Canberra, Wednesday, 3 July 2002
Farewell address by the Chief of the Defence Force, Admiral Chris Barrie

Your Excellencies, Dr Peter Hollingworth and Mrs Ann Hollingworth; Minister for Defence, Senator Robert Hill; Minister Danna Vale; Parliamentary Secretary Fran Bailey; other Members of the Parliament, Excellencies and the Defence Advisers and Attaches from other countries; Dr Allan Hawke and Mrs Maria Hawke; General Peter Cosgrove and Mrs Lyn Cosgrove; Service Chiefs, Vice Chiefs of the Defence Force and other Distinguished Guests, all other Members of the Australian Defence Force and the Australian Public Service, ladies and gentlemen, today it is my privilege to hand over to General Peter Cosgrove command of the Australian Defence Force.

Peter will have the opportunity to build on the foundations of success that we have built over the last four years, and further enhance the Australian Defence Force's reputation as a force for good, a force to be reckoned with and a force to win.

As we assemble here for this parade today, I'm very conscious that four years ago in a very different climate I was present in this place to be handed the command from General John Baker. At that time I suspect that my dreams and aspirations for the Australian Defence Force were quite different from those that we would hold today.

At the National Press Club on the 22nd July in 1998 I set out my agenda for dealing with the challenges that I thought we faced then. I said, and I quote: "The challenges are serious. Our strategic circumstances have deteriorated significantly over the past few months. We do not know with any certainty where the future will lead us. This means we must be ever watchful and careful to stay in touch with what is going on.'

Secondly, we do have clever and smart people in our defence force at all levels, as well as in our civilian colleagues in the public service and in industry who support us. There is a strong groundswell of enthusiasm of getting on with the job. We need to build on this base of expertise to become a high performance organisation and particularly a defence force of which our community will be proud. This we can do if we capitalise on our professional operational record and eliminate those things which undermine our reputation in our community.

Thirdly, any organisation like ours can be as good only as the people who work in it. We have a lot to do to make certain that their work is rewarding and relevant. A focus on our people and how we look after them by putting into practice the old adage that we put people first, will make a significant difference, I believe. If we can do all this, then I am confident that Australia will remain a secure country and its people will be able to play their part in the world of the 21st Century free from any unwanted external pressures. This is the challenge that the leadership in Defence must meet head on". Unquote.

Well, a great deal has happened since that time, so I'm sure every one of you here is fully aware. And through it all the performance of the Australian Defence Force has stood out as a shining example of what young well-led Australians can achieve. In so many ways our people today set the professional standard by which others are judged. And I have been very proud to have had the privilege of leading such a fine group of people.

Let me recount some of the aspects of where we have been. In my four years of service as the Chief of the Defence Force, I have served under four Ministers for Defence and six Ministers Assisting and Parliamentary Secretaries. Two Secretaries and one Acting Secretary have been my work colleagues as the co-leaders in one of Australia's largest organisations. I've also worked with and through eight Service Chiefs and Vice Chiefs of the Defence Force, and ten Band 3 Group Heads from the Australian Public Service.

These dynamics of themselves introduce turbulence and change, but I am hopeful that with the more lengthy terms of office for the new leadership at the top, Defence will obtain a great deal more stability in future. Over the same period, just over 22,000 Australians joined our Defence Force, and 26,330 people moved from the Defence Force into other walks of life. We have now arrested the downwards trend and are building up our force to meet our future demands. There has been, by any count, a great deal of work for the Australian Defence Force in the intervening four years.

We've included detail of the operations we've conducted in the programs for today's ceremony. It is true that the Australian Defence Force today is more committed and busy than at any time in my 41 years of service. Indeed I think we are now more busy than at any time since the Second World War. And frankly I do not see much prospect that this pressure will change in the next few years.

In all operations, the men and women of the Australian Defence Force has never let me down. To see our people in action is to know how good they are and, frankly, this perspective inspires me to be confident about Australia's future. And they are all damn good.

I would also like to address today some of the genuine concerns raised by a number of commentators over the deaths of approximately 353 asylum seekers from the vessel now known as SIEV-X. While this was a tragic event, the Australian Defence Force cannot be responsible for the deaths of those people. Our ships and aircraft received no distress calls. None of the vessels detected by our aerial surveillance around that time gave us any indication that they were aware of any vessel in distress, or had picked up survivors.

Moreover, our mission was directed specifically at enabling the Australian Defence Force to act when it could have a lawful authority to do so. That is, when vessels approached suspected of carrying asylum seekers, approached Australian waters. Not on the high seas and not in another country's waters.

The first indication received that the vessel had foundered was on the 23rd October. Let me remind you that the Navy has a proud record of rescue at sea. You may recall the crew of HMAS Adelaide, courageously rescuing all the survivors from SIEV-IV when it foundered.

Advice available to Defence on when and from where SIEV-X departed was contradictory and it did not provide a basis for changing surveillance patterns. Some commentators had concluded that the position of the sinking of SIEV-X is known. The fact is the position where the vessel foundered is unknown and all attempts to estimate the location are speculative at best.

