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Wednesday, 14 September 2011
Page: 10189

Ms O'NEILL (Robertson) (11:34): I rise to speak in support of the Defence Legislation Amendment Bill 2011. As a former teacher and now a member of parliament, I understand that young men and women embark on a variety of enabling extracurricular activities that are important to their physical and personal development. Defence Force Cadets has throughout our history been a very popular activity for adolescents, enabling them to be part of our proud and famous Defence Force in a very particular way. It is, however, important to ensure that the Defence Force Cadets are governed properly. This bill provides the Chief of the Defence Force with the authority to issue direction to service chiefs in relation to the administration of the cadets. It also provides for this authority to be delegated to the Vice Chief of the Defence Force.

The legislation before us is necessary because Defence Force Cadets have identified issues that need to be resolved with regard to organisational accountability, particularly in relation to duty of care and occupational health and safety issues. Direction from the Chief of the Defence Force is subject to any direction issued by the Minister for Defence in relation to cadets. This policy is necessary to ensure that the issues that may arise in relation to Defence Force Cadets can be dealt with in an appropriate manner.

As a member of this parliament, I see the enormous potential and I acknowledge the role of current and former members of the Defence Force in serving as role models for our youth through the Defence Force Cadets. This reality demands that the highest standards and the best administrative practice are applied. The cadets program is separate from the Australian Defence Force, and members of the cadets are not themselves members of the ADF; therefore, issues relating to the governance of the ADF are quite separate from those concerning the cadets.

Last week I attended the commemoration ceremony of the Battle of Australia at the Gosford Cenotaph. It was well attended by the Gosford national servicemen, who have kindly conferred on me the honour of being their patron. As at all commemoration and remembrance ceremonies I have the honour of attending as an MP representing the federal government. I was, once again, inspired by stories of courage, mateship and sacrifice. I was very proud to stand alongside representatives of the local RSL clubs and Legatees. I also saw in the cadets who provided the catafalque party the pride that they had in their service that day and their regard for the flag under which we unite in honour of our belief in democracy and the freedom that it confers on us.

You can see how these values are shared by the vast majority of our younger generation in increasingly large attendances at the Anzac and remembrance ceremonies by younger people. I know that the presence of young people is very heartening to older members of our community, particularly those members who served. It is a sign that we are handing on the stories that give shape to our beliefs and that we are telling the history that reveals our capacity to act on those beliefs in the national and international interest.

I have long believed that the primary means of improving the outcomes of our youth is to ensure that they have opportunities to engage in ways that are meaningful for them in our local community. This is manifest in various ways—through engagement at school, employment after school, sport and religious and other community organisations. As stated in the House by members last night, we see with the Scouts and Guides particularly organisations that, like the cadets, have played a constructive role in engaging younger people in their local communities.

The Australian Defence Force Cadets represent a very particular way in which younger people are very proud to be engaged with their community and to take on roles of leadership at critical times of commemoration for us. The cadets also have the reputation of being very successful in engaging younger citizens who then progress to full membership of the Australian Defence Force community.

I witnessed firsthand the type of community the Australian Defence Force is when I participated in the parliamentary program earlier this year. When I visited the Navy personnel on HMAS Stuart, under commanding officer Brett Sonter, in the Red Sea, I witnessed firsthand the fine quality of our Defence Force personnel. I am pleased to say that nearly a dozen of these fine young men and women on board HMAS Stuart originated from or now live on the Central Coast. Apart from hailing from such a beautiful part of the country, these men and women, like their colleagues, demonstrated admirable personal quantities by choosing a career in the service of the nation. I would not be at all surprised to see the very same people come back and become very active in our community with our young cadets. The Australian Defence Force Cadets has always been a means by which the values that underpin service can be revealed and embedded in the younger generation. These values, for me, are personal respect, resilience, professionalism, loyalty, courage, integrity, teamwork and initiative, about which other members in this place have spoken today in giving their accolades for the cadets. I will always respect an organisation that succeeds in teaching these values to our younger generation. I thoroughly believe that Defence Force cadets play a vital role in our local communities and, through them, in Australian society more broadly. I strongly support this bill because it will ensure the continued successful operation of the Australian Defence Force Cadets in a shifting administrative climate.

Younger generations have always been a target for a free kick by the Australian media and even, on the odd occasion, dare I say it, by members of this parliament. But in my role as the member for Robertson I continue to be inspired by the role that many young people play in our local community. This is demonstrated by their involvement in youth leadership programs and policy development in addition to their extensive community involvement. Of course, we on both sides of the House encounter many young people who are members of political parties, seeking to make a difference in the country they love—not quite in the same way as the cadets, but still with that interest in participating in a healthy and vibrant democracy and bringing to it the gifts and talents they possess.

The Defence Force Cadets is an important avenue through which younger people become connected with their local communities. In enabling the Defence Force cadets to continue to play their vital and constructive role in the community, it is critical that issues regarding organisational accountability are addressed. That is what this bill will achieve. These issues were identified in Labor's 2010 election policy document and this bill is intended to address specific duty of care and occupational health and safety issues that arise. The building of strong communities supported by well-regarded institutions such as the defence cadets has always been a Labor ideal that is consistent with Labor values. It is something I am always working to help facilitate as the member of parliament for the seat of Robertson and it is something that involves young people, about whom I am constantly passionate. I commend this bill to the Main Committee and hope that it promptly passes through parliament.