Here in the quiet dawn in the desert in the Middle East, over 500 Australians and New Zealanders gathered in quiet remembrance, as we do on Anzac Day at home and around the world to honour the sacrifice and the service of Australians and New Zealanders whose work, whose heroism, whose professionalism, whose courage, whose willingness to put their lives on the line, over generations, has kept us free.
We remember the Australians and New Zealanders who stormed ashore at Gallipoli in 1915 – the enormous sacrifices in that First World War.
We remember the sacrifices of the Second World War, in Korea and Vietnam and the conflicts that followed.
And we are here today, with the Anzacs of today – the young men and women who are here in Afghanistan and Iraq, here in the Middle East. I’ve been with them over the last few days. I’m so impressed, so proud of their determination to defend our values, to secure these nations’ freedom from terrorism – recognising that the challenge of terrorism is a global one and that they are keeping Australia and New Zealand safe, as they fight and serve here in Iraq and Afghanistan, to secure these nations’ freedom from terrorism.
Their work is so appreciated. The training that they’re providing to the Iraqi and Afghan forces is enabling those countries to stay free, to defend themselves, to recover territory from the terrorists.
In Iraq alone, 60 percent of the territory that ISIL captured, has been won back.
Australians are playing a crucial role in advising and training and assisting the Iraqi forces as they recapture the great city of Mosul. So it’s a vital effort.
The connectedness today, of the fight against terrorism around the world, is so apparent. The service of these young Australians and New Zealanders, working together, serving together, putting their lives on the line together, as their grandparents and great grandparents did a century ago, inspires us all.
We honour them. We thank them.
We salute them for their service and we say again, as we always do, lest we forget.
What does it mean to you personally to attend today’s ceremony here in an area of operations?
This is a reminder that the Anzac story is not simply a matter for the history books. It is alive. Their service, their courage, their endurance, their mateship is as alive today as it was on the shores of Gallipoli more than 100 years ago.
ISAF Commander General Nicholson who you met with yesterday in Kabul, has told Congress that Afghanistan is at a stalemate and that he needs thousands of more troops to turn the tide. Does Australia need to do more in the region? Would you consider any change in the composition or role of Australian forces serving here?
I discussed these matters with General Nicholson and with the Defence Secretary James Mattis in Kabul just yesterday. I’ve discussed the Iraqi situation, also directly with the Iraqi Prime Minister, Prime Minister Abadi. There is no doubt that in both theatres, there is going to need to be a long-term commitment. But it is one of supporting, above all of training, the Afghan and Iraqi security forces both military and police, to ensure that they have the ability to defend their own country, to push back the terrorists where they’ve made gains, and to secure the territory that the government is holding. So it is going to be a long-term commitment and we’ll consider, with our allies, in these conflict areas, we’ll consider requests for further support. As it evolves, we’ll be looking at that.
But the fundamental lesson from all of this, is that we defend Australia’s freedom, not just at home. We have put enormous resources into our counter-terrorism services at home, and our security services are the best in the world. But it is a global threat and pushing ISIL back, for example, in Iraq, has been vitally important. ISIL used its rapid conquest of territory as an enormous recruiting tool globally, around the world, using all of the power of modern media. So defeating, smashing, destroying ISIL in the field, is of vital importance. Not just for the security and safety of Iraq, but also for the security of Australia.
Where are you at with your plans for a meeting with President Donald Trump in New York next week? Are you prepared to interrupt your Budget preparations to attend a 75th anniversary of the Battle of Coral Sea?
Well we’ll look forward to announcements being made in due course, but we’ve had very good meetings with Vice President Pence and the Defence Secretary James Mattis just in the last few days. I look forward to continuing those discussions with President Trump and will do so at an early opportunity. But we’ll be making announcements very shortly about that.