Armistice breakfast speech

Release details

Release type

Related ministers and contacts

Senator the Hon David Fawcett

Assistant Minister for Defence

Media contact
  • Mike Banham (Senator Fawcett’s office): (02) 6277 3409
  • Defence Media: (02) 6127 1999,

Release content

1 November 2018

DAVID FAWCETT:                Welcome. I know a number of guests who have been recognised already so I won't run through the list except to say welcome. But particularly to Keith Payne and to other members who are or who have served in the defence of Australia, welcome and thank you.


                                               I've been asked to talk this morning about the legacy of the fallen. According to my dictionary a legacy is something that exists or happens today as a result of something that happened in a former time. As I reflect on the legacy of the fallen in Australia's context and the context of the First World War, I see that the framework that remains now is a call for remembrance, and a call to action.


                                               The fallen we need to remember because they speak of loss and of a sacrifice - of cost that was born in terms of life and limb and love. That generation put their lives as they knew it on hold: families, careers, business. Over 70 million people ended up in uniform or directly in the support of the war effort. Over nine million people lost their lives. Here in Australia, a young nation with a small population - 61,000 people lost their lives. But for those who came home, the medicine and science of the day did the best it could to care for them, to compensate for the physical injuries they had, but perhaps most devastatingly, the mental scars, the trauma were not only unspoken, often they were not understood. And so there was a generation of servicemen and women and families who suffered for many years after the war.


                                               Families were also torn apart. In the Toronto Avenue Cemetery in Belgium amongst many headstones that, as I looked at them, talked of duty and honour and valour, and sacrifice, I came across 415 Private E Goff aged 27. And the simple words at the bottom of that headstone, we assume provided by his parents as was their gift to do, said: “fame and glory ease not our aching hearts.” And you get a sense for how profound that was, for example here in South Australia when you drive around and go through smaller communities, where on the memorial you see a family with a father, a brother, sons; all lost. The devastation of families was large.


                                               And so in remembering that part of the framework we look back on Anzac Day and Remembrance Day and on other occasions: lest we forget what they did. And it's important and it's right that we remember what they did. But we also should look back, lest we forget why they did it. I'm not talking here about a debate between historians and those who would want to revise history and reframe what happened. I'm talking about understanding what motivated this generation to take the risks they did to pay the cost they did for things they cared about. What are the principles such as justice and freedom of the individual that they held dear? And the call for action means that we should also look forward. Which of those principles apply to us today and what price are we prepared to pay to uphold them? Now personally I find a useful framework is the poem by the Canadian physician Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, - you'll know it - In Flanders Fields. And in that poem the fallen call out to us and they say: “take up our quarrel with the foe: to you from failing hands we throw, the torch; be yours to hold it high.” And we can ask - who is the foe? What is the quarrel? What is the torch that we should be holding high?


                                               Despite the wars that have been fought between nations, history demonstrates time and again that the foe is not really a people group or a nation. An example that's relevant to Australia is Japan. Japan was an ally in World War One. They helped transport our troops from Western Australia over to the theatre of war and yet World War Two we fought a bitter struggle with Japan and now, they're a strategic partner helping us to defend the global rules-based order that has underpinned stability and prosperity for millions in our region in past decades.


                                               The foe shows itself in any action or philosophy that attacks justice, dignity, or freedom for the individual. Any action that doesn't allow dissent from the majority group's position on any number of issues. The foe disdains respectful dialogue and prefers the use of force to have its way. The foe is opposed to the very underpinnings of Australia's open, plural, democratic society. We see it emerge in non-state actors like Islamic State, in contemporary totalitarian regimes, and occasionally even within parts of our own community. The quarrel is the willingness to confront the foe. Sometimes that involves the use of armed force and as I speak today there are men and women in the Australian Defence Force who are serving around the world in the fight against terror; who are serving to prevent the abuse of human rights or to bring dignity in response to natural disasters.


                                               The quarrel can be diplomatic dialogue or actions such as sanctions. It can be an individual who openly resists censure by the mob, whether that censure occurs in person or via social media. It can be a student who chooses to stand with the unpopular child in the class despite the cost that that will incur because they'd rather not see them bullied or excluded.


                                               And no matter how we take up the quarrel, it comes at a cost whether personal, commercial, or perhaps even national. And paying a cost to others is not something that comes naturally. You can go right back to Aristotle who's credited with asking the question what is democratic behaviour? Is it that which preserves a democracy or is it that which people like? One of the challenges we face in this call to action is helping our generation understand that the freedoms that we like and enjoy can't be taken for granted if we want them to endure. We have to be alert to the things that would undermine them and be prepared to pay the price of taking up the quarrel. Because we can't assume that someone else will take up this duty as it often falls to us. In considering the legacy of the fallen, the motto of the RSL is surely apposite, in that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, as much as we would wish that the progress of time and the lessons of history would lead all mankind to live in peace. Winston Churchill really hit the nail on the head in his address to the House of Commons in March of 1955 where he said: the day may dawn when fair play and love for one's fellow men respect for justice and freedom will enable a tormented generation to march forth serene and triumphant from the hideous epoch in which we have to dwell. But meanwhile, never flinch, never weary, and never despair. Ladies and gentlemen, taking up the quarrel is the willingness to pay a price to do our duty to confront the foe.


                                               And finally what is the torch? Well a torch represents the beacons of hope that the wise, the fearful, and the oppressed look to in order to avoid despair. Sometimes it can be the words or actions of one person like Martin Luther King or the student I talked about earlier in the classroom. Sometimes it's the actions of the government who are prepared to make a statement or hold a foreign policy position because it is the right thing to do even if it is not popular abroad or at home. Sometimes it's the actions of a government that recognise that appeasement of the foe does not lead to security in the long term.


                                               Sometimes those beacons of hope are our institutions that were designed to represent the values that are held dear by a community. And despite their imperfections we should be prepared to uphold those institutions that are central to our democracy and the vision of justice, dignity and freedom for all individuals. That institutions such as democratic government would be under threat from groups like Islamic State is no surprise, but when a Lowy poll indicates that only 52 per cent of younger Australians agree that democracy is the preferable form of government, that's a call to action for those in my profession, in the media, indeed to all Australians, that we have to make the effort to make that particular torch shine brighter and to hold it higher, because those institutions have long been beacons of hope.


                                               In May of 1941 one of the worst raids that took place in London in the Westminster area, and the houses of parliament were badly damaged. But despite that, democratic debate continued throughout the war despite the best efforts of the Nazi regime. And when they were finally rebuilt and reopened, the Speaker of the House said; it will shine henceforth, not only as an outward and visible sign that the parliament of a free people is assembled in free debate, but also that it may shine as a beacon of sure hope in a sadly torn and distracted world. The torch is the hope that freedom lives and that there are people and nations who are willing to step up to defend it.


                                               Ladies and gentlemen the legacy of the fallen is a call to remembrance and a call to action. Lest we forget the service and sacrifice of those that have gone before us and paid a price for what we enjoy today. Lest we forget that enduring freedom is not free and that as individuals and as a nation we have been passed a duty to take up the quarrel to protect and hold high those things we hold dear. Today, let us commit to recognising that this legacy it is as much about the future as it is about the past. Let us take up the quarrel and hold the torch high. In so doing, we will remember them.

Thank you.

Other related releases