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Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great honour to be invited to address you today. Last year, at this time, I gave my first official address as the Chief of the Australian Army to the Reserve Forces Day commemoration in Melbourne.
The year that has elapsed since has been a tumultuous one for the Army. We continue to play a very significant role in a number of operational theatres in the Region and around the globe. We have continued to suffer casualties in our longest ever war in Afghanistan. We have embarked on an ambitious program of reform of Army’s organisation, which ensures we will extract every available ounce of capability from our Reserves. And of course, we are now facing the challenge of implementing a major savings program at the direction of the Government. In time honoured Army fashion we need to do more with less.
Reserve Forces Day affords an opportunity to look back with pride on the contribution of Reserves to the Defence of Australia since the very inception of the nation. And it provides an opportunity for us to pay tribute to our serving reservists and their families and others whose unselfish and generous support underpins their service.
Reserve Forces Day is overwhelmingly an occasion for pride and celebration. But we must also pause to reflect on the sacrifice of those members of our citizen and Reserve Forces who have paid the supreme sacrifice in war. In the two great global conflicts of the last century many members of our citizen forces were ultimately mobilised for active service and many died in the service of Australia. In particular today I want to make special mention of the fact that the contribution of our Reservists straddled the very birth of the nation, through the involvement of volunteers from the various colonies in the Boer War. Even as the colonies were embarking on the great project of building a new nation, soldiers –volunteers all, were rendering brave and effective service on the South African veldt. That legacy of selfless service and patriotism animates the contribution of thousands of Reserve soldiers, sailors and airmen and women today. That legacy is in very capable hands.
We are a nation of volunteers. Our schools, sporting clubs, charities and emergency services all thrive on the efforts of volunteers. The reverence that Australians feel for the digger is inextricably linked to iconic image of the citizen soldier. We have never maintained large standing armed forces. Throughout its history Australia has relied heavily on significant reserve forces to provide a mobilisation base for wars of necessity.
The world has changed enormously since then – as has the nature of service in the reserves. The end of the Cold War saw the decline of the mass conscript armies of the twentieth century –certainly among the advanced capitalist democracies.
Sadly, the much vaunted ‘peace dividend’ predicted in the wake of the Cold War has never eventuated. Indeed, the world remains a dangerous place and security threats have become more diffuse, complex and unpredictable. Australia learnt this first in 1999 during the East Timor crisis and later in the hybrid wars in the wake of 9/11. The ADF has engaged in uninterrupted operations since 1999.
We could not have sustained this demanding tempo without the contribution of the Defence Reserves. The Reserve has responded magnificently to this new era and its distinctive challenges. The demands of a decade of war fighting, stabilization operations and humanitarian relief have brought out the very best in our Reserve Forces. Whether through the provision of vital rare skills such as surgeons and lawyers, or the efforts of formed bodies of troops, the Reserves have been at the cutting edge of the operational performance of the ADF over the last decade.
While this is the case right across the ADF, I can speak with most authority about the Army. And the Reserve is now seamlessly integrated into our force sustainment model. Reservists conduct our operations in the Solomon Islands and have assumed significant responsibility for our operations in Timor Leste. They have earned the trust of their permanent colleagues and the Government of Australia in assuming this burden. The level and scope of their responsibilities is only going to increase.
Of course the effectiveness of the reserve relies on the unstinting support and sacrifice of a range of people. Firstly, there are the individual soldiers, sailors, and air men and women who give their spare time and earning capacity to serve their country. But in this endeavour they draw on a deep well of goodwill and affection form their families. Reserve places an unusual strain on families without many of the offsetting compensations available to the families of permanent ADF members. May I place on record today the gratitude of the Australian Army and the entire ADF.
Finally, no discussion of the role of the Defence Reserves would be complete without acknowledging the support of the thousands of employers and businesses across Australia whose goodwill is simply irreplaceable. No business or enterprise is immune to competitive pressure so the release of employees for reserve service always entails sacrifice of some sort. Let me assure you that it is worthwhile and we deeply appreciate it.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you again for the chance to address you today. As I continue to deal with the challenges that face me as the Chief of Army, I am buoyed by the enthusiasm and professionalism that I see every day in the Reserve community of the ADF. Those serving in the modern Reserve are integral to the Defence of this great nation. Their service is built on the legacy of those who have gone before them. Both the past and present contributions that ensure a prosperous future for the Nation are what we celebrate here today.