Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Senator the Hon. Michael Ronaldson
Minister for Veterans' Affairs
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC
Special Minister of State


*** Acknowledgements excluded ***

Can I thank Claire O’Neill and her committee for making sure this project was put forward as an important part of the Anzac Centenary Local Grants Program and can I congratulate everyone involved.

Now I understand that this was perhaps originally a bit of a peace deal memorial park, because in 1996, when there was council amalgamations, everything was brought here, but now we see a magnificent structure commemorating service and sacrifice over the last 100 years.

I was asked the other day, what’s the most important part about the centenary period, and I said the most important part is: It’s not about events that occurred on April 25 100 years ago. This is an opportunity for this nation to commemorate the service and sacrifice of those in all theatres of war, all peace-keeping operations over the last 100 years.

What you’ve done with this magnificent memorial park is enable the next generation of young Australians to commemorate and understand and that’s the great challenge for this nation in my view.

We can look back, which is very, very important, but we’ve also got to look forward and we’ve got to make sure that our children understand that the 102,700 names in the cloisters of the Australian War Memorial had given their own blood to enable us to live our lives in relative freedom today.

I want the kids of Cheltenham and I want the kids in my home town of Ballarat to understand that this has come at an enormous price and they will be carrying the torch of remembrance well after many of us who are here today are gone and that’s not just an obligation of Mitch, Claire, the Mayor, the RSL and myself. It’s a community obligation to ensure that our children understand.

When you see the threats, again, against our way of life that we’ve seen exhibited last Friday night, we understand that we must teach our kids that these freedoms are incredibly important and they must stand and defend them as well as others have before us.

The commemorative period is a great opportunity for this nation and Claire, Mitch, Peter and I were talking before about in the early 90s when I used to go to the dawn services in Ballarat, my home town, and we all feared for what was to become of those dawn services.

I pay credit to Con Sciacca, who was a former Labor Veterans’ Affairs Minister, for the Australia Remembers program back in 1995. The work that Con did was very, very important in reigniting the community spirit.

What we’ve seen in the run up to Anzac Day this year, and over the last five years, is an understanding from the Australian community that a nation that fails to remember, is a nation that fails itself.

When I look at the Shrine, nearly 100,000 people, Peter was saying you had very large crowds, Torquay 13,000 people, I think that spirit of remembrance has been reignited. If that spirit has been reignited then an understanding of that service and sacrifice is equally so.

I do talk about 100 years, because I reflect back on the way we treated those men who fought in Vietnam. Their treatment, by this nation, was apalling and we must never, ever, ever let that occur again and if this centenary period enables us to teach our kids the Anzac-led service and sacrifice then we’ll minimise the chance of that ever happening again.

It’s a great honour for me to be here today. This rededicated memorial park will stand the test of time. It will be a focus for the community and I’m very confident these beautiful grounds, on Anzac Day, Remembrance Day and other services will see many, many members of the community here, to make sure that we always remember.

Thank you most sincerely.

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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