NAVY FOUNDATION DAY "CRESWELL ORATION"
111th. ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION
Vice Admiral Ray Griggs AM CSC RAN
as presented, without overhead slides)
Development of the RAN, Modern Challenges & Historic Parallels"
Ray Griggs AO CSC RAN
of the Creswell family, members of the Australian Navy Foundation
Day Organising Committee and of the Navy League, ladies and gentlemen.
It is my pleasure to be invited to present the Creswell Oration
for 2012, to commemorate Navy's 111 years of service to the Australian
nation. I am particularly honoured to be the first person to have
the opportunity to deliver this address twice.
Five years ago as the Deputy Fleet Commander, when paradoxically,
I probably had more freedom in what I said than I do today - I
focused heavily on the period leading up to the key decision to
acquire our own fleet - I think after five years I hope I can
get away with reusing some of that speech! But before I start,
though, I would like to acknowledge the achievements of John Wilkins
and congratulate him on the public recognition he received with
the award of a Medal of the Order of Australia in the Australia
Day Honours List this year. It is fitting that this recognition
was for his work in the preservation of Australia's naval history
- Well done John!
This time five years ago was the first real attempt to publicly
acknowledge Navy's birthday; there was a quite a media blitz,
CERBERUS, under the tutelage of Dave Garnock, had a huge Navy
birthday BBQ and our ships were dressed for the first time to
mark the occasion.
I remarked during this speech 5 years ago that I thought Navy's
celebration of its birthday was here to stay. Well, so far so
good! There is maybe less media fanfare today, but I think we
are seeing the importance of the day being embedded in our naval
calendar. Indeed tonight I will be hosting the first Navy birthday
official reception in Canberra. I have discontinued the Chief
of Navy's traditional Christmas reception and replaced it with
tonight's event which I think is more fitting and helps reinforce
the importance of the day.
As always it is great to be here in Melbourne where so much of
the story of our early Navy was played out. I don't think I need
to recount the entire role of Victoria in those early years but
I do think it is worthwhile to note the richness of Victoria's
naval heritage from our first purpose built warship of 1855 which
proudly bore this state's name. Victoria served in the Maori wars
of 1860 and has the distinction of earning Australia's naval forces
their first battle honour - New Zealand 1860-1861. Victoria was
also the first colony to regulate its naval activities, and, of
course, remains the 'cradle of the Navy'.
Today I would like to talk to you about the way Navy is developing
as a result of the challenges of today but I will also draw on
some historic parallels. The reason I chose this mix for discussion
is because, like other speakers before me at this event, I firmly
believe that Australia's naval future cannot be understood, developed
or articulated in isolation from our history and foundations.
If I could turn to this day in history - it marks more than the
birth of our nation's Navy (and Army - we should not forget that,
either). On this day in 1901, control of the States' Defence Forces
was transferred to the Commonwealth of Australia.
In 1913 on this day the first entrants of the Royal Australian
Naval College commenced their training at Osborne House in Geelong.
This included distinguished graduates such as a young John Collins
and Harold Farncomb, both of whom served with distinction during
World War II and reached flag rank and whom we honour today through
the two submarines that proudly bear their names.
In the early hours of the morning on this day 70 years ago, Victorian
born Captain Hector Waller led the crew of the cruiser HMAS Perth
in company with USS Houston in the face of impossible odds against
superior Japanese naval forces during the Battle of Sunda Strait.
357 of Perth's complement, including Waller, were killed in action,
while those who survived suffered the privations of three years
of captivity as prisoners of war. Nearly 700 US sailors died that
morning, including their Captain and Medal of Honour winner, Harold
Rooks. Today the concept of over a thousand people losing their
lives in action over the space of a couple of hours would be very
hard to comprehend.
On Tuesday, at the War Memorial in Canberra, I was privileged
to meet seven of the twelve remaining Perth survivors from that
action. Meeting our naval veterans is always an honour; as a group
they were truly inspirational. Services like that on Tuesday remind
all of us in this uniform of what we may be asked to do as part
of a combat force. It also reminds us of the strength of the bonds
that the term 'shipmate' evokes and in this particular instance
it also underscores the depth of the relationship that we have
with the United States Navy.
So, whether we join together today in celebration or commemoration,
March the 1st is an important day for us to strengthen and honour
our Australian naval heritage. A day to acknowledge the lives
lost, the sacrifices made and the selfless service given by tens
of thousands of fellow Australians and to draw upon the valuable
lessons their experiences and challenges provide us.
