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Thursday, 16 February 2012
Page: 1719

Mr CRAIG KELLY (Hughes) (12:30): I rise to speak—

Mr Melham: Still going.

Mr CRAIG KELLY: on a most important anniversary, and I think you would like to listen to this, member for Banks. On 19 February 2012 we mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Timor. This sometimes forgotten military event, falling in the shadow of the bombing of Darwin, occurred on a landmass just 500 kilometres from our doorstep. It is an important part of the history that defines the role and character of Australia's special forces and commandos.

In December 1941, the Australian Defence Force landed a makeshift unit called Sparrow Force on Timor to deny the Japanese military use of airstrips on the strategic islands from which to launch air raids on the Australian mainland. The small force was made up of members of the 2nd/40th Battalion and a few hundred members of the 2nd/2nd Independent Commando Company. On 19 February, the Japanese sent several ships and 8,000 troops to occupy Timor and displace Australia's Sparrow Force. Overwhelmed and outmanned, Sparrow Force put up a brave resistance, eventually surrendering after a few days of fierce fighting. But the members of the 2nd/2nd Independent Commando Company took to the hills to avoid capture. They regrouped and reorganised and, over the next few months, carried out guerrilla raids against the enemy while completely cut off from command back in Australia.

This ragtag commando unit, eventually reinforced by a second commando unit, the 2nd/4th, tied up some 15,000 Japanese troops at a time when the enemy could least afford it. The dogged fight put up by our brave commandos and the resources that the Japanese needed to put into the fight contributed to the overstretching of the Japanese military and their eventual collapse after having occupied almost all of South-East Asia and the Pacific.

The record of our soldiers is a proud one. The lads of the Independent Commando Company stationed on Timor showed that they fought and lived under the motto that would later be taken by the 1st Commando Regiment: to 'strike swiftly'. For the loss of just 40 brave Australians, they inflicted over 1,500 casualties against an overwhelmingly superior force of Japanese that had massed on the island of Timor and bogged down the Japanese military in a fight they did not anticipate.

The courageous and inspiring efforts of the 2nd/2nd and the 2nd/4th Commando Companies remains a source of pride in a section of our military that defines our nation. Our soldiers of the Australian Special Forces are the best in the world and their tradition is steeped in the history of our boys who held the line in Timor, aided by the local population, who were endeared by their fight against all odds. The lads of the Independent Commando Company in Timor, who included among their numbers Tom Uren, later the federal member for Reid, which I am sure that Mr Deputy Speaker will know, are the natural forebears and inspiration of the 4th Royal Australian Regiment, 4RAR, and now the 2nd Commando Regiment, which are an important unit at Holsworthy barracks and amongst the broader Holsworthy community in the seat of Hughes, which I represent.

The independent commando companies that fought for Australia in World War II were made up of volunteers from all branches of the Australian military. They received their training skills in raids, demolition, sabotage, subversion and organising civil resistance. Initially they were intended to serve on the Middle East front but were moved to Northern Australia as the Japanese threat to the Australian mainland grew. The independent commando companies served across the Pacific, establishing outposts to warn of the approach of Japanese forces. Their mission was then to remain behind and harass the invading enemy forces. They served across the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia, and at New Ireland, Manus Island, Bougainville and elsewhere among the islands to the immediate north of Australia, and of course in the two-year guerrilla campaign in Timor.

The commandos of the independent companies and their successors in the Australian military maintain their close bonds to the Australian Commando Association. The New South Wales Branch President, Mr Barry Grant, is a constituent of Hughes. He is someone I am proud to call a close friend and whose advice I seek and listen to most earnestly. I look forward to attending the commemorative service of the Battle of Timor at the Commando Memorial in Martin Place on Sunday, and I will be representing the Leader of the Opposition with some pride on this most important occasion.