Monday, 1 September 2014
Australian Air Force Cadets
I wish to speak about an organisation I have been honoured to be closely associated with: the Australian Air Force Cadets. In the past month, I have had the privilege of spending time volunteering as a tow pilot with the AAFC No. 229 Squadron at a gliding camp in Warwick. The Australian Air Force Cadets are a youth organisation providing a variety of air-force related experiences in locations across the states and territories of Australia, and it is administered and actively supported by the Royal Australian Air Force. The Air Training Corps, AirTC, was established in 1941 as pre-entry training for air and ground crew for the RAAF in World War II. The organisation has endured a rocky past, and at times has only survived due to its dedicated band of volunteers. In 2001, the organisation was renamed the Australian Air Force Cadets, with new squadrons and wings being formed in all the state and territories except the ACT. Cadets are high-school students and range in age from 13 to 17, and the organisation is now a large contributor to youth wellbeing across Australia. Each squadron around the country provides for various activities; however, there are additional dedicated flying squadrons as well.
The Queensland gliding squadron that I volunteered with was established in the early 1970s in Kingaroy after operating on an ad hoc basis for a number of years. Originally No. 9 Squadron based at Kingaroy, the gliders are now based at Warwick as No. 229 Squadron under the direction of Queensland's 2nd Wing. The Queensland air cadets have received two new gliders as part of a larger, RAAF-based program to support the AAFC with training equipment and facilities for the development of future pilots. The Bathurst cadet squadron has also benefited from this program, with a similar fleet of gliders and a recently developed training facility. This program is still being rolled out, with squadrons in other states soon to be in possession of gliders. The DG1000 gliders are high-quality, two-seat, training fibreglass aircrafts that will not only be utilised for a formal training program conducted during school holidays—there are about four camps per year—but also, along with the ASK21 Mi gliders, be able to provide a large number of Air Experience flights around the state on many weekends throughout the year. This is a new capability, and it will provide exposure to many more cadets, as the program is always oversubscribed: they are presently limited to about twenty five cadets per course, and only those cadets are able to access the Warwick-based aircraft. This equipment will also provide access to the many cadets who do not achieve selection for the courses. These gliders will provide a training program that will continue into the next decade. These gliders, along with the motorized ASK21 Mi gliders, are being delivered by the end of the year as part of the RAAF initiative. This will give exposure to a much larger number of cadets across the entire state, and will increase the skills of all the participants. I commend the Air Force for the provision of these gliders and facilities in its program, and for the foresight to develop facilities that will benefit future aviator training programs. The Air Force realises that the support of organisations like the cadets help to generate interest in the Air Force and in the defence forces as a whole, and are also a useful outreach by the Air Force in providing civic engagement.
Good equipment, of course, is only half the battle. People make the AAFC, and many of the vital positions are supported by a band of volunteers. The volunteers engaged on the camp I volunteered on—and it is always difficult when you start to mention names; there were many persons who provided assistance—included: Chief Flying Instructor, AAFC Gliding Qld, Michael Maddocks; Level 3 Qualified Flying Instructor, Tony Scarlett; Qualified Flying Instructors included Julie Maddocks, Brian Allerby, Brian Marshall, Jenny and Jeremy Thompson, Erich Wittstock and Graham Logan; ground staff included Graeme 'Crannie' Cran; tow pilots included Val Wilkinson, Gary McMahon, Paul Hogan, Peter Young, and myself. The cadets themselves were an admirable group and came together from cadet flights from across Queensland.
It is not only the great qualities that these young people bring to the cadets but also the skills they develop through their engagement with the program: these young people develop skills and take on responsibilities that most teenagers never experience and, through this, they head into adulthood with a respect for their abilities, for themselves and for others, and with leadership qualities. I saw these young people developing their confidence, gaining respect from their peers, and developing as a team. I was very impressed and I think these young people will be fine leaders for tomorrow.
Seeing the hard work of the volunteers of the Australian Air Force Cadets reminded me of the hard work done by all volunteers in countless community groups across the country. I rarely agree with him—in fact, I would say it twice; I rarely agree with him!—but on this count I agree with the Prime Minister: 'Volunteering is a sign of a healthy and caring community.' However, I suspect that we may disagree on the other signs of a healthy and caring community. Volunteering is what one can do when living standards are high, when a strong social fabric is in place, and when social capital is in surplus. Of course, volunteering is not restricted to affluent areas; however, it is found in areas of social and community affluence rather than economic wealth. It is a sign of egalitarianism. It shows a community that has a sense of greater good, where people who want to teach others boost their pride in their community.
One of the real pleasures as Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry was visiting—and helping fund—the many hundreds of volunteers involved in the Landcare program. This is a program concerned with environmental, social and productive land use regeneration and creation. The program leaders and workers are some of the hardest and most passionate working people in their respective communities. Two visits to local Landcare groups stick in my mind firmly: one was a visit to the Redcliffe area with Yvette D'Ath; the other to the Kiama area, just south of Wollongong. Each was distinct—one was coastal, the other was focused on a river system—yet these two visit stick in my mind for three reasons. The first, because of the local member Yvette D'Ath's incredible lobbying abilities to get local groups both a fair hearing of their issues and outcomes for the environment. The second, I will confess, was that the Kiama group was in the sand dunes and the surf was particularly good that day—something the local volunteers and I spoke about at great length. Finally, they do stick in my mind for the similarity in the determination and dedication of the program volunteers. What these people could and would do to serve their local community and environment in a thankless manner was a great inspiration and a true sign of a vibrant community full of people wanting to do their bit to improve the lot of all those who used and visited the area. They were not high-income areas but they were affluent in the spirit of the people and the community as a whole. It was simply tremendous to see their action at work.
I want to thank all volunteers and put in a plug for National Volunteer Week, held in May each year, and encourage all senators to recognise the hard work their local volunteers do to make the community better for all of us.