Address to Alamein Company, Royal Military College, Duntroon

  • Speech, E&OE
04 June 2015

I am absolutely delighted to be here this evening. Earlier I was asking one of the cadets about the other four companies and I was told "just think of Hogwarts", so I have an idea of the competition among the five companies.

Go Alamein!

It is a great pleasure to be among a group of outstanding young people tonight. Within my electorate in Western Australia I have the barracks of Irwin and Campbell - the reserves and the SAS - and so I have, during my 18 years in Parliament been to the odd military dinner or two and I'm well aware of the traditions that take place - I know to pass the port to the left!

As cadets at Duntroon, you have committed to a career of service to our country and to the Australian people.

The form of your service reveals your depth of character, through your preparedness to put your country first, to defend your nation through military service.

Your careers are likely to take you all over the world as Australia continues its proud tradition of military engagement.

In fact in this 100th year since the Gallipoli campaign which has been credited as the crucible in which our national character was forged, in a spectacular military defeat but marked by legendary stories of courage, bravery and mateship, there has rarely been a greater focus or awareness of our military history.

I hope that you take the time to think about your role in a broader context, as you undertake your important work in the name and uniform of Australia.

All countries exercise power - military, economic, political, diplomatic and ideological.

Australia's power does not just lie in our ability to win the war against an enemy.

It comes also from the alliances we build with our friends, the goodwill we generate amongst foreign populations, the health of our economy that allows us to pursue social growth and economic opportunities, and the overall appeal of Australia as an open, democratic nation.

Australia pursues its national interests by using all the resources at our disposal to exercise power.

We have hard power assets, our military – the kind that involve force or coercion – and we have soft power assets.

However our military is not only a tool of hard power.

It is also a vital tool of Australia's soft power – our attractiveness to other countries, our ability to persuade other countries, peacefully, that they should embrace values of freedom, openness and tolerance.

Let me give you some examples of the way in which the different aspects of Australia's power work together and the specific role of the military.

Australia's contribution to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan was first and foremost a military operation.

Over the 13 years of Operation SLIPPER, more than 34,500 ADF personnel, Australian Government civilians and Australian Federal Police officers were deployed to the Middle East Area of Operations.

After the devastating events of September 11 our mission in Afghanistan was to stop the Taliban and to assist the Afghan Government establish security and stability across the country.

This wasn't the end goal – it was a step along the way to preventing Afghanistan from being a haven for terrorists, particularly Al Qaeda.

We wanted the Afghan people to be able, over time, to take back control of the country and do so in a sustainable way that prevented the resurgence of terrorism.

We sought to achieve that goal not only through force, but also through persuasion. So we sent diplomatic and development officers to Afghanistan to fight extremist ideology through schools, hospitals, and promote good governance and the protection of human rights.

In the United Nations Security Council, Australia also used its diplomatic power to underpin our military contributions by facilitating the mandate renewals for the UN mission in 2013 and 2014, and for ISAF in 2013, and then authoring and leading negotiations on the resolution that provided the Council's political support for the successor to ISAF, Resolute Support.

Another example of the effective use of our military power is in peacekeeping and peace building.

Australia has provided more than 65,000 personnel to more than 50 United Nations and other multilateral peace and security operations since 1947.

The Regional Assistance Mission in the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) – a vital mission that has restored stability to Solomon Islands since 2003 – is one example of a successful mission close to home.

Australia played the lead role providing the majority of personnel and funding, including an Australian diplomat to head the Mission as Special Coordinator, and we managed the military and development components of the mission until it ceased in 2013.

Australia's use of military power in this case was not as dominant as in ISAF, given the scale of the diplomatic and economic power we employed, but it was still a crucial element of our efforts.

In responding to a security challenge – to help our neighbour and to ensure our own interests in regional stability were met – military power was one element in the broader strategy that we drew upon.

Counter-terrorism is another area where Australia's leadership in multilateral security cooperation has been much broader than our military power.

Take the rise of Da'esh – one of the most disturbing security threats the world faces today.

While the fight against terrorists is focused mostly in Syria and Iraq, by drawing in foreign fighters from all over the world, at last count about 90 countries claimed that they had citizens fighting with terrorists in Iraq and Syria, and encouraging its supporters to commit random attacks locally, no country – including Australia – is untouched by the destructive ideology of Da'esh.

Our response to the Da'esh threat is multi-faceted.

Using our diplomatic power, Australia led negotiations in the UN Security Council to accelerate the implementation of new international obligations to starve Da'esh and the Al-Nusrah Front of funds and fighters, recruits and legitimacy.

Last Tuesday, I attended an anti-Da'esh coalition meeting in Paris co-hosted by the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Iraqi Prime Minister al Abadi and US Deputy Secretary Tony Blinken - you all know that the Secretary of State had an accident on his bike, I have said there are dangers for older men wearing lycra! And this was to discuss the future of our efforts in Iraq and Syria and reaffirm our unity and resolve in combatting terrorism.

Drawing on our military power, Australia has deployed around 300 ADF personnel to the Building Partner Capacity mission in Iraq, which is designed to build the capacity of the Iraqi Security Forces to reclaim and hold territory that has been taken by Da'esh and to protect Iraqi citizens from the violence and barbarism that it metes out.

