Good morning. I take this opportunity to acknowledge the Indonesian Ambassador, the Consul-Generals from the United States, from Indonesia, and Japan. Rear Admiral, thank you for your re-telling of the extraordinary story of the Battle of the Sunda Strait, distinguished guests, all.
A few moments ago I was visiting the International Defence Exposition over here at the convention centre and we were showcasing the most contemporary and modern capability that is available for warfare today, and there was a great emphasis on inter-operability between Australia and the United States defence forces.
I’m reminded that next year marks the 100th anniversary of military engagement between Australia and the United States. In 1918 at the Battle of Hamel, Australian infantry, the US Infantry combined into a force that was led by Australia’s great General John Monash. I believe that was the first and only time that a United States infantry force has been led by a foreign commander. We have fought side-by-side with the United States in every major military conflict since that time and our relationship was deepened during the darkest days of World War II. The Battle of the Sunda Strait is a reminder of the proximity of World War II to Australia and a reminder of how Australian and US forces again stood side-by-side. World War II had a dramatic impact on our region including Indonesia and of course the United States and Australia. My dad was in Darwin during World War II and I have been back there with him as we commemorate the battle for Darwin, the battle for Australia, which occurred in February of 1942. But the sinking of HMAS Perth and USS Houston on the 28th of February and the 1st of March in 1942 had a pretty devastating impact on the psyche of both our nations at that time.
The wreck site is a tomb for the brave servicemen, all 1,071 from our two cruisers, who were killed during that battle. I join with others in paying tribute to the two remaining survivors from HMAS Perth, Frank McGovern and David Manning. It is an absolute delight to see you both here - two young boys at 94 and 98 - wonderful to see you here and I was so touched to hear your stories of how you survived and how you survived your time as a POW. Remarkable men representing an extraordinary generation, thank you for your service.
In February of this year during Indonesian President Widodo’s visit to Australia he reflected on their 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Sunda Strait and together with Prime Minister Turnbull, President Widodo committed Indonesia – and Prime Minister Turnbull committed Australia – to greater shared cooperation to preserve our maritime, cultural heritage. At the same time and during the same visit Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and I signed a Joint Declaration on Maritime Cooperation.
A recent exercise by Australia and Indonesia underscores this commitment to greater cooperation. Australia and Indonesia carried out a survey dive on the wreck site of HMAS Perth and this exercise undertaken by the Australian Maritime Museum, our national maritime museum, and also the Indonesian National Centre for Archaeology. I congratulate all the officials and representatives of those two organisations who carried out this survey. Unfortunately the results of the survey come as somewhat of a shock and we find that only 40 per cent of HMAS Perth remains - less than half of the wreck remains - because it has been significantly damaged by illegal salvaging. I find this – as a patriotic Australian – to be quite a disturbing outcome. So we are now working very closely with the Indonesian Government to ensure that we can preserve the wreck site, the remains, and ensure that this illegal salvaging is stopped, prevented from occurring. This survey will be presented by the Indonesian National Centre for Archaeology to the relevant Indonesian ministries and Australia stands ready to work closely with Indonesia to ensure that we can preserve the remains of HMAS Perth. We owe it to the servicemen who were killed in March 1942 aboard that ship. We also understand that the wreck site has now been marked as a marine conservation area and I deeply appreciate the support of the Indonesian government for this is a first step along a path to more formal recognition and legislation and we will certainly do what we can to support that act.
I am honoured to open this exhibition for the Battle of the Sunda Strait. I know it will be travelling around the country, I’m looking forward to it coming to Perth in Western Australia. I pay tribute to all those who have put together this magnificent exhibition so that we never forget our history. We treasure the memory of those who served to keep Australia safe and we acknowledge the extraordinary efforts of the American and Australian servicemen and women who to this day serve our nations to keep freedom, democracy, our vales as nations alive and thriving. It is with a great deal of pleasure and with great humility that I declare open this exhibition at Australia’s National Maritime Museum, the Guardians of the Sunda Strait.
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