National Security

Transcript | Robert Menzies Institute ANZAC Oration | 23 April 2024

April 23, 2024

Tuesday 23 April 2024
ANZAC Oration at the Robert Menzies Institute, University of Melbourne
Recognising the Lessons of the Past to Secure the Australia of the Future

Introduction and acknowledgements

Good evening and thank you for hosting me here at the Robert Menzies Institute.

To the board, Georgina Downer and your team, thank you for the vital work you do sharing Robert Menzies’ legacy and the enduring lessons from his life of service for modern Australia.

It is a privilege to be giving this year’s ANZAC Oration.

Menzies’ vision for Australia was as a country of free enterprise, individual liberty, and boundless opportunity.

But he also recognised that these pillars of our democracy – which many now take for granted – were hard won and must be fiercely defended.

ANZAC Day serves as a powerful moment to reflect on past sacrifices and how we should seek to honour those who served by working to uphold the principles of liberal democracy today.

2024 marks both 110 years since the outbreak of the First World War and 60 years since Prime Minister Menzies introduced conscription in Australia.

Today I will reflect on the lessons we should take from both Australia’s wartime experience and Menzies’ time in office as we navigate the difficult strategic challenges that lie ahead.

Australia in the First World War

It is hard to imagine life in Australia 110 years ago.

A small island nation of just under 5 million, federated only a decade before, thrust into a global conflict that felt distant to most Australians.

While Australia had a defence force of sorts, it was far cry from the modern ADF we see today.

Historian Joan Beaumont writes:

“In the years after Federation, the ragbag of colonial forces that the Commonwealth inherited had been integrated into a small national army, consisting mainly of artillery and administrative staff. In addition, in 1911 Australia had introduced a system of compulsory military training of young men for home defence and, in the face of some opposition from the Admiralty, taken the momentous step of creating its own navy.”

Within days of Britain declaring war on Imperial Germany on 4 August 1914, plans for the creation of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) were drawn up.

Hastily deployed, the first contingent of the AIF was largely untrained and inexperienced, having to grapple with widespread equipment shortages as they were sent to British-controlled Egypt before the fateful campaign at Gallipoli.

In the early days of the war, there was political consensus and widespread public support for Australia’s involvement in the conflict.

As a small, remote nation with an expansive border, Australians saw themselves as part of a broader imperial defence framework whose success was contingent on Britain’s continued global power.

Australia also shared incredibly close cultural and familial ties with the United Kingdom, which drove a sense of loyalty that meant, to many, an attack on England felt like an attack on the empire.

This conviction was evidenced by a rapid influx of volunteers for the AIF, as tens of thousands of men rushed to recruiting offices within weeks of their opening.

The civilian population mobilised on the newly coined ‘home front’ in support of the war effort.

This support took many forms.

Many privately run patriotic funds and charities set to work raising vast sums of money to support our troops both overseas and on their return to Australia, while others toiled to produce supplies and munitions in support of the war effort.

But few could contemplate then the true cost of what Australia would bear as a result of the conflict, and the country’s resolve would be tested when this reality began to set in.

Conscription in the First World War

The First World War undoubtedly galvanised Australians at the outbreak of the conflict, who coalesced around a shared sense of identity and defiance in the face of threats to the empire.

This unity would fade in the following years as the war took its toll, but it is somewhat ironic that, arguably, the biggest threat to social cohesion would come not from the war itself, but from the two deeply divisive plebiscites on conscription.

An outpouring of patriotism following reports of the Gallipoli landings in 1915 saw a massive surge of men volunteering for military service.

But this quickly slowed, and as casualties at Gallipoli increased, so too did the government’s appetite to contemplate conscription.

At the time, the Defence Act gave the government the power to conscript Australians citizens for the purpose of home defence, but not for overseas service.

This meant that Australia relied on voluntary recruitment for its contribution to the war, but heavy casualties on the Somme in 1916 prompted debate about whether a voluntary approach was sustainable to replace our diminishing forces.

