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Royal Commonwealth Society [ACT Branch] Dinner, Yarralumla, ACT


This is Ngunnawal Country. Today we are all meeting together on this Ngunnawal Country. We acknowledge and pay our respects to the Elders.

  • Heads of Missions representing Commonwealth countries
  • Dr Hugh Craft OAM, President, Royal Commonwealth Society ACT
  • Mr Kantilal Jinna OAM, Vice President, Royal Commonwealth Society ACT
  • Members of the Royal Commonwealth Society
  • Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

Good evening.

It is a great delight for Linda and me to be with you to celebrate Commonwealth Day. As I said yesterday at our celebration at Government House, Commonwealth Day is an important day of the year.

This is more so this year as we celebrate Her Majesty The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

Throughout her remarkable reign Her Majesty has led and shaped the Commonwealth. She has kept alive its history while very much moving with the times. She has been a symbol of stability and a driving force of change. She has exemplified values to which we all aspire – in particular, as we heard in her Commonwealth Day message, devotion to service. The example she sets and her leadership of the Commonwealth is inspiring.

Linda and I are very much looking forward to the possibility of an audience with Her Majesty in July as part of our visit to the United Kingdom. We’ll be there to support our athletes at the 2022 Commonwealth Games. Reflecting the spirit of the ‘Friendly Games’, we wish all teams representing Commonwealth nations all the best in Birmingham.

This particular year, it is worth reflecting on just how much has changed in the last 70 years.

In 1952 much of the world was still recovering from the devastation and destruction of the Second World War. The Iron Curtain had descended and divided Europe and much of the world into two competing camps. The Commonwealth was a collection of dominions, colonies and territories.

The decades that followed brought unparalleled technological, social and economic change. Countries have gained independence and the map has changed. 

Today, the Commonwealth is made up of 54 nations – the majority of which are republics.

The way we communicate, move around and work have all been transformed by new technology.

What has not changed is our shared values. Forged through our historic bonds and ties, those values continue to speak to who we are and who we aspire to be.

I want to thank all members of the ACT Branch of the Royal Commonwealth Society. You live these values. I thank you for your commitment to improving the lives and prospects of Commonwealth citizens around the world.

In a world that is experiencing so many pressures at this time, the Commonwealth is a wonderful example to all of how nations can work together. As stressors pull nations apart, the Commonwealth acts to bind its members together. Not, of course, in unanimous agreement on all issues, but able to consider issues in a constructive manner.

And it is an active association. Programs on issues such as the environment, gender equality and opportunity, youth development, health and education are in place around the globe, particularly in less developed countries where we see their impact.

The Commonwealth is a force for good. It delivers practical and tangible results and its role in a time of geopolitical stress remains critical.

That is worth celebrating.

Linda and I have spent much of the last week in flood affected communities in northern New South Wales and South East Queensland. We will be back on the road tomorrow.

The scenes are terrible and some of the stories tragic. Amidst the devastation, tragedy and grief, though, we see countless acts of kindness and compassion. Simple things such as people cooking meals for others, people showing up to help clear rubbish or providing a shoulder to cry on.

Some of these people wear a uniform and have been tasked. Many, many others are dressed in plain clothes and are on the ground to lend a hand. They simply saw someone in need and stepped up to help in any way they could.

In responding, they didn’t see black or white, rich or poor, left or right or any other characteristic – they saw someone who needed help. And those they were helping didn’t see any identity other than a friendly face with a helping hand.

That is who we are. We are neighbours and we are part of the same community. We don’t always agree, or recognise ourselves in the face we see looking back or even get along but, when the chips are down, none of that matters.

It is inspiring and makes me incredibly optimistic for the future.

That ‘neighbourliness' is reflected in the Commonwealth. Each of the member states are different. We have our own identity and our own challenges and opportunities. But we also share a bond. We’re neighbours. Not in a geographic sense, but in the same way that the people from all over Australia who had come to Lismore to help are.

Neighbours bound by our shared history and common values.

Neighbours because, despite our differences, we’re there for each other.

Neighbours because we belong to a community – the Commonwealth – that we are all proud of, invest in and nurture.

Happy Commonwealth Day.