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Monday, 8 February 2010
Page: 709

Mr BEVIS (8:37 PM) —On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, I present the committee’s report entitled Defence Sub-Committee visit to East Timor.

Ordered that the report be made a parliamentary paper.

Mr BEVIS —The Defence subcommittee visited East Timor—Timor-Leste—in the second half of last year for a short one-day visit. It was an important event in respect of the Defence committee’s work, and well attended. Some 14 members of the committee participated in that one-day visit.

The work of Australian Defence personnel in Timor-Leste has been very significant now over quite a period of time, and it is likely to extend into the future. Members of the committee did believe it was important both as a bipartisan sign of support for the work that is there and also as an opportunity to better understand the activities being undertaken to visit physically. With such a large number, it would have been difficult logistically to remain overnight. It was difficult enough, I suspect for those who had to host us to look after the substantial number on the visit. In that respect I would like to place on the record again my appreciation for the cooperation and support of the Australian post and the Australian ambassador, His Excellency Peter Heyward.

The visiting members of the subcommittee attended the Defence Cooperation Program headquarters, and Lieutenant-Colonel Steve Ferndale and his officers provided a very good briefing for those on the committee on the activities that they were undertaking, including their work with the development of the Timor-Leste defence forces and the construction of the DCP headquarters building itself. The committee also visited the International Stabilisation Force headquarters, and met with the ISF commander, Brigadier Bill Sowry.

It is interesting in these sorts of events, having had briefings here in Australia in the committee on the work that is being undertaken there and having read many accounts in the public domain of these matters, that nothing quite compares with the opportunity to be in the presence of those involved in this work and to see firsthand the conditions in which they are operating.

In that respect, I think perhaps the most interesting part of the trip—certainly for me—was when we then went to the training centre at Metinaro—the officer in command there is Major Barry Rhodes—to see the work that is actually being done on the ground in a very fine facility, I have to say. The quality of the facility that has been constructed there by the Australian government for use in the training and support of the local defence forces is first class. It gave all of us on the committee an opportunity not just to talk with the ADF personnel involved but with the local defence and police recruits about what they needed, how they saw the development of their country and also how they saw the assistance that was being provided by the Australian Defence Force.

It is fair to say that the training there covers a wide range of activities, from some of the most basic defence and security related training through to more sophisticated activities. Whilst we were at Metinaro we did get the opportunity to talk to some of the students of English language who were present and also the English instruction teacher who, if memory serves me correctly, was a former New South Wales school teacher. The work that is being done there is vital to the development of basic infrastructure in Timor-Leste. On a broader point, it was also possible as we were driving across the island, to get a better understanding of the basic infrastructure needs of Timor-Leste. They are significant and should not be underestimated.

I want to place on record my thanks to the members of the subcommittee, who gave their time to participate. I particularly want to record my thanks to Wing Commander David Ashworth, who more than anybody ensured that the logistics for the occasion ran seamlessly. David was the Defence officer attached to the committee last year and, for his sins, is now here doing a real job back at the ADF. But we greatly appreciated his support and hard work in ensuring that delegation trip went off without a hitch.