ADF Personnel

I thank the member for Solomon for this motion today, and I also rise to pay tribute to Australian Defence Force personnel and the critical role they play in supporting and advancing Australia's national interests. I do not think there is a person in this place who would not agree that, when it comes to defence capability, our single, 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 Defence Force what it is—a world-class defence force. This is especially the case for those currently serving overseas, and of course their families back home in Australia.

As we have heard, there are currently more than 2,100 ADF personnel serving overseas. That number includes more than 900 personnel deployed in Iraq as part of Operation Okra, more than 600 personnel in the Middle East region as part of operation Accordion and Manitou and more than 400 personnel in Afghanistan as part of Operation Highroad. I have seen firsthand the contribution these personnel make in securing our nation and its interests. I have seen firsthand the fundamental role they play in delivering aid and humanitarian assistance, following earthquakes or tsunamis, as we saw in South-East Asia. I have also seen firsthand the work they do for the communities that they live in overseas.

In 2011, I had the opportunity to go to Afghanistan as part of the Defence subcommittee. We were in Kabul, Tarin Kot and Kandahar. One of the experiences that had a really profound effect on me was going to Mirabad Valley, which had just recently been pacified by our ADF. We had gathered around the community members —all men; I was the only woman there—to talk with them, to get an understanding of what the situation was and what a difference stability meant for their daily lives. There was this young Australian ADF member there who would have been in his twenties. He had built up a very strong relationship with that community. In a way, he was like a rock star for that community. They looked up to him, even though he was very young. He was probably 40 or 50 years younger than some of the men gathered in this group, yet he obviously had such respect from that community because he had built up a strong relationship with them and had helped stabilise their community. It was incredibly profound. I imagine that that young man is back here now, immersed in some base somewhere, yet he was, as I said, like a rock star to that community. They literally looked up at him. It was quite extraordinary. As I said, I have seen the work that the ADF does in terms of benefiting and advancing the nationbuilding elements of these communities overseas. When the ADF members do that, they become a member of their new community, as in the case of this young man in Mirabad Valley, in Afghanistan, because they are so far away from their families here in Australia.

Like the member for Solomon, I acknowledge and thank all ADF personnel. I also want to use my contribution to say a special thank you to the families, because it is difficult to imagine just how tough it would be for the families of ADF personnel who are serving overseas. Last week, I had the honour of attending the annual dinner of the Defence Families of Australia national conference, where I met with some extraordinary men and women—there were a few men there but it was mainly women—who are strong, committed, resilient, articulate, highly intelligent and advancing the cause of the broader ADF community. They are incredibly powerful women. Congratulations to Robyn Ritchie and to all the members of DFA who contribute in such a significant way. As we know, they have to pick up and start new lives in different cities every two or three years, with the posting cycle. They have got to do the parenting alone when their spouse is deployed overseas. They are separated for long periods from their loved one, and often their loved one is in a dangerous position. They are extraordinary supports for the ADF personnel, and they do an extraordinary job in contributing to our nation's capability.

Finally, to Australia's defence personnel both at home and abroad, I say thank you to their families. You have the strong support of this parliament. You have the strong support of the Australian people. We are proud of you, and we appreciate the very great sacrifice you have made and are making.

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