Australia as an island state with a long coastline is critically
dependant on seaborne trade and has vital interests in the stability
and security of the region, whether in times of peace or conflict.
As stipulated in the White Paper of 2009, today - as at every
stage of our nation's development, our main aim is to defend against
and deter armed attacks against Australia.
There are many significant parallels that may be drawn between
the challenges we face today in the RAN and those that were presented
to the Navy in our early years of development.
This tyranny of distance and associated naval challenge was acknowledged
by Alfred Deakin and Admiral Tyron amongst others at the 1887
Colonial Conference held in London and indeed was the catalyst
for the Australasian Naval Defence Act passed that December which
allowed for the provision of an auxiliary naval squadron which
was to be partially paid for by the Australian colonies and New
Of course, in addition to Victoria, several already had their
own defensive naval forces and these in time were to become the
basis of the future national navy.
Captain, later, Vice Admiral Sir William Creswell, who commanded
first South Australia's, then Queensland's naval service - and,
briefly that of Victoria, was steadfast in his insistence that
Australia needed the ability to defend its vast coastline. Creswell
however, was of the opinion that this defence needed to be indigenous
to Australia. In an article printed by the Brisbane Newspaper
Company in 1901, Creswell wrote about a 'guerre a commerce' and
how a war on merchant shipping would adversely affect Australia
in both the trans-oceanic and coastal trading domains. Then, as
now, Australia's future and its prosperity are bound to the maritime
environment and the ability to use the sea for the conduct of
I recently had the privilege of speaking at the Sea Power Conference
in Sydney, the theme of which was 'The naval contribution to prosperity
and National Security', which reflects the continued importance
of Australia's ability to use the sea. Whilst at this conference
I discussed the unfortunate phenomenon of 'sea blindness'. This
phrase was coined in the UK a number of years ago to describe
what was considered a lamentable lack of understanding by the
British public of the sea and the importance of their Navy. We
suffer from it too. Curiously enough it was not something that
was evident in the early years of federation. With literally no
other means of communication or transportation, the country was
very much focused on the sea and what it meant for Australia's
The strategic reality is that in 2012 it has not changed but the
public's grasp of the importance of the sea has waned significantly.
It is confounding that many Australians observe an array of merchant
ships at anchor off Australian ports like Newcastle, but do not
instinctively make the connection to our national wealth. Of course,
compounding this is that much of our high value merchant traffic
operates off our sparsely populated north west coast or other
regional areas, largely unseen by the public.
The truth is that most seaborne activity is invisible to the average
citizen and the relationship between the assured use of the oceans
and our national prosperity - indeed our national survival - is
not something that penetrates the consciousness of most. Perhaps
running the 'supermarket shelves' test is the best way to make
this point. Take everything off the shelf that has in some way
been reliant on sea transport and see what is left.
Partly this problem exists because of the nature of maritime work.
Much of what maritime industries - shipping, fishing and offshore
resource exploitation - as well as what the navies that protect
them occur out of sight of land and therefore out of mind. We
as a Navy, along with the broader naval community need to talk
more about what we do and the contribution that we and the rest
of the maritime sector make to the continued prosperity of this
If you have been following my recent speeches you will see this
is a recurring theme, and if I am starting to sound like a broken
record it is because I believe that this is such a fundamental
message that we must get across.
I would like to touch briefly on the recent findings of Mr Alastair
Hope the WA Coroner into the tragic events of 15 December 2010,
when Suspected Irregular Entry Vessel 221 foundered on the rocks
at Christmas Island and up to 50 asylum seekers perished. I have
personally spent a number of months operating there during the
monsoon; they are perilous waters in those conditions. I remain
very proud of what the ASSAIL THREE crew and their small Army
Transit Security Element did on that day. They were the most difficult
and tragic of circumstances and our people were simply magnificent.
I think what they did on that day, like their mates who dealt
with the explosion on SIEV 36 in April 2009, are the truest indicator
of the quality of our people and of the intrinsic nature of Australia's
Navy. It reinforces for me that there remains an unbroken thread
throughout the last 111 years that this sort of behaviour has
been consistently demonstrated in both peace and in war. There
are some who still want to criticise the response of our people
on that day, criticism leveled by people who have never worked
at sea, let alone commanded men and women in tough circumstances
or had to pick their way through the reality of the Clausewitzian
fog which sometimes descends on operations.
