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Tuesday, 19 August 2003
Page: 18937


Mr LINDSAY (5:37 PM) —I would like to use my contribution in this debate to recognise the extraordinary professionalism that the men and women of the Australian Defence Force in Townsville contribute to Australia's peacekeeping operations overseas. Townsville has been the centre of most of Australia's military operations overseas in the last 20 years, and the Solomon Islands deployment is no different. Many of the resources of the ADF have come out of Townsville, and many ADF people in Townsville, both in the Army and the Air Force, have been involved.

I pay tribute to the Commander of the 3rd Brigade, Brigadier David Morrison, who as leader of the 3rd Brigade has responsibility for the operations of the 2nd Battalion in the Solomon Islands and of the 1st Battalion in Timor. I also pay tribute to the men and women of the Royal Australian Air Force and, in particular, to Wing Commander Glendon Krause, base commander of 323 in Townsville, who almost on a daily basis is servicing and supporting the airlift movements that occur from Townsville direct to the Solomon Islands in resupply operations and other movements. Townsville indeed is the centre of Australia's overseas responses, particularly in relation to the Solomon Islands.

The 2nd Battalion has been a very busy battalion this year. Not only is Lieutenant Colonel John Frewen, the CO of the 2nd Battalion, with his company in the Solomon Islands; he also has a contingent in Iraq. That particular contingent has the role of protecting Australia's diplomatic post in Baghdad and protecting airport operations at the airport in Baghdad. Later this year, in October, the 2nd Battalion has been chosen to trial the United States Land Warrior system. This is a revolutionary, state-of-the-art system where the soldier operates in the battle space as a system. It is quite remarkable. The equipment enables the soldier not only to remain much safer than currently is possible but also to be much more highly effective than currently is possible. It does that through a number of mechanisms, and these mechanisms will be trialled by the 2nd Battalion at the high-range training area and perhaps at the Tully jungle training area in October.

Soldiers wear a kit which is basically a computer, battery packs, computer controls, a GPS, a wireless LAN and a radio communications system. Attached to all that is a weapon that has both thermal and visual sights on it so that the soldier can operate whether it is day or night. The beauty of this system is the safety that it affords the soldier in the battle space. The soldier can be out of harm's way while effectively being a very dangerous element to an enemy. The commander, who may not even be on the battlefield and might be in another country, through an eyepiece that the soldier wears can present to the soldier a topographical map of the battle space that the soldier is in. On that map can be the exact location of all other members of the company who are part of that operation. On top of that, the commander can superimpose the locations of the enemy so that at all times soldiers know where the enemy is and where the friendlies are.

Because the weapon that the soldier carries has imaging sights on it, the soldier does not even have to be able to see the target. The soldier can be safely behind a wall, in a building or on the edge of a cliff and can put his weapon around the corner or over the cliff and see the target without actually being in danger. A few weeks ago I was very privileged to trial the Land Warrior system in the United States. I was given five live rounds and I was able to hit the target five times without actually ever seeing it. It is a great system. The wireless LAN is just revolutionary. It comes with all the computer LAN facilities that we have in a normal office but it is on the battlefield. You can have access from one soldier to another soldier, one soldier to all soldiers or one soldier to the commander. It has endless possibilities, as it operates as a local area network.

On top of that, there are more developments coming which Australia will be part of. For example, there will be a photovoltaic soldier's uniform which will charge the batteries, and the soldier will not even know that his uniform is charging them. There will be fibre-optic controls that will allow certain other sensor operations—which I cannot speak about—to operate, with the soldier not even being aware that he is a sensor in the battlefield and giving the commanders very accurate information indeed.

The 2nd Battalion is without doubt currently Australia's prime battalion in the Australian Defence Force. I congratulate the men and women who operate within that battalion on their professionalism. But I do not want to forget the 1st Battalion, which is also based in Townsville and is currently on rotation to Timor. In two weeks or so I will be seeing Lieutenant Colonel Stewart Smith and his people over in Maliana. I look forward to renewing old acquaintances. They are over there again in relation to Australia's national interests and looking after the people of East Timor.

