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Wednesday, 12 September 2012
Page: 10476

Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (10:32): It is in sad circumstances that, once again, we stand to acknowledge the loss of our best and our bravest. This time, tragically, it is not one soldier but five.

On 29 August five Australian troops were killed in two separate incidents in Afghanistan. It was only the last sitting period in which we spoke of the courageous efforts of Sergeant Blaine Diddams and today we stand again to send what little words of comfort we can offer to the families of the five gallant men. I pay tribute to the eloquent words of the Parliamentary Secretary for Defence, the member for Eden-Monaro, and for his moving tribute to those men whom he knew. I know of his service to the nation and I know the loss which he is experiencing and which, indeed, he feels every time that one of our soldiers is tragically taken in Afghanistan. As parliamentarians we all feel a great sense of loss and also a great sense of responsibility because it is this parliament which sends those brave young men and women to these conflict situations and, sadly, we know we do that in the knowledge that some of them will not come home.

When our service men and women leave this country to serve overseas it comes with a great element of risk. We know that and they know that. Unfortunately, that knowledge does little to ease the pain and these words of tribute do little to reduce the shock when the terrible news comes that our soldiers have been taken, particularly when they have been taken in rogue incidents such as this one. Not since the Battle of Nui Le in Vietnam, on 21 September 1971, has Australia lost five men in a 24-hour period. Lance Corporal Stjepan 'Rick' Milosevic of Penrith, Sapper James Thomas Martin of Perth and Private Robert Hugh Fredrick Poate from the 3rd Royal Australian Regiment Task Group were killed on 29 August and two other soldiers were wounded in a green-on-blue attack at a patrol base in Uruzgan province. The Brisbane based soldiers were playing cards in their tent at a patrol base when they were unexpectedly attacked by a rogue Afghan sergeant—someone they were soldiering alongside, someone they were training, encouraging and protecting. The three men arrived home on 5 September 2012 and received a ramp ceremony. That was not the way they would have liked to have come home and not the way that anyone would have expected them to come home.

Lieutenant General David Morrison described this moving return of these men as a 'cathartic moment' for the families. Lieutenant General Morrison said the families of these three soldiers, who had 'suffered so grievously', 'took huge pride in their service'. He said:

They're faced with the return of their loved one in a way they most certainly wished would never occur.

Lieutenant Colonel Mark Welburn described Lance Corporal Milosevic, or 'Milo', as he was affectionately known by his colleagues, as a 'practical, common-sense soldier', who was now 'forever part of the Light Horse'.

Born in 1972, Rick actually trained at Kapooka, where he was awarded the Most Outstanding Soldier Award. That is an award that comes with a lot of pain and effort, because at Kapooka they train our soldiers to be the best, the bravest and the brightest. In all of the world there is no better soldier than the Australian soldier, and certainly those turned out of Kapooka are the very best and the most gallant.

To his partner, Kelly, his daughters Sarah, aged just eight, and Kate, aged six, his mother, brothers and sisters, I offer my deepest condolences and certainly those of all the people of the Riverina. You think of his daughters, aged eight and six, having to grow up without the love of a father or the comfort of a dad. It is a terrible thing, but they will know that their dad was one of the greatest. I am sure their mum will remind them always of what a great man he was and what a great man he could and would have been.

Sapper Martin, or 'Marto', was described as 'the smartest guy in the section'. In a statement released by the Australian Defence Force, his family said James, just 21, was always thoughtful, caring and considerate of others; a loving son, brother and grandson who would not have given up the opportunity to serve Australia for anything. He wrote to his family after his first deployment that he was meant to be an Australian soldier. That is what he wanted to do, that is what he was proudest of doing and he knew it was what he was best at doing. It was a goal he had achieved and he had done very bravely. To Sapper Martin's mother, Suzanne Thomas, his younger brother and sister, Angus and Holly, and his grandparents, Lucille and Ralph Thomas, again I offer my condolences.

Lieutenant Colonel Mark Jennings farewelled Private Poate, saying he was a 'hard worker' and a 'larrikin'. Private Poate, he said, was a popular member of his platoon, 'dependable and ready to do what was required'. We heard earlier the member for Calare describe his personal knowledge of the private's family. He is survived by his parents, Hugh and Janny, and his sister, Nicola. Just days before his deployment to Afghanistan in June, Private Poate's dad, Hugh, took his son aside and offered him a few words of advice, as a dad would do for his son:

We'd heard a lot about the green-on-blue attacks and I said to him, 'keep an eye on the ANA [Afghan National Army]'.

Soon after arriving in Afghanistan, the young fellow called his dad to reassure him that all was well. He told his father:

They're a fantastic bunch of people, they just love us Aussies, they play cricket with us.

All you've got to do is respect their customs and there's no problems.

Unfortunately, tragically, sadly, that respect was betrayed last month.

Private Poate was only 23. He will be laid to rest with full military honours in Canberra this afternoon. He also trained at Kapooka, at Blamey Barracks at Wagga Wagga, the home of the soldier. One of the most moving tributes to Private Poate came from his colleagues still serving with the 6th Battalion in Afghanistan. The Bushmaster armoured vehicle he commanded has been named 'Poatey' by his mates, who have painted his name on the side of that vehicle.

These Australians were killed at the hands of terrorist activity. Our soldiers are directly protecting and trying to instil the ideals of freedom among peace-seeking Afghans. Their efforts are lauded, honoured and respected, and they will always be remembered. Thirty eight brave Australians have now been lost in Afghanistan; 38 courageous soldiers; 38 men with families and loved ones—young men gone long before their time. Their efforts were not in vain. Their dedication has helped to bring hope to a troubled country, now far more than a threatening haven for terrorists. They have ensured the Anzac spirit continues to burn brightly. Lest we forget.