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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 21696

Press Conference Robertson Barracks, Darwin

Photo of Howard, John

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007

More information about Howard, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 17/04/2005

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 21696

PRIME MINISTER:

Well ladies and gentlemen, welcome to this brief but very important news conference. I've called this news conference with the Defence Minister to make a very important announcement for the future of the Australian Defence Force. I am delighted to inform you that the Government will be recommending to His Excellency the Governor-General that Air Marshal Angus Houston will succeed General Peter Cosgrove as Chief of the Defence Force with effect from the early part of July 2005.

Air Marshal Houston has been head of the Air Force since 2001, he has had a long and extremely distinguished career in the Royal Australian Air Force. I know that his appointment will be widely applauded in all three services. He is a person of great leadership ability, great understanding of defence policy and defence strategy and his appointment will be a fitting recognition of a career that started with the Royal Australian Air Force as a cadet pilot in 1970, he's had a number of postings, both here and overseas, and I know that he will continue to build further on the great leadership that the Australian Defence Forces have had over recent years from his two successors.

He will be, I understand, the first officer of the Royal Australian Air Force to serve as Chief of the Defence Force since that particular post has existed, although officers from the Royal Australian Air Force have served in roughly equivalent positions in earlier years.

So it is a very important day for the Defence Force and Senator Hill and I thought it appropriate as we're visiting Robertson Barracks to say farewell to the 450 members of the Task Group that are going to Al Muthanna province to make the announcement.

I want also to say of course that he will succeed General Peter Cosgrove who's had a great career in the Army, I wouldn't want the occasion to go by without recording the Government's immense gratitude to General Cosgrove. However there will be an opportunity closer to his actual retirement early in July to say some things about his remarkable career as a soldier and as a leader of the Australian military. I know that all members of the Defence Force will join in congratulating Air Marshal Houston, he will be promoted to the rank of Air Chief Marshal on assuming his position as Chief of the Defence Force. I am very confident that in his period as head of the Defence Force he will give great leadership and I am delighted indeed to make this announcement, I have great personal regard for him, he's a person of intelligence and great leadership skills and I think he'll bring very distinguished leadership to the Australian Defence Forces.

Any questions? We're going to over and talk to the troops who are going off...

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister on that note, on the eve of deployment, a decision which you made some several weeks ago, do you have any regrets at this moment?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I don't, I, like everybody else, are thinking of the men and women who are going, I'm thinking about their safety, I'm confident that they are well trained, I'm confident that they have good equipment and I believe passionately in the mission that they're undertaking. It's the right thing for us to be doing, it's the right thing at the present time to be consolidating and confirming the movement forward that the Iraqi people are enjoying, this is precisely the time when countries should be giving the Iraqis reassurance, not turning their backs on them. We have a great opportunity to see a spread of democracy in the Middle East, the result of the Iraqi election, the turnout, the fact that the political figures in Iraq have put together a coalition which has occurred as President, a member of the majority Shiite as Prime Minister, a Sunni as speaker of the house, and a Shiite and Sunni sharing the two vice presidencies. What that tells me is that there's a determined effort inside Iraq to bring unity to that country and that's something that we should be encouraging.

JOURNALIST:

And Prime Minister having made that decision and as you say you have no regrets, you would still be aware, as anyone else, of the increased danger that they will face, does that play on you at all?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think about it a great deal Geof. I've had occasion over the past few weeks as all Australians have to be reminded that there is inherent risk of loss of life in any military activity, even in a peaceful environment and the events involving the Sea King helicopter have brought great sadness to Australians. I am very conscious of the dangers but I am also reassured by the fact that we have superbly trained and well led military personnel, this is one of the safer areas of Iraq but that doesn't mean to say there isn't danger and the thoughts and prayers of all Australians will go with these 450 young men and women. But we can be confident that they're well led, their morale is high, the equipment is good, their mission is right, and the capacity of the modern Australian military to not only win the military battles but also to win the hearts and minds of people with whom they relate is well known and widely admired and one of the great characteristics of the Australian military.

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript 21696