Defence 2020 National Youth Challenge, Canberra

On Thursday 4 December 18 2008, students from all over Australia gathered at the National Museum of Australia to present their Defence 2020 reports and findings to the Minister for Defence, the Honourable Joel Fitzgibbon.

The students were state and territory winners of the Defence 2020 Participation Task, that asked them to explore some aspect of the ADF and responsible citizenship.

The student entries varied from the past (such as Simpson’s relationship with Indian troops in World War 1, and Ralph Honner’s leadership on the Kokoda Track in World War 2), to the present (the work of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs in supporting former members of the ADF, and the under-publicised achievements of Australian troops in Afghanistan in civil infrastructure works and nation-building).

Some students found aspects of the ADF to criticise, and several were able to test their ideas in present-day contexts: the work of the Destroyer HMAS Ballarat in Sydney Harbour, the role of the paratroop regiment 3RAR based at Holsworthy, and the efforts of the RAAF at Richmond Air Base. Students were able to question serving ADF personnel, many of whom had experience in East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan. All students recognised the great civic virtues that overwhelmingly characterise the work of the ADF today. The point was particularly brought home at Holsworthy, where several of the soldiers to whom the students spoke had worked with Australia’s latest casualty in Afghanistan, Lieutenant Fussell. It was a sobering reminder of the main role of the ADF, and the reality of the sacrifice that ADF members are prepared to make for their nation.

The final presentation at the NMA saw the students able to report on their work, discuss their findings during their three-day program, and band together to present a role-play about the ADF’s achievements and responsibilities as a peacekeeper and an ally.

Defence Minister Fitzgibbon, Minister for Defence Science and Personnel Snowdon and Vice Chief of Defence General Hurley all enjoyed and were amused by the irreverent but insightful role play, and responded to the tough questions thrown at them by the students.

The Defence 2020 program has been designed to increase students’ awareness of the many and varied roles and responsibilities of the ADF as a significant national institution. The nearly two thousand students who participated in the Youth Challenge series have developed a great respect for the fine civic values that the ADF sets and strives always to achieve. This increased knowledge, critical evaluation and understanding were demonstrated by the 18 student winners on the day, and all three official representatives acknowledged this in their replies to the student presentations and questions.

Defence 2020 (2008) is now over. We have explored the role of the ADF as a responsible citizen in a variety of ways. 2009 will see the dedication of the National Australian Peacekeeping Memorial in Canberra, and we hope that the focus of Defence 2020 (2009) will be on Australian peacekeeping, and especially the role that the ADF is playing in modern day peacekeeping and peacemaking in Afghanistan and other areas.

Watch out for details early in 2009!