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Presentation of Humanitarian Overseas Service Medal to Aspen Medical Staff, 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.

Welcome, everyone.

Saving someone’s life is a remarkable thing to do. But to do it in a foreign country — in an austere and potentially dangerous environment — is another thing altogether.

It takes a special kind of person to be able to do that, because the odds are often against you. And I can speak with some authority on this given my own background and what I have seen in the field.

To succeed in these types of environments takes character; it takes determination; you must have the utmost confidence in your own ability; and above all you need to be able to compartmentalise your working day and focus on the task at hand.

That’s easier said than done.

I think many Australians at one time or another have thought about possibly heading to another country and helping the poor and the sick. It’s a noble thought.

But there’s a lot more to it than that, and some people find that out the hard way.

Today’s ceremony recognises those Australians who put their hand up to work in a challenging environment and provided high-quality health care to those in need.

Sierra Leone and Liberia are poor countries. Liberia, especially, is also dangerous. To have worked in those West African countries back in 2014-2015 during the height of the Ebola virus epidemic — well, only those who were there would really know what it was like.

And you delivered in spades:

  • The Aspen Medical Project Management Office was up and running in Canberra within 24 hours.
  • An advance party was deployed to Freetown within 72 hours.
  • The Ebola Treatment Centre in Sierra Leone  was operational in less than six weeks after the Australian Government announced it would increase its contribution to the global fight against Ebola Virus Disease.
  • 216 patients were admitted to the clinic and an additional 120 were treated for other serious conditions.
  • Many, many lives were saved.
  • And, thankfully, none of the Aspen Medical team — consisting of Australian and New Zealand health professionals and supported by a team of locals — reported being infected.

So, to you — the recipients of the Humanitarian Overseas Service Medal — I say thank you.

Australia says thank you.

You are terrific people. You have done yourselves and your country proud.