I am grateful that Mr Hope, who was quite rightly very tough,
forensic and probing during his inquest, reached the conclusions
about our people that he did. From all my reading of the material
and my personal experience of the operational environment up there,
our people can stand tall for how they responded and acted, putting
themselves in harms way to save others on that awful day.
Our commitment to border protection is our most significant operational
task, it continues under close public scrutiny and is conducted
every single day by a dedicated and yet largely unrecognised group
of sailors. We should all be very proud of what they achieve.
I certainly am.
If I could turn to the Navy of tomorrow. As most of you would
know we are building Force 2030, the future force that was articulated
by the Government in the 2009 White Paper, a very capable Australian
Defence Force. It is a force that is starting to be delivered.
In many ways there are similarities in the challenges we face
today just as Creswell faced as he set about building the early
RAN. The parallels are significant as we upskill our people for
new capabilities and equipment that we have had no prior experience
in operating. We of course are not coming off a zero base but
it is nonetheless a challenging time.
This year marks the arrival of LHD Canberra here in Melbourne
for the fitting of her superstructure and integration of her communications
and command and control equipment. When you see her come in you
will see the step up that we face after 30 years of having a 'frigate-navy'
outlook. We are up to the challenge and frankly I think it will
bring a level of excitement and pride to the organisation that
will be beneficial, but as I have been saying to the wider Navy,
the worst thing we can do is to think that 'we know boats'. In
capability terms the LHD is a game changer and will shift the
way we conduct our amphibious training and operations just as
the arrival of the first RAN fleet of ships in October 1913 shifted
the thinking of those in the Navy at the time.
For us however the LHD will not be just about shifting Navy and
what it wants to achieve, it will be about shifting the ADF and
accommodating what it needs to achieve for the capability as a
And there will be equivalent challenges for the ADF with the introduction
of the Air Warfare Destroyers. We are starting to get back into
the air warfare mission in a way that is also paralleled only
by the capability jump that the 1913 Fleet Unit represented. The
AWD are key to that jump, but so are the new Airborne Early Warning
and Control aircraft now entering Air Force service.
Together, ship and aircraft - and the other systems and units
with which they will operate - represent a sum very much greater
than the component parts. In the meantime, we have the long range
SM-2 missile at sea in the modernised guided missile frigates
and the new phased array radar fit and combat system in the frigate
Perth has been immensely successful. When the program is complete,
all the Anzac class will have an order of magnitude increase in
their missile detection and engagement capabilities.
In 2014 we will see new combat helicopters for Navy with a new
variant to the Seahawk helicopter. It re-introduces an important
capability - the dipping sonar; which will allow us to conduct
anti-submarine warfare in a way that we have not for some time.
Then, of course, there is the future submarine, the offshore combatant
vessel, and in the mid-2020s a new frigate to replace the Anzacs.
In all, it is a very exciting time on the hardware front.
I know the reality of a serious maritime power projection capability
is coming into sharp focus within the Defence senior leadership
The announcement regarding the 2nd battalion of the Royal Australian
Regiment as a dedicated amphibious battalion is an important lead
indicator, as are the changes Navy will be making to tactical
command and control structures to better support the deployable
joint force headquarters construct and provide a more robust Command
and Control arrangement.
If we consider one of the very first combat experiences of the
RAN, there was an emphasis from very beginning on a joint expeditionary
capability. Australia and New Zealand had combined to create a
Naval and Military Expeditionary Force which set out on August
19, 1914 just weeks after the proclamation of war to land in Rabaul
and then take the wireless station at Bitapaka.
This operation was a maritime power projection mission enabled
by the ability to exercise local sea control. In that case it
utilised the versatility and utility of the battle cruiser HMAS
Australia the light cruiser Sydney and the Australian destroyer
and submarine forces. The initial landings were conducted by naval
infantry who were then subsequently supported by militia forces
landed from the transport ship.
Today of course we still serve in the joint environment ashore.
