Bill's Speeches

STATEMENT ON INDULGENCE: 75th ANNIVERSARY OF THE FALL OF SINGAPORE - CANBERRA - WEDNESDAY, 15 FEBRUARY 2017

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I thank the Prime Minister for his words. 

The fall of Singapore changed Australia forever. 

Singapore had been a pillar of Australia's defence policy, our foreign policy, our sense of security. 

It was an invincible garrison. It was an impregnable fortress of British military might and naval power. 

Yet, it was swept aside within 10 weeks of war in the Pacific. 

The unthinkable had happened. 

There were many dates that contribute, I think, to the formation of Australia’s identity. But there can be no doubt that 1942 was a very significant milestone in the identity of Australia. 

The fall of Singapore changed the way we saw ourselves, changed our sense of security in the region. A relatively new nation, we had worried about what may happen to the north of Australia, but in 1942, it became real. 

It did, as the Prime Minister, eloquently said, scar the lives of a generation of Australians. 

Unimaginable numbers of Australians killed, unimaginable in our modern concept. Many more wounded. 

And 1500 servicemen taken prisoner, along with army nurses. 

One in three of those who were captured would not survive the brutal nightmare of torture, starvation, cruelty, back-breaking labour. 

Abuses and indignities great and small. 

Those who did survive, came home marked forever by what they had endured. 

There were ulcers and the amputations, the diseases, the malnutrition and of course there were the wounds that did not show: psychological trauma, the memory of a mate's pain. 

The Burma Thai railway runs straight through the heart this nation - and even as the veterans pass - its shadow lingers still. 

Frankly, that anyone survived is a miracle of the human spirit. 

But that so many of our men and women came home is a tribute to the resilience of their spirit. 

And also the depth of loyalty they showed to their brothers. 

Far from home, a world away from the war they had imagined, there was nevertheless a profound Australian quality to their solidarity. 

In the great Tom Uren's words: 

“The fit looked after the sick. The young looked after the old. The rich looked after the poor”. 

There was a greatness in those Australians: kindness in another's trouble, courage in their own. 

Mr Speaker 

Seventy-five years ago, John Curtin told the people of this nation that: 

“The fall of Singapore opens the battle for Australia.” 

There we would put aside "the pangs of traditional links or kinship with Britain". 

Instead, in our darkest hour, Curtin declared that Australia would speak for ourselves. 

We would plan for our own defences. 

We would, in Curtin's words: 

“Fight and work as we have never worked and fought before.” 

Whilst we sit here in this Parliament, I think all of us do not underestimate the difficulty and the courage that that decision took, or the magnitude in the shift in the national mindset. 

Less than three years earlier, Robert Menzies had said Great Britain is at war, therefore Australia is at war. 

Now with invasion on the doorstep, Japanese bombs to rain on Darwin within the week, with Australia threatened in a way barely contemplated at the beginning of the war. 

Curtin spoke for our Australian identity, more than just an outpost of empire. He spoke for a proud, independent people determined to defend their continent. 

He stood up to Churchill. 

He dealt with Britain, not as a colony talking to its mother country, but in the honest language of equals. 

It was the forerunner of the significant decision to bring the 9th division home in December 1942. 

"We know the problems the United Kingdom faces", he said. "We know the constant threat of invasion, we know the dangers of the dispersal of strength, but we know too that Australia can go and Britain can still hold on." 

"We're therefore determined that Australia shall not go." 

Seventy-five years ago, Australia faced its sternest test. Our people rose to it. 

The heroism of those times belongs to those who lost everything in those prison camps, except for their love for their fellow man. 

In a system designed to break the body and try the soul, they came through. 

Not just fending for themselves but caring for each other. 

All of us, when we have read and spoken to survivors, have wondered, how could they have got through? 

In the face of cruelty beyond the realm of humanity, these men showed the very best of Australia. 

All of us salute their courage, all of us honour their memory. 

We stand as one with their families and legacy. 

And with special emphasis, we offer Australia's oldest promise: 

We will remember them. Lest we forget.

ENDS


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