Speech Delivered, Wednesday, 4 November 2015
A century ago our federation was 14 years old. The sixth parliament was in session in Melbourne in the State Parliament's Legislative Assembly Chamber. That Parliament was borne of the 1914 double dissolution election - Australia's first. The fifth Parliament was dissolved at the end of July. The election campaign was underway and the Government in caretaker mode when war was declared. And on Election Day, September 5, 1914, the Government changed from Liberal to Labor.
The considerable differences between the major parties in the contest for the government of our nation did not, at the critical electoral hour, hinder the capacity of our political leaders to unite and take the most critical decision the young nation had ever confronted.
In accordance with the majority will of Australia's electors the baton of government passed smoothly, at this momentous time, from one party to another. While this would have been unsurprising to Australians, it was nonetheless a remarkable feat for a young democracy.
Of course our entry into what was called the war to end all wars marked the beginning of what would be four horrific years of loss for our nation. From a population of just under 5 million, around 400,000 joined up, 160,000 were injured
- 60,000 lost their lives.
The bullets and shrapnel that tore through the bodies of the diggers had also ripped through the hearts of incalculable numbers of families and countless local communities. When it was over, we had won a war that had to be won, but we had paid for it with a generation sacrificed.
Ninety Seven years ago next Wednesday it ended with the armistice. And it was to commemorate the armistice that the British and Foreign Bible Society gifted this bible to our Parliament. It was presented by the then Governor General on the 12th of September 1919. All Presiding officers from that time have signed it, as have some who held office in earlier parliaments. It was a fitting gift that recognized the sacrifice of a young nation in defense of the democratic values and principles that are embodied in our Parliament.
Over the years some commentators have endeavored to describe the typical Anzac. But this is a fruitless task. The first AIF was represented by every profession, from the cities and the bush. Stockbrokers and saw millers, librarians and labourers, poets and plasterers - and parliamentarians.
Members of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Some who had served in earlier parliaments joined up. Ten sitting members or senators enlisted and remained members of parliament during the war. And in the decades after the war the number of Federal Members of Parliament with War service grew to 119.
A century ago today the Anzacs would soon evacuate Gallipoli. They would leave one horror behind just before Christmas 1915 and begin another on the western front in 1916. It is timely to shine a light on the service of some of those 1O who were a century ago concurrently federal members of parliament and members of the first AIF.
Reginald Burchill was elected in 1913 as the ALP Member for the division of Fremantle. He was re-elected in 1914. In 1917 he was re- elected as a Nationalist, having joined Billy Hughes in the split from Labor over conscription. He retained his seat until 1922. Burchill served with the 4th Broad Gauge railway company in France.
Better known is the story of Granville Ryrie, the liberal and then Nationalist federal member for North Sydney joined up in September 1914 and commanded the 2nd Light Horse Brigade at Gallipoli - landing in May 1914, and staying until the evacuation, before serving in Palestine and the Sinai - including a critical role in the charge of Beersheba. Ryrie was re-elected unopposed in the federal election of 1917.
Alfred Ozanne was the Labor Member for Corio when he enlisted, serving with the 3rd Divisional Train, Australian Army Service Corps in 1916 and 1917.
John Lister had been a member of the Labor Party. He served in the AIF between 1914 and 1916. He left Labor over the issue of conscription, joined the Nationalist Party, and ran as a candidate in the electorate of Corio at the 1917 federal election, defeating Ozonne. One serving member of the House of Representatives also serving in the AIF defeated by another returned member for the AIF.
The centenary of Anzac demands an intensity of interest and a thirst for greater understanding. It provides an opportunity to enrich our knowledge and understanding of this rich history of our nation; within families , within communities, within schools, organisations and indeed within this Parliament.