‘The Courage of Peace’ exhibition opening

  • Speech, check against delivery

Thank you very much, Brendan. Let me start firstly by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we are here this evening — the Ngunnawal people and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging. I also pay my respects to those Indigenous and non-Indigenous women and men who've served our nation in military and civilian capacities in war and peace — especially those names who are cast in bronze on the walls just outside here in the commemorative courtyard in this national place of memorial.

Second thing I need to do is to apologise for being late and I do most sincerely appreciate your generosity in enabling me to be present this evening. 

The third thing I want to do is to thank Brendan for inviting me. We have, as he said, and he was chivalrous enough not to number the years, known each other for a very long time and I absolutely admire the leadership, the spirit, the passion, the commitment that Brendan has brought to this War Memorial of ours in a way that I think no one else would have — and I thank you and acknowledge you very much for that.

There are very many people to acknowledge here this evening and I may be about to commit the same sin that Brendan did by acknowledging at least some. And can I particularly acknowledge Air Vice-Marshal Tracy Smart who I was sitting with this evening, all those current and former serving members of peacekeeping missions, the diplomatic corps, and the police forces, from the ADF, from other organisations dedicated to the service of Australia and Australians; the spouses, the partners, the families of those who have lost a loved one who served our nation. To the families, the friends, the valued supporters of those who still serve. I can't thank you enough for the honour of opening this very important exhibition — The Courage for Peace. I am very honoured to be here this evening.

There are a few remarks I wanted to make, and sitting there watching the short version of the video, I tossed up whether I should throw this away and say other things I wanted to say. But Don Barnby has reduced me to tears more than once in my life and he's not going to do it again tonight, so I decided not to do that. Not going to do that. I do want to make these remarks because they're considered and they're things that I want to put on the record, but it's entirely possible I may make some, adlib comments as well, because I think there's some things that we should note about this place, and this evening, and what The Courage for Peace actually means. 

So let me start by saying — and I don't often have the chance to reflect on some of these issues these days — but it is a point of pride to me, and I think to many Australians when they contemplate it, that the first Victoria Cross conferred on an Australian was to Captain Neville Howse — later Major General Sir Neville Howse. An unarmed doctor serving in the Boer War who, while under heavy rifle fire, went to the first aid of a wounded soldier, dressed his wounds and then rescued the soldier despite the peril. 

That first Victoria Cross, the story behind it, is displayed with due care and respect here in the Memorial's Hall of Valour. It says something about Australia that the highest award for valour and courage under fire was first marked, not in the making of war but in the saving of life — unarmed at one's own risk. Perhaps more than anything, that first Victoria Cross shows how highly we Australians prize the virtue of helping others when we can. 

In our history, Australia has contributed troops to a dozen wars. I believe, and the Memorial's new exhibition, The Courage for Peace, demonstrates that we should be equally proud that Australia has contributed to more than three times that many peacekeeping operations and most of those unarmed. While the numbers of those serving in peacekeeping operations don't match numerically those who served in those wars, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that as a country we don't shrink from the task of bringing peace and saving lives even, as I've said, at the risk of our own. Indeed, generations of Australian governments have decided the building of peace is at least as important as the making of war. 

We are a country that walks clear eyed towards problems, willing to shoulder a burden. There are authors who write about wars of choice and wars of necessity, and this magnificent building records and preserves our experiences in both. But for peacekeeping the distinction is immaterial. It is both a necessity and a choice for principled nations like Australia to contribute to peace missions. 

And if we are to live in a rules-based international order where we do not accept that coercion and force dictate the outcomes of disputes; if we choose a world where values and principles are worth defending, and the rights of nations to enjoy prosperity and harmony under international law are paramount; we genuinely believe that inhumanity, genocide, unchecked state-sponsored violence, perpetual instability have no place in the modern world; then we have no choice but to have the courage to stand up, step forward, share the burden of collective security, regional stability, and breaking the cycle of violence, so that peace has the room to re-establish itself. 

