Remarks at the Tom Hughes Oration – 10 April 2024

Share This Post

Tom Hughes Oration
Opera House, Sydney
10 April 2024

I have always wanted to perform at the Sydney Opera House, but I never had the talent of Simon Tedecshi.

Our six year old son James has started learning piano. We took him to see one of Simon Tedeschi’s children’s concerts here over the summer.

As James was practicing one of his pieces I said to him “Well done James, that’s perfect”.

He said “No Dad. Only Simon Tedeschi plays piano that is perfect.”.  

Thank you Simon.

Friends, tonight I want to take you back 65 years to when construction of the Sydney Opera House commenced.

Tram sheds once stood on this site.

And architects were asked to imagine the possibility.

And Jørn Utzon did.

This building was his imagination.

He said of this place “my objective was to bring joy”.

“To uplift from daily life”.

To reflect in this magnificent location, the sky, the water, and the upward slopes of the harbourside cliffs.

Utzon wanted to reflect the Australian ethos where in his words “we want to do things our way”.

And integral to Utzon’s vision of this place of music, drama, and laughter was the forecourt and steps and open spaces which he described as a “town square”. 

A place to gather. 

To bring people together. 

In his words “to bring joy”.

In the past that’s what the steps and forecourt have been – a welcoming place. A place of joy, romance, a meeting place for friends and loved ones.

….until an October night six months ago.

On that night the unspeakable was chanted.

And a mob descended on Australia’s town square.

Chants and flares in the dark.

Law abiding Australians were told that it was not safe for them to come here. 

From that night, Jewish Australians felt in their DNA the trauma of other mobs in times past – when violent mobs marched through the streets of the most civilized and cultured places in Europe.

For many of us for the first time in our lives, we had the feeling that we weren’t safe in the land of our birth – in the country that we love.

Targeting as they did the most famous building in this country those protestors deliberately brought international shame on Australia.

Their message to the world was that this is not the free, tolerant, temperate country that we know it to be. 

The message they wanted to send was that this is a country seething with hatred – not just of Jews but of Australian values and Western values. 

It was a failure of policing and leadership that no one stopped them.

That night an angry mob took over an iconic symbol of Australia.

But tonight we are here to reclaim this place for all Australians.

That’s why I wanted to hold this year’s Tom Hughes Oration, which is named after a brave Australian, here at the Sydney Opera House.

To return to the scene of that crime and say: enough!

Your presence tonight – our presence tonight – is about affirming our commitment to Australia, its people and our Australian values.

Where all Australians, no matter their religion, political belief, gender, sexuality or background are considered equal.

And our presence tonight affirms our commitment to ensuring this country remains one of the fairest and freest multicultural and multi-faith nations on earth.

We know that since October 7 and the subsequent events here at the Opera House that anti-Semitism in this country is off the charts.

And we have seen a new form of anti-Semitism – found in the far Left of Australian politics designed to intimidate Jewish Australians from making the contribution to this wonderful country that they are called to make. 

Some might ask what is the answer to the anti-Semitism of this time?

The answer is: it is found where it is always has been found, in the actions of brave men and women who demonstrate strength and defiance.

It is found in the actions of people today.

It’s found in the extraordinary performance we just witnessed from Simon Tedeschi – and in his public stance against the doxxers and the Greens politicians seeking to silence Jewish Australian artists.

Simon, you are a mensch.

It is found in the work of Daniel Smith, an Australian conductor who grew up in the Berowra electorate, who is standing with the Jewish people at this time and  last week conducted the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in Tel Aviv – the first Australian to do so.

And it’s found in the work of Christian Leaders, Mark Leach and his daughter Freya Leach who have led gatherings of thousands supporting their fellow Australians. 

And it’s found in the actions of thousands of Australians like Antionette Sarkis – one of my wonderful constituents who is here tonight. She was one of the first people to reach out and say to me that she and her family were thinking of me and the Jewish people and standing with us at this time 

Antoinette is one of thousands of decent Australians whose actions are not recorded, but who have stood with their fellow Australians against terrorism, bullying, and intimidation at this time.

And our strength is also found in the example of leader’s from times past.

I think of the great John Howard who honours us with his presence tonight.

You supported our democratic allies, you stood up to terrorists, you were never afraid to defend our values. John, thank you again for being with us tonight.

I also think of the late General Jim Molan, with whom I served on the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. 