Senior Defence Force Officers testifying before the Senate Select Committee in Estimates have provided detailed information on Operation Relex. Unfortunately their factual testimony has been incorrectly construed by some to imply that we deliberately pulled back our aerial surveillance in mid-October of 2001 to the vicinity of Christmas Island. In fact, we continued to survey the area and we did not pull back the surveillance as suggested.

None of the surveillance flights detected the SIEV-X vessel. I am scandalised that some people seriously believe that we somehow changed our modus operandi to deliberately avoid detecting this vessel. The men and women of the Australian Defence Force that I lead stand ready to assist people in distress, as we have always done. However, we can only effect rescue when we are aware there is a vessel in distress.

I'm also pleased to report today that the engagement of ministers in the government in making key decisions about our defence force is as strong as any Chief of the Defence Force could wish. For example, the community consultation process that preceded the issue of the Defence White Paper in December of 2000 was a first in Australia. The White Paper clearly indicated that priority be given to security matters. And the government's seriousness in delivering appropriate plans for meeting the challenges our community could foresee. In a parliamentary democracy such as ours, the involvement of government in what we do in Defence is vital to our security.

Now I'd like to turn to the future. I hold the view that a new team taking over at the top should be a stronger, more capable team than the one it replaces, otherwise why make the change. On this occasion I'm convinced that this is true. Moreover, that I had a great deal to do in obtaining such a fine outcome for the Defence Force and our country is very pleasing. Under General Peter Cosgrove's leadership, I am sure this team will build on a strong foundation that exists today. And I look forward to hearing about their successes.

There can be no doubt that our strategic circumstances are even more uncertain today than at any time in the last 50 years. We must continue to be on the front foot. On the front foot in meeting the challenges of the War Against Terrorism, promoting peace and stability in our region, and supporting humanitarian work wherever we sensibly can.

Furthermore, I foresee considerable pressure for the Australian Defence Force to do more in countering international and trans-national crime. In our case, in Australia, we will have to exploit technology to the full to optimise the work of our people in the Defence Force. As far as I can predict, Australia is going to experience tough labour market conditions in the future that will make recruitment and retention even more difficult. And it is in support of that focus that I think we should have on technology that I was very pleased last week the government announced that we would enter into negotiations to join the Joint Strike Fighter project.

There is also a concomitant expectation that we will subsequently buy the aircraft to satisfy our air combat capability needs. This decision gives us a clear way ahead for planning. A Joint Strike Fighter is a fifth generation aircraft. It will take us well into the future. I also see great opportunities for my colleagues in industry to become involved in the cutting edge of technology and that too will be good for Australians.

Finally, I would like to pay a special tribute to all those people who have supported me, especially over the last four years. At work there are very many people in all three services, particularly the Service Chiefs and their staffs, the Reserves, the Australian Public Service and other civilians that I count as friends and colleagues.

There are far too many to mention them all right now, but I am sure that you know who you are. May I simply say thank you for being with me on the rollercoaster over the past four years. And please stay in touch, because I'd like the opportunity to celebrate your forthcoming achievements. At the top I have worked with Australia's finest leaders: Paul Barratt and Dr Allan Hawke, as my professional colleagues, deserve great credit for what they have done. As does Hugh White, who was Acting Secretary over the period of our initial operational commitment in East Timor. It was Paul Barratt who helped me put to government the need to lift ADF readiness in March of 1999, when we could foresee that Australia might be inadequately prepared to deal with contingencies that could arise at short notice.

Also, I doubt that any of you have missed the drive and energy that Allan Hawke has put into the renewal agenda over the past two and a half years. It is the strength of his commitment on that task that has truly begun to transform the cultures in Defence more towards delivering on the agenda I set in July of 1998 while making a high performance organisation. The concrete is ready, the frame is ready, I think we're ready to begin pouring.

In my own office I have been truly inspired by the dedication, commitment and professionalism of all the people who worked with me. I trust that they will forgive me for the odd outburst when we were under great pressure. I have enjoyed the strong support of each and every one of you, in particular I must single out Miss Bernadette Pini [phonetic] for without her good humour and reliable execution of all tasks and her thorough knowledge of the organisation not much would work. So, Bernie, you are the face of the CDF Office. And I especially thank you for myself and all the other members of staff for what you've done for us.

And now I would like to thank my family. These are the people who really know what goes on behind the scenes. My partner in strength, Maxine, I owe everything to you. You have been a wonderful backstop for me, lifting my spirits whenever the going got tough. Your love and dedication to this partnership has been a great inspiration. To my mum and dad, can I say the early years were important, even though in those days I certainly could not have dreamt of standing here today on such a splendid occasions. You too were there when I needed you over the years. My eldest son, Lieutenant Paul Barrie, today is at sea so he cannot be with us, though his family is here on his behalf. As the Executive Officer on the Young Endeavour, he is enjoying the hell out of a wonderful job. I'm very jealous. I also know that he is contributing a great deal there. He will, of course, be my conduit to really know what is happening in the Navy of the future. For the remainder of my family here today, also may I say simply thank you.

And, finally, to all the men and women of the Australian Defence Force wherever you are, a final farewell and thank you. I'm just so proud of your achievements. And now to General Peter Cosgrove. Sir, I stand ready to be relieved of my command and entrust to you the leadership of the Australian Defence Force. May God bless all your endeavours. [Applause]

* * END * *

Back to