House debates

Monday, 2 December 2019

Private Members' Business

Australian Defence Force Parliamentary Program

12:55 pm

Photo of John McVeighJohn McVeigh (Groom, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) notes the outstanding success of the 2019 Australian Defence Force (ADF) Parliamentary Program;

(2) recognises:

  (a) the opportunity provided to both Senators and Members to participate in the ADF Parliamentary Program to experience the professionalism, skill and dedication of our world-class defence force; and

  (b) the exchange element of the ADF Parliamentary Program, where senators and members host an ADF member during a sitting week in parliament; and

(3) acknowledges the 49 members and senators who participated, including those who hosted one of the 27 ADF members during the October 2019 sitting week.

The 2019 Australian Defence Force Parliamentary Program has again provided the opportunity for both senators and members from the Australian federal parliament to live the experience of those that we are so proud of in our Defence Force—those, of course, from our Army, Navy and Air Force. As the motion outlines, the 2019 parliamentary program has again proven to be a tremendous success, certainly based on the feedback from participants, the feedback from our Defence Force hosts and the contributions from many members in various speeches in this House in recent sittings.

The motion, I think quite rightly, suggests that the House recognises the opportunity provided to senators and members to experience the professionalism, the skill and the dedication of our world-class Defence Force. It also acknowledges the exchange element, where those of us in this House have the opportunity to host members of the Australian Defence Force so that they might see how the parliament works. And, in particular, I think it's an opportunity to acknowledge the members and senators who have participated in that exchange program and the ADF members that were here in the House during the October 2019 sitting week. But, ultimately, this motion is all about recognising the tremendous work of members of the Australian Defence Force.

Various programs are available under the parliamentary program to provide a good overview of those in our Army, Navy and Air Force elements, as I've mentioned, both domestically and internationally. This year I was very fortunate, along with colleagues from government and non-government seats across the country, to participate in the Middle East program, which included time on our main Middle East base, where training is provided, where orientation is provided for those coming and going, and where supplies are organised for our activities right across the Middle East, in association with our coalition partners. Our delegation of three also spent some enlightening days at Camp Taji in Baghdad and in the air with Air Force representatives across much of this region during our deployment. We had the opportunity to travel to and from the Middle East region with members of the Defence Force, both those commencing deployment in the Middle East and those returning either on leave or simply having completed their deployment.

What did we see? Amongst other things, I noted the relatively young age of our Defence Force representatives on deployment in the Middle East—women and men in their 20s and 30s doing something that we can all be proud of, most certainly, but something that puts them in harm's way and incurs personal costs in terms of time away from loved ones and away from their homes. We observed their professionalism; their respect for each other; their respect for us, their guests; their good humour; their hospitality; the camaraderie between them; and their focus on protection, amongst other things, whilst they were hosting us. Most of all, we recognised the risk that they place themselves in. Despite the fact that they are well trained and drilled, the risk remains.

Spending time with them out in the field, travelling with them on aircraft and just sharing a meal in the mess gave us the opportunity to understand their lives, what they're doing for our country, and the cost for them in terms of, as I mentioned earlier, time away from families and loved ones. We recognise their activities. This parliamentary program does give us a unique insight into what they're doing for all of us. And the fact is they are so humble, appreciating our respect and acknowledgement but not demanding it. This is certainly a way in which we can acknowledge them, and I encourage all members and senators to do so in the future.

Photo of Rick WilsonRick Wilson (O'Connor, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is there a seconder for the motion?

1:00 pm

Photo of Tim WattsTim Watts (Gellibrand, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Communications) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm happy to second the motion. I thank the member for Groom for moving this important motion about the Australian Defence Force Parliamentary Program. It is one of the great institutions of this building, and one that, I think it is fair to say, shares the absolute support of all members of this parliament.

I had my third run in the ADFPP this year. In September I spent a few days underwater on the HMAS Sheean, one of the Royal Australian Navy's six Australian-made Collins class submarines. Australia's submarines are world class and are integral to protecting our national interests. The RAN's submarines are one of the most important ways in which our defence forces can shape Australia's strategic circumstances. The Future Submarine program, which will replace the Collins class subs, is the most expensive procurement Australia has ever made in any context. It will be by far the biggest public expenditure that all of us in the Chamber here today will see in our parliamentary careers.

