Stephen Smith MP
Minister for Defence
Thank you very much Ed, as the CEO of the Perth Mint, to the Commanding Officer of HMAS Stirling, the Commanding Officer HMAS Perth, to my Parliamentary colleagues Gary Gray, the Member for Brand, and as a consequence of that the local Member for HMAS Stirling, and also a Minister in the Commonwealth Government, to our State Parliamentary colleague Joe Francis, the Member for Jandakot, to Bill Gaynor, the President of the WA RSL, to other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
Normally, of course, I would start by saying what a pleasure it is to be at HMAS Stirling, what a pleasure it is as the Member for Perth to be on HMAS Perth, and what a pleasure it will be to commemorate 100 years of Royal Australian Navy Service.
But everything we do in life is in a broader context.
Today is a tough day for Australia, a tough day for our Defence Forces, a tough day for Army, and a tough day for Queensland. We’ve seen earlier the Acting Chief of the Defence Force, Lieutenant General Hurley, bringing this morning the sad news of the death of a young Australian soldier in Afghanistan.
Corporal Atkinson’s death is a blow to our nation and a tragedy for his family. Our hearts and our thoughts go to his fiancé, his parents and his brother and his mates. It will also, of course, be a terribly sad reminder to the 21 other families who have lost loved ones in our effort in Afghanistan to stare down international terrorism.
It is also, of course, a great and difficult time for the people of Queensland, buffeted by floods one month and buffeted by a cyclone the next. We’ve seen the efforts of the Queensland Government and people, and the Australian Government and the Australian people to give support to Queensland at this time.
In terms of Defence assets or efforts, I, on the way down here from Perth, spoke to Brigadier Stuart Smith from Lavarak Barracks in Townsville, who is heading up our Cyclone Assist Task Force on our response to the cyclone.
He tells me that all of our bases and assets in North Queensland are operating, and while there is superficial damage, all of our assets are able to be utilised and our troops and our personnel and their families are all safe and accounted for.
We, of course, now stand ready to assist, just as Australian Defence Force personnel made a very substantial contribution to alleviating difficulties in the Queensland floods, whether that was emergency rescue at the height of the flash flood in the Lockyer Valley, or whether it was mopping up and cleaning up, helping the people of Brisbane and Ipswich. It was a substantial effort by Australian Defence Force personnel, including the Navy.
Australian Defence Force personnel, including Navy, will also have this role to play in the efforts we’ll see in coming days to help the clean up and recovery suffered in north Queensland as a result of the cyclone.
For example, Navy, in the course of assisting in the Brisbane floods, deployed HMAS Huon for hydrological survey work in the Brisbane River, to make sure that the entrance to the Brisbane port was safe and secure.
Today we’ll see helicopters ready to be deployed for aerial examination of the disaster scene. Just as with the Brisbane floods, helicopters will come from both Navy and Army.
So that effort, that contribution – which is a Navy contribution, an Air Force contribution and an Army contribution – reflects what Australia has seen its Defence Force doing since its inception, and what Navy has been doing since inception.
Of course, what we celebrate today, what we mark today, is 100 years of the Royal Australian Navy, 100 years of service under that title. Prior to that, we were known as Commonwealth Naval Forces, an adjunct of the British Navy. One hundred years ago this year we were granted the title ‘Royal Australian Navy’ and we have seen fine service in difficult and dangerous times for a hundred years.
Australia’s Navy, the Royal Australian Navy, has been involved in every military conflict to which Australia has committed its forces.
In addition to that, just as we’ve seen in the Brisbane floods, just as we’ve seen in the cyclone affected area of north Queensland, Navy also plays a substantial role in disaster relief and disaster management, whether it’s in Australia, or in our region – whether it’s a cyclone in north Queensland, an earthquake in Indonesia or a tsunami in Samoa or Tonga. The Navy is there rendering assistance, often in difficult and dangerous conditions.
So while in some respects today is just one of the things we will do to commemorate the anniversary of Navy this year through a commemorative coin, and later commemorative stamps, when we do that, we pause and reflect on the sacrifice, the duty, the toil and the good deeds and the good work.
There’s no prouder or stronger supporter of HMAS Stirling than its local Members, Gary Gray and Joe Francis, and yes, I’m Minister for Defence and here in that capacity today, but I am also the Member for Perth and so I’m very proud and pleased to be on HMAS Perth itself.
The Chief of Navy told me when he briefed me about the improvements in combat systems to our frigates that HMAS Perth was the first one to get this improvement. He made the point to me that this, of course, was just a coincidence.
I’m very pleased that we’re commemorating and marking a substantial 100 year contribution by the Royal Australian Navy on HMAS Perth. I am also very pleased that it’s in conjunction with the Perth Mint, which, of course, is in my electorate.
Those of us who are from Perth or Western Australia know, for example, that there is a Mint in Canberra, but there is The Perth Mint in Perth, just as those of us who are interested in naval matters know that there is a Garden Island at Fleet Base East and there is The Garden Island at Fleet Base West, at HMAS Stirling.
I’m very pleased that two very significant Western Australian features coincide, the Perth Mint, which very much reflects Western Australia’s strong economic growth and contribution for the last 30 odd years, making a substantial contribution economically to the prosperity of Western Australian’s generally, and also another great Western Australian institution, HMAS Stirling, our naval asset in the Indian Ocean.
All of us who understand that know that as an island continent, navy is essential.
We also know that not only do we have significant interests in the Pacific, we have essential interests in the Indian Ocean. The fact that we have HMAS Stirling and deploy our submarines from here, deploy our ANZAC frigates from here, reflects substantially the importance of an Australian country and continent that looks West as well as East, that looks to the Indian Ocean as well as to the Pacific.
So these two great Western Australian institutions coincide today and are important in a national context.
I’m very pleased to be here. We all wish that we were here in happier times. We should pause today to reflect on some of the terrible loss and consequences for families and friends in Australia and also in Afghanistan.
I’m very pleased to mark with you all the service of the Royal Australian Navy for 100 years.
Thank you very much.
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