House debates

Monday, 24 June 2013

Constituency Statements

Pacific Partnership 2013

10:48 am

Photo of Sharman StoneSharman Stone (Murray, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I recently had the privilege of joining the Pacific Partnership 2013 in its annual US-sponsored humanitarian and civic assistance mission, which is aimed at strengthening international relationships with partner and host nations in the Asia-Pacific. The Pacific Partnership series of exercises was conceived following the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. It is a way to test and improve the interoperability of the region's military forces, governments and humanitarian organisations. As you can imagine, we do not want to wait for another disaster to find out how to do it best together, but, rather, this is an effort which has been held before to look at how we can combine humanitarian, medical, dental and engineering assistance to nations of the pacific, and strengthen relationships and security ties between the nations. Participating in this year's exercise were the United States, New Zealand, Japan and Australia.

The focus, when I had the privilege of joining them, was in taking HMAS Tobrukup the east coast of Australia, first to Wewak and then to another town—where the 100 military, medical and engineering personnel would get out onto the ground and provide medical, dental and health assistance with the local Papua New Guinea health service providers. The support then moved to Vanimo to contribute their engineering effort by helping to rebuild schools and fix up memorials, particularly from the Second World War. A great deal of heavy fighting took place in these regions, and we are so grateful to our allies, the Papua New Guinea local people, who supported Australia as we fought the invasion at that time.

The engineering group came from the Australian Army's 6th Engineer Support Regiment and they are working with members of the United States Navy's Amphibious Construction Battalion from San Diego. Some 5,000 schoolchildren will benefit from their maintenance, repairs and refurbishment to schools. As well, there was a diving contingent. If there is any old unexploded ordnance, these Australian clearance divers will work to make the place safer; they are disposal specialists. All of the American medical participants were volunteer reservists, and a significant proportion of the medical support from Australia were also reserves.

I want to commend this exercise. It was a stunning opportunity for me to also participate on HMAS Tobruk for a number of days. Commander Leif Maxfield, taking command of the ship for the first time, had to deal with some very heavy seas and also, of course, an older ship, but it performed brilliantly and I have to say I was proud to be an Australian amongst these great, younger Australians and the Pacific partners. (Time expired)