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Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Page: 8789

Mr BUCHHOLZ (Wright) (19:10): I have just returned from being a participant in the Australian Defence Force Parliamentary Program to the Middle East, and I would like to share with the House some of the experiences that we gained over there and how proud I am to have witnessed firsthand our brave soldiers and our brave sailors in the work that they do over there in protecting our nation. I would like to make particular mention of Lynton Dixon, from the ADFPP, who organised it all.

The motivation for my going was that in my electorate I have the Canungra Land Warfare Centre and my electorate borders on RAAF Base Amberley, so I have a number of families in my electorate who have some type of involvement in the defence forces, whether it be having sons, fathers, wives or mothers who are engaged or having people involved on the front line.

We flew into Al Minhad Airbase in the United Arab Emirates. One of the first things that were shared with us was that we were taken into a room for an induction. As you walked into the room on the air base, on the back wall was the photo of every fallen soldier who had tragically lost their life while on engagement over there. Nothing was said. There was no acknowledgement. There was just a surreal feeling of: 'I'm here.' It was a great introduction to the air base. We stayed there for a night in 55-degree heat. That is the base where the Australian Defence Force charters a flight and takes the troops in and out on a weekly basis. The troops are over there on about a six-month deployment rotation.

I was part of a delegation of four that then took a charter flight down to the Seychelles, where we met up with HMAS Anzac. As we boarded the HMAS Anzac, we were joined by two Somali interpreters who would assist us as we sailed up the Somali coastline and around the Horn of Africa in search of pirates, drug traffickers, weapons traders and other untoward people.

Our sailors from the HMAS Anzac had 24 hours leave in the Seychelles before we took off. Can I say how proud I was of their engagement in the Seychelles. These blokes could have been out partying, but they had organised to go and paint the local kindergarten and also to paint a local retirement village as part of society building. The HMAS Anzac also organised a soccer game between the USS New York, which was also in port, and the Seychelles navy.

I would like to mention and just say thank you to the ship's commander, a bloke by the name of Commander John Stavridis. He had never received a delegation from the Australian parliamentary program before, and it was the first time that I had been on it, but if I were to go again I would love to catch up with John. The respect that the crew had for that man was unquestionable. Everywhere, as we went through the ship, there was a feeling, and it was openly talked about: 'This is the best crew that I have ever sailed with, and I've been in the Navy for 20 or 30 years,' and, 'This is the best food I've ever received.' It was just a great feeling. It was a relatively young crew, around 35 years old.

I was very honoured to be able to be aboard. As a nation, we owe these people a great debt of gratitude for the blanket of protection they provide to us. We must never take it for granted. I will never forget the crew. Hopefully, if I get the opportunity, I will go again.

I acknowledge the team that sailed with us—Natasha Griggs from the Northern Territory, Bert Van Manen from the seat of Forde in Queensland and Mark Coulton from the National Party. In the other delegation I think there was a Labor senator, a Nationals senator from Victoria and two Liberal backbenchers. I encourage everyone to be part of the program. I thoroughly enjoyed it.