Peacekeeping and peacebuilding missions are not easy to compare and contrast. They’re products of their time, their place, their mandates, they have vastly different purposes and political ends. And it’s perhaps unfair to single out one mission for particular attention, but with your indulgence, and given the timing of November 23 coming very fast upon us, I think it is worth reflecting on the Peace Monitoring Group on Bougainville, 1998 to 2003. This unarmed mission - referred to in the video - was an excellent example of our Pacific family of nations working together to bring breathing space to the conflict on Bougainville. To break that cycle of violence long enough for peace and reconciliation to begin. This mission, while observed by the United Nations, was not “of” the United Nations; it was a regional solution, offered by regional nations to a regional conflict. Vanuatu, Fiji, New Zealand, and Australia contributed members to the group as peers. It was a unique mix of civilian, police, and military teams, including for the times, large female components. And so as well as that unusually gender representative staffing mix, the mission also had a unique command and control arrangement between the military head and the civilian head. Perhaps most importantly of all, the mission used extensive consultation and confidence building measures, including direct involvement with the women's groups drawn from the parties to the peace process. 

And three months ago, with Sir Puka Temu I sat down in Chabai, in Bougainville with women peace leaders. Every single one of them determined to contribute, to continue to contribute to that peace, with a view to the referendum on the 23rd of November. Some of that work from Bougainville went on to become evidence that supported the case for UN Security Council Resolution 1325, passed unanimously in 2000, that we now call by its shorthand WPS, or Women, Peace and Security. Those initiatives specifically to include women's participation at all levels in peace processes, peace negotiations, peace agreements, post-conflict reconstruction. They’re now so much of a part of our peacekeeping and our peacebuilding DNA that we sometimes forget how recent an initiative that actually is. Indeed, the concepts that went on to become foundational lines of effort in Afghanistan and Iraq in later years, with female engagement teams and other high visibility capabilities. I've sat with gender advisers to the International Mission Commanders in Afghanistan, more than one of them. Those gender advisers were Australians. I have never felt so proud of Australia's leadership and contribution. 

The lessons learned from our peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction missions have also found their way into Australia's humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations and programs. We have much to be proud of with our legacy of peacekeeping and peace building, and as Foreign Minister, I can tell you that Australia's reputation as a valued, ethical, honest, hardworking, open-minded, empathetic, straight-talking partner - again referred to in the video tonight - is one of our nation's great foreign policy and diplomatic assets. And now as Minister for Women, I am frequently reminded by my overseas ministerial counterparts that the combination of Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women is unique. There is real interest in that, interest even in its potential replication by other countries. I particularly see this combination of ministerial portfolios as a distinct honour. What it means for Australia is that we have an opportunity to ensure that WPS becomes indivisible from our work internationally on counter-terrorism, on cyber security, on hybrid warfare, on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, on development assistance and aid, and of course, our peacekeeping and our peace building missions. It means that when women in Fiji tell me personally and directly of their experience in the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Winston, and their efforts to have their voices heard in the reconstruction efforts, and the difference that our gender advisers made, it is life changing. It is transformative to the way we do business.

It means that when Tongan public servants tell me about their experiences in Sri Lanka in the post-tsunami environment, where women who were to be saved by crews of men in boats chose to drown because they were naked, because of the impact of the water on their bodies, and they could not allow themselves to be seen, WPS is transformative. 

Over the last seven decades, our effectiveness in successive peace missions around the world means that in 2019, I think we are standing on the shoulders of giants. And I see some of those giants here tonight. And I remember others, many now friends, who served in Cambodia, in Timor Leste, in Somalia, in Cyprus, in Rwanda, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, some twice or more times. And I value that friendship, but most importantly, I acknowledge that contribution. 

And in The Courage for Peace exhibition, others of those giants have a face and a name. They’re represented with characteristic style by the Australian War Memorial, with honour and humility, with a clear focus on the personal experiences of those who served. And with the certainty that what we do as individuals in each mission has an effect on the world in which we live. The Courage for Peace is a fabulous title. Fabulous title.

So Brendan I join you in congratulating the team here at the Australian War Memorial on this very, very important exhibition and in bringing the story of Australian peacekeeping to the nation. Service is a powerful thing. The courage to serve for peace is immensely powerful. Thank you for the honour.

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