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Speech to be delivered in Rabaul

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Leader of the O pposition











24 APRIL 1992



Parliament House, Canberra, A.C.T. 2600 Phone 277 4022

Today is a time of remembrance and of hope.

It is a time to remember the bravery and comradeship shown in war by our men and women over fifty years ago.

It is also a time for hope and confidence that both our countries can continue to build a prosperous and peaceful future on the foundations that the shared battles of fifty years ago made possible.

For Australians, in particular, it is a time to re-commit ourselves to rebuilding our international standing, particularly in our own region, which has diminished over recent years. For us, it is a time to re-commit ourselves to making the most of the opportunities created for us by the sacrifices of brave men and women 50 years ago.

Today, therefore, we look both at the past and to the future.

We understand full well that those who know no history are doomed to repeat it. But we also guard against learning the wrong lessons from the past. And we should resist attempts to rewrite our history.

The greatest test in looking at our past is to judge it not by the standards and values of the present, but by those of the period in question.

What we are commemorating this week is how the people of both Australia and Papua New Guinea responded fifty years ago to the greatest test that any people can face: the threat of having their freedom denied and their values destroyed by a ruthless and aggressive enemy.

What we remember this week is a story of defiance against seemingly impossible odds, of strength under almost indescribable pressure, and of a final victory that still inspires us all.


It is a story of initial setbacks as the Japanese continued to their apparently unstoppable drive southwards by overrunning the garrisons on New Britain, Ambon and that here at Rabaul.

It is a story of counter-attack and defiant courage that led to victories over the Japanese at Milne Bay, at Buna, at Gona, at Ioribaiwa, at Sanananda and in the green hell of the Kokoda Trail - victories that led to securing New Guinea and Australia against occupation and invasion, and that thus

made a decisive contribution to the outcome of the Pacific War.

It is a story of a year of fearful fighting in 1942/43 through the Owen Stanley Range and beyond that shattered forever the myth of the invincibility of the Japanese Imperial Army.

It is a story of subsequent battles at Lae, New Britain, Finschhafen, Markham, Katika, Gusika, Saidor, Bougainville and Wewak.

It is a story of human achievement and emotion - a story of the deaths of too many young men and women, a story of terror under appallingly difficult conditions, a story of courage, mateship, teamwork and a refusal to concede.

It is a story of faith in the value of freedom, as the peoples of both our countries joined hands to defend their values and their way of life against an enemy that threatened to destroy both.

At a personal level, it is also for me a story of a father who served on the Corvette HMAS Bunbury on its convoys from Cairns to Milne Bay and Oro Bay in those dark days of the Second World War. It is also the story of an uncle who fought in the New Guinea campaigns of fifty years ago - at Milne Bay, Lae, Finschhafen, Sattleburg Mountain and Sio.

One of my early childhood memories is listening to stories from my father and uncle about New Guinea and about the courage and sadness that war inspires.

These are memories I very much carry with me today.

This week, therefore, we celebrate many things.

We honour the memory of brave men and women in their own right. We try to see the past through their eyes. We try to feel what they felt - the fear, the sense of duty, the love of country. We try to understand what they risked in the pursuit of victory -their wellbeing, their freedoms and, for many, their lives.

We remember them for what they did, for what they sacrificed and for what their victory secured.

We know that what they achieved fifty years ago has lessons for us today. Foremost among them is that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance and preparedness, that peace cannot be secured just by hoping for it but only by deliberate policies that ensure that aggression will not succeed.

There is always, of course, a danger that history will be re-written, or misinterpreted, or deliberately used to serve particular political or other causes. Such use of the past usually demeans it.

This week is not a time for subjective re-interpretation.

It is not a time for drawing artificial connections between the past and the present.

It is not a time for imposing present values and priorities on the past.

In short, is it not a time for politics.

It is a time to appreciate the scale of what happened fifty years ago, to understand the human emotions it stirred, and to be grateful for the sacrifices that so many brave men and women made.



They loved freedom. They loved their country. They honoured their flag. They believed passionately in what their country stood for and believed that it was worth defending, even if it meant dying for it.

That is what we remember today. The subjective re-interpretations can wait for another time and another place.

As I walked this morning among the graves at Bitapaka Cemetery, my thoughts were of the bravery of those men and women, their selflessness and the tragedy of their loss.

How they lived and how they died, what they achieved fifty years ago and what their victory meant for our destiny as free countries is what we remember with pride this week.

The rest can wait.

But, of course, today is also about the future of our two countries as we build on the foundations that the victories of fifty years ago provided.

I am very grateful to Prime Minister, Rabbie Namaliu, for his hospitality and for the arrangements he has organised today.

And I am pleased to reaffirm the importance which the Federal Opposition in Australia attaches to the unique historical, economic, security, educational and other links we share with Papua New Guinea.

We regard the maintenance of a close, effective and co-operative relationship between Australia and Papua New Guinea as being among the highest of Australia's foreign policy priorities.


Papua New Guinea is right to look to the future with confidence. In its sixteen years of independence, its achievements are considerable: it has firmly established its own system of democratic, parliamentary government, an independent judiciary, a free press, and it has become a respected voice in regional affairs.

Together with these achievements, Papua New Guinea has its own extensive resources base, the ingenuity of its people and the friendship of many countries (particularly Australia) as it faces the challenges of its national development.

I have always taken the view that the real challenge for Australia in its bilateral relationship with Papua New Guinea is to appreciate the perceptions which the people of Papua New Guinea themselves have of their own autonomy as citizens of a young, independent and sovereign country. .

Only when Australians meet that basic challenge will our bilateral aid, trade, security and other policies be based on a true sense of common interest.

So, I am both honoured and delighted to be here today - honoured to commemorate the bravery and victories won here fifty years ago and delighted to reaffirm the importance of the relationship that has bound our two countries together, in peace and war, for so long.

I also feel a great sense of fulfilment being here today for the personal reasons I referred to earlier.

I know that the life I have now was made possible because my father and uncle and hundreds of thousands of other Australians risked their lives in the defence of Australia's freedom and honour.

Fifty years on, our respect and admiration for their courage and sacrifice remains undiminished.


As a sign of the strength of the ties between our two countries, and in memory of the common sacrifices of our people in defending freedom fifty years ago, I am pleased to present you, Prime Minister, with this Australian flag under which so many brave Australians fought and died, and one which

I, for one, will never denigrate.