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Wednesday, 12 September 2012
Page: 10503


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) (12:34): I rise to associate myself with the remarks of the previous speaker and, obviously, the speakers before him, including the Acting Prime Minister, the Minister for Defence, the Leader of the Opposition and all of my parliamentary colleagues who have expressed condolences to the families and friends of Private Nathanael John Aubrey Galagher and Lance Corporal Mervyn John McDonald. Private Galagher and Lance Corporal McDonald, as we now know, were tragically killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan on 30 August this year. We will forever remember when these young men made the supreme sacrifice for us.

This week the House put on record its appreciation of their service to their country and tendered its profound sympathy to their families and friends. Our hearts, thoughts and sympathies are with the families and mates of these two brave Australians and the wider defence community.

The loss of Private Galagher and Lance Corporal McDonald is a tragedy. Sadly, it is something that we are all too familiar with. The stories of grief and loss, pain and sacrifice still move each and every one of us, as they should. But there are also in this case, as in every case, stories of professionalism, courage and service for us, for our nation. We know that in this case there was a strong mateship between these two men. Both of them were elite soldiers. They gave their lives on duty in a job they chose, serving the nation they loved. Their stories are indeed worth knowing and worth telling. Their names will have a proud place on the walls of the Australian War Memorial where they will be forever enshrined, alongside another 102,000 fallen Australians.

As we know, Private Nathanael Galagher joined the Army in 2007 and later the elite 2nd Commando Regiment. He was committed to everything he did—a man, we are told, with a can-do attitude. He was tenacious and easily took to the role of an elite soldier. He was young when he passed the commando selection course and training cycle, as difficult as it is. He earned the respect of his mates in the regiment. It is those mates who we think of when we say that his contribution to the Army and the ADF will be sorely missed.

At the young age of 23 he was on his second deployment to Afghanistan, already a veteran of this decade-long conflict. Private Galagher is survived by his partner, Jessie; parents Wayne and Sally; and sister Elanor. We know that Private Galagher was looking forward to becoming a father. It is so sad that this opportunity has been taken from him and that a chance to know his father was taken from his unborn son. So in this place we honour his partner Jessie's pledge that his son will understand the wonderful man his dad was. This sacrifice that he and his comrade made in their country's name is the most that anyone can give for us and for our nation.

Lance Corporal McDonald joined the Australian Defence Force some 13 years ago, again, a member of the 2nd Commando Regiment. He was a dedicated soldier, committed to the long haul. Those who served with him knew Lance Corporal McDonald as a man who came up with ideas and solutions. Obviously, he was quite a can-do character. A quiet and humble person, he would deflect credit onto his mates but his modesty hid a quick wit and, we are told, a very sharp mind.

Lance Corporal McDonald was an experienced soldier with 10 overseas deployments and six tours of Afghanistan. While I divert from my text here for a moment, it is very hard for us to imagine 10 overseas deployments, six to Afghanistan, in a fighting role and what those meant. I said this in an earlier speech this morning that those of us who have never put on this uniform, who have not been with the special forces, who have not been beyond the wire, who have not embarked on one of their daily patrols cannot know what in fact the challenges were and are that indeed remain. That this brave man has done 10 overseas tours, six of them to Afghanistan, puts him in a very elite place. I just cannot imagine it: the fear that must pass through your body and your mind as you participate in activities where you could be shot, be the subject of an IED or some other action that could lead to your death. Knowingly embarking on a career for your nation where you knowingly are prepared to put your life at risk and on the line for us: that is what these soldiers have done. In the case of Lance Corporal McDonald, his service speaks for itself. His mates in uniform will miss his experience, mateship and skill, but, most tragically, the loss will be most fundamentally felt by his family. Lance Corporal McDonald's mother Myrna and stepfather Bernie and brothers Percy, Roger and Gary have lost a son and a brother. And, of course, we think of his fiancee Rachael. Lance Corporal McDonald and Rachael were due to be married in Bendigo next Easter Saturday. In the words of Rachael:

Merv would have been a fantastic husband and a wonderful dad.

I cannot begin to imagine the magnitude of the loss that Rachael and Lance Corporal McDonald's family must be feeling now and I know they have the sympathies of each and every one of us.

These two blokes shared a bond. They were mates. Lance Corporal McDonald promised Private Galagher's partner Jessie that he would bring him home. She has had that promise fulfilled, though it has come at a terrible cost to both their families. There simply is no statement, no act, no monument—nothing—that we can do that could compensate for the sacrifice that was made by them that day in August. The contribution of Private Galagher and Lance Corporal McDonald—like that of so many before them—will always be remembered. They gave our nation all they had and we will never take their sacrifice for granted. We have an obligation, as I say on a continuing basis in this place, to pay homage to those who wear our uniform for us and who are prepared to go into a situation where they know that their life is on the line, where they know that it is conceivable that they may not come home. How can we ever put ourselves in that situation and know what they feel? I think it leaves us in a place where we are found severely wanting. The words I have spoken are really superfluous to our understanding, because we do not understand; we can only wonder and pay homage to their bravery, their sacrifice and their sense of service and thank them for what they have done. Lest we forget.