Adjournment – 2 August 2022

Last month I had the immense honour of attending and being able to participate in the Australian Defence Force Parliamentary Program.

I was fortunate enough to travel to Hawaii, along with the Member for Cowper, Pat Conaghan, for Exercise Rim of the Pacific. RIMPAC, as it’s commonly known, is the world’s largest international maritime exercise, and this year featured personnel and vessels from no less than 26 nations. Together, participants contributed some 38 surface vessels, four submarines and more than 140 aircraft, with many of these being drawn from the defence forces of some of our most important allies in our region, including the United States, Japan and India.

Australia’s contribution to RIMPAC this year was substantial, featuring the flagship of the Royal Australian Navy, the HMAS Canberra. We also had the replenishment oiler HMAS Supply and the Anzac class frigate HMAS Warramunga. Along with these naval vessels were two of our P-8A Poseidon aircraft of the Royal Australian Air Force, and a joint landing force led by the 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, accompanied by personnel and capabilities from right across a variety of Australian Army units.

Those of my colleagues who have been fortunate enough to participate in the Australian Defence Force Parliamentary Program will know full well just how valuable this program is. Established back in 2001, it allows parliamentarians the opportunity to experience firsthand the dedication that our men and women of the Australian Defence Force have to keeping our country safe. In putting on that uniform, they’re not just doing themselves and their families proud; they’re doing our nation proud.

In my time in this place, I’ve been very fortunate to interact with these fine men and women on a number of occasions, and I’ve been struck by the patriotism that they share and the generosity that they have towards us. On this occasion, of course, it was no different, and we were warmly welcomed at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, by two fine individuals: Commander Dean Uren and Flying Officer Rushdi Dai, and I can’t thank them enough what they did in looking after me and Mr Conaghan for our last eight days in Hawaii.

Equally warm was our welcome by the Australian Consul-General in Honolulu, Andrea Gleason. As Australia’s foremost diplomatic representative in Hawaii, Ms Gleason was keen to share her thoughts on how we can improve our presence in the region and deepen our strong relationship with the United States.

There can be no doubting that Australian consulate staff perform essential work, providing important assistance to Australians abroad when they sometimes fall foul, or just need some advice from their government, and promoting our country to the international community. It’s not often that we get to meet and thank them in person, and I am grateful to have had this opportunity to do so.

The part of my journey that really exposed me to the everyday work of our ADF personnel, however, was the three nights that I spent with Pat on board the HMAS Canberra. Witnessing firsthand the operation of this impressive vessel, I gained an even stronger appreciation for the professionalism, selflessness and courage of our service personnel. I met so many highly skilled, professional Aussie characters on board, and I wish to put on the record here in the Senate my appreciation for them taking the time to so patiently explain the various routines of the Canberra to us on board. To show our gratitude, we had the pleasure of cooking a meal for the crew, and I’m reliably advised that it went down a treat. We helped to separate the waste, quite literally getting our hands dirty. We did all the things that our men and women in uniform do every single day, often with little fanfare or acknowledgement. Overall, I had a wonderful experience on board HMAS Canberra, and I want to thank everyone who welcomed and assisted me over those three days.