Download the speech.
The Honourable Mike Kelly, Senator David Johnston, Former Chief of Army Frank Hickling, Major General Burr, Brigadier Bilton, distinguished guests, members of Australian Task Force Ten, your families, ladies and gentlemen.
The men and women on parade are from all three Services. They have been a part of a joint commitment by the ADF to Australia’s longest war. Their endeavours have contributed to our defence through the protection of our national interests and as part of this country’s role as a great democratic nation whose influence among the global family of nations is strengthened through the courage and sacrifice of ADF personnel.
Today is a very important occasion. Your return from active service is cause both for celebration but also for sombre reflection. You have cause to celebrate because you have returned safely to your homes and families having served with courage and honour in a very dangerous environment where you fought a very dangerous foe. Enjoy your reunions with loved ones—you have earned it.
Moreover, for the soldiers on parade, you now join a long line of men and women who have worn the iconic slouch hat and the Rising Sun Badge far from home on active service as Australian soldiers. In so doing you join a very special club.
The price of entry is high. It involves long separation from your families and loved ones and the constant risk of death and serious injury. Every one of you has added lustre to that Rising Sun Badge. I suspect that none of you will ever look at it in quite the same way again.
You have added your own small chapter to the long and enduring history of the service of the Australian Army, Navy and Air Force and upheld a tradition that makes the ADF one of this Nation’s most respected institutions.
But we should also pause for sombre reflection today to observe that what you have done has exacted a price from all of you—whether it is visible today or not. There is the time with loved ones that can never be recovered—first words uttered by kids in your absence, first steps taken by toddlers and a dozen other important milestones that you may have missed.
Moreover, you have lived with the constant threat of danger. This changes you. It makes you older, more mature—less frivolous— than many of your civilian peers. And only those who have been there really know what that entails. It gives you ballast in your character that cannot be measured. But it carries risks.
Be proud of what you have done without being arrogant. More importantly, if you experience trauma and mental issues after the initial thrill of coming home wears off, know that the soldierly thing to do is to put your hand up and ask for help. Likewise if you see one of your team-mates struggling make sure you help and inform the chain of command.
The extended Defence family is there for you. Avail yourself of the resources that are on hand to help you deal with the stress that active service has placed on you.
I have made a pledge to Army’s wounded personnel, and their families, that we will find continuing employment within the Army for everyone, in a way that meets the needs of the Service and the individual. And should it prove not to be possible, for health or safety reasons, then all of our considerable resources will be employed to finding civil employment. The Army will not leave a single soldier behind.
To those families, loved ones and friends of the troops on parade today may I repeat those same assurances. The ADF is grateful to you for the sacrifice you have made to allow your sons and daughters, husbands and wives to deploy and perform with their sole focus on the job at hand. We stand beside you in making the adjustments to life that the return of your loved ones will involve. We could not operate without you. You all deserve a medal for your unsung service. Please accept my thanks on behalf of Army.
I cannot help but observe that a large element of the force on parade today was drawn for the 8/9th Battalion the Royal Australian Regiment. It was my first unit—and every officer and young NCO remembers his or her first leadership role in a special way.
Please indulge me in a bit of nostalgia. My father commanded 9 RAR in Vietnam. It and the 8th Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment were raised for service in that war. Later as the Army scaled back to six battalions they were linked to form 8/9 RAR. Then, when successive governments sought to extract a peace dividend that seemed on offer after Vietnam and the Cold War, the battalion was disbanded and taken off the order of battle.
Many of you may not remember that when we needed to urgently deploy troops to East Timor in 1999 we only had five regular infantry battalions on hand to execute a dangerous and strategically important mission. I would like to pay a special tribute to Lieutenant General Frank Hickling, whose prescient efforts to raise the readiness of that less than adequate force, was absolutely critical to the success of INTERFET.
Ever since that strategic shock, the Army has been steadily expanded and re-equipped. One of the final elements of the plan to remediate the land force was the re-raising of 8/9 RAR. Yet even as you return from active service there are voices arguing that we can again afford to reduce the size of the ADF and the Army in particular. I served in 8/9 RAR in the Army that suffered from such short term thinking in the period after Vietnam.
My memories of the officers and soldiers from that Army are that they kept the faith. They served on after experiencing the exhilaration, sacrifice and pain of war in an environment where resources where scarce and the relevance of what the Army did was not widely understood nor appreciated. By preserving the ethos, culture and skill base of the Army through their unstinting professionalism they laid the foundations for the success of the Army to which you belong.
Today I am asking you to also keep the faith as the Army enters a challenging period in its history. Again we are facing a climate when the wisdom of foreign wars is being questioned and when the merits of a standing Army must be demonstrated all over again. As we enter this age of austerity I ask you to serve on and provide your indispensible experience to the coming generation, who may not have the opportunity to serve in the demanding theatres that you have in the immediate future.
In closing, welcome home. Enjoy a well earned rest. Good soldiering!