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Monday, 26 September 2022
Page: 200

Mrs PHILLIPS (Gilmore) (17:03): I love the chance to talk about the very important work our Defence Force does in Australia and around the world. My electorate has a huge defence presence with HMAS Albatross and HMAS Cresswell based in Nowra and Jervis Bay, respectively. The Shoalhaven is Australia's centre for naval aviation. We train both Navy and Army helicopter crews, and our defence industry supports both Army and Navy, building Australia's defence capabilities locally. We've also got a fabulous and active veterans community who work every day to support each other, our community and those who are currently serving. Our veterans are nothing short of amazing—the things they do in our community! So it is no surprise that the fall of Kabul and Australia's efforts to evacuate Australians and Australian supporters hit local people hard. We know all too well what it means for our troops to be sent in during an operation like this. We know they are putting themselves on the line for us. We know it takes bravery and a selfless sense of duty, and we know the lasting impact it can have, both seen and unseen.

But we also know why they are doing it. After the fall of Kabul one year ago, I was contacted by many local people concerned for Australians left behind. Many were also worried about the Afghan interpreters and others who supported our Defence Force during our 20 years in Afghanistan. Local veterans called my office asking about those they knew—those they had worked with who had been left behind. Not-for-profits who had worked with Afghans doing great work asked for help. Local people had family members who couldn't get out. All were begging for the government to help get these people out. All were distressed at what the future might look like for those they cared about.

For our serving and veteran Defence Force personnel, this was a deeply traumatic experience. They genuinely care about those who helped and were devastated about those who were left behind. Some 39,000 Australians served in Afghanistan. On top of that were Australian diplomats, non-government organisations and aid organisations—so many Australian people undertook every effort over so many years to bring democracy to that country. Their work was invaluable. It was hugely important, and what happened when the Taliban re-took Kabul was nothing short of devastating for everyone. That's why I know that the members of the 1st Battalion Royal Australian Regiment, and all those who were deployed for the rescue operation in Afghanistan, did so selflessly and without hesitation. Their bravery saw more than 4,100 people rescued from a harrowing situation in the middle of all the chaos that was unfolding in this city and country that our troops had spent so long defending.

Sadly, this mission couldn't get everyone out. That's why we are continuing to prioritise the processing of visas for those who remain in Afghanistan. We saw a huge surge in those applications in the wake of this tragic event. I know the minister is committed to getting through those as quickly as possible. But this was one of the largest humanitarian airlift operations in our history, and every person involved deserves our heartfelt thanks and appreciation for the actions they took. I thank soldiers, government officials and everyone who worked together to make this happen. We are indebted to you for your brave work.

I would also like to give a special shoutout to the fabulous defence industry in my electorate, supported by the Shoalhaven Defence Industry Group and many of its partners—Shoalhaven City Council, the University of Wollongong, the Shoalhaven Business Chamber, and all our defence industry organisations. Our Defence Force is supported to do what they do because of defence industry providing them with state-of-the-art capabilities and equipment. I recently attended the Shoalhaven Defence Industry Showcase at the University of Wollongong's Shoalhaven campus, which highlighted some of the amazing work that the local defence industry is doing. It was a truly fabulous event. I couldn't be prouder of the fact that my area is a major contributor to defence capabilities across Australia. I thank you for all you do.

Once again, I say to all of our defence personnel—not only those involved in this particular event but also everyone who serves and has served to protect Australia and our interest—thank you.