House debates

Monday, 15 June 2020


Australian Defence Force Parliamentary Program

7:45 pm

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

It's great to have this opportunity, particularly with my good friend the Minister for Defence Industry here in the chamber, to again address and thank her and the Defence department for the opportunity to participate in the Australian Defence Force Parliamentary Program, which I think is one of the great opportunities we are given as members of parliament. A little over a year ago, when I was first elected, I was briefed on the opportunity that that provided. Being from South Australia, I was particularly interested in taking the opportunity to learn more about the frigate capability that we have in our Navy because, of course, apart from the Attack class submarine program, which is going ahead in my home city of Adelaide, we're also, just as importantly, undertaking the Hunter class program to replace the Anzac class frigates in the Royal Australian Navy. British Aerospace will be building nine new frigates for our Navy at the Osborne shipyard.

Last year, I had the opportunity to spend a week on HMAS Stuart, an Anzac class frigate, running drills for their certification before they were deployed into the northern Asian region in the latter part of last year. But in March I was just as lucky to have the opportunity to travel to the Middle East with Senator Holly Hughes and Senator David Van, two colleagues from the other place. This was a sensational opportunity, and of course it was one that I was surprised to have the chance to participate in. I was very lucky, in hindsight, because it was just at the point where issues to do with the coronavirus were starting to become quite serious and significant well beyond Wuhan in Hubei province.

But, nonetheless, the trip went ahead and I thank very much Major General Coyle and Air Vice Marshal Hegarty, the commanding officers of our joint task force at the Al Minhad base in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. As hosts, they were absolutely sensational and the entire deployment there were so welcoming. They gave us such a great opportunity to understand more about the work that they do in defending our nation and representing our nation's interests.

Nothing ever goes to plan, of course. Initially, there was an intention for us to spend a few days deployed forward into Afghanistan, but due to the coronavirus and some other significant security issues at the time in Afghanistan with negotiations between the United States and the Taliban we were not able to deploy into Afghanistan. But there is always a plan B, and we were very well looked after. We had the opportunity to spend a day up in a KC-30, refuelling F35 joint strike fighters for the United States Air Force over Iraq. That was an unbelievable experience, to see how that works, the role that we play in the overall operations there and the respect that Australia is held in by the United States and all the coalition forces there.

The things happening in Iraq and Afghanistan are obviously very high profile, but I don't think that enough people know just what the extent of our operations and activities are in that region, not just in Iraq and Afghanistan but throughout the Middle East and throughout Africa, where our service personnel are providing such a strong support role for a number of humanitarian and security operations. You're filled with such pride when you go and see the hard work of Australians and what they're doing for our reputation, and the sort of impact that they're making in the countries which they're serving in.

Of course when we returned it was just at the time that the Australian border was changing and I had 14 lovely days to reflect on that trip in isolation at home in my electorate. In fact, it gave me an opportunity to take some notes and reflect on the experience and the opportunity that it is. It's something that is an excellent bipartisan program. I know members of all parties seize on the opportunity to learn more about what our Defence Force personnel are doing. Regrettably, at this stage, we won't have the opportunity to reciprocate as I had last year when there was an inbound element of the program where Defence Force personnel came and spent a week in parliament. But I'm sure that will be reflected on and reviewed when, from a safety point of view, it might be possible to undertake and be appropriate. Thank you once again to all the personnel that hosted us. It was a great opportunity that I'm very grateful for.