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Wednesday, 12 September 2012
Page: 10488

Mr TRUSS (Wide BayLeader of The Nationals) (11:22): Today in this motion and in the one to follow, we are paying tribute to five outstanding Australian men—soldiers cut down in the line of duty and in the prime of their lives. It is difficult for any of us to make sense of our losses in Afghanistan, especially when those losses occur in circumstances such as happened on one day just a week or so ago. We cannot begin to understand the shattering effect on their families. Likewise, the Australian people have been struggling with these latest tragic circumstances.

Lance Corporal Stjepan ‘Rick’ Milosevic, Sapper James Martin from Perth and Private Robert Poate from Canberra were killed by a rogue Afghan soldier at a patrol base in Uruzgan Province. In a separate incident, Lance Corporal Mervin McDonald of Carnarvon in Western Australia and Private Nathanael Galagher of Wee Waa in New South Wales died when their helicopter crashed in Helmand Province. An accident and a betrayal have cost this country dearly. Together they mark the single highest loss of Australian troops since 1971 and the Vietnam War. We have suffered losses in war before yet the losses of these five Australians, far from home, on the same day, came as a shock to all Australians. Our armed forces are the cream of the crop. They are engaged in dangerous places and under difficult circumstances but tragic news always comes hard. We must take solace in the knowledge that Australia's role in Afghanistan is making the world a safer place. What our troops are doing on the ground in Afghanistan matters, and it is making a difference. These events illustrate just how dangerous that job is. There are never places where you can be assured of being safe or being protected from risk.

Bringing home the troops before their mission is complete, as some have demanded, would dishonour all who have fallen and would make their sacrifice in vain. Our troops should come home as soon as the job is completed. There can be no doubt that the circumstances surrounding these tragedies are especially hard for all of us to come to grips with, especially the families, the loved ones and comrades most directly affected. An accident is regrettable, but when it comes with such a toll we must ask questions about how this could happen and what can be done to ensure it does not happen again. But betrayal is unforgivable. Questions of how this could happen and why, how it was organised and whether it was just one individual acting alone or at random are natural and we may never know the answers.

The bitter irony of these deaths is not lost on any of us. Our troops are in Afghanistan training and mentoring around 200 Afghan soldiers who provide security for the Afghan people. It is a rebuilding mission—a mission to put Afghanistan on a course to self-determination free from repression and to provide safety and security for the Afghan people. It is also a mission of the utmost strategic importance to Australia and our people. Terrorism knows no borders. Unchecked, we have seen it spread like a cancer and we have been touched by it through the loss of civilian Australians from the actions of such people. In Afghanistan we are striking at its very roots. Naturally that has been a military operation, but it is also a battle for the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. The relationships being forged by our troops with the Afghan people are essential if we are to subdue and ultimately defeat the mentality that begets terrorism and breeds terrorists. Lance Corporal Milosevic, Sapper Martin, Private Poate, Lance Corporal McDonald and Private Galagher knew that well. The aftermath of these tragic events reverberates still and, as the funerals are being held now across the country, we are reminded again of the personal sacrifice that has been involved for these men and their families.

Confidence is undermined, of course, when it comes to a rogue Afghan soldier slaying Australian troops. Perhaps that is their goal. Some commentators say that confidence betrayed means that it is misplaced, that we should not be there. I disagree. I think these events drive home to us all the harsh reality that our troops face every day and the bravery they display day in, day out, doing a job that needs to be done. This is a unique mission with unique dangers from an unprecedented theatre of war. It is an important task with ramifications for quelling future terrorist activity.

That does not make these five deaths, and any that have become before, any easier to bear. My sincere hope is that those feeling the pain of these losses most deeply can find some consolation in knowing the sacrifice of their loved ones is creating a new, safer and freer Afghanistan and, in doing so, making Australia and the world also safer for us all. Their sacrifice is not in vain, but we grieve with their families on these tragic losses.