Michael Sukkar MP

Federal Member for Deakin
Shadow Minister for Social Services
Shadow Minister for the NDIS
Shadow Minister for Housing
Shadow Minister for Homelessness
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Motion on the Centenary of Anzac

In listening to the various contributions in relation to this motion on the Centenary of Anzac and the 100th anniversary of the landings of Gallipoli, it has been very moving for me to hear the various stories and anecdotes as well as the excerpts from letters written to loved ones by our Australian diggers who fought in that very fateful landing. It engenders in me—and I think it engenders in everyone in this House and, indeed, around our whole country—a monumental pride in those great men and women who came before us as well as, quite frankly, a feeling of inadequacy that no matter what we do in our lives and no matter what sacrifices we make in our lives, they will never ever amount to the sacrifices that those men and women voluntarily undertook.

It is lamentable that one of the things that we always focus on with the landings of Gallipoli, inevitably, is the fact that, from a strategic military perspective or from a planning perspective in a military sense, it was not our finest hour. I think that that is fair to say. But the courage of those soldiers, who voluntarily stepped onto the sand and fought their brave Turkish enemies at the time, is something that I think is a victory of their character and a victory of their spirit, and that, in a sense, has been something that we have been able to engender in this country ever since. Of course, at the time the mother country declared war on Germany, Australia was bound to similarly do so. If you look back at that 100 years and how far we have come in terms of being a proud, vibrant, independent nation, while still embodying the values, the commitment, the sacrifices and the spirit of those men and women who volunteered to serve, it is something that is quite extraordinary and amazing. One thing that I have really appreciated, even in my lifetime, is the sense of patriotism, the attention and the respect that we increasingly give to those men and women who served in the First World War and, in particular, the 20,000 Australians who fought at Gallipoli.

In my own electorate of Deakin, I was very fortunate to be able to speak at a dawn service at the Ringwood RSL. It was quite extraordinary for me when I got up to speak; it was the first time, in the dark, that I was able to look out on the crowd. We had to close down Maroondah Highway. There were 5,000 or 6,000 people who arrived at the Ringwood clock tower for the service organised by the Ringwood RSL. It was absolutely awe-inspiring for me to look out at something that was more akin to a football crowd than anything that I had seen before at a dawn service. Having grown up in Ringwood myself, I can track in my own mind the growth of that dawn service over the last 20 years or so. That, I think, is testament to our national leaders over many years, our civic institutions, and our returned servicemen and servicewomen, who have gone out of their way to make the story, the courage, the commitment and the love of country of those men and women at Gallipoli real—real for people in my generation and real for the younger Australians coming through.

It was not only the Ringwood RSL. I attended services and marched with the Blackburn RSL and the Croydon RSL, and I spoke to members of the Mitcham RSL. The numbers of young men and women, of students and of schools who participated and got involved are very, very heartening for me, because one of our primary obligations and jobs is to ensure that young people coming through appreciate—even more than we appreciate now—the sacrifice of those great Australians. We are extraordinarily blessed. In the rough and tumble of arguments that go on in our society and in this chamber, we must never forget that we are extraordinarily blessed and that none of it would be possible were it not for the sacrifice of those men and women in World War I and of all of our servicemen and servicewomen in later years. What bigger sacrifice than to knowingly and willingly put yourself in harm’s way for the love of your country and, more importantly, for the love of our democratic freedoms and values?

It was also an outstanding honour for me, as a member of parliament, to be able to assist various local groups in my electorate of Deakin to appropriately commemorate the Centenary of Anzac through our Anzac Centenary Local Grants Program. It was wonderful that the community, returned services, historical societies and others so enthusiastically embraced the opportunity to raise the profile and really bring home to our young people, in particular, the enormity and the importance of the Centenary of Anzac. I am very pleased that I was able to recommend and support funding for the Croydon Historical Society, who are putting together a very important publication on the local servicemen and servicewomen who served. What better way to create vivid images and knowledge in our young people’s minds than to give them stories of local people—somebody who might have been born and had grown up on a street two minutes from your own home, who might have gone to your primary school, who may be a great-great-grandfather or great-great-grandmother to one of your mates at school? What better way to make it real for them, rather than just a purely historical exercise, than to tell those stories? I was very pleased to be able to support the Croydon Historical Society.

I was also pleased that we were able to support the Australian Institute of Genealogical Studies, who similarly want to tell the stories of local people who went away to fight and who want to enable their families—many of whom may not know that they existed, may not know of this service—to search for them and find them in an easy way. Similar to that is some support that I, along with the members for Casey, Aston and La Trobe, gave Eastern Regional Libraries, who have put together an outstanding database, an easy reference guide and tool, that can be used by anybody to search for their loved ones and get a full understanding of their service—precisely what they did—and all the details that we can possibly summon about these people. We are very blessed: we are the Google generation and everything is at our fingertips. Organisations like the Croydon Historical Society and the Institute of Genealogical Studies do that hard work for us and enable us to make those stories real.

I was also very pleased to be able to support the Maroondah City Council and Whitehall City Council, who are putting together a program of events over the next 12 to 48 months that will progressively ensure that we commemorate all of the key milestones for Australians in World War I. It will be very important that we do not just move on from the centenary year but that we ensure that we recognise appropriately all of the key milestones for Australians over that time. For that reason, I am very honoured to speak today and I commend all of my colleagues who have contributed to this debate.

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