Our allies were already moving in this direction, with Britain and New Zealand both introducing legislation to allow conscription in 1916.

Prime Minister Billy Hughes eventually became convinced that conscription was essential, and the first referendum on conscription was held on 28 October 1916.

The question put to voters was:

“Are you in favour of the Government having, in this grave emergency, the same compulsory powers over citizens in regard to requiring their

military service, for the term of this War, outside the Commonwealth, as it now has in regard to military service within the Commonwealth?”

The referendum incited a fierce public debate which split the country.

Beamont describes:

“A public debate that has never been rivalled in Australian political history for its bitterness, divisiveness, and violence … What was at stake it soon emerged was not simply a disagreement about military need for conscription, but an irreconcilable conflict of views about core values: the nature of citizenship and national security; equality of sacrifice in times of national crisis; and the legitimate exercise of power within Australia’s democracy.”

The result was ‘no’ by a relatively small margin of 3.2 per cent.

There was an intense political fallout from the referendum, which culminated in a successful vote of no-confidence in Billy Hughes’s leadership, and ultimately Hughes’ formation of the new National Labor Party and a new government.

Given this, it is incredible that Hughes would hold a second referendum on the question of conscription just over a year later.

His decision to do so speaks to his desperation in addressing the troop shortage, as voluntary recruitment fell below the levels needed to replace the losses on the Western Front.

This time the question was shorter but vague, asking simply:

“Are you in favour of the proposal of the Commonwealth Government for reinforcing the Australian Imperial Force overseas?”

This prompted a debate even more divisive than the first, manifesting in one instance in a bizarre standoff between Queensland Premier and conscription opponent T.J. Ryan and Prime Minister Hughes.

The government censor had omitted key sections of a speech given by Ryan at an anti-conscription rally before it was published.

Ryan responded by reading the censored sections into the Hansard under the protection of parliamentary privilege and printing thousands of copies for distribution.

Hughes’ characteristically forceful response was to order all of the offending copies seized.

Joan Beaumont describes what happened next:

“Now determined on confrontation, the Ryan Cabinet in turn printed 50,000 copies of a government gazette outlining the incursions of the ‘intolerable’ censorship. As the print run was proceeding, armed Queensland police guarded the printery, government offices and even Ryan’s home and person. The situation seemed set for an open clash between Commonwealth and state authority, but Hughes showed uncharacteristic restraint. Although he dispatched the censor, who arrived at the government printing office just after midnight, he did not use force to seize the gazette. Had he done so, John Fihelly, Ryan’s Assistant Minister for Justice and Minister Without Portfolio, is reported to have said, it would have been ‘a declaration of civil war’. In retrospect, this cat-and-mouse game between federal and state politicians seems surreal, but it was indicative of the highly volatile state of Australian political life in late 1917”.

This second referendum would also fail on 20 December 1917, this time by a larger margin.

National unity is never more important than in times of conflict.

It determines what a society will proactively contribute and is willing to sacrifice in service of the nation, but it is easily fractured, and if shattered can be fatal.

The rifts revealed by the two referendums went to the very heart of Australian democracy, and would continue to ripple through political discourse for decades to come.

Despite this, the fact the Australian Government could take such a question directly to the people even in wartime reveals the strength of Australia's democratic character.

And while Australia’s resolve was tested by the referendums, it did not break.

The Allies would ultimately prevail in November of 1918, and despite the two failed referendums Hughes continued to serve as Prime Minister until 1923.

At time he left office, Hughes would be Australia’s longest serving Prime Minister – a record he would hold until surpassed by Menzies decades later.

Menzies and conscription

Two decades on from the destruction of the First World War, Menzies also grappled with the issue of conscription.

Menzies’ tenure during the Second World War was short – Australia would have five different prime ministers throughout the course of the war – however his experience is instructive.

At 9:15pm on Sunday 3 September 1939, Prime Minister Menzies gave a radio address stating that it was his “melancholy duty” to announce that Australia was at war with Germany.

