VETERAN Affairs Minister Darren Chester, National’s candidate for Mallee Dr Anne Webster and Mildura RSL vice-president Tyson Matheson.

By JOHN DOOLEY

VETERAN  Affairs Minister Darren Chester made a flying visit to Mildura this week to meet with RSL representatives and during that meeting vowed to advocate strongly for the RAAF Memorial and Museum at Mildura Airport to acquire a FA-18 Hornet.

Sometime ago the RSL made a formal request to the Defence Department to secure a FA-18s once the fleet is retired next year.

The aircraft will be replaced by the new F-35 strike-fighter jet.

Accompanied by National’s candidate for Mallee, Dr Anne Webster, the Minister toured the RAAF Museum ahead of meeting with Mildura RSL general manager, Kim Archibald, and club vice-president, Tyson Matheson, where the subject of the campaign to bring an FA-18 to Mildura was discussed.

Minister Chester said that he was very impressed with the museum, adding that Mildura’s proud history in the training of pilots in WW2 made it truly worthy of receiving one of the aircraft, something he will put his weight behind in Canberra.

“Anne has raised this project with me on a number of occasions, and I’m pleased to be here today to see the wonderful work the RSL has done in honouring the memory of these brave pilots,” he said.

“I am personally supportive of what you are wanting to achieve, and it is the case that it can take a long period of time for Defence to decide these matters, but I will push them a little harder now.”

Mr Archibald said that a new hangar facility will be built adjacent to the museum, and that in the interim, arrangements have been made with airport management to house the aircraft in a temporary hanger.  

Mr Archibald explained to the Minister the important role that Mildura had played in the training of pilots for combat in the Second World War.

“Fifty-two pilots lost their lives training here, and in its heyday, it was the biggest fighter-training base in Australia,” he said. “It was a busy place, there were 1250 pilots trained here, who then went to the south west Pacific to engage the Japanese enemy.”

Mr Archibald said that all of the pilots killed here are buried in a Commonwealth War Cemetery at Nichols Point.

“Every Anzac Day we honour their memory accordingly,” he said.

The idea for having a Hornet jet in Mildura has its origins with the strong relationship the RSL has established with the same unit that operated out of Mildura during the war, and is now located at the NSW, Williamtown Airforce base – 2OTU. (From 1942 until 1946 the airfield was a RAAF base and home to No.2 Operational Training Unit – 2OTU).

“This unit trains pilots to fly the FA-18s and will soon be moving to the new F-35 fighter next year,” Mr Archibald said.

“As a show of appreciation, and to honour what has been done here, Wing Commander Scott Woodland has been to Mildura twice flying the FA-18 into Mildura, and he will return in June with a contingent of two FA-18s for the final time before they are decommissioned.

“Scott said to us that if ever there was a location in Australia that deserved a decommissioned FA-18, it was Mildura RAAF Museum.”

Minister Chester was greatly impressed by the history of the Mildura’s links to the current day training unit in NSW.

“By getting in early, and demonstrating your enthusiasm for securing one of those aircraft, is a very positive approach, and you have a very strong case to make given the historic links to the unit at Williamtown,” he said.

The Minister also visited Henderson Park to see the honour rolls listing all of the servicemen and women from our region who served in various conflicts.

Mr Archibald said that it was a wonderful opportunity to have the DVA Minister in Mildura, and for him to see the Air Museum and Henderson Park memorials. 

“It’s great to be able to talk to him about the specific needs of veterans and the FA-18 project,” he said. “What we have at Henderson Park is unique. There’s nothing like this in regional Australia.

“It honours those servicemen and women who enlisted from the Boer War right through to 2013 in all conflicts – active service and peacekeeping.

“There are more than 4000 names on the memorials in Henderson Park together with the statue of VC recipient Samuel Pearce, and we are very proud to have been able to show the Minister today what we have done here.”

Minister Chester said that there were a lot of words written and spoken about ANZAC day, but it was about one word – respect.

“ANZAC Day recognises the freedoms that we enjoy today were hard fought for, and to ensure that our younger generation understands the story of our military service and why we have been involved in these conflicts, and hopefully they will never face the same traumatic events that our forefathers did,” he said.

The Minister visited the RSL to meet some young veterans from recent conflicts who now reside in Mildura and rely on the support the club provides.

“I think the one area we can continue to improve in is understanding the needs of younger veterans, particularly those transitioning to new career paths in their 30s,” he said. “As a Government we have committed to putting veterans and their families first. We already provide more than $11billion a year, but it’s apparent that there is more that we can be doing and that’s what we have announced today in our policy.”

The Minister’s visit to Mildura also coincided with the Coalition’s release of their veterans’ policy, which will see support for veterans and their families boosted as part of a $63.2million suite of initiatives to create Veterans’ Well-being Centres across the country, deliver job opportunities and secure health and housing services for the future.

In speaking of his endeavours to meet veterans and their families, the Minister said that the best thing he could do is to get out of Canberra and listen to people on the ground about issues that affect them and their community.”