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Media releases & speeches

The Hon Dan Tehan MP
Minister for Veterans' Affairs
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC
Minister for Defence Materiel

29 February 2016

Statement on 25th Anniversary of the First Gulf War

I rise to deliver this statement to remind the House of the debt of gratitude our nation owes to the brave men and women who served in the Persian Gulf in 1990 and 1991.

The anniversary of the First Gulf War conflict comes as Australians commemorate the Anzac centenary, and as they recognise a 'Century of Service'.

A 'Century of Service' that honours and commemorates the commitment and sacrifice of generations of Australian servicemen and women. These are Australians who have defended our values and freedoms in war, overseas conflicts and peacekeeping operations from the Boer War to today.

First Gulf War

Today, however, we reflect today on the 25th Anniversary of Australia's involvement in the First Gulf War.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait on 2 August 1990, the international community responded quickly.

That same day, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 660 condemning the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and demanding that Iraq unconditionally withdraw all forces in Kuwait.

As it became clear that the Iraqi forces had no intention of withdrawing from Kuwait, the international community unified and acted. Australia was quick to do its duty and join the global effort.

Over 1,800 Australian Defence personnel were deployed to the Gulf from August 1990 to September 1991. The force comprised units from the Army, Navy and RAAF. In addition, the Army and RAAF provided personnel to Operation Habitat.

The Australian contribution included two Adelaide Class frigates, the replenishment ship HMAS Success, relieved by HMAS Westralia in January 1991, HMAS Sydney (IV), HMAS Adelaide, HMAS Brisbane and HMAS Darwin, a detachment from the Army's 16th Air Defence Regiment, a RAN Clearance Diving Team, RAAF photo-interpreters,

Defence Intelligence Organisation personnel, and four medical teams.

Within two weeks of the invasion of Kuwait, Adelaide, Darwin and Success sailed from Garden Island. The Gulf commitment showed Australia could make an effective international contribution to a distant conflict at very short notice.

As the RAN ships sailed from Australia and then on to Diego Garcia, the RAAF provided aircraft to carry out operational exercises in preparation for the worst-case scenario of all-out war in the Middle East.

Reflecting on this experience the captain of HMAS Darwin, Russ Shalders, said, 'In my experience it was one of the most demanding and professionally stimulating periods of naval activity I'm ever likely to be involved in.'

This conflict provided a number of 'firsts' for the Australian Defence Forces.

It was the first time that Australia's Defence Forces went to war under arrangements where it was commanded by a Chief of Defence Force.

The Chief of Defence Force, General Peter Gration, AC OBE, was engaged throughout the campaign in providing direction and guidance, and visited the theatre of operations.

The tanker HMAS Westralia also made naval history by carrying into the war seven women—two of them officers—for the first time.

By November 1990, the international community had lost patience with Iraq and UN Resolution 678 authorised the use of force if Iraq did not withdraw from Kuwait by 15 February.

On 4 December 1990, the Prime Minister informed the Australian parliament that the Naval Task Group would be made available to support the UN resolution. Committed to a combat role if necessary, the RAN Task Group was authorised to pass through the Straits of Hormuz.

That action saw Australian ships join the largest fleet of warships assembled anywhere since 1945.

The multinational coalition force included some 90 warships, more than 100 logistic, amphibious and smaller craft, and 800 aircraft from 15 nations.

Now firmly on a war footing, coalition ships faced the threat of Iraqi Silkworm anti-ship missiles and lethal drift mines.

On 18 February two US Navy ships, USS Princeton and USS Tripoli detonated contact mines.

Correspondent Terry O'Conner described eloquently the anxiety and tension which surrounded the threat of mines, heightened by the damage to the two US ships: 'Listening to the water washing the hull a few feet from my head as I lay in my bunk the other night I was acutely aware of the fact I was below the waterline toward the bow of a ship patrolling an area where mines were common.

I found myself mentally reviewing the escape route, down a corridor, past a column, turn right then left, up a narrow hatch, a few metres to another ladder, turn right and onto the deck. I worked it out—at least a couple of minutes to reach the open air if I didn't get lost, if the hatches didn't jam, if the compartment wasn't flooded, if there wasn't a fire.'

The Royal Australian Navy's Clearance Diving Team played a major role in re-opening Iraqi ports.

By the time the job was done in late April 1991, Royal Australian Navy divers had been involved, together with their American and British counterparts, in clearing four ports, searching two million square metres of sea bed, 32 wrecks, and dealing with 60 mines. The US Navy central commander, Vice Admiral Stanley Arthur, described the Royal Australian Navy's service in the Gulf as magnificent, saying:

The US Navy will be proud to sail in harm's way with the Royal Australian Navy anytime, anywhere.

Men and women of the Australian Task Group Medical Support Element deployed on the US Navy Hospital Ship Comfort. The ship contained 12 operating theatres and 1,000 beds. A small group of Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) photo-interpreters was based in Saudi Arabia, together with a detachment from the Defence Intelligence Organisation.

There were also individual members of the Royal Australian Navy who served at sea in coalition ships. Pilot Lieutenant Commander Peter Nelson, flying a Sea King helicopter with a Royal Marines commando squadron, was awarded a UK Air Force Cross for rescuing wounded British troops while both their and his helicopters were under fire. Army personnel took part in attachments to various British and American ground formations and Australia also provided military intelligence specialists who served in Saudi Arabia.

Following the war, an estimated two million Kurds fled towards Iraq's northern borders. In response, in May 1991,

Australia sent a 75-person Army team, including medical, dental, preventative medicine and field engineer teams.

