Women in the ADF

14 Oct 2019 speech

I move that this House:
(1) notes the:
(a) outstanding contribution women make to the Australian Defence Force; and
(b) formation of the new Council for Women and Families United by Defence Service; and

(2) acknowledges that Defence embraces the concept of diversity, valuing differences, demonstrating fair, respectful and inclusive behaviour and aims to effectively attract and retain women who can support Defence to better reflect the community it serves.

Today I would like to recognise all of our Australian Defence Force personnel, past and present, for their service to and sacrifice for our nation. I note that many of my colleagues in this place, men and women from all sides of the parliament, have served in our ADF, and I thank them for their service. In fact, I note that I have two in the chamber with me right now. In particular, I would like to acknowledge the contribution of women in the Australian Defence Force who, like their male counterparts, have been deployed to combat zones, have supported peacekeeping missions, have helped communities devastated by natural disasters and have engaged in research and rescue operations. Our very own Minister for Defence, Senator the Hon. Linda Reynolds CSC, is an outstanding example of the valuable contribution women make to our Defence Force and an excellent role model for young women and girls considering a career in the defence forces or defence industry.

Currently, there are almost 11,000 women in the Australian Defence Force, representing an increase from 17.9 per cent in 2018 to 18.6 per cent in 2019. This is as a result of the broad range of recruitment programs and flexible career pathways available to women seeking a career in the Australian Defence Force. I acknowledge the Department of Defence for the support they provide to our female Defence personnel and their families, and I note that the recently established Council for Women and Families United by Defence Service also recognises the role and contribution of women. The council will provide insight into the lived experiences of women and families of current and ex-serving Defence personnel and provide advice on direct input into the government's policies and available support.

The Australian Defence Force rewards talent, effort and achievement through the advancement of our ADF men and women. A diverse Defence Force better reflects our community and ensures we can draw on different ideas to innovate and adapt to a rapidly evolving strategic environment. A diverse Defence Force means we have the very best capability at a time when national security is at the forefront of our national agenda. Our government is supporting all our men and women in the Australian Defence Force through our record investment of more than $200 billion in Australia's defence capability.

Our government is also doing a lot to support our veterans, with a particular focus on supporting veterans' wellbeing, mental health, housing and postservice employment. I'm particularly proud of our $30 million investment to establish a network of six new veterans wellbeing centres, which will bring together key services for veterans and their families. This includes a centre at the repat hospital site in the heart of my community, which has been reactivated thanks to the Morrison and Marshall Liberal governments.

We also recognise civilian doctors and nurses who serve our nation, alongside our ADF personnel, during wartime. I note, of course, that nurses have taken a very active role in a range of combat zones throughout our history of military involvement in wars. I will reflect on a just few of those who have particular relevance to my electorate of Boothby. Boothby is home to the Women's Memorial Playing Fields, an eight-hectare site that was established by Liberal Premier Sir Thomas Playford in 1953 as a memorial to the 21 nurses who were massacred on Radji Beach during World War II. Every year we hold a ceremony to commemorate their service and remember their lives and their sacrifice. I am incredibly proud to have secured a $500,000 grant to upgrade the memorial so that we can continue to do so and so that we have a more fitting memorial for these very brave nurses who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

I also want to make mention of one of my wonderful local constituents and community volunteers, Rosie Aust, whose great aunt, Nurse Blanche Atkinson, had quite an incredible story. Blanche Atkinson was born in South Australia in 1879, trained as a nurse at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and graduated in 1910. She wanted to enlist to serve the war effort but wasn't allowed to do so in Australia, so she sold all her possessions, got on a boat and sailed to England, where she was able to join the Royal British Nurses Association. She served for about a year, became very ill and passed away at the age of 36, but she was recognised by the king and queen for her service, which was quite remarkable.

Finally, I'd like to make mention of one of my local legends in the community, Mrs Joan Lorraine, who next week will turn 96. Joan served in World War II and is still a very active member of the Blackwood RSL. Joan, thank you for your national service and for everything you do for our community. You make us so proud.