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Previous Ministers' releases and speeches - Senator The Hon. Michael Ronaldson

Minister for Veterans' Affairs
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC
Special Minister of State

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Wednesday, 3 September 2014
VA049

**CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY**
REMARKS AT THE BATTLE FOR AUSTRALIA COMMEMORATIVE WREATHLAYING CEREMONY
AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL, CANBERRA

[Greetings omitted]

It is an honour to represent the Prime Minister of Australia, the Hon Tony Abbott, at the Australian War Memorial today  for the Battle for Australia commemorative wreath laying ceremony.

Each year, on the first Wednesday in September, we commemorate Battle for Australia Day.  It is a time to remember those who fought and died defending our nation during the Second World War.

We remember today all those who served in the defence of Australia between 1942 and 1945. Today, we also remember the day when Australian Forces achieved their first land victory over Japanese forces at the Battle of Milne Bay.

75 years ago today, Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies declared that Australia had joined the war against Germany.  Australia, so dramatically changed by the First World War, was once again plunged into a global conflagration.

Australia’s place in the world, etched in blood on the cliffs of Gallipoli and the plains of Flanders Fields and the Middle East, was under threat not just from rapid  German advances and increasing control, but also under equal attack from our near north.

The trying days of late 1941, with Germany advancing ever closer to European domination and as Japanese forces moved south, were dramatic times in our nation’s history.

On 15 February 1942 Singapore fell to the Japanese. It was this defeat that prompted Australia’s Prime Minister, John Curtin, to declare that the Battle for Australia had begun.

The first enemy attack on Australian soil occurred on the morning of Thursday 19 February 1942. The Northern Territory city of Darwin, whose civilian population was just 2000, was raided by 188 Japanese aircraft.


Throughout 1942 Australia suffered a series of attacks. Cities and towns were bombed and shelled, ships of the Royal Australian Navy as well as merchant vessels were sunk in the waters around the mainland and in the islands to the north, and Australian prisoners of the Japanese began their long ordeal.

During the war, the Australian population was a mere seven million. The entire country was mobilised towards Australia’s defence with industry turning from peacetime production to meeting the requirements of a nation at war.

An entire generation of young Australians left the comfort of their homes and began their journey in defence of their nation.

This year’s Battle for Australia Day is especially significant as it marks 70 years since the Australian Army began its campaign in Bougainville in November 1944. The island of Bougainville in the South Pacific was the site of one of the largest campaigns fought by Australian forces during WWII.

During the offensive from November 1944 to August 1945, more than 500 Australians were killed and two Victoria Crosses were awarded to Australian infantrymen. Battle for Australia Day is a time to reflect on this solemn but significant period in Australia’s history.

During the Centenary of Anzac, the most significant period of commemoration in our nation’s history, we mark a century of service and sacrifice, encompassing all wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations in which Australians have been involved.  

Together, we have an obligation to share with our young people information about where we fought, when we fought and reflect on the values we fought to defend.

We must never forget that more than 39,000 Australians died during the Second World War, most of them in the campaigns in Asia and the Pacific.  Many more were wounded in action, some so seriously as to end their service. Some 22,000 Australians became prisoners of the Japanese during the war, of whom some 8,000 lost their lives. 

If the First World War gave Australia an identity stage, the Second World War gave Australia the confidence to know how to defend itself.  Never before, and never since, have Australians been required to give their all to protect their homeland as our forebears did during the Second World War.

The war ended on 15 August 1945, but Australians will never forget the important part that our participation in the Second World War played in shaping the nation.

Let our nation always understand that the freedoms we enjoy today were paid for in the blood of those whose names are forever etched into the cloisters of this most important national institution.   

Lest We Forget.

Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS) and Veterans Line can be reached 24 hours a day across Australia for crisis support and free and confidential counselling. Phone 1800 011 046

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