Menzies immediately set to work putting Australia on a war footing, reintroducing compulsory military training and announcing the formation of the Second Australian Imperial Force.

In November 1939, Menzies announced the Citizen Military Forces – the army reserves – would be bolstered by conscription, although these men could only serve in Australia or its territories, which at the time included what is now Papua New Guinea.

Menzies’ successor, John Curtin, would later change this by passing legislation to extend the geographic boundaries in which conscripts could serve to include most of the South West Pacific.

But it was the Vietnam War that would ultimately define the experience of conscription in Australia.

In a 2022 speech to the Robert Menzies Institute, Dr Peter Edwards described how the deteriorating strategic environment meant Australia could be drawn into conflict on multiple fronts, including possibly with Indonesia, which convinced Cabinet that conscription was necessary.

On 10 November 1964, Menzies announced that national service would be reintroduced to boost troop numbers.

All 20-year-old men were required to register for a birthday ballot.

If your birthday was drawn you would be required to serve two years in the regular army – which could include combat duties in Vietnam – followed by three years in the Army Reserve.

While there was initially public support for conscription, this inevitably waned with the news that conscripts had been killed, and would eventually serve to mobilise anti-war protestors and, ultimately, turn the tide of public opinion against the war.

It goes without saying that the costs of conscription were profound.

More than 15,000 Australian men were called up during the Vietnam war.

More than 200 died, and at least 1,200 were wounded on active duty before the last combat troops came home and the National Service Scheme was ended in 1972.

The Australian War Memorial reminds us that:

“The [Vietnam] war was the cause of the greatest social and political dissent in Australia since the conscription referendums of the First World War. Many draft resisters, conscientious objectors, and protesters were fined or gaoled, while some soldiers met a hostile reception on their return home.”

I wish conscription was purely an historical question.

But sadly, we know it has contemporary resonance.

In fact, it was just last month that, in a little-noticed column for The Nightly, Albanese Government Cabinet Minister Bill Shorten mused on Denmark’s decision to introduce female conscription following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the implications for Australia.

And while you might think this is a strange topic for the Minister for the NDIS to write about, Shorten was right to recognise events in Europe have implications for Australia’s security.

Let me put my own cards on the table.

I am a classical liberal.

At the heart of my political philosophy is a firm belief in the dignity, rights, and freedom of the individual.

It is hard to conceive of a more profound violation of individual freedom than forcing someone to fight in a war against their conscience.

But we must have the humility to recognise that throughout history, people who have shared my philosophy, including the founder of the political party I represent in the Parliament today, believed they faced circumstances so dire that conscription was necessary.

With the comfort of history, it’s easy for us to second guess the need to do so.

But there’s no doubt Menzies’ Cabinet was sincere in their belief about the danger posed to Australia of the advancement of communism in the region.

As Dr David Kemp writes in A Liberal State:

“The decision to introduce a national service scheme was a measure of the seriousness with which the government viewed the international situation.”

I never want political leaders to have to confront diabolical choices like that again.

I never want to see Australia divided again so deeply, as we were three times in the 20th century over this issue.

It’s a hope I think all Australians would share.

This imposes a special burden on political leaders today.

Because we do again face grave strategic circumstances.

Circumstances which, in the view of Sir Angus Houston – who completed the Defence Strategic Review for this government – are even worse than what Menzies confronted in the 1960s.

So what are the steps we must take today to make sure that future Australian political leaders never again have to contemplate resorting to conscription in the name of defending our national interest?

And what lessons can we take from Australia’s historical experience 110 years since the Great War and 60 years on from Menzies’ decision to reintroduce conscription?

Military preparedness

If we want to avoid seeking band aid solutions to systemic issues in the event of a crisis we need to invest in our military preparedness now.

There are three key components of military capability: platforms, munitions and personnel.

While there is still much work to do to acquire and build the platforms we need, thanks to AUKUS, we at least now have a pathway to obtain the most advanced and capable military platform for our circumstances in the Indo-Pacific: nuclear-propelled submarines.

