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The Hon Darren Chester MP
Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel

MEDIA RELEASE

8 July 2019

NAIDOC Week — the role of indigenous servicemen and women

ABORIGINAL and Torres Strait Islander people have made a valuable contribution to Australia’s defence since the Boer War, and this NAIDOC Week we celebrate their history, culture and achievements.

Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel Darren Chester said as part of this year’s theme ‘Voice. Treaty. Truth.’ we reflect on the role of Indigenous Australians — the know-how, practices, skills and innovation which has helped those before us and to shape present day service.

“Indigenous Defence personnel have a long and rich history of contributing to the defence of Australia, which continues today,” Mr Chester said.

“More than 133 Indigenous Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel were recruited through development and pre-recruit programs in 2018-19. Additionally, 29 Indigenous ADF personnel will start other programs before the end of June 2019.

“The ADF has a number of Indigenous community and cultural immersion programs which provide opportunities to increase the representation of Indigenous Australians in the ADF.”

These programs include the Jawun Indigenous Community Placement Program for the Australian Public Service and ADF personnel; the Army Aboriginal Community Assistance Program; Navy and Army Indigenous Development Programs; and the Indigenous Pre-Recruit Program.

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) has an established Indigenous Liaison Officer Network to assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander veterans in obtaining their entitlements and benefits. This will ensure that the Department’s strong commitment to helping Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander veterans and their families is maintained.

Later this year we mark the 80th anniversary of the start of the Second World War, in which it is estimated as many as 6,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have served.

“During the Second World War Australia came under direct attack from Japan when northern Australia was bombed, although all Australians were in some way impacted by the war, this had a direct impact on those who lived in the North,” Mr Chester said.

“Australia’s armed forces employed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in de facto units to carry out reconnaissance of the northern Australian coast line, where they assisted locating Japanese and Allied aircraft crash sites.

“During the first Japanese raid on Darwin in 1942 a Japanese airman crashed on Bathurst Island. Tiwi Man, Matthias Ulungura, took the Japanese pilot prisoner, the first time an enemy combatant had been captured on Australian soil.

“As the war came to the top-end of Australia, the understanding and connection to country that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had proved to be of great benefit in the defence of the Australian mainland and islands to the north.”

The significant contribution to the Defence of Australia’s North and North West by Indigenous service personnel continues to this day.

“The Army’s Regional Force Surveillance Group undertakes Border Protection Operations and supports the ‘Closing the Gap’ strategy via its efforts in Indigenous Engagement and Development,” Mr Chester said.

“Drawing on the proud heritage of Indigenous service in Australia’s North during the Second World War, the Group has the highest rate of Indigenous participation of any Formation in the ADF, providing capability for Australia’s security, while also delivering ongoing opportunities for Indigenous Australians.

“This NAIDOC week I encourage all Australians to acknowledge Defence’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander defence personnel as well as our veterans, and stand together on our commitment to reconciliation and ‘Closing the Gap’ between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.”

For more information visit Indigenous Australians at war on DVA’s website or go to the Indigenous Veterans’ Liaison Officers network webpage for help with DVA’s services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander veterans.

ENDS

MEDIA CONTACTS:

Rachel Tharratt: 02 6277 7820
DVA Media: 02 6289 6466

Office of the Hon Darren Chester, Canberra ACT

Open Arms — Veterans and Families Counselling provides support for current and ex-serving ADF personnel and their families. Free and confidential help is available 24/7. Phone 1800 011 046 (international: +61 1800 011 046 or +61 8 8241 4546) or visit www.OpenArms.gov.au