In estimates on Friday Defence revealed that the cost of this program has blown out to $80 billion and the construction time line has been delayed till 2024. Given the significance of the program to our national security and the cost of it, it's important that we get it right. So it's incumbent on all members of parliament to understand the issues raised by this program to ensure that taxpayers get value for money and that we have the most regionally superior submarines at work in our national interest. The ADFPP is an outstanding opportunity for parliamentarians to get an insight into it firsthand. I really recommend that all parliamentarians interested in the Future Submarine program 'get their hands dirty' under this program on one of the existing Collins class subs.

Whilst I was on board the HMAS Sheean I learnt that Australia's submariners do this crucial job with both professionalism and a very tight fraternal bond. It's not just a job, it's not just a vocation; being a submariner means having a second family. I'd really like to thank the crew of the HMAS Sheean for welcoming me into that family. Thank you for your service on the Sheean and to our country.

I learnt what service and sacrifice in the ADF meant when it was my turn to play host in the exchange component of the ADFPP and I had the pleasure of hosting Commander Jenny Macklin in my parliamentary office. Commander Macklin had just returned from Syria, where she had been deployed as gender adviser to a US-led multinational mission to defeat Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. I'm sure all members would join with me in saying that invariably the highlight of ADFPP—the thing we are most impressed with, the thing we come back to this building and our communities raving about, bragging about, after having done the exchange—isn't the fancy technology, the kit or the hardware; it's the servicemen in the ADF. We never fail to be impressed at their professionalism, the calibre of their intellect and their integrity. That was certainly the case in my experience with Commander Macklin, who in 2018 was recognised by TheAustralian Financial Review as one of Australia's 100 most influential women for her work in the diversity and inclusion field in the Navy and across government. She's also the first gender adviser to be deployed on a maritime exercise and the first gender adviser to be deployed to the multinational exercise in South Korea. I consider it an enormous privilege to have spent a few days with Commander Macklin, and I view my work in this place as being enriched by the conversations that we had.

The shared perspectives of the ADF and our parliamentarians are one of the real value-adds of this program. You are not just hosting someone on exchange in your office but enriching your own understanding of our country and the ADF. Because of this program, we learn from each other and understand each other's worlds a little bit better.

Thank you to Commander Macklin for her participation in the program. Thank you also to Lieutenant Colonel Andy Martin for organising and facilitating the ADFPP. It's a varied experience, dealing with members of parliament, trying to herd us and get us into the culture of the ADF for a week. I take my hat off to Andy for the long service he has put in for this cause. I'd also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank the Defence Force personnel who are currently serving in the Middle East, Sudan, Israel, Afghanistan and the Philippines and those safeguarding Australia's maritime interests. Thank you also to our veterans community, to those men and women who have served our nation and have now transitioned out of the defence forces: Labor is committed to working with this government on a bipartisan basis to make sure that we continue to support you and your families.

1:05 pm

Photo of Nicolle FlintNicolle Flint (Boothby, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to thank the member for Groom for moving this motion today. I am a very enthusiastic participant of the Australian Defence Force Parliamentary Program. As I reported to the House last week, I recently visited the RAAF Base Edinburgh in South Australia. I'm delighted to be able to add some further detail to my report to the House last week. I really want to encourage every single one of my colleagues who has not yet done the Australian Defence Force Parliamentary Program to please do so. You'll have an amazing time.

I was hosted throughout my visit by No. 24 (City of Adelaide) Squadron, who arranged for me to see the breadth of work undertaken at Edinburgh by the highly dedicated and professional men and women of our Army and Air Force. My visit started at the Air Warfare Centre, where I received a number of briefs demonstrating the crucial role it performs in establishing the Air Force as a modern and fully integrated combat force that can deliver air- and space-power effects in the information age.