But platforms aren’t much use if you don’t have munitions to arm them with.

I am gravely concerned by the extraordinary time it is taking to meet the publicly stated ambition of successive Australian governments to establish a Guided Weapons and Explosive Ordinance Enterprise.

It is sorely needed to provide the sovereign supply of the precision-guided and long-range missiles our geography demands we must have to defend our interests.

And it comes at a time when there are grim shortages of exactly these weapons around the world.

And yet, as Greg Sheridan and others have memorably documented, it has taken years just to make the first baby steps towards establishing the enterprise in Australia, let along ordering – or even making – missiles here.

The lesson of Ukraine which we must urgently heed is that a sovereign defence industry supply chain cannot simply be switched on and off on demand.

The decades of dangerous underinvestment in defence by many NATO members has led to the troubling inability to supply Ukraine in its time of need.

They believed, wrongly, that the holiday from history they enjoyed for 70 years after WWII would continue forever.

How else can we explain why so many wealthy countries were only spending 1% of GDP on defence, and why they failed to heed the warnings from Russia’s invasions of Georgia in 2008 and Crimea in 2014?

It has even led to the farcical situation where the hermit kingdom of North Korea has supplied more artillery shells to Russia than the half a billion people who make up the industrial might of continental Europe can provide to Ukraine.

Thanks to the pathway the Abbott Government put Australia on, we have long since met our 2% threshold.

But it will need to continue to rise far beyond that.

The Minister for Defence announced last week that Defence spending as a proportion of GDP is projected to increase to around 2.4 per cent by 2033-34.

While this is a step in the right direction, there is a glaring and dangerous contradiction at its heart.

The government says the 10-year warning time for conflict has gone.

And yet it does not plan to materially lift defence spending for a decade.

Only a small fraction of this increase occurs over the next four years.

But analysts broadly agree the period of maximum danger in the Indo-Pacific is the next few years.

And given the long lead times for acquisition of military capability, it is clear the Albanese government’s defence strategy is to obtain the defence capabilities we need long after we need it.

We simply cannot afford to keep kicking difficult decisions about defence investment into the long grass.

The Coalition has called for more funding now, not later, and we have committed to higher defence funding than the Albanese government.

While an investment in deterrence might seem expensive, it is much cheaper than the alternative – a failure of deterrence.

Perhaps the most obvious thing we need to do now is make life in the Australian Defence Force more attractive so that people voluntarily sign up to serve.

Because even with the best platforms and a plentiful supply of munitions, they are not much good without people to fire them.

Right now, we are failing that test.

The Minister for Defence admitted last week that the Australian Defence Force is facing a ‘workforce crisis’ as recruiting shortfalls have left the ADF 4,400 people below its authorised strength.

At the same time, it is facing a separation rate of 10 percent.

You don’t have to be an expert to see the trendline here.

We are on a path to chronic shortages across our defence forces in the decades to come if we don’t make some significant changes soon.

Our Shadow Minister for Defence, Andrew Hastie, will have more to say about

our specific plans to turn these disturbing trends around before the election.

The principles, though, are obvious.

Yes, we need attractive pay and conditions to recruit and retain the best talent.

But even more than that we need to make military service compatible with modern life.

You shouldn’t have to move your family to the other side of the country, take your kids out of school and force your partner to quit their job to help defend Australia.

While service in the ADF is never going to be like working for a tech startup, it can and must be more flexible if we want people to sign up and stay on.

There’s something even deeper and more profound which we must honestly examine which is holding us back from recruiting and retaining the personnel we need.

It is a crisis of self-belief.

National unity and sense of shared purpose

The division wrought by decades of fierce debate about conscription highlight the importance of building and preserving a sense of national unity and shared purpose.

This is essential for any cohesive nation, and critically so in times of upheaval.

In Australia we have seen our shared sense of national identity coming under pressure on a number of fronts.

Globalisation has weakened our attachment to nationhood.

