Acknowledging the work of the Hon. Dr Brendan Nelson AO

02 Dec 2019 speech

Ms FLINT (Boothby—Government Whip) (11:28): I move that this House:
(1) notes:

(a) the importance of the Australian War Memorial to our nation in commemorating, acknowledging and recording the service of our defence force personnel; and
(b) that after seven years of service to the Australian War Memorial, the Hon Dr Brendan Nelson AO is retiring as its director;

(2) acknowledges the outstanding leadership Dr Nelson has provided at the Australian War Memorial, including:

(a) introducing the daily Last Post ceremony;
(b) leading the Memorial through the:
(i) Centenary of ANZAC and World War I commemorations; and
(ii) 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War commemorations;

(c) renovating the First World War galleries;

(d) recognising the need to incorporate the service of our 100,000 younger veterans and therefore introducing the Afghanistan exhibition;

(e) advocating for and securing, with Australian War Memorial Chairman Mr Kerry Stokes AC, a $500 million investment to expand the memorial to enable the stories of younger veterans to be told; and

(f) strengthening the relationship the Australian people have with the memorial and the men and women who have served our nation; and

(3) congratulates and sincerely thanks Dr Nelson for his service to the Australian War Memorial and the nation.

It is my great honour to move this motion today, recognising the service of the Hon. Dr Brendan Nelson AO to the Australian War Memorial and, more broadly, to our nation. I do so as someone who has had the great privilege of knowing Dr Nelson and his wife, Gillian, for over a decade and witnessing firsthand the remarkable impact they have had on our nation and how they have touched so many lives. Dr Nelson's achievements as Director of the Australian War Memorial are just the latest in his extraordinary career. Dr Nelson studied medicine at Flinders University in the heart of my electorate of Boothby and then worked as a general practitioner in Tasmania. He served as the state president of the Tasmanian branch of the Australian Medical Association and then as federal president of the Australian Medical Association.

In 1996 he was elected to the federal parliament, representing the people of Bradfield, and served until his resignation in 2009, having held many roles including as minister for education, Minister for Defence and Leader of the Opposition. He was then appointed as ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg, the European Union and NATO and, upon his return to Australia, was appointed as Director of the Australian War Memorial. It is this role that Dr Nelson has held for seven years since 17 December 2012 that has cemented his place in the hearts of all Australians.

Anyone who's had the privilege of hearing Dr Nelson speak about the service of men and women of our Defence Force and the sacrifice they and their families have made usually cannot help but be moved to tears. He has travelled the nation throughout his tenure as Director of the War Memorial, letting Australians know about the importance of the work of the memorial, the centenary of World War I and the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. However, most importantly, he has told the stories of so many individuals and their families who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, for our safety and our security and for that of our friends around the world.

Dr Nelson has brought to life the work and sentiment of our first war historian and official war correspondent Charles Bean, who recorded the horrific death and destruction in World War I, including at Pozieres, where, as Dr Nelson notes in several of his speeches, a mortally wounded Australian asked Bean, 'Will they remember me in Australia?' Thanks to the work of Dr Nelson and his dedicated staff at the Australian War Memorial, we do remember them in Australia and we will continue to do so.

We remember them through the renovated First World War galleries. We remember them through the individual stories of men and women Dr Nelson has included in so many of his speeches over the years. Most importantly, we remember them through the daily Last Post ceremony, which each day brings to life the story of one Australian named on the role of honour, allowing families to honour their sacrifice, to remember and to heal and allowing all Australians to also honour their service. The Last Post ceremony is thanks to the work of Dr Nelson.

It's not just our World War I veterans Dr Nelson has helped us to remember. I was in attendance when he addressed the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Coral-Balmoral in Adelaide. He told the stories of the young men whose average age was just 22, who died, were wounded and were left with lifelong scars from their terrible experiences there and, to our national shame, their terrible experiences when they returned home.

To them, Dr Nelson said: "With humility, gratitude and immense pride we say to you that what you did in Vietnam—at Coral and Balmoral —is as valued by us as those who landed at Gallipoli, endured the Kokoda track, held the line at Kapyong or fought under our flag in the dust of Uruzgan."

I want to also acknowledge the work Dr Nelson has done with his chairman, Mr Kerry Stokes AC, to secure a $500 million investment to expand the War Memorial and to enable the stories of younger veterans to be told. This is critical to support younger veterans who often struggle to explain to friends and family what they have faced in their roles here and overseas, particularly in areas of conflict. The expanded War Memorial will show friends and family, and our nation, what the veterans themselves are so often unable to explain.

On behalf of a grateful nation, on behalf of all those Australians who stop Dr Nelson on the street to thank him, on behalf of the returned service men and women whose lives he has touched, those who did not make it home and those whose memories he has kept alive today and on behalf of all the families related to the service men and women, I say to Dr Nelson: our most since thanks to you today.