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Thursday, 24 June 2010
Page: 6701

Mr SIMPKINS (11:52 AM) —I would like to take the opportunity to pay tribute today to the three soldiers who lost their lives in Afghanistan on 21 June, 2010. This is one of those moments where we are reminded of the seriousness of our actions here in the parliament and the potential consequences on our soldiers and of course their families. War is a serious business with serious consequences.

I would, firstly, like to pay tribute to Timothy James Aplin, who was 38 years old. When I read that Private Aplin was 38 years old, I thought that 38 was quite old for a private and that there must be a story behind it. Indeed, there is a story behind Private Aplin. Having joined the Army Reserve in 1992 and having transferred to the Regular Army in 1995 Private Aplin had progressed to the rank of sergeant. But his goal was to pursue a career in Special Forces. He undertook the commando selection course and then the commando training course in 2008. But of course to enter Special Forces as an OR—other rank—normally you cannot, under any circumstances, go in taking that more senior rank such as sergeant or even corporal.

Sergeant Aplin was presented with a choice: did he want to proceed with a posting to the 4th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (Commando) or did he want to retain his sergeant rank? Pursuing the goal that he had always sought, he put aside his rank, reverted to private and went in as a commando. I think we need to remember that the rank of sergeant is very highly regarded by the soldiers of the Australian Army. It is not achieved lightly. There are subject courses to be passed for the rank of corporal and then sergeant. Recommendations by commanders need to be made. It is not something that is just achieved. It is no handout in the lolly packet, the cereal packet or anything like that. He worked hard to achieve his rank of sergeant, but his goal was Special Forces. His goal was the commandos, and he set aside his rank of sergeant to achieve his goal and join the commandos.

I think that the way he did that was certainly a testament to great character: someone who wanted to serve his nation, someone who wanted to serve in a particular area as a commando, someone who had dedication to service. Private Aplin strikes me as the sort of man who was every commander’s dream, someone who just wanted to be there, just wanted to serve, just wanted to do the job, who was not wrapped up with the trappings of rank or anything like that but just wanted to get on and do his duty, and I imagine that he enjoyed doing his duty as well. Indeed, he was already something of a veteran, having had operational service in East Timor in 2000, the Middle East in 2003 and Afghanistan already in 2009. His second tour of Afghanistan was where he lost his life in the helicopter accident. I guess it is not that easy to replace people like that, who have that sort of unique and driven dedication to their profession. I think his loss in the 2nd Commando Regiment will be felt greatly, as indeed the loss of any of our soldiers is felt greatly within Defence. So I pay tribute to Private Aplin today.

I would also like to speak of Private Benjamin Adam Chuck, also a member of the 2nd Commando Regiment. The service of 27-year-old Private Chuck is also a story of its own. Some years ago, it was determined that there could be direct recruitment into the Special Forces, where people off the street, you might say, or maybe from the police could apply with the specific intent of entering the Special Forces. As I think all of us here know, and some of us who have served in the Army as well maybe know just a little bit better—and I am not Special Forces myself by any means—it is serious business out there. The weapons, the explosives and the training can be pretty dangerous stuff. Some may call them supersoldiers, as the SAS are often referred to, but there is no doubt that they are a highly trained organisation and highly effective. For someone like Private Chuck to have come from civilian life, to have specifically joined and to have just gone straight through those courses to become a commando is again a testament to an excellent character. He has been described as a person who excelled at everything he attempted. Clearly he was a very tough and determined young man. As we have heard from other speakers, he was fulfilling the role of patrol medic within his sniper team. It has also been said that he was devoted to his mates, as I am sure that all members of the 2nd Commando Regiment certainly are.

I also take this opportunity to pay my respects regarding Private Palmer, the third soldier who unfortunately died in this helicopter crash. Private Palmer joined the Army in 2001. By the end of 2006, he had completed his commando selection course, his commando training course, and was then posted to the 4th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (Commando) as it was then called, now the 2nd Commando Regiment. He certainly had plenty of operational experience. This was his third tour to Afghanistan, and he had also served at other times in East Timor and Iraq. He was also notable—as indeed, as I have said before, are all members of the 2nd Commando Regiment and members of the Australian Army in general—for his professionalism and dedication to excellence.

A lot has been said about why we are in Afghanistan. Questions have been asked. Some people still ask why we are there. What possible influence can that place have on us here in Australia? The reality is that there are evil people in the world. The Taliban wish to increase fundamentalist Islamic rule across the region and beyond. Of course, they need a base. They need somewhere to train, somewhere to gather, somewhere to launch their wider operations from, and that place is Afghanistan—but only if we let it be Afghanistan. We remember, not too long ago, the Taliban’s operations in the Swat Valley, in Pakistan, and I commend the Pakistani army and services for driving them back out of the Swat Valley and re-establishing legitimate government control over the Swat Valley. The Taliban continue to pursue a re-establishment of their bases in Afghanistan and their control in Afghanistan, and they intend to use that place to launch their forms of terrorism.

We know that they are suppressors of women and the rights of women. They are controllers of education. They are soldiers of totalitarianism. I would just add one other thing to that. Who can forget those famous views of where the Taliban destroyed the image of Buddha carved into a cliff face in Afghanistan? These are, without doubt, evil people. We have no choice, and we have an obligation, to continue that fight against them. Certainly the Taliban provide no value in the world. They are enemies of democracy. The point is that, if we do not stay in Afghanistan until the Afghan government can ensure their own security, this nation and our neighbours may be subject to terrorism that originates from Afghanistan. That is my view about our national cause.

But, down from such heights, I will bring it back home. There are the families who will forever have to live with the loss of their loved ones—in this case, the families of Private Aplin, Private Chuck and Private Palmer. It can be a struggle to find the words to say to those who have lost their loved ones in this cause. To the parents, brothers and sisters, partners and friends of these lost loved ones: my thoughts, my deepest sympathy and my heartfelt condolences are with them. These men died in defence of democracy and for liberation. Australia never wants to have to send soldiers abroad, but we have. Australians did not ask for violence, but we have answered it. Australia did not start this war, but we will move on with the coalition to win it. To all the Australian Defence Force personnel still engaged in the conflict in Afghanistan: take a moment to honour your fallen comrades, but maintain your vigilance, your confidence, your courage and your commitment to carry on with the mission. I thank them for their service. I thank the families of these fallen soldiers for the sacrifice.