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Wednesday, 12 September 2012
Page: 10501

Mr FITZGIBBON (HunterChief Government Whip) (12:22): I join with the Acting Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Minister for Defence and all members who have made or will make a contribution to this condolence motion today. In doing so I pay my respects to 30-year-old Lance Corporal Mervyn John McDonald and 23-year-old Private Nathanael John Aubrey Galagher. Thirty-eight Australians have now given their lives in Afghanistan. That is 38 too many, but when the government of the day embarked on this mission it did so fully conscious that more than likely lives would be lost. The loss of those lives is very, very tragic and it is hard for us as non family members to contemplate this loss.

But I stand here today to say that, while the cost has been very high, the reasons for our intervention in Afghanistan are still valid. We are there for the right reason doing very good things and making the world a safer place. The operation denies the insurgents a breeding ground and safe haven and helps to build a democracy, society and economy in Afghanistan which hopefully will continue to deny the insurgency into the future. I hope that those who doubt our ongoing campaign there reflect on this.

Yesterday was the anniversary of 9/11, the day the Twin Towers came down in New York. There could be no more graphic memory of why we are in Afghanistan. Australians died on that day in New York. Australians died in Bali. Australians died in Jakarta. Of course, all of those events had links to Afghanistan. This is a job worth doing and it is a job worth finishing. In my view, talk of a precipitous withdrawal is foolish and bordering on offensive to those who have already made the ultimate sacrifice. We need to finish the task. We need to leave an Afghanistan in which the security forces, both the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police, are capable of maintaining the rule of law and enforcing their own security. Of course we need to do much more—I have touched on it: build an economy; build a justice system; and of course help the Afghan people tap those natural resources and get them off the poppy economy and onto a rural economy so they can have long-term sustainability.

I had the great pleasure last night of representing the government and speaking at the reception to mark the 10th anniversary of formal diplomatic relations between Australia and Afghanistan. I spoke of my great hope for Afghanistan and its people who have a rich culture, a deep history and a future.

The two very brave soldiers we mourn today were of course commandos. Those who have served in the Special Air Service Regiment, generally known as special forces soldiers, are something very special. All those who make a commitment to deploy as part of the Australian Defence Force are special people, and I remind the House that they are all volunteers. They go and they deploy as volunteers, but there are none more special than our special forces soldiers who in many senses do the very hard, dangerous and highly skilled work up the front end.

I do not know what Lance Corporal McDonald and Private Nathanael Galagher were doing that day. I am not privy to that detail, but they were killed in a Black Hawk helicopter crash. They were going well out beyond the wire, and you can be pretty sure they were going after either a cache of weapons or an insurgent and were probably going to kick a door in somewhere, not knowing what was on the other side of that door. That is scary and dangerous work but it is what commandos do, and they do it with great courage, skill, strength and expertise. We should pause regularly to pay tribute to the work they do. I have had the privilege of meeting many of them and seeing them train. I have even had a beer with them, and they are amazing people doing amazing work.

The other thing that is important to remember—I touched on the fact that these soldiers are all volunteers—is they go willingly and indeed happily. They go absolutely believing in what they are going to do and that there is a reason to be there, and they are keen to be there. Many of them have deployed on many occasions—some of them are rotated six or seven times. I do not mean to say this in a light-hearted way but, if a defence minister really wanted to make themselves unpopular, the first thing they would do is tell our special forces soldiers that there would not be an opportunity to deploy again—because they want to deploy. They train to fight on behalf of their country. They train to make their country a safer place and, having trained so hard, they appreciate the opportunity to put their training into effect. Again, they do that very, very well.

We are forever grateful to these two brave soldiers and the other 36 we have mourned before them. Again, 38 is too many; it is a very high cost. Again, I say we are there for the right reasons and we need to complete this very difficult, complex and dangerous task. We saw how dangerous this morning as we mourned three soldiers who fell victim to a green-on-blue attack—that is, they were shot by an Afghan they were working alongside. Nothing could be more challenging, confronting and concerning to a soldier than to be in doubt about the loyalty of the person they are serving alongside. It is very hard for any of us to imagine.

I say to Lance Corporal McDonald's mother, Myrna; his stepfather, Bernie; his brothers, Percy, Roger and Gary; and his fiancee, Rachael; and to Private Galagher's partner, Jessie; his parents, Wayne and Sally; and his sister, Elanor: we are a very grateful country—not only for the sacrifice of their loved ones but for their sacrifice. They have lost a lot; We can only try to imagine. These men are now Australian heroes and we will be forever grateful for their sacrifice.