The government have put enormous resources into making sure, as we have in the Solomon Islands, that our national interest is well supported by the Australian Defence Force. We could not allow a failed state to exist in our region and we cannot allow future failed states to exist in our region. That is why the Prime Minister's attendance at the South Pacific leaders forum has been so important. All the nations have come together with the same common purpose and view. Australia will play its part in whatever needs to be done to ensure not only the homeland security of our country but also the security of our friendly neighbours.

There has been some misinformation put about in relation to the Solomons. I am very sad to see that—the Australian Defence Force should not be used as a political tool. There have been some in the community who have not played the game and that is disappointing. There have been allegations, for example, that the allowances that our soldiers get in Timor are considerably less than what the Australian Federal Police get. Nothing could be further from the truth. I want to put that particular allegation to rest. The Australian Federal Police personnel in Timor receive an allowance of $48.85 a day. In comparison, ADF personnel receive a daily allowance of $55 in recognition of the Solomons operational environment as determined by the Chief of the Defence Force, not by the government. Contrary to the assertion that police officers are better off because they are entitled to tax-free salaries, AFP, APS and ADF personnel deployed to the Solomon Islands are all entitled to the same tax treatment under the tax act—let us be very clear about that.

In relation to the claim that the ADF members are not allowed to move around, there is a very good reason for that. The commanders have determined that it is not wise to have too many uniforms in the wrong places. Whilst the commander there has now allowed some of the troops into Honiara, it is done on a rotational and managed basis so that it does not present the wrong view to those who are in the Solomon Islands. In relation to ration packs, there was the claim that the members of the Defence Force had to eat hard ration packs while the members of the AFP were basically doing it very nicely, thank you very much, with fresh food. Before the soldiers left Townsville they were told and they understood that they would have to go onto hard ration packs until it was prudent to make other arrangements. Those other arrangements have now been made and the soldiers are able to have fresh food. That will be ongoing. But make no mistake about it: when it comes to operational matters the ADF will do what needs to be done in the interests of mounting a proper operation. They are not going to take the way out which says, `First and foremost, when you go to a foreign country we will have toffee and ice-cream for you.' The ADF does not work like that and nor do they expect it. It is to their very great credit that the members of the ADF are indeed so professional.

I would like to indicate that as well as being a centre for the Army and the Air Force Townsville is also a very important port for Navy ships, principally the Manoora, the Kanimbla and the Tobruk. The LPAs in particular—the Manoora and the Kanimbla—have been to Townsville so many times this year, taking heavy lift equipment out of Townsville to the Solomons and elsewhere, that there is a case to be made for the Manoora and the Kanimbla to be home ported in Townsville. I have raised this before, and currently the Navy has decided that the Manoora and the Kanimbla should be forward based in Townsville, meaning that it is likely that they could be tied up for 75 days a year. With the way that the Manoora and the Kanimbla have been supporting the 3rd Brigade in Townsville—the 3rd Brigade is their major customer—it is probably sensible to base those two ships in Townsville and to establish a Navy base. It is high time that Defence considered that. That would save running up and down the coast in the way these ships do going back down to Sydney, where they are currently home boarded. It is high time to move them to the North, because that is where their need is and where their customer is. I will be again raising with Defence the prospect of home porting the Manoora and the Kanimbla in Townsville, and I hope that I will get a favourable response from Defence in that regard.

I, too, hope that it will not be too long before we see the 2nd Battalion back home in Townsville. As I said, they have had a very busy year, and they will go back to being the online battalion in the not too distant future when the 1st Battalion returns to Townsville. They are doing a mighty job. All Australians are proud of what the ADF have been able to do in the Solomons, the very efficient way in which they have been able to do it and the results we have been getting. There is every confidence that the deployment will be of a shorter rather than a longer duration. In closing, I would like to pay a tribute to the sometimes forgotten members of the ADF team—that is, the families who remain at home. I thank them for their support of their partners and spouses by remaining in good spirits back home in Townsville. I hope that we will be able to reunite families in the not too distant future.