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The 61st anniversary memorial service of the Coral Sea Battle, Coral Sea Battle Memorial Park, Cardwell, Queensland: speech.



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The 61st Anniversary Memorial Service of the Coral Sea Battle

Coral Sea Battle Memorial Park, Cardwell, Queensland, 4 May, 2003

Thank you very much Father Cowling, to Commander Burling, to the Hon. Warren Pitt, the Hon. Mark Rowell, Councillor Tip Burns, Councillor Keith Phillips, other very distinguished guests, members of the forces, and former members of the forces, and boys and girls.

The Battle of the Coral Sea was a very, very significant event in Australia's history, and I have to congratulate the people of this community of Cardwell in keeping the memory alive every year.

There have been celebrations of the Battle of the Coral Sea, on and off, elsewhere in Australia. But in this community, it continues unabated, and unchallenged, and without stock for the last 10, 12, 13 years, I think it is. And all congratulations to the organising committee, to the Council of the Shire of Cardwell, and all those involved in today's efforts.

The Coral Sea Battle was very a significant event in military history. It was also a significant battle, in tha,t for almost the first time, the naval ships of the opposing forces did not encounter each other. It was really a battle between the air forces of one nation and the capital ships of another.

But perhaps what is notable about the Battle of the Coral Sea, 61 years on, is that it was really the beginning of a very firm alliance between the military forces of Australia and the military forces of the United States. And so. 61 years later .we see a continuation of the very close alliance and military integration that was so important at the time of the Battle of the Coral Sea.

And, regardless of your views on the recent war in Iraq. and I know many loyal and dedicated Australians did have a different view to that of your Government, but regardless of your view on that war, it is an incontrovertible fact that the alliance between the United States and Australia continues today as strongly as ever, and the battle in Iraq really does demonstrate that those alliances first formed in the Battle of the Coral Sea continue on.

The difference, of course, between the public's perception of the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Iraqi War couldn't be greater. At the time of the Battle of the Coral Sea there wasn't a lot of publicity about it. Those in charge at the time thought that it would cause mass panic in our country, and so, to a degree, it was kept fairly well secret. Those involved obviously knew what was happening, but for the general public of Australia it wasn't as well known then, as it is now.

Of course, the difference with the Iraqi War couldn't be greater. Today you sit in your living room and actually see the first shot fired, and you watch on TV, by the hour, every element of the battle as it continues.

And as we watched on TV, we saw, principally, the United States servicemen and women, and the work they were doing, and we couldn't help but feel pride in the work they did. And Australian forces of course played a very, very significant role in the Iraqi war, not quite so much in front of the TV cameras, but a very, very important role that has been recognised by the United States and all those who follow military involvement.

And this event today not only commemorates the Battle of the Coral Sea, but it does give us time to pause and remember those who lost their lives at that time.

There were a considerable number of United States servicemen, a considerable number of Australian servicemen, who did lose their lives in the battle to save our country 60 odd years ago. In the recent conflict, of course, some Americans did lose their lives, and I think today is an appropriate time as well to remember the sacrifice that those Americans made in the cause of world peace.

I am delighted to be able to say that no Australians have lost their lives to date in Iraq, but the Australian efforts will continue on in one way or another. perhaps in ways of reconstruction, perhaps in ways not at the front line, but very important to the cause of world peace.

So, ladies and gentlemen, with thanks to those that organise this event every year, it is again important for us all to remember the Battle of the Coral Sea and the lessons that started then that continue on to today.