As David Goodhart has documented, we now have classes of “Somewheres”: people of more modest means who retain a commitment to traditional values like patriotism and are rooted to where they live.

And we have “Anywheres”: an unrooted, globally mobile and affluent class with more affinity with each other than those they might share a passport with.

At the same time, a particularly corrosive brand of identity politics has seen us define our identity according to increasingly smaller tribes based on characteristics that are immutable – like our ethnicity – which makes it impossible to sustain a unified body politic over the long run.

I am optimistic that, if called upon in a time of crisis, we would come together to defend our nation, our interests, and our values.

But that task will be much easier if we can draw from a strong sense of shared national identity, instead of having to herd competing tribes with clashing identities.

The weakening of these bonds is reflected in our defence force recruiting.

Where once we would have directly appealed to Australians’ commitment to empire or country, now we appeal almost exclusively to self-actualisation and personal development.

The ADF has become just another workplace where we can personally “grow”, instead of somewhere Australians go to serve with pride.

I’d like to think there is a generation waiting to be inspired to sign up for something bigger than themselves, and the chance to defend our way of life.

Menzies recognised this in October 1943 when he said during one of his Forgotten People broadcasts that:

“We have no need to apologise for a strong feeling of nationhood. It may be true that “clever modern men” discount such feelings, but a glance back over the last four years will remind us that it is this elemental feeling of nationhood which has in fact saved the world and has made future international co-operation possible”.

Combatting foreign interference

History teaches us that this feeling of nationhood and shared purpose is necessary but not sufficient for social cohesion, which is hard to achieve and even harder to preserve.

While we are responsible for creating our own domestic divisions, there are those that maliciously seek to exacerbate them for their own strategic advantage.

Foreign interference is toxic to our democracy because, by its very nature, this kind of statecraft takes place in the shadows.

Menzies realised this when foreign interference and espionage in Australia reached new heights as great power conflict gave way to a new struggle for dominance through the Cold War.

ASIO was created in 1949 by Prime Minister Chifley after allied signals intelligence revealed Australia had been thoroughly penetrated by Soviet intelligence.

ASIO’s first job was to catch the spies which had prompted its own creation, which set it on a path that would ultimately lead to Vladimir Petrov’s famous and dramatic defection to Australia with his wife Evdokia in 1954 during Menzies’ second prime ministership.

Petrov’s bombshell defection prompted Menzies to announce a Royal Commission on Espionage, which would serve as a catalyst for a series of important reforms to bolster ASIO’s capabilities and strengthen its legislative foundations.

At the behest of the second Director-General of Security, Charles Spry, Prime Minister Menzies introduced the ASIO Bill into Parliament on 24 October 1956, which for the first time publicly articulated the functions of ASIO and provided it with statutory authority and protection.

Menzies would further shore up ASIO’s statutory powers by creating offences to cover treason, treachery, and sabotage, and enabling ASIO to legally intercept communications through things like wiretaps.

75 years since its creation, combatting foreign interference and espionage remains ASIO’s principal focus.

In his annual threat assessment earlier this year, ASIO Director-General Mike Burgess said that:

“While the terrorism threat level is POSSIBLE, if we had a threat level for espionage and foreign interference it would be at CERTAIN – the highest level on the scale.”

Many were shocked by revelations in the same speech that an elected politician was prepared to sell out our country in service of a foreign regime.

But this really shouldn’t come as a surprise.

The Director-General has been saying for years now that foreign interference and espionage has supplanted terrorism as Australia’s principal security threat, which is even higher than it was during the Cold War.

I welcome his disclosure because it has shaken Australia out of its complacency in the same way the Petrov Affair did 70 years ago.

Menzies did not have to grapple with social media though.

As we have seen in just the last few weeks, false information has been ceded into our information system, sometimes deliberately, and then amplified inorganically to cause harm and exacerbate social tensions.

After the Bondi attacks, users on platforms like X and Telegram falsely claimed the assailant was a young Jewish Australian.

