Australian troops who served in Afghanistan have been welcomed home at a ceremony in Darwin attended by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.
In addition to speeches from Tony Abbott and Bill Shorten, the troops were addressed by the Northern Territory Chief Minister, Adam Giles, and the Chief of Army, Lieutenant General David Morrison.
Abbott said Australia’s commitment to Afghanistan had ended “not with victory, not with defeat, but with hope that Afghanistan will be a better country for our presence”.
He said: “We salute all the men and women who have served in a far country for a good cause. We mourn the 40 who did not return. We grieve with the more than 250 with serious injuries and we acknowledge the unseen wounds of thousands. You have done things that no-one should have to do.”
Abbott announced that March 21, 2015 would be designated a National Day of Commemoration for Australian troops.
Shorten was later questioned by journalists about his last-minute decision to attend the ceremony after declining an earlier invitation. He deflected questions about Senator Stephen Conroy’s attack on General Angus Campbell, the military head of Operation Sovereign Borders, during a Senate Estimates Committee hearing earlier in the week.
- Listen to Adam Giles (2m)
- Listen to David Morrison (5m)
- Listen to Tony Abbott (5m)
- Listen to Bill Shorten (4m)
Press release from Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
A NATIONAL DAY OF COMMEMORATION FOR AUSTRALIAN TROOPS
A national day of commemoration will be held on March 21 2015 to recognise and commemorate the contribution and sacrifice of Australian troops who served in Afghanistan and the Middle East.
It is expected that the 400 Australian military personnel still serving in Afghanistan – in training and support roles – will largely be home by then.
Commemorative activities to mark the end of Operation Slipper will include parades of current and former Australian Defence Force and support personnel.
Australia’s mission in Afghanistan has come at a heavy human cost – 40 Australian soldiers lost their lives and more than 260 personnel were wounded.
As a nation it is important that we stop to acknowledge and honour those that have served and sacrificed for their fellow Australians and for the Afghan people.
Those who serve must know that their country will not ask them to bear the emotional wounds of war alone.
Since October 2001, more than 30,000 Defence Force personnel have deployed to the Middle East, together with officers of the Australian Federal Police and other Commonwealth public servants, in support of the whole-of-government effort in Afghanistan and the broader Middle East.
Today I gave thanks to more than 250 Darwin based soldiers at a welcome home parade marking the end of their deployment to Uruzgan Province in Afghanistan during 2013.
Along with their families and friends, they have displayed great courage and personal sacrifice to keep our country safe and to build a better future for the people of Afghanistan and the broader Middle East.
I have seen first-hand the dedication and professionalism of our troops serving in Uruzgan and, on behalf of a grateful nation, I sincerely thank them for their service.
I look forward to national commemoration activities next year.
Media release from the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Defence, Gai Brodtmann.
1st BRIGADE WELCOME HOME PARADE
Today, 250 Australian Defence Force servicemen and women from the 1st Brigade were honoured for their service in Afghanistan and the Middle East Area of Operations.
It was a tremendous privilege to meet some of these fine men and women in Afghanistan – and it’s an even greater privilege to welcome them home today.
All Australians are proud of them and in awe of their courage and sacrifice. They have spent long periods of time thousands of kilometres from home and their families, put themselves in unimaginable danger and lived with the constant uncertainty of what the next day will bring.
There are no words that can accurately convey the gratitude of our nation for their fine service.
We pay special tribute to their families: the wives, husbands, partners, children and parents. While there were many happy faces today, it is hard to imagine few things more difficult than waiting at home for the safe return of a loved one from war.
We also honour the families of the 40 Australians who died while serving in Afghanistan – their loss is felt every day, and hardest on days like today. We will never forget their sacrifice.
Afghanistan has been Australia’s longest war and the servicemen and women of the 1st Brigade – along with all who have served – should be rightly proud of their efforts to make Afghanistan a safer place.
I am proud of them, the Coalition and the Australian Labor Party are proud of them – all Australians are proud of them.
We also remember the 400 ADF personnel who remain in Afghanistan and their families back here at home.
The remarkable work that they are doing to train, advise and assist the Afghan National Army, and support the broader ISAF mission, is vital to ensuring a stable peace and a better future for Afghanistan.
Transcript of Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s doorstop interview in Darwin.
SHORTEN: It’s an absolute privilege to be here today to help be part of the welcome home for 250 of Australia’s finest from Afghanistan. To see the faces of families who have had to be away from their loved ones, knowing that the people they love, their husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, or sons and daughters, are putting themselves in harm’s way so that Australia can be a safer and better place. It is a great day today it’s a real privilege to be part of the welcome home. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Are you glad you changed your mind about coming?
