Australian Defence Force and Humanitarian Aid Missions

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the member for Solomon for her motion, and I rise today to acknowledge the hard work and success of the Australian Defence Force. Not only do our defence forces play a vital role in securing our nation and preserving our precious democracy; the ADF also delivers critical humanitarian aid and disaster relief at home and abroad. Earlier this year the ADF delivered lifesaving humanitarian assistance to Vanuatu in the wake of Tropical Cyclone Pam. 

Our troops played a major part in the relief effort, repairing infrastructure, restoring basic services, and delivering more than 115 tonnes of vital humanitarian assistance and disaster relief support throughout Vanuatu. Our ADF personnel helped restore access to clean water and repaired school, community and medical facilities. Our C17s delivered hygiene kits, blankets, sleeping bags, shelter kits, insect nets, water storage buckets and water purification tablets. The ADF also played a key role in supporting the response to the earthquake in Nepal by delivering humanitarian and disaster relief stores as well as helping to evacuate Australians from Kathmandu to Bangkok.

I received a letter today from one of my constituents, Sheila Egan, who used to teach my husband at Marist Brothers. Sheila is very concerned that 'mention of Nepal seems to have disappeared from discussions in the community and from the media'. I just wanted to do a call-out to Sheila to thank her for bringing this to my attention and to say again to Canberrans and to Australians: donations are still needed to help restore Nepal.

Not only does the ADF provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to Pacific Island countries in times of need; it is also playing a key humanitarian role in the Middle East. Delivering humanitarian aid has been a large focus of Australia's missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Australia's C130J Hercules have been fundamental in delivering aid drops to northern Iraq, including the provision of food and water to minorities on Mount Sinjar. In particular, I would like to make mention of the ADF's role in helping support the hundreds of thousands of women and girls affected by violence in Iraq and for providing humanitarian projects in such areas as reproductive health care, including obstetric services, for hundreds of thousands of pregnant women in Iraq.

Australia has a long and proud track record when it comes to providing humanitarian aid assistance. In fact one of the first aid missions took place in 1918 when HMAS Encounter transported medical supplies and personnel to Tonga and Fiji after an outbreak of influenza. Since then, Australia has responded to numerous calls for international assistance after cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, floods and drought. The list of projects and the list of missions I could commend the ADF for is too long to cover. But Labor recognises that, when it comes to capability, our single best and biggest asset is our people—the men and women of the Australian Defence Force. It is their courage, their dedication, their bravery and their commitment that make our Australian Defence Force the stellar ADF that it is.

But they need the appropriate tools. That is why Labor welcomes the government's decision to acquire two extra C17s. The former Labor government successfully procured the two previous C17s which have continued to add to the Royal Australian Air Force's capabilities. Australia deployed the C17s to Japan during the aftermath of the tsunami and the nuclear reactor disaster and, on very short notice, to Sudan to help with the humanitarian crisis. They have also assisted in our aid to local communities in Queensland and Victoria after flooding and cyclones and internationally through Operation Bring Them Home. They have assisted in the Ukraine and in the search for MH370 off the Western Australian coast, as well as more recently, as I have mentioned, in providing aid to Vanuatu and Nepal.

ADF personnel are increasingly deployed on peacekeeping humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions in response to the changing nature of Australia's strategic environment. It is impossible to exaggerate what we owe to our service personnel, the ADF men and women—and, just as importantly, their families. ADF personnel serve with dedication and distinction and should be extremely proud of the difference they make all around the world. I know that everyone in this chamber is extremely proud of the difference they make around the world, as is every Canberran. I commend the member for Solomon for her motion.

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