I then visited the Institute of Aviation Medicine, where I learnt about the excellent work done to ensure military aviators are prepared for the physiological effects of flight. I was challenged firsthand with the difficulty of flying a simulator that mimicked a series of known safety events, including disorientation and hypoxia, which is a lack of oxygen, due to altitude. For the record, in terms of oxygen, I didn't quite make it to Everest, and I also crashed my plane. I have huge admiration for the men and women of our Air Force who undertake this training, who implement the skills they learn in real-life situations every single day, and for the wonderful people who provide the training to keep them safe.

I also visited No. 92 Wing, where I was provided with a unique aircrew experience through participating in a training mission aboard the P-8A Poseidon, a maritime intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and response aircraft. The training flight included a demonstration of anti-submarine warfare, low-level flying and sonobuoy loading. It was an amazing experience. Upon landing back at RAAF Base Edinburgh, I was exposed to some of the state-of-the-art technology and practice at the innovation hub and I witnessed the growing importance of intelligence to ADF operations. I visited No. 3 Security Forces Squadron, where I was witness to a number of security procedures, protocols and equipment that ensure air bases around Australia are safe and secure, including the military working dog display. I also saw the Bushmaster in action. No. 453 Squadron hosted me and provided a tour of the airfield and a bird's-eye view of the base and their responsibilities.

Later I visited the 1st Armoured Regiment and the 7th Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment. Both regiments are part of the Australian Army's 1st Brigade and are located at RAAF Base Edinburgh. Here I received capability briefs that also included a display of their combat capabilities, including main battle tanks and armoured personnel carriers. I was incredibly lucky to take an M113 armoured personnel carrier for a drive through the closed training area and vehicle obstacle course, an experience I won't soon forget—nor, I'm sure, will my passengers! Thanks to expert tuition, everyone, including the vehicle, returned safely to base.

My visit concluded with a tour of the No. 1 Remote Sensor Unit, where I was provided with an insight into how Air Force conducts effective operations in the air, surface and space domains, in support of the war fighter and national surveillance effort. During the entirety of my stay at RAAF Base Edinburgh, my experience extended to dining at the mess facilities on base, where I was able to meet a range of incredible men and women who perform the wide-ranging and complex jobs our Defence Force requires.

I learnt so much throughout the three days I spent on base, through both the platforms and the people of the Australian Defence Force. I consider the Australian Defence Force Parliamentary Program highly successful in achieving the aim of providing participants with practical experiences of defence in order to facilitate a well-informed national conversation about defence issues. There is no substitute for hands-on experience alongside our defence personnel at the working level.

I want to again recognise the highly dedicated and professional men and women who protect our security and our safety. These wonderful men and women explained to me the nature of their work, equipment, roles and capabilities, and they did so with confidence, professionalism and a great deal of patience. They are a credit to our nation, and I again want to thank them most sincerely for their service, and I want to thank their families most sincerely for enabling them to serve.

I also want to encourage every single one of my colleagues who has not yet participated in the Australian Defence Force Parliamentary Program to please do so. You will genuinely have the experience of a lifetime and meet some incredible men and women who do so much to keep our country safe and secure.

1:10 pm

Photo of Julie OwensJulie Owens (Parramatta, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second that. Every member of this parliament should avail themselves of this wonderful exchange program with Australia's military. I'm looking forward to my ninth one next year. There's only one member of parliament who has done more than me, and, if I hadn't got the flu when I was supposed to go up in that jet that day, I would be No. 1. It is an amazing thing to do, and everybody should do it. It can be fun. It can also be incredibly scary. But we don't do it for the fun; we do it because we in this place have a significant role in the funding of our military and ensuring our military is capable of doing what we need it to do.

I don't live in a military town, although my father was in the Army, so I used to. But most of us live in places where you can live your life and not really give the military much of a thought, because they're not around. We're arguably one of the few countries in the world—probably the only one—which haven't had significant warfare on their own soil. People who live in Sydney, who were born in Australia and whose parents and grandparents lived in Australia have not experienced war on our own soil. So it's incredibly important that we, as members of parliament, get to know these extraordinary men and women who do things that we ask them to do in the defence of Australia. They are amazing people. They're incredibly highly trained. When you go to the places that I've been to and spend time with the people that I've spent time with, you understand that it isn't just a story that we have one of the best trained militaries in the world; we actually do. They are an extraordinary group of people.

