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Speeches The Hon Danna Vale MP   Minister for Veterans' Affairs Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence Federal Member for Hughes

The Hon Danna Vale MP Minister for Veterans' Affairs Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence

Speech At

The Sydney Region Aircrew Group

11th September 2002

I am delighted to be here today and thank you for welcoming me. I feel really honoured to have had the opportunity to be part of your Commemorative Service and to meet the members and the partners of the Sydney Region Aircrew Group.

Of course, we cannot avoid that this is also the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York in which 10 Australians and thousands of others were killed.

September the 11th holds mixed emotions for all of us.

As a wife and mother, I feel deeply the anguish of those who lost loved ones in New York a year ago. But their grief at having their partners, children or parents taken from them prematurely was dramatically compounded by the events that led to their deaths: events that threatened the very fabric of society and changed the face of the world as we know it.

This is a time to remember them and their loss, but unfortunately it is also a time in which we must face the fact that our own world is, as it really always has been, a dangerous place. History teaches us that successful societies are always at risk from aggressors who will not accept that there are others who embrace peace and democracy, because they instinctively know that peace and democracy begets prosperity and opportunity.

We have always considered ourselves �the lucky country� but that position has not come without sacrifice. Since September 11 last year, we are all more fully aware that the price of peace is eternal vigilance, just like the motto of the RSL reminds us. It is therefore essential that we be prepared to face any eventuality.

Australia has committed to fighting the War Against Terror and other theatres where tyranny exists. Today, men and women of the Australian Defence Force are serving in the Persian Gulf and in Afghanistan. And as peacekeepers in Bougainville and east Timor.

The Prime Minister recently expressed the nation�s appreciation to those currently engaged in the War on Terror, saying:

They are doing dangerous and necessary work for us and dangerous and necessary work for the cause of freedom.

As veterans yourselves I know you understand this danger and I am sure that you also appreciate just how necessary it is sometimes.

Of course, this concerns me. But at the same time I am indescribably proud of the men and women who currently serve in our armed forces. They are ready to defend Australia, alongside her allies, in support of the principles of democracy and freedom, wherever and whenever such principles are under threat anywhere in the world.

Just as the United States stood by Australia 60 years ago, when our shores came under threat for the first time, so we have stood alongside the US in the War Against Terror. But, it is important to note that our joint involvement in any future military action will be considered only if and when the need arises.

Armed conflict is a last resort. As it always should be. And let me make it very clear, the Australian Government has made no commitment with respect to any action against Iraq. Indeed, the world would not have a problem if Iraq had complied with the United Nations Security Council Resolutions. If Iraq were to allow unconditional and enforceable weapons inspections and destruction of any elements of weapons of mass destruction then the dynamics of this whole situation could be transformed overnight.

It is almost a year since I was given the privilege of becoming a Minister in the Howard Government. As I have always said, I did not seek a Ministry. I just wanted to be the best Member for Hughes for my constituents. But the portfolio of Veterans� Affairs was the only Ministry I could not refuse. In fact, it was the only portfolio to which I aspired. The opportunity to personally meet so many veterans and to build strong working relationships with ex�service organisations has been the highlight of my parliamentary career.

I thought as airmen, you would be interested particularly in how the Royal Australian Air Force has been serving our nation, both here and overseas over the past year.

The Air Force�s greatest operational role this year has been the overseas deployment of F/A-18 Hornets and Boeing 707 aerial tankers as part of Australia�s commitment to the International coalition against terrorism.

The F/A-18s operated out of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean with two rotations of personnel and did a great job in supporting coalition forces by providing air defence. The tankers, due to return to Australia soon, also played a major role in air-to-air refuelling operations whilst operating from Manas in Kyrgystan.

In addition to this overseas commitment, the RAAF was also busy earlier in the year when the F/A-18s also provided the air defence capability during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting on Queensland�s Sunshine Coast.

The operational momentum has continued throughout the year with the F/A-18 Hornets and F-111s taking part in the annual Forward Air Controller course, known as Exercise Shot Start near Townsville (North QLD) in May. This was followed by the RAAF bases at Amberley (QLD) and Williamtown (NSW) hosting the major Air Combat exercise, Pitch Black, over central western NSW in July.

The P3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft, based at Edinburgh in South Australia, have also been busy with long range reconnaissance patrols as part of Operation Relex, or search and rescue operations as was the case in early May when the RAAF joined the Navy to search for a missing sailor.

The workhorses of the Air Force, otherwise known as the C-130 Hercules squadrons at Richmond, have been equally busy and earlier this year (March) received recognition for their excellent safety record, being awarded the prestigious Award for Aviation Safety Excellence in 2001. The RAAF has been operating the Hercules since 1958 and collectively the squadrons have accumulated a world record in aviation safety of more than 600,000 accident-free flying hours.

It has also been a busy year for No 34 Squadron based at Fairbairn with the arrival of the first of the new VIP aircraft in June. The squadron is preparing for a major transition from the existing fleet of Falcon aircraft to two new Boeing Business Jets and three smaller Bombardier Challenger 604s.

