The Air Force Test Ranges Squadron Proud Awards Finalist

The Air Force Test Ranges Squadron’s successful Indigenous community engagement initiative

The Air Force Test Ranges Squadron’s (AFTRSQN) successful Indigenous community engagement initiative was shortlisted as a finalist for the Institute of Public Administration Australia (IPAA) Public Sector Innovation Awards 2019.

The community engagement initiative is called the Reserve Regional Compliance Officer (RCO) Program and occurred within the Woomera Prohibited Area.

These awards have been held annually since 2016 to recognise, celebrate and share innovative work in the Australian Public Service and the ACT Public Service. AFTRSQN was nominated in the Citizen-Centred category.

The twelve finalists, drawn from an initial field of 62 nominations, presented a ‘pitch style’ ten-minute overview of their innovation to a panel of five judges at the Department of Human Services Design Centre in Canberra.

AFTRSQN Executive Officer, Squadron Leader Peter Knox travelled to Canberra with his pitch team, Sergeant Lisa Johnson, and RCO members Corporal Joey Hull and Corporal Manisha LeBois.

“Building trust, respect and relationships – that is how I characterise Air Forces partnership with our first nations people and it is the genesis behind the RCO program,” Squadron Leader Knox said.

“Innovation is not just about finding new and better ways of doing something but it can also be about changing the lives of individuals and whole communities.

“Air Force Test Ranges Squadron manages all the equipment trials and the testing of war material in the Woomera Prohibited Area.

“In order to do the trials safely and securely, it requires patrols where compliance is enforced and community engagement occurs across the entirety of the range.

“This means engaging all six aboriginal groups within the Woomera Prohibited Area, a relationship that defence recognises and strives to understand in order to maintain and build on the strong ties that have been developed already.

“This program acknowledges their deep connection to the land while also providing opportunities to invest in the communities.”

Woomera Prohibited Area traditional custodians and Air Force RCOs Corporal Joey Hull and Corporal Manisha Lebois both presented their experiences and perspective of the program at the pitch event.

“I was excited to start working with the AFTRSQN in collaboration with the Maralinga Tjarutja People,” Corporal LeBois said.

“This positive and productive relationship will enable each indigenous community to reconnect with their traditional lifestyles within the Woomera Prohibited Area.

“Being able to serve my country, on country, is the biggest honour and it means so much to me and my community.”

While they did not take out top spot at the awards night, the Air Warfare Centre’s AFTRSQN team can hold their head up high when talking about their relationships with the aboriginal people of the Woomera Prohibited Area and Delamere.

This program has been so successful that Air Force are looking at rolling the program out at other ranges in Victoria and the Northern Territory.

“This is about reconciliation, it is about building bridges, crossing together, hand in hand, as one, in unity,” Corporal Hull said.

“Our journey together has gone from strength to strength.”

Commanding Officer, Wing Commander Stuart Scott said it was a privilege to lead a Squadron with such an opportunity to foster these relationships, partnerships and friendships.

“AFTRSQN demonstrates daily our genuine respect and commitment to the Traditional Owners of Country both across the Woomera Prohibited Area and Delamere.

“A big thank you to my team for putting in the time developing and making the ‘pitch’ - you represented Defence, Air Force, AFTRSQN, yourselves and your communities to the highest level and you can be proud.”