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Wednesday, 14 September 2011
Page: 10178

Dr MIKE KELLY (Eden-MonaroParliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (10:48): I am long past generation Y, although I still ask a lot of questions why! I commend the member for Longman for his comments in relation to generation Y, who are much maligned. I have seen some outstanding products in my previous role as the Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Support at the parade grounds of ADFA and RMC and making their way through our fantastic defence organisation. This is occasion for a little bit of pride, in that often in life you do not get to see the end result of some of the things you initiate, but here we see coming full circle something that was very close to my heart as the Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Support, as I was given responsibility in that role for our cadet scheme. Certainly I was very unhappy with many of the aspects of what was going on in relation to the management of cadets in our system. It has had a very chequered history. Over the years there have been something like 27 reviews and studies of the cadets. All of those wonderful reviews, with all of their good suggestions and recommendations—all that hard work—just ended up gathering dust on the shelves in the system.

So we were determined to do something about this—to finally get something done to rationalise and improve this organisation. What gave added impetus to that was the terrible tragedy of the loss of young Nathan Francis in a terrible incident in Victoria. There were proceedings that followed that in relation to the actions of Comcare, which highlighted, illustrated and brought home some of the responsibilities that Defence have and which were not being properly administered or where there were impediments to their administration. That gave us added impetus to try and bring together all of the strands of those 27 dust-gathering inquiries.

I was very proud to have established the Hickling review, under Lieutenant General Frank Hickling, a fine Australian soldier who I had had many dealings with in the service. He really took to this task with a will. Notwithstanding the injuries that he had suffered in an accident on a boat, he really got out there and got into it with his team. They did a great job. They gathered something like 200 written submissions from members of the public, consulted widely with cadet units and parents and produced quite an extensive range of recommendations, bringing things together and up to date for circumstances arising from the Nathan Francis matter. I send out my warmest considerations to Nathan Francis' parents, who should be happy today that, from these experiences, we are moving forward to address the reforms that are necessary.

One of the problems was an incredible anachronism that within the Defence organisation the cadet scheme was administered separately by the service chiefs but bizarrely the CDF had no ultimate command responsibility for the cadets. The CDF had authority to give directions to the service chiefs as to how cadets should be administered. Obviously that was a parlous situation. We had been through the Defence organisation and reformed it and created jointery across the board in every other area but here was this anachronism of the cadet scheme hanging out there.

If you wanted to improve the system and wanted to address the problems that were highlighted in the Nathan Francis matter, it was all about accountability, command and control. This legislation, the Defence Legislation Amendment Bill 2011, finally having made it to our agenda in this House, will address the key aspect of bringing the organisation within the responsibility of the CDF. Administratively, to make sure that that happens from a practical point of view, we then moved forward to connect the cadets with the reserve command structure. The cadets were sort of hanging out there loose within the organisation, finding it very difficult to get their agendas progressed within the system. We tacked them into the reserve command structure, now known as CRESD—Cadet, Reserve and Employer Support Division—so now they have a home. It was very apt that it happened that way because out there in the community quite often you will find that cadet units depend on the support of and are closely associated with a lot of our reserve units and organisations that are spread so broadly throughout our great land and form such a wonderful part of the communities they serve.

The member for Longman is quite right that we see these cadet organisations providing terrific support on all of our important commemoration days and during many other activities. It is wonderful to see how the kids respond to their experience in the cadets. It introduces into their lives the concept that the state is not here just to support you; you owe something to the state as well. I think that is something that we really need to work at in this day and age. It was one of the beauties of the old National Service system that it brought people together from many different backgrounds and people grew up understanding that they did have an obligation to their country as well as their country being there for them. One of the unfortunate things about the loss of that scheme is that we do not have a pervasive way of making sure that that is something that is imbued in generations as they grow up. Through the cadet scheme we see their understanding of commitment to service. The cadet scheme also introduces to them to concepts of leadership and teamwork, which are so important in just about every aspect of life. When we see cadets moving through that experience and going out in the community, they take that through all walks of life that they may enter into. The member for Longman is quite correct, too, that we do see a good flow-on of members of the cadets into the Defence Force in general—quite a significant flow-on rate. As an example, I know that something around 57 per cent of the officer corps in the Air Force come from the cadet experience. It is highly significant in terms of the overall capability that then evolves through the Defence Force, so I am delighted to see this first step.

General Hickling made a number of recommendations in his review and I know that the organisation is continuing to work through those. There were various problems with how the money that was allocated to the scheme by the previous Howard government—which was an initiative that I commend—was being administered, the oversight of it and the visibility of it in relation to its application to the cadet scheme. We have been working through that, working through concepts of the age limits, the experiences the cadets get while they are in the scheme, the standards that are applied to people being in a position of dealing with children—which is of course, an important concern—and putting better frameworks around that, and of course making it possible for a broader number of communities to establish cadet units was something that was very close to my heart as well. There were financial issues there but we were looking towards working arrangements whereby if organisations could band together and come up with financial solutions we could perhaps move forward.

