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Thursday, 23 August 2001
Page: 26613

Senator LUDWIG (6:39 PM) —This evening I wish to speak in relation to what has been commonly called the Australian Defence Force Parliamentary Scheme 2001. Senator McGauran and I were both participants in that and it was, to say the least, an extremely interesting exchange program. We have not got to that exchange yet—I understand that is still in the wind—where we politicians have visited Australian Defence Force establishments but Australian Defence Force personnel have yet to visit the Senate or House of Representatives. The program I had the opportunity of going on was at the Edinburgh RAAF Base, which stood out as an excellent choice for the Australian Defence Force Parliamentary Scheme.

The program at Edinburgh highlighted a range of activities that seemed to meet the expectations of what a parliamentary scheme could be about. The purpose of the scheme was, amongst other things, to provide politicians with an overview and experience of the elements of the Defence Force. This is so that we, as elected representatives, can play a more informed and constructive part in the national defence debate. The Edinburgh RAAF Base, as we know, plays an integral role in Australia's defence capabilities. It is home for a wide variety of units and functions within the Australian Air Force. The base provides an opportunity for program participants to gain a first-hand knowledge of the personnel that comprise the operations at the Edinburgh RAAF Base and also to understand the workings of the various units that are there. In the brief time available, the program attempted and, I believe, successfully managed to touch upon as many of these roles and functions as could possibly be squeezed into a week without compromising the outcomes.

Taking a snapshot of the week in July, it encompassed visiting 1 Recruit Training Unit, 1 Radar Surveillance Unit—what is commonly referred to as over-the-horizon radar or the Jindalee site—a maritime patrol group, the Aircraft Research and Development Unit and the Institute of Aviation Medicine and the various subunits within those broad units that I have mentioned. This range of activities permitted the Air Force to exhibit the professional commitment of its personnel at the base, to draw attention to the technical side of the work and to underscore that there are costs to maintaining personnel, not only in money terms but also in social terms. For instance, the personnel are required to be away from their families when taking interstate postings and are required on occasion to undertake arduous training tasks and the like.

Time did not permit the visiting of a number of the units at the RAAF Base Edinburgh, and I sincerely hope I have not left any of them out of the following list: 1 Airfield Defence Squadron, 44 Wing (Air Traffic Control), 24 Squadron (Reserves) and the Joint Logistics Unit in South. This acknowledgement will, as is often the case, not encompass everybody at Edinburgh. However, it does provide a flavour of the diverse roles performed at the base and provide some excuse that one week is insufficient time to visit even some of the elements of the base. Clearly, I could have spent more time at the places I did visit and would have liked to, but the program was intended to give us an appreciation of the work and not so much to participate in it.

In the end, the program drew out units on the base that would meet the objectives of the ADF Parliamentary Scheme—that is, to improve our understanding of the Australian Defence Force. Its execution of the scheme at the base ran with military precision that was impressive to observe and be part of. They managed to schedule everything in, within minutes taking us from one place to the next, and the XO or executive officer managed to follow us throughout that and ensure that the handovers were smooth between the various units on the RAAF base.

Special mention should also be made of the many civilians employed on the base who perform a wide range of tasks that can sometimes be overlooked as being significant contributions to Australia's defence capabilities. The brief visit did not directly encompass this group but I would like to acknowledge their contribution and say that their presence did not go unnoticed. In going to the various units, we had an opportunity to see the civilians in action in joint work with the Defence Force and it was impressive to behold the interactions and the personnel working constructively to achieve end products.

During the week in July, of the many activities we participated in, two areas stood out as worth mentioning, not because they were exciting or interesting but because they typified the work at the RAAF Edinburgh base. This of course is not to neglect the other areas. The first area involved the recruits and their instructors. The time I spent with the recruits struck a couple of long forgotten memories from when I was a recruit. It also reminded me of the importance of investing time and energy in achieving a high standard in both the recruits and their role models, the instructors. The instructors stood head and shoulders above any instructors I had known. They imbued the troops with a sense of urgency, excitement and interest in the RAAF. I can only say that the recruits who were moving through 1 RTU and their instructors—I participated in some of their work— were just brilliant in the execution of their work.

The second area, which I found particularly helpful in gaining an appreciation of the base, was the Maritime Patrol Group. This area was new and fascinating to me. The MPG have a significant role and responsibility as the surveillance platform in the maintenance of the sovereignty of Australia's coastal and maritime economic zones. The Maritime Patrol Group also undertake the more visible role in search and rescue operations off our coastline. They explained that this job is the smaller part of the many activities performed by the Maritime Patrol Group. I had the opportunity to accompany a crew, captained by Flight Lieutenant Jacob Antunovich of No. 11 Squadron of the Maritime Patrol Group, on a number of training activities out of Edinburgh. The training exercise provided a terrific opportunity to observe first-hand the crew performing their roles in an operational setting. I was impressed beyond measure by the cohesive and businesslike manner with which the crew went about their assigned tasks. It did strike me that this purposiveness is sometimes lacking, and not easily emulated, in civilian work settings.

The program, to my relief, was not a boot camp for politicians. I have done that, so I was a little apprehensive that the program could be perceived as such, and to do so would have undermined the true worth of the program. I was pleased to see that the doors of the base had been removed and that I had an opportunity to speak to people openly and frankly about conditions on the base and about their experiences in both at work and social setting. The program provided a good balance between a demonstration of the capabilities of the Air Force at Edinburgh and how its people interact on the base and in performing their duties.

The test for the program being worth while, in my mind, is whether I would recommend it to others. The answer is a clear yes. When I went back for a debrief to look at how you could improve it, we came up with very little other than perhaps a few more rest stops for the weary. The program provided a rewarding and informative experience. It assisted in my gaining a greater understanding of the Australian Defence Force, and in turn I had an opportunity to provide various personnel some understanding about how the Senate operates and what is required to work here.

In conclusion, I would like to take the opportunity to thank everyone who helped in the ADF Parliamentary Program. It is always fraught with danger to single out any one person; nevertheless, a special thanks must go to Air Marshall Angus Houston both for making it happen and for allowing personnel under his command to open their doors without reservation to a politician. Last but not least, I also thank the invisible army—the spouses, partners, parents and children—who allow it all to happen on the base.

Senate adjourned at 6.49 p.m.