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Tuesday, 21 September 1999
Page: 10092

Mr LINDSAY (7:39 PM) —In supporting the Prime Minister's motion tonight I would like to pay tribute to and salute the members of the Australian Defence Force from Townsville. Members of the parliament will know that Townsville hosts the ready deployment force—the force that responds to these sorts of things within 24 hours if necessary. Indeed, many elements from the ADF in Townsville have played a major role in this particular mission. Those elements have included the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment, the major force who were first in; 5th Aviation Regiment, the Blackhawk helicopters that arrived today after flying 1,000 kilometres from Tindal through Darwin to Dili; 4th Field Regiment; 3rd/4th Cavalry Regiment; and elements of 10th/4th Support Battalion. In all, there are a large number of men and women from Townsville and Thuringowa who are certainly very strongly supporting this particular peacekeeping mission.

I was very privileged on Sunday evening to attend the lines of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment at Lavarack Barracks in Townsville to farewell the troops. They knew at that time that they were going, but they did not quite know when. Indeed, it was later that evening that they were out of Townsville and off to Timor. It was a great evening—if I could express it that way. The feeling among the men and women of the 2nd Battalion was electric. They had spent many years training to do this very thing, and they were going. Led by Colonel Mick Slater, a very able commander and certainly someone destined to go places in the ADF, the men and women had a considered approach—as the government has had a considered approach. They knew that they were there on a very important mission, but it was going to be a dangerous mission and they had to be very careful in their approach.

There were some light-hearted things. I was talking to Corporal Matt Parsons. He was to be engaged this Saturday. His fiancee is in Townsville and he is in Timor. A number of marriages—in fact, I think, three—took place in the week before the battalion left, as that was considered appropriate. That was good to see. Captain Geoff Meekan bailed up the Prime Minister and said, `PM, will you give me an autograph?' What he asked the Prime Minister to autograph was very special to him. It was a picture of him and his fiancee. The Prime Minister wrote a message on the back of that, and I know that it means a lot to Geoff that he has that from the Prime Minister.

Earlier, the Prime Minister referred to having dinner in the mess that night. It was a magic occasion. The Prime Minister and his wife sat with the private soldiers. A private soldier said to the Prime Minister, `Now I've got you, John, I want to tell you what I think about the ADF.' Isn't it wonderful that, in this country, a private soldier can get hold of the Prime Minister of Australia, call him by his first name and say, `John, this is what I want to tell you.' I hope that long goes on in this country. Later that evening while the city slept, the RAAF base was alive with activity. Group Captain Greg Weekes, Wing Commander Chris McHugh and others oversaw five Boeing 737s, a Boeing 747 and eight Hercules running a shuttle mission between Townsville and Darwin. It was a huge exercise.

Running on top of that will be the base's role in Crocodile 99. They will have several hundred people there for that in the next week or so. I believe they will also have several hundred foreign troops there in their acclimatisation process which is going to take place in the next week or so. While there has been a lot of focus on the Army, we should never forget the contribution of the Royal Australian Air Force and the important role they have and, of course, the Royal Australian Navy.

I was very privileged yesterday to be in Darwin, again, to be among troops from Townsville. The 3rd/4th Cavalry Regiment and 4th Field Regiment were at Robertson Barracks yesterday, and they have now gone to Timor as well. I met Major General Peter Cosgrove and the commanders from the other nations. He is a very impressive person and is very well suited to lead the Australians and the international mission in Timor.

I do not think the RAAF base has ever seen so many aircraft. As I went past to return to Canberra, there were 15 Hercules, two Boeing 747s, a C-5 Galaxy, the ground attack aircraft of the Philippine Air Force and a number of F16s from the United States Air Force. Sitting at the port was HMAS Jervis Bay, which is also in Dili at the moment. I am very proud to be an Australian when I see the effort and the professionalism that has gone into Australia's and, indeed, the coalition's response.

I would also like to say that, in the last two days, I have received many faxes of support from my community in Townsville and Thuringowa. A range of people have been motivated to send our troops good wishes, as we would all want to. They have come from local business people such as Peter and Annette James at the Gardens Fruit World in Townsville; Michelle at the Home Brew Shop; and Jan, Tony, Iain and Tina at KartZone. The twin cities business community is right behind the ADF. Messages have been sent from people in government departments such as the staff at the Townsville Centrelink call centre, the great crew at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, the State Department of Natural Resources and the Australian Customs Service. Thank you to everyone who has sent their message of support.

Many local non-government and welfare organisations, such as the Salvation Army, the Good Shepherd Nursing Home, the Townsville RSL and the Endeavour Foundation, have also sent through messages of love and support. Thank you all. Many local individuals and families—Lou and Ann Wagner, Terry and Marcia O'Donnell, Eric and Dorothy Dwyer and Graham and Marjorie Kneale—also sent messages of support, which I will ensure are passed on. I am compiling all these messages and many more for a book to be presented to the men and women of the ADF based in Townsville. Today I sent a letter to each member's and senator's office asking for their individual contribution and message of support as representatives of their respective communities. I warmly welcome messages of support for the ADF in East Timor from all my colleagues in this parliament, and I will be delighted to add their messages to the many I have received in the last two days.

Each of these messages is special; they are heartfelt statements of support for our men and women deployed in East Timor. While each is special, one in particular touched me to the very core with its sincerity and simple elegance. It reads:

To the men and women of the Australian Defence Force and particularly those based in Townsville . . . You are in the thoughts and prayers of the people working in Centacare Catholic Family Services Townsville as you undertake a potentially hazardous but profoundly necessary mission to bring an end to atrocities committed on the people of East Timor.

You will not only be protecting lives but you will be preparing the ground for the birth of a new nation who will be our very close neighbour.

You go, knowing you have the support of your families, friends and loved ones, but also of the entire nation. You have been nurtured and reared in a country that treasures democracy, peace and freedom.

You have all the necessary skills and training for this task. Most of all you have Australian hearts that respond warmly and with fairness to the oppressed and abused.

We are most grateful that you do this on our behalf and know that we are with you now and into the future.

Sincerely, Tony McDermott and the people working in Centacare.

While this particular message was written on behalf of the Centacare team in Townsville and Thuringowa, may I be so bold as to suggest that this message of peace, love and support sums up simply, accurately and eloquently the thoughts and feelings of all Australians. It is moments like these that I live for in my job as the federal member for Herbert—to see the pride and support that the members of the Townsville and Thuringowa community have for our nation, for the members of the defence forces and their families and, perhaps most importantly, for the principles of peace and democracy. These are the messages that I have received so far. There are quite a number of them from all walks of life. (Time expired)