National Emergency Medal Presentation Ceremony, Government House
I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Ngunnawal People, and pay my respects to their elders, past and present, emerging leaders and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders gathered here today.
Although it is tragedy that has brought us together today, I hope that today’s ceremony conveys to you the gratitude and deep sadness an entire nation feels for your loss.
The 2019-20 bushfires will long be seared into our nation’s memory.
Linda and I continue to visit communities adversely impacted by the 2019-20 bushfires.
On recent visits, to Gippsland, the South Coast of NSW and the Snowy Mountains, we’ve seen the signs of regrowth and rebuilding – slow at times, but progressing nonetheless.
The clearing of destroyed property and trees, new construction and the bushland regenerating.
The visible scars of the devastation of the fires are still there, but they are healing as time passes.
That is the physical recovery.
The emotional scars are hidden from view.
They too may be healing, but each person’s journey is unique and progress is not linear.
As Linda and I have sat with people and listened to their stories, we realise that there isn’t a quick answer or a solution to offer.
We can be there. We can listen, offer reassurance or a virtual hug.
Today’s ceremony has a similar intent. It is intended to convey to you that our entire nation is grateful for your loved one’s service.
That the entire nation remembers their sacrifice.
That our heart’s break for your loss.
And that while we can never fully understand the scale of your grief, you remain in thoughts.
I want to speak directly to the families and loved ones of the late Captain McBeth, First Officer Paul Hudson and Flight Engineer Rick DeMorgan Jr, watching today’s ceremony from the United States.
When some of us met last year, I said that all of Australia is grateful for your loved one’s sacrifice. While we are a long way away in terms of distance, know that you will forever hold a close place in our nation’s memory.
During today’s ceremony, I will present the insignia of the National Emergency Medal to the loved ones or representatives of those who lost their lives serving their community during the 2019-20 bushfires.
The Medal is awarded to persons who rendered sustained or significant service during nationally-significant emergencies in Australia.
In coming months many who served during the devastating 2019-20 fires will be recognised with the National Emergency Medal. It will become a very visible reminder of the devastation of the fires and of the scale of the response.
Those who wear it will identify with each other for having been there and be identified by grateful communities for what they did.
It is fitting that today at this first presentation of this Medal for the 2019-20 bushfires we gather to recognise those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
We honour their bravery and will always remember their service.
In a period of intense danger, they chose to serve.
They put themselves in harm’s way to help others.
Not for recognition, not for a medal, but because they were good people.
They represented the very best of us.
While these are just words, I assure you they are not empty platitudes. Know that countless Australians feel the same way. I hope that respect is of comfort to you.
Be proud of your loved one’s service and know that their sacrifice will never be forgotten.