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Wednesday, 4 February 2009
Page: 466

Mr SIMPKINS (12:46 PM) —On the first Sunday of this year an event took place in Afghanistan, a tragic event which took the life of one of our very good soldiers and a great Australian. That event is an example of the risks that are taking place every day for our servicemen overseas. I would like to make some comments today on the life and the service of Private Greg Sher. I will attempt to do it justice, though I have no direct knowledge of Greg nor was I at the ceremonies where others paid tribute to him. My past has some similarities, insofar as I wore the same sort of uniform as Greg. I would like to begin by talking about the comments that others have made in their writings about Greg—and I know of the great involvement of the member for Melbourne Ports in this matter. From what other people have said about him, Greg Sher seems to have been the classic special forces soldier—the sort we have all met through our service or our involvement with Defence. He was not a big man at five feet eight but he had a tremendous heart—not someone who was just physically tough but an all-rounder. He was genuinely interested in others—his mates and those around him. He was positive, enthusiastic and compassionate. He was a genuine and authentic person.

Mention has been made about the fact that he was a reservist. This is a very important aspect. It was typical of those who had not actually served with the reservists to be somewhat critical of them. They were considered part-timers or chockos. Yet when you work with these guys you begin to realise that they are really committed. They love what they do on a part-time basis. They love to serve this country. They make their contribution in civilian life, as most Australians do, and then they give up their weekends and holidays.

Then you have people like Greg, who joined the Army Reserve in 1998 and who by 2004 was seriously committed to undertaking the selection course for the Commandos. That is serious training and commitment to a cause. It comes through very strongly that he seemed to enjoy what he was doing. That is fabulous. He was genuinely committed to the service of this country and to his friends, and he was in a great situation where he enjoyed what he was doing. He was so very keen to participate, move forward and make an even greater contribution.

What also struck me was that in this country we try not to refer to people by names that would possibly be perceived as denigrating them on religious grounds, and yet in 5/6 RVR, the 5th/6th Royal Victoria Regiment, his initial unit, and then later with the Commandos, Greg was called first ‘the Jew’ and then ‘the Super Jew’. He was clearly comfortable with that. He was a man who was not afraid to be defined by his religion. But obviously his greatest definition was great actions and great commitment to his cause. What we see in Greg is the very best, an example of the very highest level of commitment by an Australian in the reserve service of the defence forces.

I also think of the great contribution that Jewish South Africans have made to our country. In Perth, in particular, we have a lot of people from South Africa of the Jewish religion. They make a fabulous contribution. They are involved across many sectors of the community. Private Greg Sher was an example of someone who took that a long way further. He put his life on the line for his friends and for a cause. It was clearly a job that he wanted to do and that he was fully committed to. He went a little bit further than most Australians in what he was prepared to do.

Greg made a great contribution to this country. It is a terrible situation when someone so committed, someone so authentic, such a good bloke, eventually gives up his life for that cause. I am sure that nothing we can say here will ever take away the pain and the hurt that his family and his partner, Karen, feel. Possibly, through the comments that I and others have made today, they will feel some alleviation of that pain. Greg Sher was the sort of guy that we could all look up to. He was five foot eight, but the stature of the man was clearly above most of us.

I would like to conclude by paying tribute to the contribution he made to this great country, the cause he fought for and died for. Sometimes it gets to the point where, for our freedoms, for the defence of the weak and defenceless, you just have to fight. This is something Greg knew and something he died for. I pay tribute to his sacrifice. He was a great Australian and we will miss him greatly.