I've been incredibly fortunate in the eight trips that I've done so far. I did my first one at NORFORCE up on the Tiwi Islands. I spent 10 days out in the bush in a swag with the Indigenous trainees. It was an amazing experience, getting to know the way the Australian military addresses defence of the incredibly vast desert in the Northern Territory, a place that you couldn't actually invade and that you can't actually defend. It is incredibly difficult. It has challenges of its own but was a wonderful experience.

Then I spent 10 days at Kapooka, where my father did his training when he joined the Army when he was 30. Again, my father had told me what to expect, but I think the high tower where I abseiled face-forward off the third floor was a new experience. I don't think they had that when Dad went through. Again, it is a way for people to experience absolutely genuine fear and come to terms with that.

I then spent 10 days in Afghanistan. I'm not going to talk much about that. It was something that everyone in this place should do: spend time with our military in a place of extraordinary danger, where they are doing something that most of us wouldn't dream of doing. It was extraordinary. The election was called while I was there, actually. Just as an aside, I couldn't tell anyone I was there, so I disappeared from the election for about eight days and arrived back a little late. But, again, I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

I then went to East Timor the year before our reservists pulled out; I was with a Reserve troop there, one of the officers of which came from my electorate. We did riot training there with the Kiwis. It was, again, an amazing experience to see how good our peacekeepers are. We hear how good they are, but they really are as good as people say.

I then spent a stint with the Navy off Darwin. Then I went to the Gloucester Cup in Singleton. I went out with the troops into the field there, with live ammunition—again, an extraordinary opportunity. But the worst, I guess, and the best, was at HMAS Albatross and Creswell, where I did the upside-down-helicopter underwater escape training, where they strap you in with five points into a helicopter, flip it upside down and dump it six metres into a pool, and you have to get out before you drown. I also did their tear gas training; so I was tear-gassed as well. I think I'm the only member of parliament to do it. The commanding officer was very, very worried that I might not survive the underwater helicopter escape training, because all of the Navy people had emergency air on their chest; I didn't, because I hadn't done that training, so I went down without any emergency backup. But, again, it was extraordinary.

This year, I went to Jigalong remote community in north-western Australia with the Army. Again, it was amazing watching the engineering troops set up a camp in the desert, with full waste control and full water monitoring, leaving a very small footprint. They were an amazing group of people and everybody in this place should do it, more than once.

1:15 pm

Photo of James StevensJames Stevens (Sturt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I absolutely re-endorse what the previous speakers have said about encouraging any of our colleagues who haven't had the opportunity to participate in this program to absolutely do so. I was, of course, newly elected to this parliament in May. A lot of the things about becoming a member of parliament you can anticipate, but I had had no idea about this program before being elected to the parliament—which is not a surprise—but it was quite fascinating when it was outlined to us all, as part of the induction program, that we had this opportunity. I can say that it lived up to all the expectations that I had had for it.

I was thrilled to participate by spending a week on the HMAS Stuart, which is an Anzac class frigate based out of Garden Island in Sydney. As a South Australian, I was pretty keen to get experience on either a frigate or a submarine, given the heritage and the future that we've got in South Australia in naval shipbuilding. We are the home of naval shipbuilding for this country and for our Navy, and we will be building the Attack class submarines, and the Hunter class frigates to replace, ironically enough, the frigates, including the one that I was on, the HMAS Stuart.