RAAF jets are often involved in fly-pasts and earlier this year four F/A-18 Hornets from No 77 Squadron at Williamtown had the special privilege of flying a final salute to former Australian Prime Minister, the late Sir John Gorton. A former member of the squadron, Sir John joined the RAAF in 1940 and flew Kittyhawks in the

United Kingdom, Singapore and Papua New Guinea and was seriously injured in at least two accidents.

But, Australia is not only fortified by our current serving personnel.

In the spirit of remembrance, I am determined as Minister that Commemorations will remain a central focus of the Department of Veterans� Affairs and, indeed, this Government.

This year we mark 60 years since the historic events of 1942, when for the first time Australians fought to defend our own shores.

The faces here today are part of Australia�s history. Yet, as you said in your recent newsletter, it is the �young fellows� who will keep alive the spirit of Aircrew. This is true of all our veterans no matter in what service of our defence force they served.

Sixty years on, indeed every year, it is important to remind all Australians � and especially our young people � of the significance of that time in our history � The shock of unimaginable surrender at Singapore, the Bombing of Darwin and our Northern shores and the very real fear of invasion, and eventually turning the tide with the battles of the Coral Sea, Milne Bay and Kokoda. Indeed, 60 years ago, Australia, as a fledgling democracy, was facing her darkest hour.

Last month, the Prime Minister dedicated a magnificent new memorial at Isurava on the Kokoda Track, in a special ceremony attended by 10 Kokoda veterans. Another memorial is being built at Popondetta and Milne Bay, where Allied forces, including 4,500 Australian infantrymen and the Kittyhawk fighters of 75 and 76 Squadrons RAAF inflicted the first defeat of the war on a Japanese amphibious force.

I am also pleased to report that a special commemorative mission will go to Papua New Guinea in November for the dedication of these memorials and my Department has written to ex-service organisations and unit associations seeking nominations for veterans to represent the three Armed Services. A number of widows will be also be chosen, to represent the families of those whose loved ones failed to return from these campaigns.

It is important for Australia to revere those sites around the world where our men and women have served, and all too often given their lives in that service. Indeed, they are sites sacred to the memory of Australian service men and women, and you may be assured, Australia will always remember.

It is doubly important to ensure that at home we have the same great appreciation of the significance of that service and sacrifice.

Last month I launched Saluting Their Service, the Howard Government�s new commemorations program, which aims to build strong partnerships with the community in commemorating the service of our defence forces in wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations, Saluting Their Service sets the course for the future, to encourage the people of our nation to embrace our wartime heritage and carry on the Anzac tradition that helps to define us all as Australians.

Already, we are seeing renewed community interest in all facets of our war history. For example, for the second year running, the Australian War Memorial was named Australia�s top tourist attraction. The Memorial is a special national place, and this award underscores its importance to all Australians. In particular, the Bradbury Aircraft Hall opened last year, houses the exhibition Air Power in the Pacific 1941�53. Air Power in the Pacific is packed with ten classic World War 2 aircraft, including a P-40 Kittyhawk, a Japanese Zero fighter , Wirraway and a MiG-15.

I consider it very important to instil the unique qualities that shaped our nation into the hearts and minds of our younger generation and I would consider my job well done if every child in Australia visited the Australian War Memorial. Unfortunately, the distances involved for many young Australians makes that a major challenge.

Instead, Memorial Boxes take our wartime history to them and give them a hands-on experience and insight into the realities of Australians at war. At any one time there are 64 boxes in circulation around Australian schools.

Each box contains a range of resources that will stimulate research and learning and will promote understanding of the critical events of each of the war themes the box represents.

In addition, each Anzac day a special school kit is prepared and provided to all schools in Australia to highlight the importance of Anzac day and it�s commemoration and remembrance.

The RSL reports increased interest in Anzac Day activities with hundreds of thousands attending services and marches around Australia. In Gallipoli this year, 12,000 people attended the Service on Anzac Day at Anzac Cove.

To continue this strong affiliation with our wartime history and as part of my Department�s commemorative program, missions are planned for Papua New Guinea, El Alamein, Timor and Vietnam.

In addition, the official dedication of a new Australian War Memorial in London will be attended by our Prime Minister to coincide with the 11th of the 11th celebrations next year.

We welcome these commemorations because we are reminded how they have shaped our identity as a nation. Because they are at the heart of what we are as a people.

To move forward, we must have an understanding and appreciation of how, where and whence we have come. So that, even in a time of international uncertainty, we know who we are, we are Australians, and are confident of our position as a nation, thanks to the men and women of the Australian Defence Force, and to those who served before them.

It is a pleasure to have the chance to talk to a group that is united in the hallowed �mateship� on which the Anzac tradition was founded, on the fellowship and bonds of mutual experience, and not in the formality of constitutions and rules and agendas. You each share in the spirit that binds like no other. You are mates in the truest sense. You will always have each other. You will always share in history of the service to your country.

In closing I am going to quote from Charles Bean, Australia�s great war historian, some very fitting words written to describe the Australian Imperial Force in France during the Allied Offensive.

These words apply equally to all who serve and have served in defence of our nation.

What these men did nothing can alter now. The good and the bad, the greatness and the smallness of their story will stand. Whatever of glory it contains, nothing can now lessen. It rises, as it will always rise, above the mists of ages, a monument to great�hearted men; and for their nation, a possession forever.

We can never revere you enough. We can never thank you enough. God bless you all.