National Memorial Service for Fire and Emergency Services Personnel, National Emergency Services Memorial, Parkes ACT
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.
I would like to begin by acknowledging the families and colleagues of the brave men we are honouring today.
Today is an important day on the national calendar and this memorial is an important location in our nation’s capital.
An important day because we honour the service of individuals who serve their community – not for recognition but because they cared about those around them. About their loved ones and their mates. About their community.
An important place because this memorial is a permanent reminder of the ultimate sacrifice of brave individuals. Lasting recognition that, faced with danger, they chose to serve and put themselves in harm’s way for others. For us.
And, most importantly, an important time and place because it is an opportunity for an entire nation to acknowledge the loss suffered by families and friends and colleagues.
For us to say as a nation and a community that the service and sacrifice of your loved ones will never be forgotten.
Since the 2019-20 bushfires, Linda and I have continued to visit the communities that were adversely impacted by those fires.
We do so to reassure those that were impacted by the fires that they remain very much in our nation’s thoughts.
The crisis has passed, the danger long-since receded and recovery is underway.
The damage – particularly the emotional toll – remains.
Recovery is very much ongoing and will take many, many years.
It is important that those impacted know, even as the media attention fades and the public consciousness shifts, that we remain there for them. That we are still thinking of them and conscious of what they went through and are going through.
We also spend time with volunteer firefighters, to reassure them that their service during the most recent emergencies has not been forgotten.
And to acknowledge that they continue to serve and to thank them for that service.
I said on Australia Day 2020, as the fires were still burning, that adversity both builds and reveals character.
The strength of character exhibited by our volunteer fire and emergency services personnel is something that we should all aspire to.
In fire sheds around the country Linda and I have spent time with many volunteer firefighters. I try hard not to generalise – each person is unique, has a different story and motivation.
There are, though, some common traits:
- They are humble. They serve because there is a job to do and their community needs them.
- They care about their mates and look after each other.
- They might be volunteers but they’re committed and know what they’re doing.
Not only do they give freely of their time and of themselves, they do it in dangerous conditions. They face risks and make sacrifices.
When, tragically, the ultimate sacrifice occurs, there are loved ones left behind.
Today, especially, our thoughts are with them.
To the families here today, know that we will always remember the service and bravery of your loved one.
That we will remember that when their community was threatened, they served.
That they were brave and they will continue to inspire us.
These are not empty platitudes. An entire nation shares these sentiments and I hope that respect is of comfort to you.