Wednesday, 24 October 2018
Australian Defence Force Parliamentary Program
Earlier this month, I had the very great privilege of taking part in the Australian Defence Force Parliamentary Program, where I spent three days living and working with Defence personnel at HMAS Stirling. Their base is on Garden Island, a 10-kilometre stretch of sand and limestone which sits just five kilometres off Rockingham in in my electorate, so not only was the program a chance to learn more about the great work of our Royal Australian Navy, but it was also a chance to spend some quality time with many of my constituents. I grew up around the corner from HMAS Stirling in Shoalwater Bay. In fact, HMAS Stirling and I grew up together: construction on Stirling's wharves and workshops began the year that I was born, and it was commissioned some five years later.
But the history of Garden Island stretches back much, much further than my own personal time line. The Noongar people tell Dreamtime stories of walking to islands like Garden Island and Rottnest Island off the coast of Western Australia. At the end of the last glacial period, the sea level rose, and the island then existed in isolation for 7,000 years. But that would change forever in 1827 when Captain James Stirling landed on the island, and he returned in 1829 to found the first European settlement. Earlier this year, HMAS Stirling celebrated its 40th year since its commissioning in 1978. The former member for Brand, and now Governor of Western Australia, the Hon. Kim Beazley AC, progressed the Two Ocean Navy policy when he was defence minister in the Hawke government. It was a tectonic shift in the force posture of this country's naval forces, but the strategic argument was overwhelming. As we are all well aware, Australia has interests in both the Pacific and the Indian Oceans, and the ongoing development of HMAS Stirling on Garden Island in Rockingham reflects that very important fact. Now, 720 people live on the base permanently—for the most part—while they are stationed there, and thousands more work there and travel there each day from across my electorate and further afield.
Twelve fleet units call Garden Island home, including the RAN's Anzac class frigates and the Collins class submarines, and it holds the only submarine escape training facility in the Southern Hemisphere, which was opened by Kim Beazley when he was the defence minister. Fleet Base West not only protects Australia's vast ocean shores but Garden Island ships are also sent throughout the world, as we know, to Amsterdam Island in the Indian Ocean and to the Persian Gulf. I was fortunate enough to tour the HMAS Ballarat frigate, a 118-metre long warship that was launched in 2002. The frigate had just returned to port after responding to the emergency call from two yachtsmen who were de-masted and injured while competing in an around-the-world yacht race. The crew had been on their first day of some pre-deployment leave but, as soon as the call came, they of course responded to that call and returned to support their fellow mariners out on the seas. There were stories told of people being on the tarmac on a plane and having to tell the service staff of the commercial aircraft that they now had to go back to the base, and were so returned. Some holidays were cut short, but all in the service of the nation and people in distress.
For those few days on the ADF Parliamentary Program, the Navy were very welcoming to me. I was able to don their uniform and had fun in the very relaxed Navy camo that they let you wear on this program. I visited the firefighting, training and emergency training areas, and also the submarine rescue facility. I even got to work in the galley, and there is a fine bunch of people that work in the galley, feeding the thousands of people that work on Garden Island every day. I had the chance to roll some cookie dough, and I have to confess mine wasn't as even as that of the cooks and chefs that worked there, and I asked the people in charge if they might put a note on my tray so that some sailor doesn't get in trouble, on a future day when they take it out of the freezer and find that there's a not-quite-up-to-spec bit of cookie dough.
It was a very great privilege to work alongside the sailors that work and live in my electorate. It's not every day you have the opportunity to share in the lives of your constituents in this manner. Garden Island is a beautiful part of the world. One morning I had the chance to join Polly Farmer Foundation students on a bike ride around the island, and at dawn I was able to look out over my home town, across Cockburn Sound over Mangles Bay to Rockingham Beach, which again made me realise how lucky I am to represent this incredible place.
I want to thank the men and women serving on HMAS Stirling for taking me in and treating me so well. In particular, I want to thank the commanding officer of HMAS Stirling, Captain Brian Delamont; CPO Lachlan Parsons; CPO Allen 'Nobby' Clark; CPO Todd Page; Leading Seaman Amelia Manderson; Leading Seaman Grahame Murray; and Able Seaman Joel Robertson. It's an honour to spend such meaningful time with the great women and men who serve my community and the nation as a whole. It's not every day an MP gets that experience. I am very grateful.