We had a week at sea, and, as has been indicated, there are some things you are not allowed to speak about, which of course we respect. We were not so much not allowed to talk about it but not allowed to talk about it for a period of time, because they were actually running drills to be certified for their deployment to East Asia, which is now on the public record but of course was not until they embarked on that, and they will be returning this week or next week, from memory—quite a long deployment of three months. This was in the first week of September. It makes sense, after you've experienced it. It's not until you experience it that you realise that sending a vessel like that away for three months requires such an enormous amount of preparation and training. In the week that I was deployed with them—with the member for Petrie; it was the two of us together—we were running drills off Jervis Bay to make sure that all the different components of the vessel were fully tested and ready for whatever might befall them on the exercise and mission that they were to undertake through East Asia from which they'll return soon.

I was lucky enough to go with another member of parliament, and some people have talked about going with more colleagues than one. It was an excellent opportunity also to talk to them, with my colleague, about not just what they do on that vessel and what their role is within the Navy and within the Defence Force, but obviously also getting the perspective of the entirety of the ADF on what it is that they do, what the rationale is behind elements of the force structure that we've got and the decisions we'll be making into the future, which are so very important for us in this chamber and this House to understand.

We have a pretty healthy bipartisanship around defence in this country. There are always going to be specific, individual types of things that we might have mild disagreements on, but I don't think there's any debate about the importance of a strong ADF that's not supported very, very thoroughly by our government. But that might not always be the case into the future, and there may well be times when we do, as representatives, need to make the public argument for our Defence Force and its structure, and for the enormous investment, I would describe it as, that we make to defence each year to defend our country and our interests. This program gave me a fantastic understanding of that. I am a new member of parliament—I don't know how long my career will be in this place—but, for as long as I'm here, I hope every year to continue participating in the program and to continue to deepen my understanding of the ADF and what they do.

It was also my pleasure to reciprocate by hosting a member of the Australian Army, who was here in parliament for the week as part of the reciprocated program where they spend a week with a member of parliament. I thought that was extremely valuable as well. I think it's very important for members of the armed forces to have the access to and deepen their understanding of the processes that we have here in this parliament across a variety of the things that we do—not just in the chamber but also in committees et cetera—so that we've got that very deep symbiotic relationship between our defence forces and the leadership of our country.

1:20 pm

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd like to thank my colleagues for their previous comments and I'd also like to thank the member for Groom for bringing the motion forward, in particular noting the outstanding success of the 2019 ADF Parliamentary Program. I've been involved with the ADF Parliamentary Program since the commencement of my parliamentary career, and it's worth noting that the program commenced in 2001, introduced by a private member's bill by the Hon. David Hawker and seconded by the Hon. Warren Snowdon, who is still in this place, indicating bipartisan support. Dr Brendan Nelson was the parliamentary secretary who actually started the program. The exchange element was introduced in 2003.

The program has enabled me to develop a much greater insight into the sacrifices that defence families make to defend and protect our society and also the quality of the personnel that we have in our defence forces. There is also, for my part, a great deal of self-interest in being in the program, as I've had some really fantastic learning experiences, including being on the biggest hospital ship in the world, the USNS Mercy, and practising with the Da Vinci remote surgical robot, which was absolutely unbelievable. This is where surgery can take place in the battlefield with the surgeon being remotely located offshore or even in a hospital in the United States. Amazing technology! This is an amazing ship. It is a 1,200-bed hospital on a ship with 20 operating theatres, six CT scanners and an amazing surgical ability to do cardiopulmonary bypass open heart surgery. There was all sorts of amazing technology, so I've had a really fantastic experience.

My most recent experience has also been fantastic. I spent some time in the 2019 program being posted to HMAS Penguin at Balmoral in Sydney. I was introduced to the Navy Medical School, who do fantastic work not only in naval medicine but also looking at things like veterans' health—mental health in particular. They do some really wonderful, state-of-the-art work now in preparing our veterans for life in and after the Defence Force. I was hosted by Lieutenant Commander Gary 'Curtis' Steeger, who is a wonderful character and a highly trained naval officer with a great insight into how our defence forces work, and I'm very grateful to him for hosting me. I was also able to visit HMAS Watson at Watsons Bay, where a lot of the high-technology naval services were trained.

