Source: Prime Minister of Australia
There are moments in time when things we thought were certain can change in a heartbeat and we know that nothing will ever be the same again.
We recall exactly where we were, what we were doing, and the shock we felt as the foundations of our world seemed to shake.
September 11, 2001 in the United States was one of those days.
That night in Sydney, as dawn broke in America, Jen and I were at home having a quiet evening together watching television. When the news broke through, we sat and watched in numb disbelief.
Twenty years have now passed since New York and Washington were attacked. On this anniversary, we remember and honour the 2,977 people who lost their lives on that day and the many more since.
Our hearts go out to the families of the 10 Australians among them, and the many other Australians affected by those terrible events.
It was a time when we saw both the worst and the best of humanity.
Amid the devastation, we saw acts of love, great bravery and sacrifice.
The calls being made to love ones from burning towers, as the tragedy came down around them. Messages of love and good-bye.
But also calls of brave defiance. ‘Let’s roll’ Tod Beamer said, as he and others on board took back Flight 93 and crashed into the fields of Pennsylvania, to thwart the terrorists’ evil plans.
And the thousands of first responders, many sacrificing themselves, as they charged into the burning towers, and those who then converged to find survivors and clear the rubble of ground zero.
We pay tribute to all their heroism and sacrifice.
First and foremost let us must remember this terrible event as an awful human tragedy, causing great personal suffering and grief to so many.
When I think of September 11, my mind always casts forward to just over a year later on October 12, when the same evil terror, that blasphemes the very religion it claims to serve, was visited on 88 Australians in Bali.
Each year the families and friends of those Australians killed on that day gather on the cliffs at Coogee in Sydney to remember. I have often joined them there.
Despite the passing of the years, their sorrow and mourning, their loss and grief continues. And so it will be for the families of the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks today.
So on this anniversary, let our first thoughts be with them as we send our sincere condolences for their terrible loss and to President Biden and all the people of the United States.
But let us also appreciate that September 11 reminds us that we can never take our peace, our freedom and our way of life for granted.
A little more than a decade before the terrible events of September 11, the Berlin Wall fell. Some thought this marked ‘the end of history’ and that the cause of freedom had forever prevailed.
September 11 reminded us that freedom is always fragile. As Ronald Reagan said, it “must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation”.
That day was an attack on free peoples everywhere. It was an attack on our way of life and the values of liberal democracy. Despite the pain inflicted on that day, the terrorists ultimately failed in their attempts to crush our resolve and change our way of life.
Our then Prime Minister John Howard was in Washington D.C. on that terrible day. He saw the smoke plume in Washington. He also saw the great spirit and enduring faith of the American people.
The Howard Government invoked the ANZUS Treaty, for the first and only time in its 50 year history. As John Howard said to Parliament on his return, “if the comradeship, the friendship and the common bonds of democracy and a belief in liberty, fraternity and justice mean anything, it means that the ANZUS Treaty applies.”
So when the Taliban refused to hand over Al-Qaeda terrorists, we supported a US-led operation to hunt down Osama Bin Laden and eliminate the capacity to stage more attacks against the West from Afghanistan.
Together with the international community, we also laboured long and hard to help the Afghan people secure a better future.
Sadly, the fruits from those seeds of hope are now very uncertain.
But let us never doubt that our cause was, and always will be, a just one.
So on this day of remembrance, we also honour all who served in Afghanistan, especially the 41 Australians who died in the service of our country.
And on this day we re-dedicate Australia to the cause of peace and freedom and to the constant vigilance required to deny the threat of terror.
Let us appreciate all those who work every day to keep us safe. Our police and security agencies, our defence forces, and thank them for their service.
Let us commit ourselves to continue to stand with our partners and allies – especially the United States – as we work together for a world that favours freedom.
Let us re-affirm the liberal democratic values that guide us and the truths we hold dear.
And above all, let us hold all those we love a little closer and be grateful for their blessing in our lives.