The Centenary of the Armistice is an opportunity to honour all those who have worn, and continue to wear, our nation’s uniform, putting their lives on the line our freedoms.
First, I acknowledge that we meet this morning on the traditional lands of the Kaurna people.
We respect their spiritual relationship with their country.
We acknowledge the Kaurna people as the custodians of the Adelaide region and that their cultural and heritage beliefs are still as important to the living Kaurna people today.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am deeply honoured to be able to address you this morning.
I commend the South Australian State Branch of the Returned and Services League for convening this breakfast.
It begins a period of commemoration of the centenary of the Armistice.
It is now four years since we began one of the most important commemorative periods in our nation’s history.
The centenary of Anzac.
To remember again that between 1914 and 1918, almost 62,000 Australians died in the service of our nation.
Fighting for our freedom.
Through four years of brutal conflict.
Almost 35,000 South Australians enlisted.
More than 5,500 did not return.
They had borne the great weight placed on young soldiers in conflict.
We remain incredibly proud of them.
Incredibly indebted to them for their service and sacrifice.
I have recently returned from a trip to France where I had the privilege to visit the Western Front – the scene of the most bitter and costly fighting of the Great War.
At Heath Cemetery, a short drive east of Villers Bretonneux, I was honoured to place a cross at the grave sites of three South Australian soldiers, Sergeant Charles Allen Williams, Private Frank Francis Harrison and Private Charles William Winkler, all of South Australia’s 10th Battalion.
It was a poignant moment for all of us who attended.
I also had the opportunity to lay a wreath at a small ceremony at the Villers Bretonneux Memorial and to visit the recently opened Sir John Monash Centre.
I have one message for you about the Centre – GO – it is truly a remarkable tribute to those who fought and died for us.
The Centenary of the Armistice is an opportunity to honour all those who have worn, and continue to wear, our nation’s uniform.
To all of you who have served and are serving – we thank you for your dedication, your courage.
We recognise as well, the sacrifices of your families and loved ones.
Our military comprises soldiers, sailors, airmen and women from all corners of the nation.
Forged into common service.
A military that meets every mission as one united team.
All looking out for one another and, in doing so, looking out for us.
But we must all recognize that your service does not end when you take off the uniform for the last time.
As we acknowledge what you have done for us in the past, we should also recognize how you can help prepare us for the future.
Right now, right across Australia, your generation remains hard at work.
Using the skills you forged during your military careers to support and sustain your communities.
So you are continuing to serve.
When you signed up, you didn’t stop being citizens.
Rather, you became even more effective citizens.
And that is my message this morning to business leaders and employers in our communities.
There is an asset amongst our former and currently serving members that can add real value to every work place.
If you can save a life on the battlefield, you can save a life in an ambulance.
If you can oversee a convoy or millions of dollars of military assets in a conflict zone, you can help manage a company’s supply chain.
If you can maintain the most advanced weapons in the world, surely you can help manufacture the next generation of military technology.
Whether it be in the defence sector, in public service, in big corporates or small business, the skills that defence force personnel bring to the table are adaptable to just about any form of employment.
So my message today is simple.
If you want to get the job done, hire a veteran.
In South Australia, we are committed to supporting transitioning veterans who choose to remain in or re-locate to our State following their service.
We are developing a Defence Industry Employment Program for ex-serving personnel.
It will be coordinated by the Defence Teaming Centre and supported by Defence SA and Veterans SA.
The Program will seek to use the considerable skills of former military personnel in South Australian based defence industries.
As further support for veterans and serving personnel considering life after service, development of a veterans’ hub to be based at Anzac House at the Torrens Parade Ground is under consideration.
This will see the relocation of Veterans SA to Anzac House.
The hub will coordinate the efforts of government agencies and ex-service organisations.
It will assist veterans transitioning from the military and those who have transitioned and may require assistance in areas such as advocacy, employment advice or community support.
Our continuing commitment to our veterans must be seen as a covenant.
A covenant between those who serve and those they protect.
Because there is no more solemn request than to ask someone you don’t even know and will likely never meet, to be prepared to lay down their life for us.
That is why I was pleased about the outcome of the meeting of Commonwealth and State Veterans’ Ministers in Sydney last Saturday.
At the meeting, the Prime Minister committed to the development of an Australian Veterans’ Covenant.
It will be enacted in legislation so the nation can recognise the unique nature of military service and provide continuing support to veterans and their families.
The Veterans’ Covenant will be from the Australian community.
The community you served and protected.
The Covenant is to take care of you and your families when you come home and when you choose to leave military service.
The Covenant will be a solemn promise that we make to each other.
It will be binding.
As part of this initiative, it is also proposed to develop a Veterans’ Card and an Australian Veterans’ Lapel Pin that will make it easier for all Australians to recognise those who have served and for veterans to connect with each other.
These are small but nonetheless important initiatives.
They are fitting legacies of the past four years of Anzac commemoration.
This has been a period when our eyes have been opened to the challenges of military service.
To the commitment of those who answer the call, and to the skills, attributes and values of our servicemen and women.
In the life of our nation, across every generation, there are those who stand apart.
They step up, they raise their hands, they take an oath.
They put on the uniform and they put their lives on the line.
They do this so that the rest of us might live in a country and a world that is safer and freer.
This is a gift, and we owe a debt.
The person you pass as you walk down the street might not be wearing our nation’s uniform today.
But consider for a moment that a year or a decade, or even a generation ago, they may have been one of those willing to lay down their life for complete strangers.
If next week, after the services commemorating the end of the First World War, we put away the displays, sweep away the poppies, forget the bond between the service of our veterans and our obligations as Australians, then we will be doing a profound disservice to our veterans and the things they, you, fought to preserve.
Remembrance Day is not just a day to remember what military service means.
It is a reminder of all that our veterans still have to offer.
Thank you for your service.
Lest we forget.