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Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Page: 8838


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) (12:05): I thank the member for Kooyong for his heartfelt and very sincere contribution to this condolence motion. I too would like to add my sympathy and condolences at the death of Sergeant Blaine Diddams. I express my great respect for his sacrifice and our great sorrow to his parents, Peter and Cate, his wife, Toni-Ann, his children, Elle-Lou and Henry, his extended family and his comrades.

We now know, because of the contributions to this debate, of Sergeant Blaine Diddams' record as a serving person. He was born here in Canberra, enlisted at a young age and then, I think at the age of 24, passed SAS entry. Those of us who have not worn the uniform in battle—that is, most of us—cannot imagine what confronts Australian serving men and women when they go overseas to face the possibility of death as a result of being sent there by us. We cannot imagine the risks that are taken by individuals, teams, units and battalions when they go out and do what we require of them to safeguard our national interests. Those of us who have not experienced the training or the personal development that comes with being a member of an elite fighting force, such as the Special Air Service Regiment, cannot contemplate the hardship and sacrifice that leads the person in this position, such as Sergeant Diddams, to achieve the great things they achieve.

I can say to you, with the greatest of respect to our athletes who have come from the Olympic Games, that surely there are no finer athletes, in many respects, than our elite fighting men and women. We need to understand how elite they really are. In the context of our community, they are wonderful people. They are brave, they are intelligent, they are courageous to a fault and they would sacrifice themselves for their mate at a blink. It is hard for us to contemplate, but such is our military tradition, which goes back so many generations. We see it in the service of Sergeant Diddams. All of his service exemplifies that great military tradition: his courage, his bravery, his sacrifice for us. I have stood here on many occasions—this is the 33rd person killed in action in Afghanistan—and have spoken about how difficult it is for us to really understand the battle, to really know what people confront on a minute-by-minute basis.

In the case of the Special Forces, they are doing the business of facing the sacrifices, the threats and the unknowns. These are highly trained men and women. The Special Air Service is particularly well trained and very well led. They know the risks involved in what they do, yet they do it. They know the challenges involved, yet they do it. They understand the magnitude of the threat, yet they do it—and they do it for us. There can be no finer tribute to a nation than the sacrifice of its service men and women.

Here we see a family who will suffer forever as a result of this very sad death, but their sacrifice was not in vain. We need, as a community, as a nation, as a parliament in particular, to acknowledge that that contribution will be respected. We need to know that we can enforce with all our will the view that this contribution, this sacrifice, will be forever remembered and forever valued for what it does for us. It protects us and it saves us in an ephemeral way, not directly in this room but in terms of our national priorities and national interests. In this case, it is protecting us from acts of terror in the long term. There can be no finer contribution.

This is no consolation to Peter and Cate, his dad and mum, to Toni-Ann, his wife, or to his beautiful children, Elle-Lou and Henry. This is no consolation at all, really. I am a parent of a daughter who is 25 and of a son who is 23. This is the age when these people go to fight. This man had seven tours of duty, seven tours of fighting for us through what would have been horrendous sets of circumstances that are for us too difficult to imagine. We can see all manner of television but the reality of battle is so hard for us to imagine. There is not a lot we can do to console those who now grieve, but we can say thank you and make sure that this man's life is never forgotten, because he has made an extraordinary contribution to our lives by the sacrifice of his own. Lest we forget.