Delivered on 14 September 2022 at the Australian Peacekeeping Memorial, Canberra ACT.
I would like to acknowledge the Ngunnawal people and extend my respects to elders past, present and emerging.
I would also like to thank Sergeant Norman Daymirringu (Day-meh-ring-goo) for an inspiring playing of the didgeridoo.
For 75 years, Australians have answered the call to promote, build and keep peace.
Australia has international credibility and legitimacy in the pursuit of international peace, and a well-deserved reputation for providing peacekeepers with a focus on practical and attainable outcomes.
Members of our defence force, police officers and civilians have put themselves in harm’s way, often in dangerous and challenging environments, in the pursuit of peace.
Sadly, some of our peacekeepers have made the ultimate sacrifice. Today, and every day, we stand united with families, friends and colleagues in remembering their service and honouring their sacrifice.
There is no typical peacekeeping mission. They vary in size, scope and complexity. Some are within our region and others are further afield. Some are post-conflict, and others aim to avert the decline of social cohesion by addressing challenges which give rise to conflict.
All missions are aimed at establishing and restoring fundamental rights and freedoms. They rebuild communities, provide humanitarian assistance and promote the social and economic recovery that is necessary for sustainable peace and strengthening the rule of law.
The one thing all missions have in common, is the commitment to stability and peace.
But what is peace? Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice – genuine justice mechanisms, which allow people to resolve their disputes without resorting to violence.
It is through these mechanisms that the enduring trust and confidence which underpins peace, can be attained.
It is in this pursuit that Australian peacekeepers have truly made their mark. They have a well-deserved reputation for impartiality, fairness and practicality.
In recent times our collective efforts have seen the emergence of new nations, the advancement of liberal-democracy, the suppression of politically motivated violence and the active encouragement of global peace in the face of uncertainty.
This has been achieved by active cooperation and strong partnerships across the Australian Defence Force, Australian police forces, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and through leveraging our relationships with the United Nations, foreign governments and our international peacekeeping partners.
The pursuit of peace featured in our past; is a primary objective in our present; and it will continue to dominate our future efforts, as Australian peacekeepers continue to provide service and sacrifice above self, in an increasingly challenging world.
As a peacekeeper myself, I understand these challenges first hand.
In 2002, I was part of the United Nations Mission in Support of East Timor (UNMISET). I spent six months in Baucau where our mission was to provide assistance to Timor-Leste while they transitioned all operational responsibilities to the Timor-Leste authorities.
I still recall the difficulties and challenges we faced there – the air of uncertainty, the threat of mounting violence, being away from home and family for an extended period of time. These are all challenges faced by our peacekeepers every day.
But much more clearly than that, I remember the camaraderie. The sense of shared purpose between us as peacekeepers, meant we worked as one to build trust with the local community.
As Australian peacekeepers, we took a practical and flexible approach, and we connected with the community. And that sense of connectedness to the community is vital to the success of any peacekeeping mission.
The AFP and Australian police have a long and proud history of participation in peacekeeping and capacity-building missions dating from 1964.
I conclude today by acknowledging all those who have contributed to Australia’s 75 years of peacekeeping history, and those who will contribute to its future.
To all who have served … to our three police officers and Protective Service Officer killed while deployed in peacekeeping operations, others who have passed while on duty, and to those who continue peacekeeping, thank you for your service.
Reece P Kershaw APM