Following the Good Shephard Church stabbing, some of those same users spread lies that worshippers cut off the fingers of the alleged terrorist, serving to inflame community tensions in response to an already distressing event.

Australia is wide open to opportunistic weaponisation of horrific incidents like this by foreign actors and their proxies on both western-headquartered social media platforms, and those directly under their control, like TikTok and WeChat.

Allowing a foreign authoritarian government to control the primary source of news and information about the world for young Australians today would be akin to letting the Soviet Union buy a TV channel during the Cold War.

Somehow, I don’t think Menzies would have permitted that.

Nor should we.

It’s long past time we got serious about the threat of cyber-enabled espionage and foreign interference and took steps to secure our democracy against these pernicious external threats, as the U.S. Congress is doing as we speak.

If the U.S. Senate passes legislation overnight to make TikTok safer for Americans by removing the Chinese Communist Party’s control over the app, we must do the same or risk being left behind.

Sovereign capacity and public-private partnership

Australia’s experience of conflict in the 20th century also raises important questions about who should bear the burden of national security.

Put simply, how can a society like Australia continue to enjoy the benefits of peace, while also making the necessary commitments to preserve it?

Australia endured significant economic hardship as a result of its involvement in World War One, manifesting for many in an erosion of living conditions as the Government contended with Australia’s exposure to shocks to international trade and difficult decisions about foreign ownership, supply chains and sovereign control.

On 7 August 1914, the Commonwealth Government imposed an embargo on trade with enemy countries, which significantly impacted industries dependent on trade with Germany and central Europe, most notably the wool industry.

Prime Minister Billy Hughes used wartime powers to remove German control of the Australian metals market, which would prove vital to the manufacture of munitions.

Menzies would grapple with similar issues in the Second World War.

Author Troy Bramston recounts:

“Meanwhile, at home, a National Security Act provided new regulatory powers to marshal resources for the prosecution of the war. Price controls and petrol rationing were introduced. There were greater restrictions placed on railways, road transport, and shipping... Facing increased losses of troops abroad and with armaments becoming quickly depleted, Menzies appointed the chief executive of BHP, Essington Lewis, to take charge of the department responsible for munitions and to harness the efforts of private industry.”

Lewis proved a pivotal figure, as Geoffrey Blainey documents in his seminal biography in 1971.

In 1942 Lewis would also assume the mantle of director-general of the newly formed Department of Aircraft Production.

Entrusted with an incredibly broad mandate, Lewis drew on his business acumen and industrial knowledge to dramatically accelerate the production of ordnance, weapons, aircraft, and vehicles vital to the war.

Lewis’ efforts not only bolstered Australia's wartime capabilities against the formidable forces of Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany, but also ushered in a wave of innovative industrial techniques that would leave an indelible mark on Australian manufacturing in the post-war era.

Lewis, and many like him, heeded the call to extraordinary service in extraordinary times.

Both Menzies and Lewis recognised the project of truly national security required a rethinking of traditional societal contracts.

From the contributions of the patriotic funds to the co-option of private sector talent to bolster the war effort, public-private partnership enables efficiencies and innovations that government simply cannot achieve alone.

It should not take a global conflict to realise this.

From Russia’s war in Ukraine, to China’s rapid military modernisation, the warning signs are there.

One day we may look at this era as a critical pre-war period.

And history will harshly judge us if we do not use this time to do everything we can to prevent it through deterrence, and prepare ourselves to prevail should we fail.

As the allies did in World War II, today we must draw on private-sector ingenuity and know-how if we are to prevail in the contest for the 21st Century.

The Coalition Government recognised this in 2021 with AUKUS.

It offers a new framework for harnessing private sector innovations to rapidly advance military technology, particularly through pillar two, which includes quantum, advanced cyber, AI, hypersonics, electronic warfare, and advanced undersea technologies.

Each of these technologies was selected because of their potential to change the game in future conflict.

To succeed, it must effectively function as a military technology free trade agreement between the three AUKUS members and any new partners we subsequently agree to work with.

