September 12, 2017

This year marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of the New Guinea campaign, which marked the turning point for Australian defence of the Pacific front in World War II. I acknowledge the countless acts of heroism and endurance and pay my respects to the Australian diggers who so bravely fought across New Guinea at the battles of Kokoda, Bougainville, New Britain and many others. More than any other campaign in the long, dark months of 1942, the Kokoda campaign holds a sacred place in the hearts of many Australians and is a page in our nation's history we view with pride. From July to November that year, our soldiers fought a desperate battle over the Owen Stanley Ranges, considered the final frontier of the Japanese advance towards Australia. Our gallant diggers held their ground and forced the ruthless Imperial Japanese Army back.

Without a doubt, these pages in our nation's history are written in the blood of those who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can enjoy the freedoms we have today. Members of this generation and generations to come are charged with preserving their memory. This year we remember the 625 Australian soldiers killed and the many wounded during the fighting that occurred along the Kokoda Track. Former member and Premier of this great State, the Hon. Bob Carr, showed he understood the measure of the men who fought at Kokoda and their place in the Australian collective memory, when he said:

"The Kokoda Track isn't just a place where our salvation was won—Kokoda's now part of the Australian dreaming, a sacred site".

A few weeks ago, it was a special privilege to join the students and staff of Lomandra School in my electorate of Campbelltown to do the 96 kilometre trek from Owers Corner to the Kokoda village on the eastern peninsula of Papua New Guinea. Our group consisted of principal Mark Smith, staff members Stephen Cook, Summer Henwood and Darren Lees, and four students, Brandon Contreras, Riley Parker, Shannon Wheeldon and Harry Boyden-Shepherd. I thank them for being here in the gallery today.

This was my second trek. My first effort was in 2014 as part of the Kokoda for Kids charity, which raised over $30,000 for the paediatric ambulatory care unit at Campbelltown Hospital and the Kids of Macarthur Health Foundation. I give a special thanks to our Adventure Kokoda trek leader Peter "Sneaky" Morrison and the ever warm, hospitable and friendly people of Papua New Guinea. The long comradeship of our two peoples began when the fuzzy wuzzy angels carried our wounded diggers to safety and took our dead diggers out over the Owen Stanley Ranges.

There is one word carved on each of the four marble pillars of the war memorial at Isurava. These four words summarise the efforts of the Anzacs at that place: courage, endurance, mateship and sacrifice. To recognise the efforts of the four students from Lomandra who completed this impressive feat of endurance at such a young age, I presented each with a certificate with one of the words from the pillars of Isurava ascribed to them. I hope that in years to come they remember not only the time they spent in Kokoda but also every single one of the diggers who walked with pride through that place. It was an honour to visit the grave of Fred Murray of the 2/3rd Battalion, who died on 6 November 1942 on the advance to push the Japanese back to the ocean. Fred's brother, John Murray, is a former deputy mayor of Camden and a long-term resident of Macarthur.

During their journey I believe the students learnt something they will carry through their lives: the principles and values the trek teaches of endurance, strength, mateship and many others. I believe they have benefited from the friendship that united them on the trek; each of us who participated grew as a result of the trek. We can never doubt the importance of our young people in their role of carrying the flame of history and the proud stories of our great nation that originated in the jungles of Kokoda.

I call on the Federal Government to review the funding model and other measures that are in place for the Kokoda Track Authority. I am not confident that the current framework provides the best efficiencies for the Government and, most importantly, for the people of Papua New Guinea. There are lots of flashy, shiny signs around but not much else. In one area a medical facility was built but it did not even have bandaids or bandages, and not one doctor or nurse had visited it. The beautiful country of Papua New Guinea is experiencing serious issues and we must help its wonderful people, who helped us so much in 1942. Apart from words, the best way to show our appreciation is with action, and that can only be achieved by a Federal Government with the correct measures in place.