I spent some time on the HMAS Adelaide, the Navy's largest ship, as it prepared to embark for the Pacific. I had a great insight into what some of the families and some of the men and women who were spending a long time away from their families at sea were going through. I've looked after many defence families and their children in my role as a paediatrician in the Macarthur area. We are close to the Holsworthy military barracks, and I've seen many of those families over the years. I talked to some of the naval officers and soldiers firsthand and realised the stresses that they were going through, which was a wonderful experience and a great learning experience for me.

I had as my exchange partner Colonel Rod Petersen, an obstetrician and gynaecologist who is employed full time by the Army. It is really important to note that, in this day and age, a lot of the work that the Australian Armed Forces will be doing in our area will be humanitarian work. The fact that they have an obstetrician and gynaecologist is really important to that work. In the days of global warming, climate change and natural disasters, which we believe will become more frequent—indeed, that has proven to be the case—our service personnel will be required to support in that area. I also, through Rod, met his charming wife, Professor Julie Quinlivan. I hope this is a friendship that will be able to be fostered over the next few years.

I was really impressed with the program. I have been impressed with the program since I have been in parliament. I recommend it to all my colleagues. It was a great learning experience for me and a really great time. I must confess to a degree of self-interest that will keep me wanting to go back to that program. I have had a great time. I thank Lieutenant Colonel Andy Martin, the executive officer of the Australian Defence Force Parliamentary Program. I will be going to the program for as long as I am in parliament.

1:26 pm

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise in support of this motion, because I am a huge fan of the Australian Defence Force Parliamentary Program. When I was a young fellow at school, all I wanted to do was fly Hornets. I remember going to a recruitment office in Melbourne at the age of about 16, and they said: 'Yeah, you're all right. You look okay, son. Come back when you've got high distinctions in maths 1, maths 2, physics, chemistry and English and stay fit, and we will have a look at you.' Sadly, I did not go back a second time, but I have always admired our men and women of the ADF for the absolutely outstanding work that they do.

I, as the member for Macarthur, and so many of my colleagues in this place have had the privilege of immersing ourselves with our members of the ADF. It has been an absolutely unbelievable experience on each and every occasion. In August of this year, I had the privilege of travelling to Iraq, Camp Taji in particular, with the member for Oxley and Senator Kitching. Once again, that was an incredible opportunity and experience for which I am eternally grateful.

One thing that shines through on each and every one of my ADF programs is the absolute professionalism of our ADF members. I have to say that I am singularly impressed with every single one of them that I have dealt with. Not only are they motivated, bright and intelligent but they are also thoroughly decent people. They are obviously very fit and excellent at whatever they do, but they are decent men and women too. I wish that more Australians could have the opportunity to be immersed in that environment, because clearly that environment is a very good environment as it turns out Australian men and women of the highest calibre. From the lowest of ranks to the senior ranks, they are incredible people.

I also had the opportunity to travel to Afghanistan in 2017 with the members for Whitlam, Burt, Oxley, Brand and Bass. There is one thing that has been consistent in both my trips to the Middle East, and that was that I was outnumbered greatly by those members opposite. But one thing that also rings true when we travel overseas on these ADF Parliamentary Programs is we leave, as best can, our guns at the door. When we travel over there, we travel as one and we travel as part of team Australia. I can honestly say that during both of those trips there was never a bad word spoken between us. I think it is really vital that our members of the ADF see from a cross-party perspective that we are behind them every single step of the way. I hate to say it but, sadly, one day the other lot will be in government—I hope it's a long way away—and members of the ADF need to know that, whenever that sad day comes, the men and women who serve in this place are absolutely rock-solid behind them and the work that they do.

I have never been more proud—apart from when I got married and on the birth of my children—than at the times when I have been overseas with these service men and women. One of the best parts of this program is that it is reciprocal. Flight Lieutenant Sacha Ivaschenko and Lieutenant Colonel Brendan Robinson worked in my office in 2017 and 2018. That gave them an opportunity to come into a politician's office and see what happens here. For most people, what goes on here is a great mystery, and I think it is very important that we keep those lines of discussion and experiences going. (Time expired)

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Adelaide, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for a later hour this day.

Sitting suspended from 13:31 to 16:00