Jim often reminded us often that the first and last lines of a country’s defence is the strength and unity of its citizens. 

We see that truth expressed in real time in Ukraine and in Israel too. 

Erin, you have inherited your father’s strength. Thank you for being with us tonight and for everything you do on Sky, week in and week out.

And that strength is found in the memory of Australians like Sir Asher Joel and Dennis Wolansky who had so much to do with the establishment of this iconic building. 

Sir Asher Joel was my first political mentor. 

Like so many Jewish Australians he was a patriot who served his country in time of peace and time of war.

He oversaw the magnificent opening of the Opera House in which hundreds of thousands participated. As part of that event Sir Asher released 1,000 pigeons here at Circular Quay  – and I don’t think those pigeons have ever left!

I am honoured that Sir Asher’s son Michael is with us today – my friendship with your father and indeed your whole family is a blessing to me.

Philip Wolansky is also with us tonight. Like Sir Asher, Philip was a former Trustee of this place.

Philip’s father was the late Dennis Wolansky.

Dennis was a Holocaust survivor. He arrived in Australia with nothing. 

In a land of freedom we worked hard – and he gave back to the country that welcomed him. 

Dennis gave so much for so long to this place that the Library in this building is named after him.

That is the story of this country. 

A story of men and women who live courageously, who serve, who aspire and who give back.

Giants who imagined and worked for a better world just like Jørn Utzon did.

And that brings us to the man this lecture is named after: the Honorable Tom Hughes AO KC.

Tom celebrated a wonderful anniversary late last year – he turned 100!

That is a wonderful milestone, but it’s not Tom’s greatest.

In about eight weeks, it will be eighty years since RAAF pilot Tom Hughes flew over the skies of Normandy doing battle with Hitler’s Luftwaffe.

Unlike our current Foreign Minister, Tom Hughes and his generation did not seek appeasement or accommodation.

There was no false moral equivalence. 

They knew nazism was evil and that it had to be defeated. 

Tom and his generation did not say the day after Poland was invaded that Poland had to show restraint. As our Foreign Minister did the morning after Hamas attacked Israel.

As I said at that time – and I say again tonight – the Foreign Minister has a blind spot when it comes to Israel.

When it came to standing up for principle – looking at the world clear-eyed – Tom and his generation did so. And so too must we.

Tom was part of the greatest generation who won a war, secured peace and rebuilt the world.

To be an aviator in the Second World War was to live with death every day.

Tom wasn’t flying an A380.

In the European war, only 25% of the pilots returned unscathed.

Tom and his comrades stared Nazis in the eye – and said: Not. In. Our. Time.

Tom once said he had “a lucky war”.

For once, the great silk understates his case.

Tom had a brave war – and has lived a courageous life.

He’s fought for what has mattered: in war, in politics and at the bar.

An Attorney-General who was ahead of his time – who reformed trade practices, had a clear view of the corporations powers and argued the Chinese Communist Party would never change. He was right.

This is the seventh Tom Hughes Oration – and it’s an oration that is about reminding ourselves as Liberals and as Australians about the principles and values that must continue to guide us.

Friends, we live in a world where principles and values matter.

They act as anchors during the storms and tempests of life.

This is the most dangerous time in the world since Tom Hughes and his generation defended it 80 years ago.

Geopolitical tensions, the deterioration of the rules-based order, misinformation and disinformation, cyber attacks, foreign interference and the rise of authoritarians.

Small events create disproportionate effects – on economies, supply chains and people’s lives.

It’s why leadership matters.

And that brings me to tonight’s guest of honour.

During a time when we see leaders putting each way bets on almost everything, Peter Dutton is a man of conviction and certainty.

Australians always know where they stand with Peter Dutton.

He was right when he said this is a time of moral clarity and absolute certainty.

Again and again, Peter demonstrates an absolute clarity about who he is, what his values are and where he stands.

I know Peter Dutton has the attributes and the experience to be a great Liberal Prime Minister. 

At a time when people are thumbing their nose at the rule of law on our streets, on our borders and around the world, Peter Dutton has a record of keeping our borders strong and Australians safe.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is a time for clarity, and it’s a time for strength. 

It’s a time for Australia to stand up for and live out its liberal democratic ideals.

Peter Dutton is the man for such times.

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming, to deliver the 7th Tom Hughes Oration, the next Prime Minister of Australia, Peter Dutton.

Latest stories