Senate debates

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Statements by Senators

Australian Defence Force

1:14 pm

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As Australians, we all owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the men and women of the Australian Defence Force. Our Defence Force is recognised around the world for its professionalism, leadership and capability. As Australians, everywhere we go in the world we can be proud of the very high regard in which our Defence Force is held. Today I want to pay tribute not only to the current serving members of the Australian Army, Navy and Air Force, but also to their predecessors who fought and, in some cases, died so bravely in upholding the beliefs and freedoms that we as Australians often take for granted. My admiration for the Defence Force has been reinforced in recent months by a number of events it has been my privilege to attend—events which have involved and recognised our Defence Force and actions over the past 100 years.

On Anzac Day this year I was honoured to be in London and to lay a wreath at the Australian War Memorial at Hyde Park Corner in the presence of His Royal Highness Prince Andrew; yourself, Madam Acting Deputy President Reynolds; the Australian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, His Excellency the Hon. Alexander Downer AC; and the Australian Minister for Finance, Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann. I actually represented the Senate President, Senator the Hon. Stephen Parry, in laying a wreath to commemorate the sacrifice of Australian soldiers at Gallipoli and at the Western Front in France during the First World War. Hundreds of other Australians and New Zealanders shared my pride at the dawn service, and it was uplifting to see so many others paying their respects despite the bitterly cold weather.

Later on that day, along with Mr Downer; Senator Cormann; the British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Mr Boris Johnson; the British Secretary of State for Defence, Sir Michael Fallon; and dignitaries from all of the countries involved in the First World War, I laid a wreath at the Cenotaph in Whitehall on behalf of the Senate President.

Following this ceremony we attended a wonderfully moving ceremony at Westminster Abbey before a packed congregation. At the ceremony and at a reception hosted by the Dean of Westminster Abbey in the Jerusalem Chamber, it was interesting to talk with the British First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Philip Jones, one of the many people who commended the professionalism of the Australian Navy.

In early May this year events were held to commemorate the part played by Australian and United States sailors and airmen in the decisive Battle of the Coral Sea. This was a landmark battle of the Second World War which, it was said by many at the time, stopped the invasion of Australia. We now know that this Japanese battle fleet was not, in fact, an invasion force for Australia, but the Battle of the Coral Sea was the first time the Japanese advance in South-East Asia and the Pacific had been halted. This battle has been commemorated, particularly in northern Australia, for 75 years.

I want to pay tribute to the people of the small seaside town of Cardwell, who each year hold a commemoration service in their Coral Sea Battle Park. They have built this park over the years, mainly by volunteer labour, on the shores of the Coral Sea at what they claim is the closest place on the Australian mainland to where the battle occurred 75 years ago. The wonderful commemoration service at Cardwell this year was attended by the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, the Hon. Dan Tehan; the United States Charge d' Affaires; Mr James Carouso; The United States Consul General, Ms Valerie Fowler; the Chief of the Royal Australian Navy, Vice Admiral Tim Barrett; and many other dignitaries before a huge crowd of over 1,000 locals and visitors who flock to Cardwell for this service every year. We were privileged to have with us a 93-year-old veteran of the Battle of the Coral Sea, Mr Cecil Wiswell, who, as a 17-year-old seaman was on the USS Lexington when it was sunk during the battle 75 years ago.

The next morning, in Townsville, a dawn service commemorated the sacrifices made during the Battle of the Coral Sea. This event was attended by the Prime Minister, the Governor-General, the Queensland Premier, the American Ambassador and Consul, the Chief of the Defence Force, Chief of Navy and many other distinguished service and civilian personnel. As senators would know, Townsville was a huge army and air force base during the Second World War, and the ground based bombers and reconnaissance aircraft from Townsville took part in the Battle of the Coral Sea.

A few days after this moving dawn service, troops at Lavarack Barracks, Australia's largest army base, based on the outskirts of Townsville, participated in a parade to mark the anniversary of the Battle of Kapyong, one of the most decisive battles in the Korean War. Australian, New Zealand and Canadian troops, led by the 3rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment—nicknamed 'Old Faithful' as a result of their Korean engagement—stemmed the Chinese and North Korean push towards Seoul. Despite being vastly outnumbered, 'Old Faithful' stood their ground in the Kapyong Valley and prevailed. The 3rd Royal Australian Regiment earned the US Presidential Unit Citation for their bravery, skill and courage in that battle.

The Kapyong parade conducted in Townsville in May by current service personnel was a masterpiece of precision and pride as the troops marched for the reviewing officer, Major General Paul McLachlan, and the Acting CO of Lavarack, Colonel Damian Hill. The parade was supported by the Pipes and Drums of the 3rd Battalion and also the Brass Band of 3RAR, 8/9 RAR and 5/6 RVR, who provided a wonderful musical accompaniment to the parade. In fact, this musical display was so moving that many locals, including the mayor, raised the possibility of a military tattoo in Townsville during the opening celebrations for the Townsville Stadium expected in 2020.

Following the Kapyong parade, there was a farewell parade for Task Group Taji 5 comprising principally elements from 3RAR, and commanded by Task Group Commander, Colonel Steve D'Arcy. The combined Australia-New Zealand task force is part of the US-led coalition engaged to train selected units of the Iraqi security forces in order to defeat Daesh and maintain security in Iraq. The task force will leave very shortly for the Middle East to perform their important work, wearing a task group patch inspired by the one worn by the Australian Mounted Division in the First World War. That division consisted of the Australian Light Horse and New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade as part of the British Desert Mounted Corps, who were predominant in the offensive operations in Gaza, including the famous battle of Beersheba. Task Group Taji 5 is well prepared under the tutelage of the Commanding Officer Training Task Unit 5, Lieutenant Colonel Giles Cornelia, and Regimental Sergeant Major, Warrant Officer Class One, Brad Doyle.

All of these events over the April-May period commemorated the work of the Australian Defence Force in the First World War, the Second World War, the Korean War, and in the Middle East today. Each service and each event highlighted once again the excellence of our men and women in uniform, and the courageous work they have done for Australia over the last 100 years. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to attend and, in some events, participate in honouring our defence forces and their outstanding service to this nation.