National Police Memorial, Kings Park, Canberra
Monday 29 September 2008
Check against delivery
Your Excellencies, Governor General and Mr Bryce, Minister for Home Affairs Bob Debus, ACT Minister for Police and Emergency Services Simon Corbell, High Commissioners and other members of the diplomatic community, Chief of the Defence Force Air Marshall Angus Houston and Mrs Houston, Members of Parliament and the ACT Legislative Assembly, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen and my colleagues in policing.
I would like to especially acknowledge the presence of a contingent of some 20 Western Australian Police and their relatives who have travelled all the way to Canberra to be with us this afternoon.
I also acknowledge that we are having this afternoon's ceremony on the land of the Ngunnawal people and I acknowledge their elders past and present and their connection to this land.
You might be wondering why we continue to have this ceremony on an afternoon or an evening down by Lake Burley Griffin on the 29th September. The reason is because the memorial is designed to light up at dusk and holding the ceremony in the evening also gives those relatives and legatees who are present with us this afternoon an opportunity to see the plaque honouring their loved one light up in front of them.
National Police Remembrance Day was introduced in 1989 when a single common date of 29th September was sanctioned by all commissioners of police in the Australasian and South West Pacific region to coincide with the feast of Saint Michael who is the patron saint of policing. Indeed, if you get the opportunity to look behind the memorial you will see the outline of St Michael's face on the back of the memorial, and this is reproduced on the back of your booklets here tonight.
The Commissioner's Conference of Australasia and the South West Pacific is the group which came up with the idea to establish a memorial and to commemorate police who have died on duty. As Jason said in his introduction here tonight, I am but the host of this function on behalf of all the Police of Australasia and the South West Pacific. And in saying that, I acknowledge the presence of many State and Territory police and their relatives who are here tonight. Police commissioners in the States and Territories are hosting ceremonies in their own jurisdictions tonight.
We ought to remember those commemoration services that are happening in each of the other jurisdictions. In fact, today, commemoration services are being held from Fiji all the way through to West Australia.
Could I also take the opportunity to say that it's equally important for us to be reminded, through the presence here tonight of the Chief of the Defence Force, that many of our defence force personnel are in operational zones right around the world. It's not a bad opportunity for us in policing to remember those people of the defence forces, those women and men who are putting their lives on the line for the services that they do for our country as well.
It is with an immense sense of relief that I can say that in Australia we have had no police officer killed in the line of duty over the past 12 months. That's the first time that has happened since 1944. It contrasts with last year, when five of our Australian police officers died on duty, and, indeed, in the past 20 years some 111 Australian police officers have been died in the line of duty. But it is my sad duty to tonight acknowledge the deaths of seven police officers in New Zealand and the South West Pacific during the period of the past 12 months. On behalf of you all, we are offering our condolences to the families of those officers.
Five more Australian names were added to the memorial this morning. These names have been identified as part of the ongoing research, historical research that is undertaken to ensure that all eligible officers find their place on this memorial. You'll note that this is a living memorial. Unfortunately we do obviously live with the reality that other police officers will lose their lives as time goes on.
In total, there are 731 police officers who are named on the memorial in front of us and their deaths are spread over the 205 years of policing since colonisation. If you think about the 20 years that have gone and the 111 officers who lost their lives in those 20 years, it actually brings you to a stark reality that the children of those police officers, whether women or men, would be in their early 20s today and would have lived life without a parent. And it is through considering the impact of a death on those relationships that we can begin to understand the personal dimension that this memorial represents to the families of our officers.
It is important for us to take time out on occasions like this to remember those who survive without their parents and, as is the case with every death of a member of one of the emergency services or defence forces, it's the impact on the family that is so important to us.
That is where the role of police legacy comes into play. Police legacy started in 1971 when the Queensland Police legacy was established. Today, the Queensland Police Legacy is an independent charitable organisation that aims to assist the families of all deceased police officers as well as the dependant children of terminally ill officers or officers who have lost a spouse. Since 1971, every Australian State and Territory jurisdiction has created a police legacy of its own. Each police legacy essentially asks a number of questions including what the officer who died would have wanted for their family, and what opportunities they would have tried to give their children. The legacy groups try and provide ongoing support to the families of police officers.
While much of this work of these groups is done by volunteer staff, it's actually inspiring to see the quality of programs now being implemented. Most of them give a high priority to finding opportunities in education and training for the children of deceased police officers along with organising a wide range of social activities.
If there is one message I can leave with you from the ceremony tonight, it is to ask you to give some thought to how you might be of assistance to the police legacy movement.
We again offer our condolences to our near neighbours for the police deaths that have taken place in their countries in the Pacific and we remember them and their families on this special day.