Speech: ADF Parachuting School

Speech: ADF Parachuting School Main Image

Mrs PHILLIPS (Gilmore) (19:17): For three days, the week before last, I was honoured to attend the Australian Defence Force Parachuting School in my electorate of Gilmore as part of the ADF parliamentary exchange. Defence plays a major role in my area on the New South Wales South Coast at both Nowra and Jervis Bay at HMAS Albatross and HMAS Creswell. But, as a local growing up in the area, less is known about the ADF Parachuting School just outside HMAS Albatross at Nowra. When the terrific opportunity came up to do the parliamentary exchange, I decided to do something about that and take a look behind the scenes at what really happens at the ADF parachuting school.

Nowra is definitely known as a navy town, and for good reason. That's something we're proud of. But I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the Australian Army's Special Operations Command trains the best of the best special operations defence members to parachute, maintain their jump proficiency, become a parachuting instructor and learn rigging, ground support, air dispatch and all the many elements in parachuting. It's where you'll find commandos, the SAS and many other special operations defence members learning to parachute, maintain proficiency and upgrade their parachuting skills. Around 84 personnel are involved with the ADF Parachuting School, from serving defence members to reservists, Australian Public Service employees and even the CASA planes crew.

Four courses were running at the parachuting school when I was there, involving well over 100 defence members, teaching everything from the basic parachuting course to parachuting instructor courses, ground support and more. There was drill after drill on mats about how to fall and land the static-line jump; rows and rows of parachute harnesses hanging from the high ceiling where parachuters practised, even with the heaviest packs; drills on land in a makeshift plane on how to prepare, enter and exit the plane to parachute; simulators to simulate every parachuting situation that can go wrong; and the towers to practise.

On the second day I went up in the CASA plane with defence members, with some having travelled far on the day to jump and keep up their proficiency. Others were parachuting to become an instructor or gain new proficiency. I was down for a tandem jump on the third morning with a very experienced tandem parachuter, and I must say that tandem-jump proficiency is a highly valuable and much-needed skill. I've got to say that I have never been the thrillseeking type of person. I'm not one for fast rides at the show and certainly not one for heights. But the training that these special operations defence members were doing was first-rate. I thought I should just put away my fears and do it. I had multiple safety briefs and I had made sure I hadn't eaten breakfast, just in case. We climbed to 13,000 feet, which is about four kilometres high, above HMAS Albatross. I listened to every instruction. I felt like my life depended on it, and it did, but oddly I actually felt quite calm, which surprised even me. When the back of the plane opened, all I could see were the clouds—yes, we were hopping out here.

The freefall was sensational through the clouds. There was even another freefall parachuter with a camera that somehow—I'm not sure how—came up in front of me and waved. Then the parachute went up, and, woah, up we went. Now, I do have a small grievance here. We started spinning rapidly round and round—and down. I was trying to remain calm, knowing that my tandem parachuter was the best of the best and had everything in hand, which he absolutely did. I'm not sure how he did it, but somehow he got rid of the main parachute. It went sailing into the air somewhere, and he pulled the reserve parachute out, and we landed with that. When we landed I was told to hop up and go and fight the enemy, which is a very fair point because that's the reality for our special operations defence members. Parachuting is a means to an end, or perhaps just the start, for military reasons and humanitarian reasons: parachuting in at night, parachuting in from extremely high heights and freezing temperatures, parachuting into the water or parachuting in supplies and infrastructure.

I did have a slight problem with the landing. I accidentally put my left foot down at the last moment, which is not what you do. It turned out later that I had fractured my fibula just above my ankle, but, again, that's nothing compared to what defence members go through. I was told, with regard to the canopy malfunction, that that was not meant to happen, to which I said, 'I thought it was just part of the ride.' At that stage I probably did not grasp the severity of the situation. But the truth is that the ADF Parachuting School and our special operations defence members practise every scenario just in case something goes wrong. I believe I have had the full experience as part of my ADF parliamentary exchange, but people will be relieved, no doubt, that, once I'm fully recovered, I have been invited back to do another ADF Parachuting School tandem jump into the water at Jervis Bay. What could possibly go wrong there?

I want to sincerely thank every defence member and the entire team at the ADF Parachuting School. What I learnt in three days was just the best. I have the absolute admiration for our ADF parachuters, the ADF Parachuting School team and the many insights they taught me. I never imagined I would learn so much or jump out of a perfectly good plane. I surprised myself. While the special operations members' identities are protected for very good reason, I will forever be grateful to them. The truth is they train to protect us all. We should never forget that. I encourage local people and people from right across Australia to consider a defence career. You just never know to what heights and where it will take you.