It must demolish the business-as-usual regulatory barriers to the flow of ideas, talent, and capital, which today impede the development and rapid deployment of these technologies.

To do anything less will hand our would-be adversaries a decisive advantage on the technological battlefield.

Investing in our alliances

The AUKUS agreement also underscores the final lesson we can take from Menzies’ wartime leadership: the importance of alliances as a tool of collective action, defence, and deterrence.

Menzies famously visited England during the Second World War to directly advocate for Australian interests with Churchill and his Cabinet.

But Menzies also appreciated early on that Australia’s security could ultimately depend on the United States if war broke out closer to home.

This was evident in the days following the outbreak of the war when Menzies wrote to Australia’s High Commissioner in London, S.M. Bruce, asking him to consider an appointment to Washington and stating:

“I may tell you confidentially that so seriously do I regard this matter that before War broke out I gave serious consideration to whether I should not resign Prime Ministership and go to America myself.”

After the war, the Menzies Government signed the ANZUS Treaty in September 1951 forming a defensive pact with the United States of America and New Zealand.

Menzies argued that ANZUS was underpinned by the shared history and values of Australia and America, including the rule of law, popular self-government, religious faith, and a passion for individual and national freedom.

Menzies believed US leadership in the world was critical to sustaining freedom.

As he argued in the Jefferson Oration at Monticello in 1963:

“I feel sure that Mr. Jefferson, though he worked primarily for the liberty of Americans and felt no call to impose his views on an older world, would, confronted by the problems of the modern world, have vastly approved the world defence of individual liberty, a defence in which the U.S.A. is playing such a splendid and vital part. Australia has a deep feeling for your country, not just because your friendship contributes so greatly to our national security, but basically because, great or small, we work for the same kind of free world. The freedom of man is not a local perquisite and cannot be defended in isolation.”

It is a relationship which remains at least as critical to our interests today, alongside new and deepening partnerships in our own region with Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines.


Australia’s experience of war reminds us that the journey to the modern, prosperous, and free democracy we now enjoy in Australia was hard fought and could be easily lost.

It tells us that national unity is foundational to our preparedness and resilience in times of crisis, and that threats to our cohesion can come from inside as well as out.

It tells us that national security requires a national effort from government, industry and civil society alike.

Finally, it tells us that, above all else, we need to invest in our capabilities and alliances now to ensure we never again find ourselves grappling with questions like conscription should the worst happen and Australia again sees conflict in the future.

I would like to conclude by reflecting on the sacrifices our diggers made 110 years ago.

As Joan Beaumont writes:

“Between August 1914 and November 1918, at least nine million military personnel and civilians died. Some 61,514 of them were from Australia. A further 153,500 Australians were wounded or gassed and more than 3600 taken prisoner. In all, over 330,000 men and women served overseas. This was at a time when the Australian population was less than five million.

To put them into some kind of perspective: World War I accounts for nearly 60 per cent of all Australian deaths in international conflicts since a contingent of colonials left for an imperial adventure in the Sudan in 1885.”

The scale of this loss is hard to comprehend, both as a nation and for the thousands of Australian families who grieved loved ones lost.

Their ultimate sacrifice shaped the Australia we are privileged to live in today, and it is incumbent on all of us to honour them by working every day to defend the Australia they fought for so that future generations enjoy the opportunities many so readily take for granted.

I do not want to contemplate the costs of complacency, but it would be to our great shame if we find ourselves having to explain to our children and grandchildren why they have inherited an unrecognisable Australia because we failed to act when we had the chance.

I will leave you with a quote from Menzies in 1966 shortly after his retirement:

“We are tempted to think that the defence of the realm is something which occurs in terms of arms and nothing else. Arms, war, the defence of the realm. But the defence of the realm is a continuing thing. The defence of the realm includes the defence of… its economic structure, its prosperity, its social justice, its institutions, the rule of parliamentary democracy, the rule of law, all of these things are matters which have to be defended. Don’t take them for granted. They have been destroyed in many parts of the world overnight”.


Recent News

All Posts