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Tuesday, 22 June 2010
Page: 6203

Mrs MARKUS (5:14 PM) —Today I rise to pay tribute to three fine sappers who were killed in action in Afghanistan on 7 June 2010. I rise this afternoon to extend my condolences to the families of Sapper Jacob Moerland and Sapper Darren Smith, who were tragically killed in Afghanistan earlier this month. Both men were based in Brisbane. I also rise to pay tribute to Sapper Herbie, Sapper Smith’s explosive-detection dog, who died beside his handler.

As we are all aware, yesterday we received more tragic news of three more Australian soldiers killed and a further seven wounded when a Black Hawk helicopter was involved in a non-combat accident in Afghanistan. Media reports this morning tell us that the three soldiers lost yesterday were from the Holsworthy Army barracks in Sydney. They were elite soldiers, commandos of the Special Operations Task Group. I and my colleagues from the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade had the privilege of visiting their unit only last year, and we had the opportunity to observe a training exercise and to meet and talk with some of the men. I have to say that they are some of Australia’s finest—professional, committed, passionate and well able to do their job.

This past fortnight has been one of the most difficult for the Australian Defence Force. The deaths of five soldiers and the injury of seven others in the last fortnight only highlight the highly dangerous nature of the work being undertaken by our defence personnel in operations like those in Afghanistan. It must never be forgotten that these men serve our nation. Wearing the uniform of the Australian Army, the Royal Australian Navy or the Royal Australian Air Force is indeed a very high calling. These five men and Herbie have made the ultimate sacrifice. They died serving all of us. They wore the uniform of the Australian Army with pride, and we must be proud of their efforts and remember, reflect on and commemorate their service.

Recently I visited the Australian War Memorial, where the ACT branch of the RSL held a wreath-laying ceremony before their annual congress. I was able to lay poppies in the Hall of Memory in remembrance of Sapper Moerland, Sapper Smith and Sapper Herbie. The memorial advised me that planning was already underway to have the names of Sappers Moerland and Smith listed on the roll of honour by 11 November, Remembrance Day. Their names will now be joined by the names of three more of Australia’s sons for Remembrance Day.

As the shadow minister for veterans’ affairs, I felt, along with my community, the loss of these five men killed in the service of their nation. The loss of Australian soldiers is particularly felt by those Australian families who have lost loved ones during operations. This morning, the media carried the stories of the families of Private Gregory Sher and Private Benjamin Ranaudo, reminding the families of Sappers Smith and Moerland that there is support available to them at this time.

A family that I particularly thought of when this news broke is that of Private Luke Worsley. Luke died in Afghanistan in November 2007 as a result of small arms fire in Oruzgan province. Luke’s parents live in my electorate. I recently touched base with Luke’s mum just a few days after the recent news of what had happened to the three sappers. Each time news like this is brought to public attention, it has an impact on them. So today I want to acknowledge and pay tribute to the families that today are feeling the pain as they remember. They are aware of and identify with the long journey ahead for the families that are just freshly beginning to feel sadness and grief.

As yet, we do not know the identities of the man killed yesterday or the seven who were injured and are now receiving medical care. I say to their families that our thoughts and prayers will continue to be with you. Our nation stands ready to provide whatever assistance we can to you in this time of grief and sadness.

It is also fitting to pay tribute and send our thoughts to the soldiers who served alongside Sappers Moerland and Smith in Afghanistan. Their stoic bravery in facing up to a new day without their mates by their side must be a difficult challenge, and their bravery and courage are to be remarked. Their families, I am sure, also feel a sense of loss during this sad time. The defence community is indeed a close family. I am sure the defence family will now do its best for the families of Sappers Moerland and Smith.

I would like to say a few more words about the three sappers who died in Afghanistan. Sapper Moerland was 21 years old and was born in Cairns. He enlisted on 9 July 2007. He completed training in the 1st Recruit Training Battalion, along with driver and combat engineer courses, before being posted to 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment, Brisbane. Sapper Moerland was on his first deployment. Sapper Moerland was awarded the Australian Active Service Medal with clasp, International Campaign Against Terrorism; the NATO Service Medal; and the Afghanistan Campaign Medal. He has also received the Return From Active Service Badge. The Moerland family is very proud of Jacob’s service to his nation. His mum, Sandra, and sisters, Bethany and Laura, issued a media statement following the announcement of his death. I know it has already been mentioned by my colleagues but I would like to repeat what Sandra said:

Jacob died doing the job he loved and he went to Afghanistan not because he had to, but he thought it was a valuable job to help the people in Afghanistan.

This commitment and compassion to not just the people of our nation but also the people of other nations is something that I see time and again when I spend time with the ex-service and veterans community and with our current serving personnel. To the Moerland family and Jacob’s fiancée, Kezia, I extend my sincerest condolences.

Sapper Darren Smith was 26 years old and was born in Adelaide. He was a husband to Angela and a father to 2½-year-old Mason. Sapper Smith died on active service in Afghanistan. Sapper Smith joined the Army Reserve in 2001. After completing a combat engineer course in 2004, Sapper Smith became part of the Australian Regular Army in October that year and was posted to 1st Combat Engineer Regiment. It was here that he completed his explosive detection dog handler course. Darren’s wife, Angela, paid tribute to her husband’s unique empathy with dogs. In a statement issued last Saturday, when his funeral was held, Angela said:

Darren had an uncanny empathy with the dogs he cared for, taught and worked with. He had developed strong ideas on training, and also the welfare of the Explosive Detection Dogs. We often talked about his ideas and what he would like to have seen done to improve training and conditions, and I’m going to work as best I can to make sure Darren’s dreams come true.

Sapper Smith was on his first deployment. He has been awarded the Australian Active Service Medal with clasp, International Campaign Against Terrorism; the NATO Service Medal; and the Afghanistan Campaign Medal. He has also received the Return From Active Service Badge and the Australian Defence Medal.

I recently spoke with some engineers at an RSL congress. They made it very clear, with tears in their eyes as they spoke, and one man said: ‘Three sappers died. That dog Herbie was one of us.’ Sapper Smith’s dog, Sapper Herbie, a 3½-year-old collie-cross died alongside his handler. Last year a memorial within the grounds of the Australian War Memorial was unveiled as a tribute to all animals lost in war. Sapper Herbie joins a long line of animals which have also paid the ultimate sacrifice in a war zone.

The death of these fine young soldiers has touched all Australians. Their sacrifice will never be forgotten by this grateful nation. Their sacrifice should harden our resolve to defeat the insidious forces of international terrorism. Sappers Moerland and Smith’s names belong to the ages, as will the names of three more fine Australians who died yesterday. We will indeed remember them. Lest we forget.