Part 1 of this series reviewed great speeches on Australia's place in the world, from Federation to Vietnam. In this post, I look at the period from Vietnam to Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17.
1. Robert Hughes, 'The culture of complaint', New York, 14 January 1992
Bob Hughes was one of our great characters, an erudite commentator on art, history and politics. In 1992 he gave a series of public lectures at the New York Public Library (reproduced in his Culture of Complaint) in which he entered the American culture wars like a whirling dervish, railing against political correctness and euphemism and dispensing blows to both left and right.
Hidden within this polemic was a thoughtful and generous account of multicultural Australia, which he presented as a counterpoint to the more ideological American version:
(Australian) multiculturalism asserts that people with different roots can co-exist, that they can learn to read the image-banks of others, that they can and should look across the frontiers of race, language, gender and age without prejudice or illusion, and learn to think against the background of a hybridised society. It proposes — modestly enough — that some of the most interesting things in history and culture happen at the interface between cultures. It wants to study border situations, not only because they are fascinating in themselves, but because understanding them may bring with it a little hope for the world.
2. Paul Keating, Eulogy for the Unknown Soldier, 11 November 1993
On Remembrance Day 1993, the seventy-fifth anniversary of the 1918 armistice, an unknown Australian soldier, representing all Australians who have been killed in war, was interred in the Hall of Memory of the Australian War Memorial. Prime Minister Keating's eulogy that day is perhaps the finest speech in Australian history. It was composed of good, plain words, elegantly arranged.
The speech began:
We do not know this Australian's name and we never will. We do not know his rank or his battalion. We do not know where he was born, or precisely how and when he died. We do not know where in Australia he had made his home or when he left it for the battlefields of Europe. We do not know his age or his circumstances — whether he was from the city or the bush; what occupation he left to become a soldier; what religion, if he had a religion; if he was married or single. We do not know who loved him or whom he loved. If he had children we do not know who they are. His family is lost to us as he was lost to them. We will never know who this Australian was.
Yet he has always been among those we have honoured. We know that he was one of the forty-five thousand Australians who died on the Western Front. One of the 416,000 Australians who volunteered for service in the First World War. One of the 324,000 Australians who served overseas in that war, and one of the sixty thousand Australians who died on foreign soil. One of the hundred thousand Australians who have died in wars this century.
He is all of them. And he is one of us.
3. Nick Warner, 'We are here as friends', Honiara, Solomon Islands, 24 July 2014
In the early 2000s Solomon Islands was nearly overwhelmed by ethnic violence, corruption, criminality and thuggery. By 2003, the Solomon Islands state was close to failing. In July, the Australian Government decided to accede to a request from Honiara and lead a regional intervention in the country — the Regional Assistance Mission Solomon Islands (RAMSI).
On 24 July the first RAMSI personnel, comprising military, police and civilians including Special Coordinator Nick Warner, were deployed in Honiara as part of Operation Helpem Fren (pidgin for 'helping friends'). Hundreds of Solomon Islands men, women and children pressed against the cyclone fence around the perimeter of Henderson airport to get a look at the force. Most appeared happy and excited. Standing on the tarmac, wearing a red lei around his neck, Warner delivered a message to the people of Solomon Islands.
People everywhere have a right to live their lives peacefully, to go about their daily business without threats or violence or intimidation, to have their children educated in schools, to have illnesses attended to in hospitals and clinics, to have a government that is permitted to govern for the benefit of all people, free from intimidation or coercion by armed thugs.
Solomon Islands used to be such a place.
But for too long this country has suffered at the hands of a small number of militants and criminals who have terrorised Solomon Islands society, brought the country to its knees, and done a disservice to the reputation of Solomon Islanders as a good and generous people.
The men and women from around the Pacific who arrived on your shores today as part of the regional assistance mission come at the invitation of the Solomon Islands government, and as guests of the Solomon Islands people.
We are calling our involvement here Operation Helpem Fren, because that is what we are here to do. We are here as friends, to work in partnership with you, to restore promise to your country, to restore hopes for a better life to you and your children.
4. Owen Harries, 'Saying no can get to be hard', 29 November 2006
One of Australia's most eminent foreign-policy thinkers, Owen Harries is a political conservative but a foreign-policy realist. His opposition to the Iraq war put him at odds with the Howard Government. A few years after the invasion of Iraq, Harries delivered a thoughtful speech to the Lowy Institute on the lessons of the conflict for the US and Australia. He concluded:
I believe that the days when Australian foreign policy was a relatively simple affair are coming to an end. Dealing with an unsettled superpower ally, while simultaneously adjusting to the rising importance of China as a regional power and a trading partner, is going to require skills that Australia has not had much cause to practise until now...
Every alliance requires a degree of trust. It also requires discrimination and balance — and a touch of scepticism. What Australia must learn from the Iraq experience is that it should not commit itself to marching in lock-step with anyone — let alone a superpower which is simultaneously committed to an incredibly ambitious programme of global change, deeply divided domestically, and has the most inept president since Warren G. Harding in its White House.
It must learn to be as good an ally as it can be while maintaining its freedom of choice.
5. Julie Bishop, 'An utterly deplorable act', New York, 22 July 2014
As I have written before, Canberra conducted itself admirably in the days after the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, an act that caused the greatest single loss of Australian life overseas since the 2002 Bali bombings. Prime Minister Tony Abbott spoke plainly and clearly and helped to stiffen the Western response to this outrage. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was energetic in her diplomatic efforts. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was scrupulous in his support for the Government. Australian officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to the Australian Federal Police were highly professional. All in all, there was a sobriety to the response that was a relief after the circus antics of Clive Palmer and Senator Jacqui Lambie. MH17 had had a jolting effect on the Australian body politic.
The Foreign Minister's strong statement following the adoption of Security Council Resolution 2166 makes this list both because of the significance of the moment — this was, after all, a resolution drafted and negotiated successfully by Australia — and because of the righteous anger with which she delivered it.
Mr President, the message from this Council to those who were responsible for this atrocity is definitive — you will be held to account for your actions.
Australia will continue to do everything we can to ensure this barbaric act is thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators are brought to justice.
We have an overriding objective — to ensure dignity, respect and justice for those killed on MH17. We will not rest until this is done. We will not rest until we bring them home.