It was an honour and privilege to visit Defence personnel deployed in Iraq and the wider Middle East Region, including those who are serving as part of Operation OKRA to defeat Daesh in Iraq and Syria.
This is my third trip to the Middle East as Opposition Leader to visit troops fighting Daesh, including my second trip to Iraq.
I was humbled by the men and women I met at both the Australian Force base in the Middle East Region as well as in Baghdad.
I was particularly honoured to address men and women from Task Group Taji IV, who are deployed in Northern Iraq to train Iraqi Security Forces. I had the privilege of farewelling Task Group Taji IV in Darwin last month alongside Minister for Defence Marise Payne.
When it comes to the defence of our nation and our national security interests, there will always be strong bipartisan support for the men and women of our Defence Force and their mission.
While in the Middle East, I had the opportunity to be briefed on the range of military operations we are participating in throughout the region, as part of coalition arrangements and in support of our regional partners.
The training our forces are providing, together with our New Zealand partners and as part of the International Coalition, is making a significant difference to Iraq’s ability to fight and defeat Daesh.
Iraqi forces continue to make strong inroads in their battle to defeat Daesh. Our Defence personnel are contributing directly to the successes in claiming back territory, and this remains critically important as Iraqi forces continue to lead a major offensive to claim back the city of Mosul.
I was also briefed on the critical advice being provided by our Special Forces to Iraq’s Counter-Terrorism Service as well as airstrikes being undertaken by the Royal Australian Air Force, with Coalition partners, to weaken Daesh in Iraq and Syria.
Strategic and operational successes against Daesh here on the battlefield are impacting on its ability to inspire and carry out attacks further afield than the Middle East. In carrying out their critical work here, our Defence personnel are ensuring we remain safe at home while putting their own safety at risk.
As the festive season approaches, it is important that all Australians pause to acknowledge those who place themselves in harm's way in our name.
Our diggers, sailors, airmen and airwomen in the Middle East are serving with distinction and professionalism.
We are rightly proud of each and every one of them.
As we all prepare to spend time with loved ones over the Christmas break, it is also important we acknowledge the families of our Defence personnel who will sit down to lunch with a seat left empty. They give as much to our nation as their loved ones in uniform.
Above all, we thank our ADF personnel for their service, their commitment, and wish them a safe return home.