Address at the opening of the new Joint Health Command Oakey Health Centre, Swartz Barracks, Oakey

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The Hon Peter Dutton MP

Minister for Defence

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2 February 2022

Dave, thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for being here today. I’m sorry to make you stand out in the sun, but I suspect there’s a bit of a COVID element to it.

Of course, this opening would have taken place much sooner than now, but it’s a familiar refrain – because of COVID we haven’t been able to get here any sooner, and I want to acknowledge the great work that’s already been undertaken. I want to say thank you very much to all of those who have been involved behind the scenes and those who have made this a reality.

I want to say thank you very much first to Dave. Thank you for your hospitality yesterday. I’m looking forward to the rest of the program today; but as you pointed out before, you’re one of the customers here, and we want to start with that in mind. We want to make sure that our ADF personnel have the best possible facilities available to them, and this of course is an $18 million investment, but part of a bigger $200 million program providing an upgrade of 13 priority facilities at bases and garrison bases across the country.

And Oakey is a particularly important base, not just for me as a Queenslander, but because of the work that is undertaken here. Part of my message today was to make it very clear that we have a continuing and enduring engagement with the Oakey community, with the Toowoomba region. Garth Hamilton has been a phenomenal advocate for this base and for the work that goes on here and for the continuing work.

We had a bit of an insight yesterday into some of the training and activity that takes place on base. But you will see more money invested by the Commonwealth Government here on the Oakey base. We will see more people employed. We’ll see more personnel deployed to this particular base or based here on this site.

So I think the future for Oakey is incredibly bright, and I think that’s the very important message to point out today. I also want to say thank you very much to Trevor Watts and to Pat Weir for their support as local members of, not only the facility today, but over a long period of time the activities that have taken place here on the Oakey base.

I also want to acknowledge the work of Commander of Aviation Command Major General Stephen Jobson AM CSC for his leadership and for the way in which he’s going to provide that leadership as we reinvigorate through the acquisition of additional assets and the investment in our people. That is a very important program that we will roll out over the coming years. The Federal Government is committed to investing now beyond two per cent of GDP into Defence, and that’s a significant ramp up and aviation training will be a significant part of that.

Also, too, Commodore Nicole Curtis, thank you very much, Nicole for the work that you’ve done [inaudible] and for overseeing what’s an important investment. When you look back at the history of Reg Swartz and his contribution, the three and a half years he spent as a prisoner of war, the leadership and the sacrifice that he made to the men that served under him, it’s a phenomenal story. I was in the Parliament in 2006 when John Howard delivered the condolence speech, and he spoke of his sacrifice and his contribution.

What we want here out of this centre is for our people to be properly taken care of. We haven’t always done that in the past. We haven’t always had a joined up health program that deals with all sorts of primary care issues, but that has a complete picture that then can engage with people in the secondary system of care, high acuity needs can be addressed and that record can follow the ADF personnel.

To me, it's incredibly important, because when I came into this portfolio I said that we had the backs of the men and women of the Australian Defence Force. I didn’t say it flippantly – I meant it – and we are going to make sure we do whatever is possible to provide support to the ADF personnel – not only when they’re serving – but when they leave the Australian Defence Force. Not just when they’re a part of the defence industry, if they’ve been in the Defence Force before or if they’re part of the reserves, we want to make sure that we can provide support to them so that they are, you know, fit to fight and fit for life as the motto goes.

So I want to send that message of reassurance today – that this facility is about providing support to our men and women. It will respond in a catastrophic event, that we hope and pray will never prevail, but we live in a risky world. And the training exercises, the deployments come with a level of risk.

We also engage with international partners on this site and we want the best possible facility to provide the assurance of the backup and the medical services that are required to house those people here and protected by Defence properly.

So thank you all very much for being here. Garth, again mate, thank you very much for your advocacy over a long period of time. Garth and I have had many discussions, as I said before, about the general region, but about the Oakey base in particular. I think it reflects very strongly some of the messages I heard yesterday from the personnel that I was able to engage with personally.

So I’m really proud to be here today. Thirty staff are occupying this facility, and I want to pay tribute to those members of the ADF and others civilian personnel who will provide the medical support and services both on base and in outreach situations. We have one of the best health systems in the world. It’s under pressure and stress with the coronavirus at the moment, but we’ve stood up like very few other countries around the world to provide that support. And when you look at the training, the support and professional development and the ongoing skill acquisition and upgrading that we will provide to the clinicians here, I think we should be reassured by the fact that this is a world-class facility and it will serve us well for many years and decades into the future.

So thank you very much, and I’m very pleased to officially declare open this Oakey health base facility, and I wish all the very best to those who serve here and, again, honour all those who are in uniform today or who have been in uniform and who do our country a great service, as Reg Swartz did, and continue that legacy. And it’s a very important one. So thank you all for being here today.


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