15 June 2023
Sarah, thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a great honour to be here with you today. If you’re asked to fill in for somebody, you don’t want to stand in for John Howard – they’re big shoes to fill. He is an inspiration to generations of Australians, and certainly to me and to many of my colleagues here today.
I want to say Prime Minister, thank you for your very warm words, they’re heartfelt words, and the spirit that you have approached this challenge in an ongoing way.
In a sense, the work will never be done. There will always be a next iteration of firearm, of technology that needs to be grappled with, and on a bipartisan basis, we continue that work in our country’s best interests. I applaud the work that you and the National Cabinet have done and, in particular, we acknowledge the work of the Foundation. Many people in the room today have committed themselves to the cause of gun reform, of safety for Australians.
I want to say thank you very much to James Stevens and to Josh Burns – the joint parliamentary chairs of the friendship group, which is a very important part of the negotiation and engagement of parliamentarians in any of these debates.
I also acknowledge Paul Fletcher and Richard Colbeck the Senator from Tasmania, to all of our colleagues. Tony Nutt who is here today, who was the Principal Private Secretary to John Howard during those very many difficult years.
Jude, thank you very much for your very warm words and welcome to country this morning. I thought they were very poignant, and it was very heartfelt, particularly the use of language, and I want to say thank you for that.
To Walter and to Bridgette, I just want to thank you so much for being wonderful Australians who help people everyday as a pharmacist now, and that has been your calling in life and the direction, the change of direction that your life took out after the tragedy of Port Arthur, and the way that that impacted on the 35 people slaughtered that day, and the survivors we acknowledge today, and the families similarly whose lives have been changed eternally, we just acknowledge the bravery and the decency, the humanity, that you’ve displayed.
It’s evident, as the Prime Minister points out in the letters – it’s emotional to read them even today, and many of us will have in our own minds images of Port Arthur and what happened that day – but the strength that you demonstrated in those words of courage, that you penned to the Prime Minister, changed the course of history in our country. It inspired a bipartisan position – as the Prime Minister rightly pointed out – to the great credit of Kim Beazley and of Tim Fischer and the Nationals as well. That took a lot of bravery, and they acted upon it and the emotion dripped from those words that you conveyed between each other.
So I want to say thank you for that inspiration. And in a sense you defined the Prime Minister’s time in office. I spoke before about the part of John Howard’s legacy, and inspiration that he’s provided in a number of policy areas, but I think the greatest defining moment of John Howard’s leadership was the way in which he responded, in the way that millions of Australians wanted him too, because of the events at Port Arthur; you inspired that, you made it happen, and you really defined his period of the Prime Ministership in this country, and that is a very powerful individual act to undertake.
The bravery that you’ve demonstrated since then, through the work of the foundation, is quite remarkable. The kids that you’ve helped in the name of your own children, in the name of your own wife, is something that we should all really, truly recognise. You’re a courageous man, you’re an inspiration to many Australians yourself, in the same way that Mr Howard was. I want to say thank you very much for sharing your time with us today.
I want to say thank you to the National Museum for paying tribute. I want to say thank you to Ben and to Mathew of course, Sarah as well for the work that you’ve been able to do.
I’ll finish on this note: recently I was at the funerals of two Queensland police officers, Matthew and Rachel who were killed – and Walter we spoke about that briefly, earlier. This will save extra lives. Those two lives, and potentially the life of the neighbour who went to provide support to those two police officers in Western Queensland recently, could well have been saved had the national register been in place. I believe because of the work that’s being undertaken now – Prime Minister to your great credit, and the work, to the credit of the former Prime Minister and it will continue, as I said before – it will save Australian lives.
The legacy of the work that’s been done by the Foundation, and I acknowledge the people as I said before in the Foundation, in the public service, all those driving change behind the scenes is something that we honour today. This is a very powerful event and into perpetuity these letters will stand as a testament to your bravery, and your love as a husband, and as a father and as a great Australian.
Thank you very much.