SHORTEN: I think my decision to come here is the right decision because it’s a real privilege to see so many of Australia’s marvelous military forces coming home. It’s really important I think when people have been in a conflict zone, our soldiers, our sailors our air-men who have been in a conflict zone, that they realise that the whole Parliament, and indeed Australia generally, supports their efforts and recognises their efforts. I think it’s also important their families realise how much other Australians appreciate the sacrifices they make.
JOURNALIST: But you weren’t going to come originally and that was read as a snub to the troops?
SHORTEN: I believe that me coming here today shows that the Parliament as a whole does support our troops, and anyone who has been here knows that it is a privilege to welcome home some of Australia’s finest citizens who have been serving Australia in a war zone, dealing on a daily basis with the uncertainty what comes next. Australia’s troops are amongst the most professional in the world, they’ve done us proud, and it’s appropriate I believe that both sides of politics are here to just say, well done and your contribution is an important part of what makes Australia the best country in the world.
JOURNALIST: Well then why were you going to send a Parliamentary Secretary and why did you reject David Morrison’s invitation in January to come and be a part of this welcome home parade?
SHORTEN: I think my presence here shows that both sides of politics recognise that we can leave no doubt about the importance of the work that we are doing. Our presence here, be it the Prime Minister’s or my own, shows that whatever else we may argue about in the day to day of Australian political life, when it comes to our soldiers, when it comes to recognising their sacrifice and professionalism, the quality of their efforts in Afghanistan, there is no daylight between the political parties.
JOURNALIST: Did the friction of this week, where your defence spokesperson made some comments about Operation Sovereign Borders and the Commander there, did that affect your decision to come here today?
SHORTEN: I believe it was important that there could be no ambiguity, no debate, no doubt, that the national Parliament supports our troops. We’ve seen in a previous conflict the very difficult time, the Vietnam War, when Australians returned home. There was debate and rancour and division. It is incredibly important that we let our troops, who have been in this most recent of difficult conflicts, recognise there is complete support. It’s been a privilege for me to be here today and I’m really pleased that I had the opportunity to be here today.
JOURNALIST: So the original decision not to come, was that just a brain fade?
SHORTEN: I can’t make it any clearer than I have. It’s a privilege to be here. It is a privilege to see our Australian troops, to be part of the ceremony, and when they you talk to the families here, they appreciate both sides of politics supporting their loved ones’ efforts. And I think today is a day where the Australian armed forces can get some well-deserved thank you from a grateful nation.
JOURNALIST: How annoyed were you personally with Senator Conroy’s comments regarding General Campbell?
SHORTEN: I have made it clear since becoming Leader of the Opposition that I think that the Australian military do a fine job. I do think there are questions to answer by the Government of the day in terms of its addiction to secrecy on Operation Sovereign Borders. But for me, the Australian military do their job professionally, in tough circumstances. I wish the Government of the day would be more transparent, but I recognise that our Australian military, from General to Private and every rank in between, does their job well, and they and their families should understand this is the view the Labor Party has along with the Government of the day.
JOURNALIST: Do you acknowledge that Senator Conroy’s comments this week have put yourself and these decisions in a political context that maybe they should have been taken out of, or maybe they weren’t to be taken into, and makes these decisions look like they’ve been done on the run?
SHORTEN: My view is that people who put on the Australian uniform shouldn’t be political footballs, that in fact we ask a lot of our troops and we ask a lot of their families. That’s why I’m pleased that I’m here today.
JOURNALIST: I’ve come in late, but can you clarify when you decided to make the trip up here to Darwin?
SHORTEN: In the last couple of days I formed the view that in fact the Australian military, who are returning from Afghanistan, should see the highest level of commitment from both sides of politics. It is a good thing in Australia that both sides of politics recognise that our soldiers are amongst the best in the world. The mission they’ve done in Afghanistan has been incredibly difficult, but there is no doubt in my mind, as I don’t think there should be any doubt in the minds of any Australians, that because of the efforts of the Australian military and the sacrifices they’ve made, and their families, that Afghanistan is a better place now than it was before Australian troops put their boots on the ground there.
JOURNALIST: So did you always plan to catch the last plane to Darwin?
SHORTEN: I am really pleased to be here today and I don’t think anything can take away from the importance of welcoming our troops home and I think it’s been a magnificent matter and we’ve seen remarkable Australians who are professional in every sense of the word, getting the recognition they deserve. And for me to be here, I realise is a distinct privilege and it’s one I’m grateful for.
JOURNALIST: Realistically, can Senator Conroy ever be Defence Minister in a future Labor Government?
SHORTEN: Oh Mark, first of all let’s deal with the issues. The issues are, we support the Australian military, we don’t like them being used as political footballs, we do think that the Government of the day does have some explaining to do over what’s been going on in terms of Operation Sovereign Borders. But as you heard, because you were there, I don’t think I could have made it any clearer about my and Labor’s support for the Australian military. Thanks guys.