The teams worked in arduous conditions and operated on and treated hundreds of patients including many children. Australia later provided weapons inspectors in Iraq to monitor the discovery and disposal of prohibited nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

In November 1991 HMAS Sydney and Brisbane received a Meritorious Unit Citation for 'meritorious operational service in the Persian Gulf during enforcement of sanctions in support of UN Security Council Resolutions and the subsequent period of hostilities against Iraq to liberate Kuwait in 1990-91'.

Most significant of all is that all of our service men and women arrived home safely—no Australian lives were lost in the First Gulf War. Our coalition partners did lose members of their armed forces and we remember them today.

The Australian War Memorial notes that there were 166 coalition losses. Members of the Kuwaiti armed forces died resisting the invasion and there was very large loss of life suffered by Iraq's armed forces and civilian population which is estimated to be in excess of 100,000.

After a long period when the Australia's defence forces had not been engaged in warlike operations, our sailors, soldiers and airmen performed to the high standard that has earned them the ongoing respect and admiration of our allies. In doing so they did both themselves and all Australians proud.

Anzac Centenary

I am also keen to update the House on the significant domestic and international commemorations planned for 2016, and beyond. While we are all aware of the significance of the 100th anniversary last year of the Anzacs landing at Gallipoli in 1915, this year represents the 100th anniversary of Australia's entry into battle and the horror of the Western Front.

We mark one hundred years since the Australian 5th Division, took part in a disastrous and abortive diversionary attack north of the Somme at Fromelles, suffering more than 5,000 casualties in little more than 24 hours. It is difficult to imagine that it is one hundred years since the 1st, 2nd and 4th Divisions joined the Somme battle at

Pozieres and Mouquet Farm where in six weeks they suffered 23,000 casualties, over 7,000 of whom were killed in action or died of wounds.

In 2016 there are other significant anniversaries that helped shape Australia as a nation. It is 75 years since the start of the Siege of Tobruk which saw 3,800 Australian casualties. Ordered to hold Tobruk for eight weeks, the Australians held on for over five months, cementing the 'Rats' forever into Australian military folklore. The anniversary falls on 10 April and I urge all Australians to attend a commemorative ceremony in their local area.

It is also the 75th anniversary of the Greece and Crete campaign. It may not be well known that in 1941 the defence of Greece was largely in the hands of the Australian and New Zealand forces. This year is the 50th anniversary of the Indonesian Confrontation; where 23 Australians died in a conflict largely hidden from public view. And 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of one of our most costly days in the Vietnam War - the Battle of Long Tan, where just over 100 Australian soldiers held off a force of nearly 2,000 enemies, with the loss of 18 men.

The Anzac Centenary is our time to honour the service and sacrifice of our original Anzacs, and the generations of Australian service men and women who have defended our values and freedoms, in wars, conflicts and peace operations throughout a centenary of service. One of the most important legacies that can come from the Anzac Centenary is improved community understanding and awareness of our wartime history, particularly for younger Australians. The Anzac Centenary gives families, schools and communities an opportunity to start important conversations that continue long after the national program has concluded, and in doing so ensuring an enduring and unifying legacy for current and future generations.

One significant way we are doing this is through the Spirit of Anzac Centenary Experience. The travelling exhibition that has begun in Melbourne, showcases over 200 artefacts usually housed at the Australian War Memorial and will provide a unique opportunity for Australians to view their Anzac tradition. The Spirit of Anzac Centenary Experience is the flagship community event of the Anzac Centenary national program. It provides an opportunity for people in cities and regional Australia to mark the most significant commemorative period in our nation's history and I encourage all Australians to visit the exhibition. The exhibition will visit Adelaide next month, followed by Tamworth, Toowoomba and Brisbane. By the end of April 2017, the Spirit of Anzac Centenary Experience will have been staged in 23 locations around Australia.

2016 overseas commemorations

Planning for the 2016 Anzac Day commemorations at Gallipoli in Turkey and Villers-Bretonneux in France is well on track. The Australian Government is working closely with Turkish, French and New Zealand authorities to plan the events to ensure the health and well-being of those attending. The iconic dawn service at Gallipoli will be conducted as usual this year, and we expect to see large numbers of Australians and New Zealanders traveling to attend the commemoration.

I am very keen to remind Australians that no ticket is required to attend the dawn services in Gallipoli and France in 2016. I encourage Australians to support Anzac Day in France, as I have outlined a hugely significant year for Australia's involvement in the First World War on the Western Front.

It is 100 years since Australia entered the war in Europe at the Battles of Fromelles and Pozieres, where thousands of Australians made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. I encourage all Australians to attend a commemoration either in Australia or overseas this year to remember and reflect on their sacrifice. Applications are open for attendance passes to attend commemorative services at Fromelles on 19 July 2016, and at Pozieres on 23 July 2016.

To ensure safe attendance at the small memorial sites, the Department of Veterans' Affairs is managing a registration process for Australian citizens and permanent residents seeking attendance passes for these services, available on a first come, first served basis until all passes are allocated. To apply, or find out more, Australians should go to www.anzaccentenary.gov.au website.

Conclusion

As in every war, Defence Force personnel leave behind husbands and wives, partners, children and friends for long periods of time, in challenging and dangerous environments. That is sacrifice enough. The efforts of our service personnel in the First Gulf War are emblematic of the service of those before them: our veterans of the First and Second World Wars, the Korean War, the Indonesian confrontation, the Malayan emergency and the Vietnam War. Veterans who have given a century of service to protect the freedoms we enjoy today.

Media enquiries:

Minister Tehan’s Office: 02 6277 7820
Department of Veterans’ Affairs Media: 02 6289 6203

Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS) can be reached 24 hours a day across Australia for crisis support and free confidential counselling. Phone 1800 011 046 (international: +61 8 8241 4546). VVCS is a service founded by Vietnam veterans.