House debates

Wednesday, 11 September 2019


Defence Personnel

7:30 pm

Photo of Matt KeoghMatt Keogh (Burt, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Defence Industry) Share this | Hansard source

As the new shadow minister for defence industry, I'm thoroughly enjoying learning about Australia's defence capability and the potential for businesses around the country to increase our defence industry offerings to both the Australian and overseas defence markets. I look forward to working with these businesses to improve their opportunities in the defence industry space. However, understanding the defence industry requires an understanding of the primary user—the Australian Defence Force. I have been lucky now to have had two opportunities to spend extended time with our defence personnel in various operations and exercises. I believe it is vital to connect with these individuals, from those with stars down to those without a commission, to find out firsthand what they do, what they use and work with every day, what works and, sometimes, what doesn't to find out what it is that we can do as their elected representatives to support them and ensure the protection of our nation.

The first opportunity I had to be exposed to the reality of defence deployment was in 2017, when I travelled to the Middle East and Afghanistan. This gave me a valuable initial insight into the lives of the men and women of our defence forces on deployment, their living conditions, their experiencing long periods away from loved ones, weather extremes and life in body armour. Being over there, we had the opportunity to learn of their experiences on the ground and witness what they deal with day in, day out. Our Navy, Army and Air Force do an incredibly challenging job in often very difficult circumstances, circumstances that are unlike any other, so it is important, I believe, that we don't just support them in words and practice but take the time to get the understanding of their service, their work, their operations, their jobs, and the effects on them.

In July of this year, I had the opportunity through the ADF parliamentary program to take part in exercise Talisman Sabre in Queensland, the principle biennial Australian and US military training exercise that combines our Navy, Army and Air Force in high-end war fighting. It is the main exercise between Australia and the US and integrates our regional ally, Japan, as well as troops from Britain and New Zealand. Overall, there were more than 30,000 troops, sailors, airmen and women involved in the exercise, and I had the opportunity to witness them at work in a very difficult setting. During the week I spent on the exercise, I had the opportunity not only to visit but to steer the HMAS Canberradon't worry, it was only for a minute or two! I was so impressed with the capacity of the crew, how young yet confident they all were in their roles. I had the opportunity to witness the largest amphibious vehicle landing, where 2,000 personnel descended upon the shores of Stanage Bay. We travelled in Chinooks, sat in on special operation meetings and had the opportunity to experience night vision goggles and the ADF's new binoculars.

People may think that North Queensland is quite balmy all year round and, for the most part, they would be correct. What people tend to forget is the significant drop in temperature that occurs overnight, particularly when you are camping out under the stars. I cannot complain. All of the personnel who took part certainly didn't, even when we were eating ration packs. Special thanks I must give to those who shared their special recipes for those packs! In fact the only negative peep I heard was when the Americans were tasked with the age-old potentially relationship-destroying mission of testing our unique delicacy, Vegemite.

Being involved in the exercise was an amazing opportunity. It is through my participation in the Talisman Sabre exercise that I can further appreciate both the might of our defence capability as well as the personal sacrifice and commitment that comes with that. I got to learn of the issues experienced in the field and how new protections and capabilities will further enhance the effectiveness of our forces and improve the service of our ADF personnel. I want to thank all of the ADF personnel who enabled my visit. I have nothing but respect and admiration for our ADF members and our allied forces. The ADF's amazing capability and interoperability with other forces was truly a sight to behold. Australians can be very proud of our defence personnel and I thank all those who made my trip an enjoyable, educational and productive one.


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