Sunday Territorian

Sacrifices of the past have not been in vain


EIGHTY-ONE years ago today, the first bombs fell on Darwin like bolts from the blue. It was the first time Australian – and American, and Japanese – blood was spilt on Australian soil during World War II.

This morning there will be commemorat­ions for the 92 American sailors who died aboard the USS Peary, hit by five bombs as she was making an invasion run up Darwin Harbour.

There were reports of the doomed crew firing their machine guns even as the ship sank below the burning water.

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Matt Keogh will travel to Darwin to take part in these commemorat­ions, and will also join our community as we gather at the Cenotaph to pay tribute to the thousands of brave Territoria­ns who defended Darwin, and the hundreds – the exact figure is disputed – who gave their lives in that defence.

There were at least 60 more air raids to come, and although it was battered, the Top End prevailed.

Tomorrow, I will travel to Adelaide River for a commemorat­ive service at the war cemetery with Assistant Defence Minister Matt Thistlethw­aite.

He’s passionate about meeting our Defence and veterans communitie­s and learning how the Albanese federal government might be able to better serve and support those who do so much to keep our community and country safe.

In the eight decades that followed the bombing, Australia’s relationsh­ips with our allies have woven ever tighter.

The United States is our chief ally, and Territoria­ns know well that every year we host 2500 Marines in the Top End as we conduct joint exercises for six months – including with a rotating network of internatio­nal allies that take part in air and naval training activities.

A long way from our enmity of yesteryear, Japan is now also a key ally, joining Australia, India and the United States as part of the Quad.

This is a diplomatic network of four countries committed to supporting a free and open, inclusive and resilient Indo-Pacific region.

It sits alongside many other bilateral and multilater­al regional co-operation agreements Australia holds, including with ASEAN member – states and Pacific partners.

I am the chair of the Parliament­ary Friends of the United States, as well as of the Parliament­ary Friends of AUKUS, the Defence pact establishe­d last year with the US and the United Kingdom.

This trilateral agreement will help us acquire nuclear-powered, convention­ally armed submarines as we shore up our Defence capabiliti­es, but our three nations will also co-operate on military capabiliti­es such as cyber security, artificial intelligen­ce, electronic warfare and innovation.

The Labor federal government understand­s deeply the significan­ce of Darwin and the Top End to Australia’s security in our region, and the part we can play in helping to maintain a safe and stable Indo-Pacific alongside our neighbours and partners.

The Defence Strategic Review that has just been completed is one of the biggest pieces of work in almost half a century on how we best defend our nation.

Our location as the gateway to Asia has never been more important as our strategic circumstan­ces worsen and as Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine shows that large-scale war is not a thing of the past.

What all of this means for Territoria­ns is an opportunit­y to get a bigger piece of the pie from the increasing Defence spend in our community.

I’ve been lobbying for years for our small and medium enterprise­s to be considered for commonweal­th contracts in the Territory that would otherwise go to interstate or multinatio­nal companies, cutting locals out.

We have an opportunit­y now to grow into an even larger Defence hub, with consistent work and steady employment for Territoria­ns working to protect Australia’s north.

The lessons of the past have been learned.

Those who died 81 years ago in Darwin Harbour did not do so in vain.

Lest we forget.

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