Speech to the 2020 Australia Day Reception
22 January 2020
Australia House, Strand
His Excellency the Honourable George Brandis QC
Welcome to Australia House this evening for this reception of Australia's National Day, which falls this weekend.
Australia Day is an occasion to celebrate Australia and its people. This year’s celebration comes after a particularly difficult few weeks for Australia – and I will say a little more about that in a moment.
It was on the 26 January 1788 that Captain Arthur Phillip, of the Royal Navy, founded a penal settlement on the shores of Sydney Harbour. That first European numbered 1030 people; 736 of them convicts. The Commonwealth of Australia itself came into being on 1 January 1901, just 119 years ago.
But that is just the most recent part of our story – for prior to European settlement, what we now know as Australia had been settled by indigenous Australians for many millennia – according to some scholars, for as long as 60,000 years.
So, while modern Australia may be one of the younger nations of the world, because of our indigenous heritage it is also the world’s oldest continuing civilization.
Today, just a few yards from the spot where Arthur Phillip first set foot on Sydney Cove in 1788, stands the Sydney Opera House – a symbol of the prosperous, modern, sophisticated nation which Australia has become: indeed, one of the most successful and prosperous societies the world has ever known.
Australia Day gives us the opportunity to reflect upon and celebrate the Australian achievement.
We celebrate our democratic traditions, our egalitarian spirit, our free institutions, our inclusive lifestyle and the resilient optimism – even in the face of dire adversity - which is one of the defining features of our national character.
We celebrate the fact that modern Australia, in the years since the Second World War has been so enriched by immigration from every corner of the world, so that today, Australia is one of the world's most successful multicultural nations.
And, here in the heart of London, we also celebrate our ties with the United Kingdom. Although Australia is more than 15,000 kilometres away, the kinship between our two countries is stronger than ever. We are united not just by common values and interests but by a shared history, a common language, a similar legal system, the closest of cultural affinities and the deepest of people-to-people links.
We celebrate our historic ties with what, a century ago, Australians called the mother country, but we now acknowledge as an equal strategic partner. Whose values of freedom, democracy, the and preservation of the rule of law, we share and for which we have fought shoulder-to-shoulder through our world's great conflicts of the 20th century; as, in the Middle East, we continue to do today.
This kinship and this unique mateship between our two countries has been on display recently in what has been an extremely challenging and sad time in Australia. Tonight, our hearts go out to all of those back home who have been affected by devastating bushfires in Australia. And on that note I would like to pause for a moment to share with you a short video.
So that is our message this evening: Australia is a resilient place and Australians are a resilient and exuberantly people.
I offer my sincere thanks to everyone in the United Kingdom who has contacted me and my office offering messages of support, condolence and solidarity.
On behalf of Australia, I particularly thank the Parliament and the Government of the United Kingdom not only for your messages of support but also for the contribution that you have made to Australia’s response to the bushfires.
I also thank the countless individuals, organisations and expats who have offered assistance and raised millions of dollars to support our recovery.
During these tough times, we have of course also seen the very best of Australia. Whether it be our brave firefighters and selfless volunteers; the huge groundswell of community support or the practical and stoic responses of everyday Australians who have banded together during some heart-breaking times.
These are just the sort of experiences and values that we celebrate on Australia Day. So please do use tonight as an occasion to celebrate these things that we love about Australia - this mateship, this sense of community and the abounding generosity and, most importantly at times like this, the resilience
Something else we love about Australia is our exceptional food and wine, some of which you are experiencing tonight. Some of this food and wine has been generously provided by a number of sponsors and I would like to particularly thank the Agents General for Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia and our many commercial sponsors for their generous support this evening.
So, once again welcome to Australia House. Thank you so much for being here on a night in which we both celebrate all that is great about Australia, but also keep in our hearts those at home for whom the past several weeks have been so challenging.
Thank you; happy Australia Day!