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Transcript 10970

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP ADDRESS AT OPENING OF RAAF BASE SCHERGER

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: 05/08/1998

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 10970

E&OE............................................................................................

Well thank you very much Air Marshal Titheridge, to Air Marshal McCormack,

to Mrs Bronwyn Bishop the Minister for Defence Industry, Science and

Personnel, to Warren Entsch the Federal Member for Leichhardt, other

distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I would particularly like to express my gratitude for the very kind

and warm remarks of Thelma Coconut. I was impressed by the depth of

the feeling expressed and the generosity and the spirit of the welcome

extended to me when I arrived on the tarmac and also here this morning.

She commands our respect and our gratitude and her recollection that

what led the owners of Peppan to agree that the base be built here

was the story of how scared of the planes overhead the elders who

were then growing up on the mission were reminds all of us of the

important sacrifices of Australians of all origins that have been

made in the years that have gone by. We are grateful for those sacrifices

of whoever made them and in whatever form for the defence and the

protection of our nation. And I certainly share firmly your hope that

the base will not need to be used in war.

Can I say how delighted I am to share this occasion with you. It is

always for me a particular pleasure to share a special occasion with

the men and women of the Australian Defence Force. I want on behalf

of the Government to express our unending gratitude for the tremendous

work that you do in maintaining the defence preparedness of Australia.

It is not always an easy life, it is not always a life that sits happily

and comfortably with the needs and demands of family responsibilities.

And in thanking the men and women of the defence forces I also thank

the wives and husbands and children of the joint sacrifice they make

as part of service life. All of us were, I am sure, moved and filled

with tremendous pride for the work that was done by the ADF contingent

in Papua New Guinea over the last couple of weeks following the terrible

tidal wave disaster. And those images of those men and women at work

relieving the suffering of humanity in a close neighbour and amongst

friends of Australia who have rendered great assistance to Australian

diggers in the past was a reminder to all of us of the diverse role

and the diverse skills and the great capability of the personnel of

the Australian Defence Force.

This base is very aptly named. Air Chief Marshal Sir Frederick Scherger

was, of course, one of Australia's finest airmen and military

officers. And he was one of the earliest advocates for a chain of

airfields to protect Australians more than air and sea approaches.

And no Australian can possibly be unmindful of the vastness of our

nation and the need, particularly in the north of Australia, to have

a chain of defence and of strategic installations which give some

degree of security and some degree of reassurance. And it's a

timely reminder for those Australians who have lived most of their

lives in the heavily populated areas of Melbourne and Sydney and the

south east corner of Australia. It's a very timely reminder to

come to a place like Weipa and to be reminded of the shared inheritance

we have with the indigenous people but also to be reminded of the

exposure of this country and the need for us always to remain and

retain a sense of vigilance.

When we came to Government in 1996 the Coalition said that we would

quarantine the Australian Defence Forces from any of the budget cuts

that we then believed necessary to put Australia back in the black

and I am very pleased to say that that commitment has been honoured

in full. I remain personally very committed to maintaining the provision

of all the resources that are feasible and practicable consistent

with our other obligations to the Australian Defence Forces. Our Defence

Efficiency Review is restructuring defence to eliminate waste and

duplication. We have achieved a one-off saving of $500 million and

annual savings of $1 billion which will go to the front-end helping

improve operational readiness.

Australian defence, of course, is not just about building barriers

and strong defences, it is also about a contribution to regional stability

and not just in the immediate deployment sense but also in the sense

of the contacts that exist between the Australian Defence Forces and

the defence personnel of our neighbouring countries. Nobody can overestimate

the importance, for example, of the links between the Australian Defence

Forces and the Defence Forces of Indonesia, our nearest neighbour.

And the network of those links that have been built up over the years

were very important to us a few months ago and they remain important.

And the confidence that is reposed by the Defence Forces of those

countries and the personnel that comprise the leadership of our Defence

Forces remains extremely important.

