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Wednesday, 12 September 2012
Page: 10497

Dr MIKE KELLY (Eden-MonaroParliamentary Secretary for Defence) (12:05): I commend the member for Parkes on his fine words—and all my colleagues who have contributed to the discussion on these two motions today. I would particularly like to reflect on the fine words of the member for Riverina, who has proven to be an exceptionally fine member in his area; and I reflect, too, on the fact that he has the Kapooka base nearby, where one of our soldiers whom we are commemorating had passed through recently, so he also recognised the contribution Kapooka has made to the tradition of our services and the values that are instilled there. So I salute his comments.

Now we are reflecting upon two members of our special forces who were killed in this exceptionally unfortunate incident on 30 August this year in the helicopter accident. This is obviously a different circumstance to what we were reflecting on earlier. It is well to work through what is the difference between these special forces soldiers and other circumstances of the members, branches and corps of the service; and the service they are involved with and the risks they face. These soldiers go through processes to get to the field, to get to the deployments and operations, that are almost as harsh as the circumstances they ultimately find themselves in. In fact, we do often lose members of these units in these highly risky training environments, where they push it to the edge. They try to achieve a battlefield inoculation; they try to emulate and replicate operational circumstances as closely as possible.

Certainly, we are in a time when a premium has been placed on these special forces capabilities. We have faced, so often in recent decades, the issues of counterinsurgency environments and counterterrorism where we need quite often to be able to deploy the rapier instead of the broadsword; where we need precision in our targeting and our operations. In these sorts of environments, any collateral damage, any civilian casualties you cause as a consequence of operations, can set you back, no matter what tactical gain you might have achieved in a particular activity or operation. Any associated civilian casualties or collateral damage can strategically set your whole mission back.

So it is very important that you have this capability to really reach in carefully, precisely, to target the individuals that have to be targeted. At the end of the day we all hope that negotiation processes will be successful, will progress in achieving long-term peace in Afghanistan, but we know that in this world at the moment we are facing some enemies and threats for whom there is no other solution than that they be killed. We have to be frankly honest and straightforward about that.

So there are times when this nation will need the rapier that these special forces soldiers provide—when we will need well trained, hard men who are prepared to put their bodies on the line. It is a harsh reality of the world we live in, and it is no good trying to paper that over. The nation will always need warriors. When I use the term 'warrior' I mean an individual who is prepared to kill or be killed but who also lives by a code of conduct. The exceptional thing about these soldiers, Lance Corporal Mervyn John McDonald, Private Nathanael John Aubrey Galagher and their colleagues is that they are incredibly disciplined with their abilities.

They certainly bring to us such a high level of professional and elite military skills, but also with that, a commitment to excellence, a commitment to discipline, to operate within their rules of engagement to achieve the broader objectives that we seek to achieve.

Lance Corporal Mervyn McDonald, who was a veteran of Timor as well as Afghanistan, is survived by his fiancee Rachael, his mother Myrna and stepfather Bernie, brothers Percy, Roger and Gary, also leaves behind a more poignant circumstance, one that leaves us with a great deal of pain and emotion when we think of the fact that he has an unborn son on the way to Rachael—a son that will never know his father in a personal sense, and will never be able to benefit from the guidance and love of a father that he will not know in the physical sense. All of his colleagues and his fiancee will work hard to make sure this child understands the legacy that his father will have left to him. I am sure that will play a significant role in shaping his life as a role model that he can look to, to inspire him in whatever he does in life.

Commando units are a very tight family, and it was an extreme privilege for me to be able to come to know in particular, for example, the Sher family who lost Greg Sher earlier on in this Afghanistan operation, and to watch how the unit wrapped around the family and how the family looked also to support the unit. It was incredibly inspiring to see how they wanted to convey their belief in the mission, their resolve to continue, and their intense concern for the comrades of Private Greg Sher. This is replicated throughout the experience we have with these families and these men and the women also who are deployed in the other units.

Private Galagher also exemplifies the finest of those qualities of these commandos who have committed to pass through the incredibly intense courses and training environments, and we also send our deep condolences to his partner Jessie.

There is not much we can say to blunt the pain and the grief that these families, their colleagues and comrades are going through right now, but we need to also recognise that they go through this risk all the time. We have just passed on 12 June this year the 16th anniversary of the tragic helicopter accident in Townsville, which I was involved in helping to set up the board of inquiry into. I think it is appropriate that on the cover of the Australian Army's brief history, they have represented Trooper John Church who was one of the SAS soldiers killed in that accident, and the photo is of him serving in Rwanda, carrying a Rwandan child. He was the epitome of the finest of the qualities of these special force soldiers that we have. In that incident we lost 15 of them, and three 5th Aviation Regiment soldiers as well. It was an incredibly gut-wrenching experience for Defence Force.

It is never easy, regardless of the numbers but I would like today, in paying tribute to these two members and to their families, to acknowledge the service they render on a daily basis whether in Afghanistan or not and the capability that they provide this nation in a very difficult and complex time and period of security challenges. We definitely need them but we definitely need our country to understand that there is a level of hardness that we require of people in tough times and tough circumstances and we should never attempt to dilute that. We have to understand that it is necessary to maintain that rapier with a sharp edge and be prepared to support them and their families in what they do.

I finish by saluting the service of these two exceptional soldiers, Lance Corporal Mervyn McDonald and Private Nathanael Galagher. They will never be forgotten.