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Previous Ministers' releases and speeches - Senator The Hon. Michael Ronaldson

Senator the Hon. Michael Ronaldson
Minister for Veterans' Affairs
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC
Special Minister of State

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Saturday, 24 May 2014


[Greetings omitted]

I am honoured to join you today to mark this significant occasion in our nation’s history.

Think back 100 years ago.

There was no Harbour Bridge.

There was no Sydney Opera House.

Australia was linked to our empire by the power of the steam ship and the overland telegraph wire – it would be another 14 years before Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith and Charles Ulm would successfully fly across the Pacific.

Australia was at idyllic peace far away from the looming hostilities in Europe that would soon engulf us and change our nation forever.

And so it was, 100 years ago today, that the Royal Australian Navy’s first two submarines – AE1 and AE2 – arrived into Sydney Harbour with much fanfare.

They, too, were far from their home having made the long journey from Scotland to Sydney – at the time, the longest journey ever undertaken by a submarine.

The development of Australia as a nation, of the Royal Australian Navy as its maritime military servant, and of the Navy’s Submarine Service have much in common.

It was five years between the Australian Government deciding to acquire submarines and their eventual arrival.

AE1 and AE2 added to the small fleet of the Royal Australian Navy being assembled in post-Federation Australia.

The importance of a surface and sub-marine fleet for the security of the nation and its ability to trade was clear to all, and it remains so today.

And, just as our strategic needs remains relevant, so too are the challenges of operating such complex machines, and the risks involved in safely and reliably putting them to sea on, and under, the water.

Notwithstanding the challenges and risks – known and unknown - Australia’s first submariners set great examples in their achievements.

While we often think technological progress is very rapid now, and it surely is, we should never forget there have been periods of rapid progress before.

The first decades of the 20th century saw massive developments in submarine technology and Australia’s acquisition and operation of AE1 and AE2 was a considerable achievement.

Getting these submarines to Australia was akin to reaching the Poles for the first time and every time they put to sea, their crews were learning more.

I have not served, nor do I pretend to know what it is to have served.

And so, as only submariners know, the underwater environment has many things which can be fatal if you don’t understand them – and there was a lot to learn one hundred years ago.

Today, with a century of accumulated knowledge, it is easy to underestimate what these two submarines and their crews achieved.

This pattern of challenge, risk and achievement has repeated itself throughout the history of Australia’s submarines.

The submariners here today know this all too well.

AE1 and AE2 achieved remarkable things.

The determined efforts of Rear Admiral Peter Briggs means we now know exactly where AE2 is, and the Australian and Turkish Governments are working together to protect her, and her remarkable story as the only Allied ship to successfully penetrate the Dardanelles in April 1915.

It is known unto the Sea Gods where AE1 rests, but I know that Peter is just as determined to find her, and her crew, off the coast of New Britain.

Throughout Australia’s history, our submarine capability has increased as we acquired ‘O’ boats in the 1960’s and, more recently, the Collins Class boats.

I know many of you here are engaged and motivated in the discussion around Australia’s future submarine capability. It is certainly an issue of great importance given our strategic security situation and the strategic weight our future submarine will give Australia.

While there is a fair bit of work to be done, I have no doubt the challenges will be overcome, the risks managed and the future submarine will be another great achievement, by this nation, its Navy and our submariners.

Today we acknowledge the service of AE1 and AE2 and pay our respects to the fine submarine tradition they established for our Royal Australian Navy.

Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS) and Veterans Line can be reached 24 hours a day across Australia for crisis support and free and confidential counselling. Phone 1800 011 046

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