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Tuesday, 12 October 1999
Page: 11380

Mrs GASH (10:52 PM) —Last week in Rockhampton I represented the Minister for Defence at the VIP days of the Crocodile 99 exercises. I was in excellent company, comprising Rear Admiral Lord of the Australian Defence Force, United States Ambassador Mrs Genta Holmes, United States Brigadier General Gordon Nash and others of similar rank, my opposition colleague the member for Cunningham, three local mayors and Mr Muir, who is a senior representative of the Aboriginal people who have a cultural connection with the land which we had entered.

In all of my years in Australia I have been aware of the proud traditions of our defence forces, but never had I realised just how good these service men and women are. Experiencing them and their work first-hand is a real eye opener. Everyone I met at the exercises was entirely focused. Employers would give their eye teeth for that kind of concentration and dedication.

When the United States' forces came to these exercises, they brought absolutely everything with them. Certainly, there was plenty of defence equipment, and all of it was the latest technology. However, with fewer resources, our service personnel work harder, smarter and with a more positive outlook than many others I have met. Regularly, it has been said that our greatest asset in the defence of Australia is our personnel. This is very true. By far one of our greatest strengths is communications. There is indeed envy about the level and amount of equipment and resources available to the United States' forces. Yet our troops took almost a particular delight in using their initiative, inventiveness, innovation and sheer cunning to ensure they got much more out of their equipment.

There was a fierce loyalty to each other, to Australia and to the safety of us, the occupants of this great country. Never have I met such a friendly, courteous, committed and disciplined force. Whilst we go on with our political point scoring, they are embarrassed by it. They have a job to do, and we should be standing alongside them. Our troops have the responsibility to do their best for our country. We need to encourage and applaud their magnificent efforts in adverse circumstances.

Everything at Crocodile 99 was programmed and ran like clockwork, even when everything was changed without notice. What Australia gets from joint exercises is well documented: opportunities to practise with equipment otherwise unavailable to Australian military forces and standardising procedures for seamless cooperation in difficult times. The ability of our people to work in with troops managed by other administrations is legendary and was again demonstrated admirably in the field at Crocodile 99.

One of the things that surprised me was the positive light in which the Americans viewed these exercises as well. For many of the marines it was their first visit to Australia, and they could not get over how well the locals had accepted them. They envied our ability to access training grounds that provided arenas for joint exercises of such magnitude as these. One major plus is the ability of all services to join in the exercises and coordinate realistic scenarios on the one piece of ground.

Amongst other things, we witnessed demonstrations of the ability of naval, air and ground troops to pin down an enemy force with 100 per cent accuracy, firing from ships, FA18 Hornets, helicopters, tanks and troops on and in the ground. Many believed that nowhere else in the world did this kind of training opportunity exist. No wonder everyone is so determined to ensure restoration of the grounds after Crocodile 99 is over. As I said earlier, there is no other facility like this anywhere in the world.

All of our ADF people have dedicated at least a significant part of their lives to ensuring that nothing is left to chance in the protection of our country. The people on the ground are fit, alert, highly trained, part of a close-knit team and very disciplined and professional in their approach. Their backgrounds varied from farming to the public service to mechanics to school leavers and small business operators.

On a personal level, I did not know what to expect from Crocodile 99 when asked to attend on the minister's behalf, and I must say that nobody in my office worked to allay any concerns I might have had. There was, however, no need to worry. Everything was explained several times in very thorough briefings prior to each segment of the visit. We sampled various modes of transport, from helicopters to planes to armoured vehicles to ships, and ate from ration packs. We visited sites at Rockhampton, Shoalwater Bay, Townshend Island, Gladstone and places in between.

The trip provided an excellent opportunity to gain some more understanding about the rigours of military life and to learn first-hand about the quality of our men and women out there in uniform. I also have a message for the Prime Minister from the Aussie troops at Crocodile 99:

He's doing a great job. We support him in his stance, and will do what we have to to defend this country Australia and her reputation overseas.

They are steadfast in their loyalty, and I definitely want to be on their side.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

House adjourned at 10.57 p.m.