In August last year I accompanied the then Minister for Defence
Materiel, Minister Clare, into Afghanistan for my second visit
to that country. Navy have about a dozen officers and sailors
in a number of roles, from patrolling on the front line with the
MTF as Explosive Ordnance Disposal or Improvised Explosive Device
specialists, to some key HQ and support positions; they are doing
a great job and are universally well respected. We also have Navy
people on operations in the Sinai, Timor, the Solomons and in
We are now in our 22nd year of major fleet unit operations in
the Middle East. HMAS Parramatta is the current frigate in the
Middle East Area of Operations (MEAO) doing a sterling job across
counter piracy, counter terrorism and general maritime security
missions. Someone who was no stranger to the dangers of counter
piracy operations was Creswell himself who was shot in the hip
during a skirmish with pirates off the Malay coast in 1873 whilst
he was serving as a Sub-Lieutenant in the gunboat Midge.
Of course both new and old capabilities bring with them significant
maintenance challenges, a fact that the naval engineer, a man
very much the 'second father' of the Australian Navy, Captain
and later Vice Admiral Sir William Clarkson was well aware of
as the senior technical officer of the naval forces from 1901.
With the outbreak of war there were 28 vessels requisitioned for
the purpose of transporting the first AIF contingent of 21,500
men and 8000 horses to the Middle East. As you can imagine, alterations
of a drastic nature were required. In addition to configuration
changes Clarkson was ultimately responsible for the manufacture
of all the equipment required to fit out and repair ships at Cockatoo
Island dockyard. All of this was achieved often in very tight
timeframes. Perhaps the most impressive of all technical achievements
of that time under Clarkson's direction was the building of warships
up to light cruiser size at Cockatoo Island, a process which was
enabled utilising an increasing proportion of locally produced
items as suggested by Clarkson.
Speaking of technical integrity ... last year the report
resulting from the Rizzo Review into amphibious and support ship
maintenance was released. This review was undertaken with the
express purpose of ensuring that what led to the systemic failure
in availability of our amphibious force never occurred again.
An important recommendation made by Paul Rizzo was to rebuild
and reorganise Navy engineering. A process that he recommended
be led by a two star Navy Admiral to give the necessary weight
to this critical function. I promoted RADM Mick Uzzell and appointed
him as Head of Navy Engineering in September last year and he
has been hard at work since that time. There is significant work
underway to implement the recommendations of the review and get
us back to basics.
Of course the review was about more than engineering, it was about
the broader capability management challenge and ensuring that
all of our officers and senior sailors understand their role in
it. But a healthy engineering function which is viewed as an enabler
rather than an overhead remains absolutely critical to a high
technology organisation. I believe we lost sight of that critical
difference over the last decade or so. It is interesting to compare
the technical content of what our young officers today are being
taught compared to Collins and Farncomb and the 1913 entry. In
general terms they had a much higher level of technical content
than today - perhaps there is a message there and it is something
that we are going to have a close look at.
In the current economic climate the RAN has had lower separation
rates than has historically been the case which is a significant
turnaround from a few short years ago. They are on the rise, however,
and we still face a fierce battle for talent particularly for
technical personnel as our own Navy-trained personnel remain highly
sought after and not just in the resource sector. In Navy we are
trying a broad range of initiatives to demonstrate that we have
shifted from an 'overhead' view to an 'enabling' view of this
The drive to retain our trained talent has included some very
tightly targeted bonuses, industry outplacements, a redesign of
our Fleet Support Units and broader professional development programs
which I think show that we are serious.
This will take time and there is no easy fix. In the meantime
we are looking to augment our talent base through the use of lateral
transfers from other navies. While Creswell would probably not
have described it as such, this is exactly what happened in the
early life of the RAN. We are working very closely with the Royal
Navy to ensure that we can help be part of the solution as they
What began 111 years ago as the development of an Australian Navy
has grown and matured into a force which I am immensely proud
of. We are on watch around the world, ashore and at sea, on peacetime
and active service getting on with the job we have been given.
In doing that I think we owe a great deal to the early leadership
of the Navy and how they shaped the organisation here in Melbourne
over a century ago. I said last time I gave this address that
Creswell's real legacy was that he ensured that the Navy was set
up in such a way that it could be sustained and grown as the strategic
situation demanded. My time in this job has only reinforced that
This is the enduring task for the organisation's leadership; we
are stewards after all, stewards of this great national institution.
We must not allow ourselves to be consumed by the parochialism
of the present. Stewardship demands due regard to the past, it
demands that we understand the challenges of today, that we nurture
what we have and also that we have a very clear view of where
the organisation needs to be positioned in the future.
We stand on the cusp of one of the most significant periods
of naval modernisation for many decades in this, the Asian Pacific
century, this inherently maritime century. Guided by the example
of Creswell and Clarkson, we are getting on with this challenge.