It is also important that some of the schools that are involved in this scheme allow greater Defence oversight of their activities, and this was one of the issues that emerged from the Nathan Francis episode. Quite often there is some reluctance by some schools to allow Defence oversight, and we were trying to move to a situation where if schools were going to have Defence support for activities then they needed to accept that Defence had responsibility, emerging from what Comcare processes around the Nathan Francis matter revealed, and we had to work for a better mode of cooperation. It is good to see this legislation moving us to a better place on cadets, finally. This government, I am very proud to say, has acted after 27 reviews that went nowhere. It is terrific to see.

Associated with that was the work that was begun on the reserves—noting that the cadet scheme is now tied with the reserves—and we are very pleased to see the progress that is now being made on setting up the civilian skills database. It became apparent to me, as part of my responsibility for administering the reserves, that nowhere in Defence did we have on our database the civilian skills of our reservists recorded. It amazed me to think that, in an age when we have a high premium on being able to bring to the operating space a broad range of skills, particularly in counterinsurgency, we would not know if we had those skills out there or where to find them. In high-threat environments it is often not possible to deploy civilians. Building this database will enable us to reach out to those people who have the military skills and the organisational framework to facilitate deployment and who can bring to the table things like civilian engineering, administrative, legal and a whole range of skills that might be important in those post-conflict stabilisation environments. Some people say to me, 'You join the reserves to avoid your day job' and that is very true. In fact, I am still in the reserves myself and I would love to be able to get out of this building to go and do some reserve work, but I do occasionally do my fitness test and weapons test just to feel better. Certainly that is true, but if you offer a reservist the opportunity to deploy, to put those skills to use in a highly challenging environment, then they will jump at that opportunity. It is wonderful to see that that work is continuing and I am really grateful, pleased and proud that Senator Feeney and the team are continuing with that agenda that we established in that last term and that they are pursuing that objective vigorously. I am also pleased to have been a part of establishing, in this context, the Asia Pacific Civil-Military Centre of Excellence in Queanbeyan. It was a major gap in our capability that we had not brought these issues together—tying together a whole-of-government approach to these complex, multidimensional operations—and we were going nowhere, effectively, in achieving the end state we were looking for in places like Afghanistan. You cannot kill your way to success in an environment like that. Let us be clear, of course, that there are certain people in these environments where there is nothing for it but to kill them. You have to be frank and open about that. But to win involves coming up with that other 80 per cent of the puzzle, which are the social, economic and political aspects.

Having just recently spent a week on the ground in Afghanistan with our men and women, many of them good friends, I am very proud of the strategy that we as a government have managed to re-craft in terms of moving to that end state to create the indigenous capacity that will finally deliver us the opportunity to hand off to the Afghan people themselves. Across the board, we are seeing the key issues of education and infrastructure capacity being developed there, and all of them have that interrelated aspect of creating a virtuous circle, which you need in those counterinsurgency environments. So that strategy has changed and we were responsible for doing that. We were also responsible for setting that strategy of building the security capacity—the security sector reconstruction and capacity building—that is now moving us forward to a point when we can bring our troops home from that environment. I am extremely proud of that. One of the reasons why I got into politics in the first place was to address a security policy that I felt was drifting by not addressing the sophistication that we needed to get to in that whole-of-government approach.

The centre in Queanbeyan is now doing a fantastic job in addressing the training, and the doctrinal and strategic concept aspects of developing the planning—and building the international networking that has to happen, because we are in places like Afghanistan in a coalition context and we all need to be singing from the same songbook. There have been many attempts internationally to come to grips with this whole-of-government strategising, and many of them have failed because they have not been able to operationalise it properly. But the concept with our centre in Queanbeyan was to bring together components of all the relevant agencies and aggressively pursue the harnessing of that, if you like, whole-of-government campaign plan type approach, and that is working very well. They have done a great deal of good work, producing products like how to re-establish the rule of law in Afghanistan, the book that was recently launched in which David Kilcullen participated. And it is great to see that the centre is building networks with expertise all around the world in that respect.

So the government have a great deal to be proud of in how we have advanced the security policy and capability of this country to meet the complex challenges of a complex world, the new world that we faced after 9-11. We are now seeing the ISAF coalition working towards that outcome that is so necessary to deny the ungoverned spaces within which terrorist organisations operate. Obviously, this is not just my view; it is also borne out by the comments of Regional Command South in Afghanistan, who point to what the Australians and Americans are doing together in Oruzgan as the model for the rest of Afghanistan. They say, 'Go to Oruzgan if you want to see what success looks like.' That is not to say that there are not great challenges and that we will not have ups and downs, and setbacks, as we go along. But there is universal recognition in Afghanistan that we are on the right track, and so I am proud that we have been able to do that and proud that this effort in reforming the cadet scheme is just part of the overall success story that we have.