekeeping:

Each aid convoy which Australians protected in Baidoa helped people eat. Every person who did not step on a mine because de-miners had cleared it was given a gift they did not even know about; to vote in a free election is to be given control and political self-respect; even to meet a peacekeeper gives a message that suffering has not been ignored … peace is an elusive goal, constructed of many small things.

Australia’s peacekeepers serve in the midst of other people’s conflicts. They help those seeking non-violent solutions and at times have stood before those who will use force. They have been witness to the most terrible human tragedies and they have seen uplifting moments of self-determination. They have witnessed the birth of nations and have brought hope to suffering people.

Our peacekeepers could not have achieved what they have without the love and support of their families.

Unfortunately, peacekeeping operations are not conducted without loss. 16 Australians have lost their lives on Peacekeeping operations. On behalf of the Australian Government and the people of Australia I offer our heartfelt condolences and support for the families of fallen personnel who are here today.

For those families who cannot be with us today, I offer that very same message.

Also to those who still continue to suffer as a result of their service, and to the loved ones of those who as a result of their service, are tragically not with us anymore, we share our condolences.

If there is a common thread that runs through Australia’s many and enormously diverse peacekeeping deployments, it is pride. Pride in service, pride in the work they have done, pride in being an Australian on overseas operations.

Today all Australians share in that pride. We acknowledge the service and sacrifice of all who have taken part in peacekeeping operations. We honour that service and the proud place that Australia’s peacekeepers hold in our country’s history of participation in wars and conflicts around the world.

Lest we forget.

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