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Monday, 20 June 2011
Page: 6604


Mr MATHESON (Macarthur) (20:58): I would like to pay tribute to Detective Senior Constable Damian Leeding and offer my condolences to his wife, Sonia, his son, Hudson, and his daughter, Grace. Detective Senior Constable Leeding has been described by his family and peers as a great father, a top bloke, a larrikin, a quiet achiever, a hero, a mate who would do anything for anybody. He was only 35 years old and was shot last month after responding to an armed robbery and a hostage situation at the Pacific Pines Tavern on the Gold Coast. His death has demonstrated the dangers that members of the police force put themselves into every day to keep the community safe.

According to his colleagues, Damian was a hardworking officer with a distinct dislike for anyone dealing in drugs. He would drag a drug dealer off the street and into the police station on a daily basis. His workmates have promised to honour Damian by remaining strong and keeping his community safe. I am sure his colleagues, friends and family will make sure that his death will not be in vain.

I felt compelled to speak here today because I was a police officer for 25 years and have seen firsthand the heartache felt by families, the police force and the community when a police officer is killed on duty. I can imagine the desperation, fear and anguish Damian's workmates felt as they fought to keep him alive until paramedics arrived. There is no telling how many police officers all over Australia will be affected by his death. There will obviously be a ripple effect across the nation. I am sure many will reconsider the risks they take every day just going to work and the family members they would leave behind if something were to go wrong.

Damian's son Hudson is only two years old and his daughter Grace is just three months old, too young to lose a loving and devoted father. Having two beautiful daughters myself, I am well aware of the sacrifices made by police officers and their families every day. Like any member of the emergency services would know, it takes a great deal of courage to leave your own family behind to protect those who you have sometimes never met on a daily basis. These men and women take great risks every time they go to work, and they deserve the utmost respect by the community for risking their lives to protect others. They join the job to make a difference, and sometimes this can be a thankless job.

I feel for Damian's wife, Sonya, who had to make the heartbreaking decision to turn off his life support. I cannot think of a more devastating and traumatic decision to make. I am sure that she is now surrounded by loving friends and family. Sonya is also a police officer and has said that she will return to work—great courage. This will take a lot of courage but the police community is a tight one. They treat each other like family, and I am sure she will be supported by her fellow officers when she returns. That is our way.

It is not just Damian and his family that will suffer as a result of this tragedy. His colleagues and friends in the Gold Coast community will all grieve alongside them for a long time to come. As a police officer, I experienced this widespread grief first hand in 2001 when Senior Constable Jim Affleck, a highway patrol officer in my electorate, was run down during a police pursuit along the F5. He was laying road spikes to stop a stolen vehicle when he was run down at high speed. I remember that day like it was yesterday, as would many others in Macarthur. After his death, Jim was awarded the Commissioner's Valour Award for his exceptional bravery. I believe this would also be a fitting tribute for Senior Constable Damian Leeding. The Jim Affleck Bridge on the F5 in Campbelltown is now a solemn reminder of the brave and dedicated police officer we lost that day.

Like Damien Leeding, Jim Affleck was well respected and loved by his colleagues. Jim was a dedicated and professional police officer, and his death shocked not only the police force but also the entire Campbelltown community in which he served. He is in our thoughts every day and a memorial service is held each year in his honour. The 10th anniversary of his death was marked in January this year with a service next to the garden dedicated to his life at Campbelltown Police Station. Even though it has been 10 years since he was killed, more than 100 people attended the service, which shows the widespread and devastating impact the death of a police officer can have on your local community.

I am sure the Gold Coast community will also continue to honour Damian Leeding in this way to ensure that his memory will live on. After his death Jim Affleck was placed on the police honour roll which commemorates those members of the New South Wales Police Force who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in the execution of their duty. This will also be the case with Senior Constable Leeding—a sad but fitting tribute to those brave police officers.

I join many people in the Macarthur electorate who have the utmost respect and admiration for members of the police force. It takes a person of great integrity and character to carry on through the many tragic and heartbreaking situations that they encounter. Both Damian Leeding, Jim Affleck and their families have paid the ultimate sacrifice, and the heartache will stay with their families, colleagues and the community for many years to come.

To the families of these fine police officers and all those who have been killed in the line of duty, I offer my heartfelt condolences. I am sure they will share with me the hope that one day society will understand and respect the great undertaking that is required to serve as a police officer. Until then, the fine members of the police force will continue to protect the safety of communities across Australia, despite the dangers they will face and the harsh reality that some may not return to their families. Today my heart goes out to the loved ones of all our fallen comrades, including Damian Leeding and Jim Affleck. May they all rest in peace.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Brodtmann ): Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.