The Defence of Australia, of course, goes beyond our coastline. As

Ian McLachlan has said, our aim must be a secure country in a secure

region. Australia's geography means that we must focus on operations

to defend our maritime approaches before potential enemies reach our

shores. We therefore need to have an effective capability for control

and surveillance of the sea-air gap and for interdiction within it.

And Scherger will certainly help support that capacity. The Government's

strategic review in 1997 supported the development of an airfield

infrastructure in Northern Australia capable of operating modern aircraft.

And Scherger, as you all know, is one of six bases across the north

of Australia. Three of them are the active bases at Darwin, Tindal

and Townsville. Scherger is the third of the so-called bear bases

including Learmonth and Curtin which are capable of being activated

at short notice. And I had in the moments before coming here an opportunity

of seeing in action the capacity of the defence personnel to provide

that activation. This exercise, Northern Awakening, taking place around

us today, underlies that preparedness. This base's capabilities

will be further tested during a major exercise, Exercise Crocodile,

which replaces the Kangaroo series due to take place next year.

Today marks not only the start of operational activity but also an

end to construction and the construction route was begun in March

of 1993. The $137 million project is now complete, on time and under

budget. And I congratulate the 17 Construction Squadron. I congratulate

John Holland and Hansen Yuncken. And I would also like to congratulate

the Napranum Aboriginal Corporation who completed a major contract

for the base also on time and within budget. The contract involved

the manufacture of 120,000 specialised concrete blocks for the construction

of blast walls around the aircraft dispersal area. And this is one

of the largest contracts ever awarded to an Aboriginal community business

enterprise and it is a source of great satisfaction to all of us that

along with the other components of the construction of the base, it

also was completed under budget and on time. And it's a very

good illustration of the practical outcomes that can be achieved through

cooperation with different sections of our community. The contractors

can be justifiably proud of their achievements and the partnership

with the local people that is developed. And the Department of Defence

is a wonderful example to the rest of the community. The rights and

the interests of the local people have been respected in the street

names and in the cooperation. And, indeed, there has also been a very

deep respect for the natural heritage aspects of surrounds. I was

reminded as I drove around the base of the need for environmentally

friendly approaches even during military exercises. And every effort

has been made to ensure that the importance of the environment is

at all times respected and understood.

Ladies and gentlemen, this opening today is an opportunity to reaffirm

a number of things. It's an opportunity for the Government to

say thank you to the men and women of the Australian Defence Forces.

It's an opportunity for me on behalf of the Government and the

people of Australia to record our gratitude and our respect to those

men and women for the great service that they render to our country.

It's an opportunity to salute the sense of cooperation and partnership

that exists between the Royal Australian Air Force and the local indigenous

people. To thank the Peppan people. To thank particularly Thelma Coconut

as their representative who greeted us here today, for the spirit

of good will and commitment to our common land Australia which has

characterised their approach to the construction of this base.

The opening of this base completes a very, very important element

of an urban defence structure. And I know it is, to all those Australians

committed to and interested in the defence of Australia, a very important

day. It's a proud day for the Royal Australian Air Force. A group

of men and women that have served this country over long years and

have made a tremendous contribution to preserving and defending the

cause of liberty and the cause of democracy in many theatres of war

around the world. I thank them. I wish all who come to and operate

out of this base the very best of good fortune. It is the united prayer

of all of us that this base will never need to be used in wartime.

But as history has taught us, that united prayer can only be delivered

if we are willing to commit ourselves to a level of defence preparedness.

And if we are ready to, and have the capacity to, deploy military

capability and to deploy defence capacity in order to deter those

who might deny us the realisation of that joint prayer.

I therefore have tremendous pleasure in declaring open RAAF Base Scherger.

It honours a great Australian, a great airman, and a great person

who gave his life to his profession and gave his life to the defence

of his country.

Thank you.

[ENDS]

Transcript 10970