Bill's Speeches



Good evening everybody.

Thank you, Leon, for that introduction and I just want to say isn't this a remarkable evening.

We’re here on the eve of an anniversary of 100 years ago, and goodness only knows what was going through the minds of those Light Horsemen this evening 100 years ago. So I think it is appropriate that we are here tonight, reflecting on tomorrow and of course, Australia's links with Israel.

I want to acknowledge Josh Frydenberg representing the Prime Minister tonight

I'd like to acknowledge Lucy Turnbull in fact, I just wanted to say, Lucy, because Malcolm was bringing you I was able to bring Chloe my wife so thank you, Lucy.

I would like to acknowledge all of the Members of Parliament here on both sides and I really enjoyed Josh's quote from Menachem Begin; that when you leave this country you represent the country not a particular cause within the country.

It does seem that our two countries are inextricably entwined.

And it's great that we are celebrating the events of 100 years ago, one thing which I'm not sure people are aware about is that 100 years ago this date was pretty pivotal not only in the development in Australian history but also in Israel's history.

We know that 100 years ago tomorrow on the 31st of October 1917 the 4th and 12th Light Horse brigade of the Australian Military smashed the lines at Beersheba and flanked the Ottoman position stretching from Gaza to Beersheba.

But what is a little less well known about that event, is that one of the reasons that Australian Light horseman were able to conduct this marvellous, daring, military tactic was the work of a young Romanian -Jewish settler at the time in the part of the Ottoman Empire then called Palestine.

His name was Aaron Aaronsohn, he was a botanist, he was an agronomist and he and a small number of like-minded Jewish settlers put the case to the allied command and to General Allenby, that rather than the allies simply proceed up the sea road to formidable entrenched positions at Gaza, he explained to the allies that there was a series of oases which they could use to make their way through the desert and outflank the Ottomans.

As we know, the rest was history.

The Australians taking their durable Waler horses went through that series of oases, oasis by oasis, that led to the valiant charge of Beersheba and arguably the beginning of the end of the Ottoman Empire.

But what I think makes this date so remarkable tomorrow, is that it came just three days before a most significant date in the formation of the State of Israel, I speak of the Balfour Declaration.

It is an interesting hypothesis isn't it, that the success of the Australian Light Horse in turning the Ottoman flank at Beersheba, in fact gave the confidence for the British Government, struggling for good news in the war against the Germans throughout the trenches of Western Europe.

Perhaps those Light Horseman not only rode into Australian history but gave a bit more confidence to make the Balfour Declaration upon which the modern state of Israel was triggered.

And I think that our history remains equally entwined, even now.

I want just speak in conclusion about what I regard as the second strand of the inextricable link between Australia and Israel.

I don't just think of the military successes but I think of the marvellous generation who came to Australian shores, fleeing the Shoah, seeking sanctuary in Australia.

Now, there's a point in history when you weigh up: what if something hadn't happened - what would have been the alternative?

But thankfully, we did get the marvellous post-war diaspora from Jewish Europe. People who brought with them the traditions, they were memories for them, traditions of song and sorrow. The family memories of a remembered way of life.

I wonder what modern Australia would be like without those European ideals of mind and joy, which had nearly been wiped out by war and evil. Restoring a tradition, unimaginable really, in a faraway land.

The Jewish diaspora in Australia elevated the importance of learning. It was Jewish-Australians who helped establish charities, underwrote scholarships, funded university departments, supported the study of the past from which all understanding in the present and future must flow.

I think of the Jewish-Australians who, having seen the worst of time, sought to create the best of times for their children and coming generations.

People who worked hard, stayed late, started early, paid their taxes, who strived and taught and cared.

People who joined our politics, debating the future of our nation and the world, and when I think of that extraordinary legacy of the Jewish diaspora, I then come to tonight and tomorrow.

Five thousand Australians are here in Israel, plenty of them on the delegations which have been acknowledged, but plenty more came to see our own history.

It fills me with pride that from those events of 1917, through to the shocking and tragic and evil events of the Second World War, which led to the Jewish diaspora in Australia - modern Australia - we all then come together, entwined tonight under the roof of the King David Hotel.

To the Australian business people here, you fill me with a great deal of pride to see you taking Australian knowledge and the Australian thirst for knowledge and bringing it here to Israel.

And to the Australian diaspora, who are here living and working in Israel, you mightn't realise, every one of you here, as much as any of the politicians and the representatives here, you are all ambassadors for our nation of Australia.

You stand up for our values, for our character, for the qualities of our people, and I know what Australia is counting on you to absorb the wisdom of this place - this home to ancient traditions, and new inventions.

The calibre, I suggest to our local friends, the calibre of the business and technology leaders here shows you how highly Australia regards Israel: a modern, growing economy, where science and research and technology and entrepreneurship drive a thriving venture capital industry.

You are a nation investing in the most valuable and powerful engine for growth there is: your citizens.

In Israel, people just don't spruik the benefits of research, they don't just talk, they teach a culture of discovery.

I think that Israel's success is not just built upon a skill set, it's built upon a mindset.

A mindset that stretches back centuries.

As soon as they can talk, Israelis ask questions. They dig deeper, they don’t accept ‘that that's the way we've always done things’.

When I come here and Chloe comes here, we are struck not simply by the history, and not simply by the presence, but by the sense that people can take risks in this country and are respected for taking the risks.

You stand as an example to our world, that setbacks are not the end of the journey, they are milestones on the journey to success.

Tonight, when I think of Israel, I think of inspiration and encouragement for all of us.

Congratulations, and let's have a lovely evening.

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