Speech: Women in Defence

Speech: Women in Defence Main Image

Mrs PHILLIPS (Gilmore) (11:44): I am pleased to have this opportunity today to talk about the wonderful women in defence on the New South Wales South Coast. My electorate of Gilmore has a strong defence presence. I'm proud to say that the New South Wales South Coast is home to HMAS Albatross and HMAS Creswell. HMAS Albatross, based at Nowra, and where I worked proudly, is Australia's largest operational naval establishment, and the Royal Australian Navy's only air station, home to the Fleet Air Arm. HMAS Creswell is the Navy's officer training school on the shores of Jervis Bay.

HMAS Albatross has been an integral part of the Nowra community for over 70 years. With around 1,200 personnel on the base, its local importance cannot be overstated. When we talk about the outstanding contribution of women to the Australian Defence Force, I can't help but think of HMAS Albatross. In 2017, HMAS Albatross made history with its first-ever female commanding officer, Captain Fiona Sneath. With Captain Sneath as CO, the Albatross command, including the Executive Officer, First Lieutenant, Ship's Warrant Officer, Coxswain, Command Staff Officer and Legal Officer were all women. It wouldn't be all that long ago that an all-female command team at a key Navy base would have been unheard of. This is an outstanding demonstration of the Navy's support for women in the Defence Force, and speaks to the strength and abilities of the women of HMAS Albatross.

Captain Sneath has had an impressive career in defence, and she is a great example of a woman working her way right to the top. Captain Sneath joined the Royal Australian Navy in 1994 as a Direct Entry Legal Officer. She rose through the ranks with a wide range of postings as a Legal Officer, eventually becoming the Chief Legal Advisor Navy Headquarters. From 2011 to 2014, she was the Staff Legal Advisor to the Chief of the Defence Force, advising on the implementation of cultural reviews, such as the Australian Human Rights Commission Review into the Treatment of Women in the ADF; responses to sexual offences and allegations of abuse within Defence; combat deaths; complex personnel disputes; and reforms to the military justice system. Captain Sneath was awarded a Commander Joint Operations Gold Commendation for her performance as a legal officer in operations. Before she became CO of HMAS Albatross she was Director Military Law Centre/Deputy Director Asia Pacific Centre for Military Law. In that position she was responsible for managing and delivering legal training requirements for ADF legal officers.

I've had the pleasure of meeting Captain Sneath on many occasions, and she is an outstanding woman. But she is not alone: there are so many amazing women just like Captain Sneath in our Defence Force. Perhaps it's easy to see why, if we take a look at HMAS Creswell. HMAS Creswell is home to the Royal Australian Naval College, the Navy's officer training school, with over 100 defence personnel. Recently, I had the opportunity to attend two welcome events for new entry officers at Creswell. These were for new recruits in the Getting Division and the Clarkson Division. There are 140 new entry officers training right now who will graduate in November. Captain Warren Bairstow, the commanding officer of HMAS Creswell put it so well in his address to new recruits: the aim of the welcome event was to learn soft skills—how we relate to people and how important and vital these soft skills will be for life as an officer in the Navy.

What also struck me as extraordinary, as I entered and talked with many of the new officers and their trainers, was the diversity of backgrounds from which new recruits came. New recruits ranged from 18 years of age to around 50 or so years of age—many women as well as men. Some came from working at Albatross, or the local area, interstate, Army or Air Force, or overseas. New recruits came from civilian backgrounds, such as working in hospitality or working as a personal trainer, in the trades or as a civilian pilot—the list goes on. This is an extraordinary mature-age pathway based on diversity, which I have no doubt is having a significant impact on encouraging women into defence.

The benefits of HMAS Albatross and HMAS Creswell to the local community are profound. Defence personnel, their families and children are totally embedded in our community. We love our defence family, and I am committed to working with the government and the Navy to grow defence jobs in our local area. I commend the Navy and Defence for its support of women at HMAS Albatross, HMAS Creswell and across Australia.