Lest we forget. Those three words send a shiver down the spine of many when spoken on Australian days of remembrance. We remember not only those who served but why, creating a powerful link between the lessons of the past and the threats of the future.


Today we mark two anniversaries, neither of which we should forget. The people of Ukraine mark their 31st Independence Day. Today also marks exactly six months since the beginning of Russia’s attempted full scale invasion of Ukraine.


31 years ago was a time of hope, for Ukrainians and the world. The era of Glasnost under Mikhail Gorbachev had delivered greater openness, democracy and self determination. Proud Ukrainians once again seized their national identity to create a nation. Beyond the former Soviet states, the Berlin Wall had fallen and the end of the Cold War heralded a new era of peace.


Sadly, it was not to be. The brutal attempted invasion of Ukraine has returned Europe to the type of bloody conflict that many believed belonged in history books, with Russian brutality causing more than 5,500 civilian deaths, including young children.


Ukraine’s resistance against a foe with more than three times the population, four times the military personnel and nine times the economic might has been heroic. Many defence analysts expected a quick victory for Russia but they were wrong. Where Russia sought to quickly capture the capital of Kyiv they failed.


Australia, together with other nations respectful of sovereignty and the rule of law, have condemned Russia and the criminal actions of President Putin. Widespread sanctions have been imposed in efforts to punish Russia’s leaders and oligarchs. An estimated half of Russia’s foreign reserves are now frozen, their leaders targeted and hundreds of major companies have pulled out of Russia.


Many nations have directly supported Ukraine too. Under the former Liberal-National Government, Australia provided significant financial, military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Our efforts positioned Australia as Ukraine’s largest non-NATO supporter. This has been built upon with further assistance by the new Government.


Australia gave an initial $91 million in military assistance and $65 million in humanitarian aid. This has now grown to $388 million and includes the gifting of Australian Bushmaster Protected Military Vehicles and even help for Ukraine’s energy security via 70,000 tonnes of thermal coal.


As many vulnerable Ukrainians flee a brutal war, Australia has helped thousands by offering our home as theirs. Despite our vast distance from their homeland, more than 8,500 visas have been granted to Ukrainian nationals to find safety in Australia.


The other pillar in the global response to this war is a strengthening of protections against the aggressive acts of nations such as Russia. Earlier identification of the threats posed by authoritarian regimes, collaborating with like minded nations (such as the expansion of NATO) and increased defence investments are all essential buffers against similar horrors.


Six months on the world should not grow complacent of this war or acquiesce in any way to Russia. To give up or lose focus would not only be an inhumane abandonment of the Ukrainian people, it would be a desertion of principle that would leave us all weaker and more exposed to the whims of tyrants like President Putin.


We must continue to act. We should tighten the net further on Russia wherever possible. Australia should remain at the forefront of military support to Ukraine, providing more weapons, defences, vehicles or other equipment that will help them to, ultimately, win this war.


We should help those nations managing the bulk of the humanitarian crisis. Our door should remain open to vulnerable Ukrainians seeking temporary or permanent resettlement in Australia.


We should also ensure that the nation of Ukraine has a permanent home in Australia, with a proper embassy, not in a rented office as is currently the case. Most fittingly, this should be built on the Canberra land where Russia’s right to build a new embassy was recently terminated.


Finally, with rising tensions and militarisation in our region, we must continue to strengthen our own deterrents to conflict. Diplomatic efforts must build on AUKUS, the Quad and the Reciprocal Access Agreement with Japan, along with deepening partnerships across the Indo Pacific and with other nations who share our values.


Deterrence also necessitates defence investment, made easier by the Liberal-National restoration of Australia’s defence spending to two per cent of GDP, which stands as one of the most prescient actions of recent governments.


For Australians with family in Ukraine, today will be difficult, as is every day where they grieve for loved ones lost and fear for those who remain. Sadly we cannot eliminate their grief or fear. We can, however, be steadfast in support for Ukraine, in their battle for victory and in the rebuilding that is to follow. Lest we forget.


Senator Simon Birmingham is the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs