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Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Page: 12654

Mr EWEN JONES (Herbert) (17:54): I rise to join the previous speakers in this difficult task and offer my condolences not for one digger lost in combat but three. That two of these were from my city of Townsville makes an already difficult job all the more challenging.

Captain Bryce Duffy came from a military family. He was transferred into Townsville's 4th Field Regiment in January this year and was deployed on his second trip to Afghanistan in September. Captain Duffy is remembered as a highly professional and dedicated soldier who was passionate about the defence career ahead of him.

The 4th Field Regiment did a fantastic job in and around Townsville post Cyclone Yasi, particularly in Cardwell. I remember speaking to a colonel or lieutenant colonel from 4th Field Regiment in relation to a concrete toilet block. If you have ever been to Cardwell you would know there is a concrete toilet block on the beach there. It has been there forever. It was probably there before World War II. I think if they carbon-dated it they would find it is a million years old. They said that Cyclone Yasi had destroyed it so much it looked like they had gone 200 metres back up the road and put a couple of shells through it. Through all the hard work they did during that time—it was hot and it was very hard work—they kept a smile on their faces and they were always laughing.

Corporal Ashley Birt was on his second overseas deployment, having served in the Solomon Islands this year. Those who served with him have described him as a great mate, a proud soldier and a natural leader. He was a dedicated geospatial technician and had risen quickly through the ranks performing a job that, in the words of his superior officer, normally only a senior corporal could manage.

I would like to acknowledge at this point that, in addition to their overseas deployments, Captain Duffy and Corporal Birt were involved in the Defence Force contingent that supported North Queensland communities following the natural disasters this year. And not only in North Queensland, but all of Queensland. Corporal Birt was involved in the aftermath of the South-East Queensland floods and Captain Duffy, of course, after Cyclone Yasi in north Queensland. On behalf of the north Queensland community I would like to recognise their roles in helping out in what was truly our hour of need. It is funny, normally you have to go through a whole chain of command to get the Defence forces to help out in civilian time. But Brigadier Stuart Smith rang the mayor of Townsville, Les Tyrrell, and said, 'I've got a whole bunch of blokes out there ready to go.' There was also 3rd Brigade, 5th Aviation, the RAAF and the Navy. Everyone in the ADF in Townsville rallied to the point and became the greatest workforce our city could ever hope for.

Lance Corporal Luke Gavin was posted to Townsville's 2RAR in 2005. As they say in Townsville: 2RAR; second to none. A highly qualified soldier, he was promoted to lance corporal in 2009, having undertaken specialist training as a combat first aider. He was a Pashtu linguist and an infantry support weapons operator. His family has stated that he believed strongly in Australia's role in Afghanistan. Those who served with him, both superiors and subordinates, have recognised his professionalism, his mateship and above all his ability as a soldier. My thoughts and deepest condolences are with the families and friends of these three brave soldiers at what must be an incredibly difficult time.

I would also like to mention all our front line soldiers, seven of whom were injured in this attack. To lose any fellow servicemen must be difficult. To lose three in one attack and still have to get on with the job the next day is unthinkable. Their resilience is a credit to them and their country and is not going unnoticed.

It would also be remiss of me not to mention the impact that this has had on the Townsville community. As a garrison city and home to Lavarack Barracks, Australia's largest and greatest army base, we are immensely proud of the job our troops are doing in Afghanistan and of the role the Defence Force plays in our community. A tragedy like this affects everyone in Townsville. I know that we are all grieving alongside our troops. I received phone calls this week from people wanting to erect monuments to soldiers who have fallen in this conflict. I have counselled them that the army, and the units from which they have come, have made no such call. As with all major conflicts, monuments come after the fighting has finished; not before. This is a time for family. This is a time for the community to come around itself, close itself and be warm with itself.

To once again have lost soldiers at the hands of a rogue Afghan National Army soldier, an ally, makes the circumstances of this tragedy even more difficult to comprehend. This mentoring task force is an extremely important part of our mission in Afghanistan and it is vital if Australia is to be able to leave that country better able to defend itself and the world from the threat of terrorism. At this time we must remind ourselves of the importance of this role. There is no better gift that Australia, as a democratic and free society, can give a troubled nation than the empowerment to protect their own country and those rights that we are proud to have in our own country. In remembering this, we must be resolute in our support of this goal, just as our soldiers on the front line are. Think of the health standards that we bring; the education and things that we are bringing into the country; and respect for females. As a society, if we can just keep on going this way at these incredibly difficult times, it must be done.

This has been a very difficult week for the defence community and the Townsville community in general. I was at the farewell—the pass-out parade—for 2RAR as they made their way in a staged deployment to Afghanistan. The then Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Ken Gillespie, spoke for about 15 minutes to the troops, and for the first seven to 10 minutes of that speech he spoke directly to the families of the soldiers—the men and women who were going to be left behind. He told them of what was available in the Townsville community, and he told the community of Townsville and the ADF in general to avail themselves of what was there—that they are part of that family. That is how important and how grown-up our system has been. I was very lucky at the time: I walked down to and from the parade with a warrant officer who had been to and from Vietnam. I said to him, 'What was this like when you went to Vietnam?' He said, 'We got nothing on the way out and less on the way in, mate.'

As a defence community and as a community in general we have come to respect the role that our soldiers have played, and no community more so than Townsville. The Australian community must also rally around our troops. We ask a lot of our soldiers, and the bravery that is shown as they diligently go about their mission is a source of pride for their families and for all of us as Australians. The courage of these three soldiers in pursuit of what is a noble cause has not gone unnoticed, must never be forgotten and will not be in vain.

I say this to the men and women who are left over there: this is a very stressful time for anyone. When you are in a conflict situation, the way it is explained to me, your own little bit of solace—the time when you can let your guard down just a little bit—is inside your compound. That has been removed. These guys are on high stress levels all the time now, and we as a community, especially those people that are not involved in the direct conflict, must remember that when they come back we will have to be there for them. We will have to look after them, because this will leave scars. So, to those of you guys who are still there, I say: you must stay strong, you must trust your mate, you must keep your chin up and your head down at the same time, and you must avail yourself of counselling. You must be able to talk to people, and you must be able to sort out any problems you may have or you may think you have.

I am very proud to represent the city of Townsville—the men and women of 3rd Brigade, and people from Townsville and the Defence Force in general that are part of the Mentoring Task Force. I am very sorry to be here, and I do not like doing these things, but it is a damn sight easier than being over there. Lest we forget.