Australian defence personnel also continue to advise and assist the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service and conduct air operations against Da'esh.

Drawing on our resources as the 12th largest economy in the world, Australia is also able to contribute to the humanitarian effort - $30 million in humanitarian assistance to Iraq since 2014 and around $156 million in humanitarian funding for Syria since 2011.

Our examples of humanitarian assistance demonstrate that Australia plays a leadership role as part of the international response to a security incident without using only military power.

From 2013 to 2014, Australia served on the UN Security Council as a temporary non-permanent member.

We established a strong reputation as an active, pragmatic, and results driven member of the Council based on our ability to build consensus for action amongst the members to address highly complex security issues.

For example, the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 a commercial airline, in commercial airspace in which all 298 passengers and crew were killed including 38 people who called Australia home. After this tragedy, Australia drafted and led negotiations on a Security Council resolution in condemnation, calling on the armed separatist groups controlling the crash site to allow unfettered access to international investigators.

I travelled to New York to lead our efforts. The resolution was adopted unanimously – although I'll never forget the moment when we called upon all the members to raise their hands in support and I stared down the Russian Ambassador until he put his hand up. It was thanks to this outcome that our Federal Police and our investigators were able to be part of the team with access to what was essentially a war zone to bring home the remains of the Australians on board that flight.

It was an outcome that could not, or would not have been achieved if we had opted, or resorted to armed military intervention as some had urged into Ukraine in order to access the crash site, as tempting as it was it had to be done diplomatically.

Investigations into this monstrosity are ongoing and through the continued mobilisation of our diplomatic and political resources we are doing all we can to bring the perpetrators of this heinous crime to justice.

Australia's military power is however absolutely crucial in how we respond to natural disasters and relief.

Tropical Cyclone Pam caused widespread damage across Vanuatu in March this year, destroying shelter, infrastructure, and taking the lives of 16 people.

Using our diplomatic assets, the Australian Government supported the relief efforts of the Vanuatu Government and coordinated with other humanitarian partners and donors.

We deployed medical staff, search and rescue personnel, and disaster response and recovery experts to assist.

We provided more than $10 million in humanitarian support immediately as part of the initial response in Vanuatu and a further $40 million to support recovery and reconstruction efforts.

A core component of our efforts to help Vanuatu was the deployment of more than 500 defence personnel plus hardware including HMAS Tobruk, two Kingair B250 planes, two C17s and a C130 aircraft and three Blackhawk helicopters as part of Operation PACIFIC ASSIST 2015.

Australian troops repaired key infrastructure, restored basic services and delivered more than 115 tonnes of life-saving humanitarian relief supplies throughout Vanuatu.

I was told repeatedly during my visit to Vanuatu in the days following Cyclone Pam that while the people of Vanuatu were devastated by the impact of the cyclone that hit late on a Friday night and continued through on a Saturday that many lost everything – but when they saw the Australian military aircraft flying over Port Vila on the Sunday, they were overjoyed. The Australians were coming!

The Australian Defence Force also evacuated 208 Australians from Vanuatu as commercial means of transportation were difficult to access.

Again during Operation NEPAL ASSIST 2015, the ADF played a similar role in relief efforts following the recent devastating earthquakes in Nepal, delivering nearly 15 tonnes of Australian aid and evacuating over 100 Australian and other foreign nationals to Thailand so they could make their way home.

In both Vanuatu and Nepal, the use of our military assets was key to providing humanitarian assistance in a timely fashion and rescuing Australians in trouble.

Our soft power is exercised in many forms. We call it 'economic diplomacy' just as traditional diplomacy seeks peace, economic diplomacy seeks prosperity. We have cultural diplomacy, sports diplomacy all our assets are used to promote our national interests across the globe, each of our 96 missions overseas is charged with enhancing our interests in the country in which they are posted.

And we exercise ideological power – something that plays a consistent, supporting role in just about all of our interactions with the international community.

We are an open, export-oriented market economy and a trusted and reliable trading partner. We are an open, liberal democracy committed to freedoms, the rule of law and an international rules based system.

Our ideological power comes from Australia's values – democracy, human rights, liberalism, egalitarianism, multiculturalism – and our commitment to upholding these values. In bilateral and multilateral forums, we stand up for our values and we are prepared to when we do defend them vigorously, we are prepared to fight for them.

Our ideological power will be critical to the fight to defeat threats to our nation and our citizens, complementing the work of our security forces.

As we find ways to counter violent extremism and the radicalisation of young Australians in the fight against terrorism, our narrative, our counter narrative is based on the values we uphold that reflect our nation and our people.

As you embark on a career with the Army, I encourage you to reflect on the diverse role of the military within our society and institutions. Our military power is used as one of our assets used to promote Australia as a positive force for good in our region and as a good global citizen committed to promoting peace and security and thereby prosperity for all.

I wish you the very best in your endeavours as a proud member of an outstanding, competent and dedicated professional army that does Australia proud. All the very best.

- Ends –

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