Photo: AAP Image/David Mariuz
PRIME MINISTER: Thank you General Campbell. There’s two things I want to say to you all today; first of all it’s a great honour to be here with you, the Seventh Brigade. The Seventh Brigade has one of the richest histories in our defence forces, formed in 1915 it’s seen the toughest places that we’ve ever deployed to. Gallipoli, the Western Front, two VCs that I’m aware of, Daniel Keighran recently in Afghanistan and a fellow called Johnny French at the Battle of Milne Bay when the Seventh Brigade turned up. At Milne Bay Australia, the Seventh Brigade right there, was the first time the Japanese had been defeated on land up until that point in the Second World War. The turning point. While the Seventh Brigade was over there at the Battle of Milne Bay - the chockos were up there [inaudible] - doing their thing and it all turned around. Seventh Brigade went on to Long Tan, Afghanistan, everywhere. You’re always there. The honour that is in the heritage of your Brigade – and I know that there are groups from beyond the Seveth Brigade here and we’ve got some friends from New Zealand, so kia ora to you fellas and girls – but the honour that sits within your Brigade is something that you carry with you and you’ve brought it here. You’re honouring it here and so I’ve come to pay honour to you, continuing that legacy, for adding to that heritage each and every single one of you.
The other reason I’ve come here, apart from wishing you a Merry Christmas, is to say thank you. To say thank you for your service. To say thank you for your service from me, Scott Morrison, who lives in Port Hacking in southern Sydney, wife Jenny, two girls Abbey and Lily. On behalf of my family to you and all your families I want to say thank you very much for your service. I also want to say thank you to you as a Prime Minister, as a leader of a Government, as a Member of the Australian Parliament, on behalf of our entire nation.
Wherever I go in our great country, people honour and give thanks for our serving men and women. I hope you know that. You’ll feel it on ANZAC Day perhaps, you’ll feel it on special days, Armistice Day and so on. But know that each and every single day, Australians greatly value your service. And also know that when your service has been completed, know that Australians will always value it when you’re a veteran. When you’ve returned and you’ve returned to civilian life. But particularly at this time of year, I want to thank you, because for some, it may be the first time on deployment when you’ve been away from young families and partners, wives, husbands. For some this is not the first time, you’ve done it many, many times. And you’ve come up with routines and things that, you know, make sure that your kids and family still have something special on Christmas Day. But I understand it’s a sacrifice, I understand it’s a big thing to be away from your family at this time of year and that’s why I’ve decided to come here. Just to simply say thank you as one Australian to another and to honour your service and thank you for your service and to really appreciate how you are continuing the story of the Seventh Brigade. So, how good is the Seventh Brigade? That wasn’t a very enthusiastic response General Campbell, how good is the Seventh Brigade?
Excellent, well Merry Christmas everyone. I’m going to get around and see as many of you as I can and I’d love to hear your stories. Love to hear what you’re looking forward to while you’re here, hear a bit about what life is like at home and we’ll do that now and it looks like there’s cake too so that’s pretty good. Anyway thanks very much it’s great to be here.
PRIME MINISTER: It’s great to be here in Iraq on behalf of all Australians just to say thank you for the service of the men and women who you can see standing behind me, but also to honour them and their Brigade and all of those who have gone before them, because they’re keeping up that tradition and they’re living that out here in their service. For many it’ll be their first Christmas away from family on a rotation. For some it’s something they’ve done many, many times and they have their own special traditions that they’ve been able to work up with their families and their kids to try and still make sure it’s a special family time. But we wish them well and we thank them for what they do, particularly at this time of the year. Please remember our service men and women overseas.
JOURNALIST: You tend to carve out a bit of time on your trips to honour our armed services, you did the Singapore War Memorial, obviously you’ve done various treks. How significant was it for you personally to be able to do this first trip as PM to come and actually shake hands with the troops and get to know them on a personal level?
PRIME MINISTER: Well it’s a great honour to say thank you for your service, whether you’re doing it in Australia at Enoggera where a lot of these servicemen and women are from, or up at Lavarack or over at HMAS Stirling. Wherever you go in Australia, but also here. Its one of the great privileges I think, for any Member of Parliament and certainly for a Prime Minister, so for me it’s always been a matter of honouring service and honouring the great tradition of service that they live out.
JOURNALIST: You’re a man of family and a man of faith, how much of an impact did that have, to go around and meet some of these young mums and dads that are away from their families come Christmas time?
PRIME MINISTER: It just makes you even more appreciative of the sacrifice and the service that they’re contributing for their country. I mean there’s mums here who have got one year olds at home. You know, a lot of the younger men and women here have got very young families, kids who are one or three. You know, they’re very special times for a young family and for them to be here and away from them on these occasions, that’s a real sacrifice. That’s a sacrifice they willingly make and it’s a choice they happily undertake and that just shows the spirit of the units they’re part of and the spirit of service that exists within our ADF.
JOURNALIST: Our troop numbers peaked in Iraq in about 2010 and now we’re into a more of a “train the trainer” role?
PRIME MINISTER: That’s correct.
JOURNALIST: From your perspective, can you see an end line in sight? Is it something form, your conversations, that you’ve heard soldiers ask you about?
PRIME MINISTER: Everyone who is here is very proud to be here. For some of them, they’ve sort of been planning for this for many years; to come and be on a rotation. This is the eight rotation through. Today, in discussions I had with the Iraqi Prime Minister, we talked about how Australia’s role is transitioning and moving – as you say – more into that traditional “train-trainer” role and that will continue to evolve. We’ll work that through with our coalition partners in the months and years ahead. But what is very clear is that Australia’s role here is greatly valued by the Iraqi Government. We’re here at their invitation, at their request. The contribution we’re making is very significant, extremely so. We’ve trained 40,000 security forces personnel here in Iraq but not only that, the special operations work that is being done by our best, is highly valued. Not just by the Iraqi Government but by our partners here in Iraq.
JOURNALIST: Just a couple more, you mentioned you met with the Iraqi PM today. On those two key metrics we’ve got about 600 troops in Iraq, we’ve got about $180 million in aid from 2014-2020. Was there any request to change either of those metrics dramatically? Do you see any of them shifting in a major way?
PRIME MINISTER: No and there was no such request either. I talked today about Australia being here because we support a free and independent and sovereign Iraq. Part of achieving that is being able to move to a point where this type of support in the future will be no longer necessary. That will be a recognition of their success. They, I think, seek that as much as anyone else, so the more we can help them achieve that and move to that position, I think that’ll be a positive day.
Our financial assistance is all humanitarian aid but what was particularly pleasing today in speaking to the Prime Minister was, his focus on economic development here in Iraq. He knows that having secured the country against Da’esh - there’s always the risk that they could resurge, ensuring they keep that down – but also ensuring that the economic opportunities, of education, all of that can be extended into all of the regions of Iraq. That’s what will make them free and independent and sovereign.
JOURNALIST: Just on Da’esh, you speak a lot at home about stamping out radical extremist Islam and it’s violent tendencies in that cohort. How important was it for you to come and witness what’s happening on the front line in the Middle East to stamp out the Islamic State?
PRIME MINISTER: Well one of the things that is done here is the whole issue of returning foreign fighters and the work we do here to track that because those members of Da’esh who have been defeated here will be seeking to find their way back into South East Asia or even back into Australia. It reinforces to me why we need the Temporary Exclusion Orders, why we need the special legislation that we’ve been able to pass and to ensure that we can tool ourselves up to protect Australians and to keep them safe from these sorts of radical Islamic threats. I think that is well understood here and that’s why they’re doing the work they’re doing. Thanks.