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Wednesday, 12 September 2012
Page: 10483


Mr SNOWDON (LingiariMinister for Veterans' Affairs, Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, Minister for Indigenous Health and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Centenary of ANZAC) (10:59): Can I associate myself with remarks of the Acting Prime Minister, the Minister for Defence, the Leader of the Opposition and all those other members of the parliament who have spoken in this condolence motion, and express our sympathy to the family and friends of Sapper James Thomas Martin, Lance Corporal Stjepan Milosevic and Private Robert Hugh Frederick Poate.

These three brave men were murdered, as we know now, in an insider attack in Afghanistan on 29 August this year. It is important that we fully appreciate the ultimate sacrifice made by these brave men, who laid down their lives for us, for their country and for their mates. There can be nothing more terrible than when that life is lost at the hands of one whom we were there to assist.

These three soldiers were from very different parts of Australia: Perth, Penrith and Canberra. They were men at different stages in their lives and in their careers as Australian soldiers, united in their service to the nation. These three brave sons will never be forgotten. As we know, Sapper James Martin hailed from Perth. He was a young soldier at the beginning of his career, a career that was so unjustly and unfairly cut short. In his youth he played cricket with Maylands Cricket Club and played local football with Bayswater Bears football club. He traded these teams for the much larger team—but still welcoming one—of the Australian Army when he enlisted in 2011. He joined the 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment in Brisbane. He was, as we have been told, an intelligent soldier, a quick learner and a bloke who embraced the challenge of service life—earning the respect of his mates as a loyal friend and comrade. Through his service and sacrifice he will always have the respect of his country. This was his first operational deployment. He is survived by his mother Suzanne, his younger siblings Angus and Holly, and his grandparents Lucille and Ralph. To his family and friends, I say his service is now part of Australia's story. It will never be underestimated nor will it be forgotten.

Lance Corporal Milosevic served in the Army since 2008. He was a very much-liked and respected member of the 2nd/14th Light Horse Regiment Queensland Mounted Infantry. He had a dry sense of humour, we are told. He was easy-going and had a natural charm—and, to those who knew that about him best, I send my sincere condolences. We know he had fine leadership skills both as a soldier and on the sporting field playing his much-loved rugby. His rise to the rank of Lance Corporal was quick, a testament to his talent and drive to succeed. He served in Iraq in 2010 and in Afghanistan in 2012. He is survived by his wife Kelly, his young daughters Sarah and Kate, his mother Heather and siblings Milan and Danica. Today, on the day of his funeral in Brisbane, we send our sympathies and condolences to his family, his friends and his comrades. He was a proud family man and a promising soldier with a very bright future so horribly cut short as a result of this very cowardly act. It is a future which his family and friends will miss every single day. As Lieutenant Mark Welburn of the 2nd/14th Light Horse said only last week, 'He is now and forever part of the Light Horse.'

Today the family and friends of Private Robert Poate are coming together in Canberra at his old school, Canberra Grammar, to farewell a son, a brother and a mate. We pay tribute to him here in this place as well. Private Poate joined the Army in 2009, taking up the post as a rifleman in the 6th Battalion RAR. He was selected, as we now know, for promotion very early in his career.

Within two years of enlistment, he had qualified as a protected mobility vehicle driver and commander, and his brothers by choice within the ADF and 6 RAR knew him as a professional soldier and, as we have heard a number of times now, quite a larrikin. I do not know if it was his red hair, but he was clearly a larrikin.

We know it will be his family and friends who miss him most of all. The salute to his service and sacrifice in Australia's name can never fulfil or console for his loss. I know his mates in Afghanistan are back at work, now driving an armoured vehicle christened 'Poatey' in tribute to his work as a protector. Private Poate is survived by his parents, Hugh and Janny, and his sister, Nicola. I would like to thank them for raising such a selfless son, who gave his all for his country.

These three men from different parts of Australia were united in their service. They were, indeed, brothers by choice. The loss of Sapper Martin, Lance Corporal Milosevic and Private Poate in such terrible circumstances has led many, as you would expect, to question our commitment in Afghanistan. Indeed, it is always right to question our actions and we should constantly assess and review our path, particularly when the price is so high. To go on blindly without questioning would be an affront to our system of democracy. At this terrible time, perhaps now more than ever, we must continue to be clear-sighted and focused. Our objective remains to prevent Afghanistan from being again a safe haven for terrorists. We will not be in Afghanistan for that much longer. The transition to an Afghan led security responsibility in Uruzgan has commenced and we are on track. We are there for a set purpose and a set time and should not and must not let our losses be in vain.

All deaths, during peace time or war, are heartbreaking—indeed, to families, friends and comrades, shattering. Lives are shortened and loved ones are left behind to grieve and pick up the pieces. These three men loved the service, its challenges and opportunities, the comradeship and the community. Their deaths are on their own devastating, as they are doubly heartbreaking as they came at the hands of a coward. This is a difficult fact that will take a long time to reconcile, if ever it can be. At times like this, with grief so inconsolable, it would be easy to walk away. But, if we did so, we would simply compound our loss. We have always been a nation that sees things through, that keeps to its commitments and that gets the job done. We are a nation who honour the fallen by finishing what we started.

Sapper James Martin, Lance Corporal Rick Milosevic and Private Robert Poate will never be forgotten. Their names will sit alongside those other names on the walls of the Australian War Memorial, forever enshrined. Our condolences, our thoughts and our prayers are with their families, their friends and their mates. Their contribution and their sacrifice will be forever remembered.

I want to conclude by reminding all of us that we can never imagine what it is like to serve in such a conflict. We can never imagine the courage that it takes to put that uniform on, carry a weapon and fight for your country. Those of us who have not served can never put ourselves in that place. So the respect we must have for all our serving men and women is, as it should be, very high. It underlines, I think, the courage, the conviction and the sacrifice that men and women such as these three brave soldiers are prepared to commit to when they put on that uniform and embark on an overseas mission.

They know that the challenges are extreme, they know that the threats are extreme, but none of them should expect to be treated so poorly by a comrade or supposed colleagues—people who would shoot them down in such a cowardly way. These three very, very brave young men deserve forever our respect, our admiration and our love. Lest we forget.