2021 has been a milestone year for Defence.
After 20 years of conflict, the deployment of almost 40,000 ADF personnel, and the loss of 41 Australian lives, the NATO-led mission to Afghanistan drew to a close.
Australians will never forget the service and sacrifice of ADF personnel during what became our longest war.
My message to veterans of the Middle East mission is one of thanks. Our nation is forever grateful for the sacrifices you and your families have endured in the defence of freedom.
Hold your heads high. For your military successes, for the blows you struck against terrorism, and for your extraordinary feats evacuating civilians in perilous circumstances.
Closer to home, 2021 has been a year of geopolitical challenge and strategic reckoning.
Challenges to regional security and sovereignty have been drawn into sharp relief.
The ADF has responded with energised resolve to keep Australia safe in the face of evolving threats.
Certainty in direction and the ballast of strong partnerships has been critical as we contend with an increasingly uncertain regional environment.
The ADF has worked closely and effectively with our allies, partners and friends to deter aggression, prevent conflict, and preserve peace.
We have done this through exercises like Talisman Sabre and Malabar.
Our forces have been deployed effectively in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.
We have worked with countries in our Pacific family, in the Indo-Pacific region, and further afield.
Through ASEAN, the Quad, NATO, and the Five Eyes.
Australia deepened security and defence cooperation with the United Kingdom and United States through the historic AUKUS agreement.
Our partnership with the United States has never been stronger.
This year marked the 70th anniversary of ANZUS, and the 10th anniversary of the US Force Posture Initiatives. Australia and the US have agreed to further these endeavours.
We will improve our air, maritime, land and logistics cooperation through enhanced US presence and new joint exercises.
This year, the engines of defence industry also shifted into a higher gear.
Maintaining and sustaining Defence’s capabilities, while also building new ones, such as the unmanned Loyal Wingman, patrol vessels and armoured vehicles, and improving the infrastructure which supports them – such as barracks, air bases and naval yards.
Important decisions were made:
The acquisition of superior nuclear-powered submarines.
Accelerating a sovereign manufacturing capability for guided weapons and long-range missiles and advancing the development of asymmetric capabilities – such as area denial systems, offensive cyber technologies, autonomous craft and remotely piloted drones.
Researchers and scientists made inroads in leveraging new and emerging technologies for military applications, like artificial intelligence, quantum technologies and developments for space capabilities.
While our cyber workforce safeguarded our networks and critical infrastructure from near-constant attacks.
Amidst all this, Defence contributed to national and regional responses to the pandemic, including through Operation COVID-19 Assist.
It helped our Fijian friends in the wake of Cyclone Yasa.
It aided in the ultimately tragic search for Indonesian submarine KRI Nanggala.
And it supported the Australian Government’s response to unrest in the Solomon Islands following a request for assistance from the Solomon Islands Government under the 2017 Bilateral Security Treaty.
As this year ends, I want to express my gratitude as a very proud Defence Minister and the appreciation of the Australian Government.
To our men and women in uniform – including those on deployment over Christmas.
To their families and loved ones – for their support and sacrifice.
To our veterans – especially of Afghanistan.
To defence public servants, contractors, researchers and scientists – for their many quiet contributions.
To those in defence industry – from the large primes to the small businesses.
Thank you for your dedication, hard work and achievements of the past year.
The Defence ecosystem is made up of many individuals, with distinct skills, from varied backgrounds.
But regardless of whether they’re a pilot or public servant, a soldier or sailor, a submariner or scientist, an engineer or educator, an analyst or attaché, a cyber operative or contributor to defence capability – all serve a mission bigger than themselves:
The defence of our nation, the security of the Australian people, and the maintenance of peace.
This mission is more important than ever.
It is a mission which unites us as Australians, more than any other.
A mission which reminds us of the values we hold dear and those who have fought and died to protect them.
This Christmas, as Australians express gratitude for what they have, their appreciation will extend to the many who work tirelessly to defend our nation and its interests.