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Tuesday, 22 June 2010
Page: 6213

Mr BEVIS (6:02 PM) —I rise, as with all other members, to express my condolences to the families of Sapper Moerland and Sapper Smith. The loss of a young person’s life is always something that we grieve for. When someone has lost their life in the service of their nation, there is a depth of emotion and feeling that we all in this country instinctively feel. When we in this parliament take decisions to send young Australians to places abroad and place them in harm’s way, we do not do it lightly but we do it knowing that we may well confront the tragic news that the nation confronted just recently, and again this week, with the loss of Australian lives in Afghanistan.

On a personal level, it is hard to imagine the impact it has on immediate family and friends. The troops are well aware of the situation they are entering. They are well trained, they are committed and they go there as volunteers to do a task for their nation. Whilst their family and loved ones understand that may be so, it nonetheless is a different comprehension to that of those in the service.

Last Saturday I attended the funeral service for Sapper Darren Smith at Ashgrove Marist Brothers, along with representatives from the local community, from his regiment and from both sides of parliament, including the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. As I was looking at the program for the funeral service, I noticed Sapper Smith’s date of birth. He was about three weeks younger than my second son. As I sat through the service I had great difficulty getting that thought out of my mind. As I left the service and for a good deal of the day, I could not help but place my thoughts, as a parent, on the question of how you would feel in that situation and then on the decisions that I have taken and supported in this parliament. It caused me to reflect quite seriously on those decisions I take here in this parliament.

Before I move to that I want to say something about the Smith family and about his comrades who were there at the funeral service. Sapper Smith’s wife provided perhaps the most touching moment of the entire service when she bent over to kiss the flag across Sapper Smith’s coffin. Just thinking about it makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up; I certainly lost my composure at that point during the service. She is clearly a wonderful lady who was deeply loved by Sapper Smith, and they have a wonderful son, who was very boisterous and—perhaps happily—at this point in time does not fully comprehend what has happened. Sapper Smith’s dad was also at the funeral and spoke with great pride about his son’s commitment to the Australian Defence Force.

It was equally moving to see the commitment of the members of the regiment who were there. One of the close friends of Sapper Smith—he had been best man at the wedding and provided one of the eulogies—in a very genuine way expressed the sentiment of many from his regiment as he pledged to look after the interests of Sapper Smith’s widow and child in the years ahead. I have no doubt that he and the others will do just that, as would Sapper Smith’s father, who spoke at the funeral service. These are difficult times for the family, and we cannot underestimate that. Frankly, we cannot pretend to comprehend it, even though we may have witnessed it at close quarters.

Those of us who are in this parliament share some of the responsibility for the determinations of policy like this. I stand here as a person who was very strongly and very publicly opposed to our invasion of Iraq. I think that was an enormous miscalculation by all involved. I also stand here as someone who is equally committed to our participation in Afghanistan, where, indeed, I believe we should have been from the start. I mentioned earlier that the events at that funeral made me reflect throughout that day on the decisions and public stances I have taken. I can stand here and say that, having gone through that reflection, I do believe it is important for Australia to be in Afghanistan. I do believe it is important that we establish a form of law and order in that part of the world, not simply because there may be some benefit to those who live in that country—although there will be—but out of, if you like, our selfish national interest, our regional interest and our global responsibilities.

Afghanistan has been home to some of the key fundraising and training activities of those who would export random violence. Indeed, Australians have been victims of it. The Australians who died in Bali were victims of those who had been supported, trained, aided and abetted by the activities allowed by the lawless situation that operated in Afghanistan. It is not coincidence that in the border territory between Pakistan and Afghanistan we see some of the most heightened fighting in the war against non-state terrorists. It is in the region’s interests to ensure stability there. It is definitely in the global interest to ensure stability on that border and to support the democratic government development within Pakistan. It is in the interests of countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia and Australia to put an end to a haven where terrorists can train with impunity, can raise money and can export their terror to anywhere on the globe they wish. Looking over the last decade, there is no doubt that Afghanistan has been a key part of that. It is important that we stabilise that area.

As the member for Hunter commented, some of the NATO nations in Europe have failed to fully take on their responsibilities in these matters. That is a cause for great regret. At the end of last year I had the opportunity to lead an Australian parliamentary delegation to the NATO assembly, where many of these matters were discussed in public and in private. It is true that some of those countries are deeply divided. Some people actually came to the Australians and asked us to talk to other members of their own parliamentary delegation about these matters, which was quite peculiar.

Without stability in Afghanistan and that part of the world, there is no doubt in my mind that we will confront another Bali, we will confront another attack on our embassies in our region and we will see in other parts of the world similar acts of mindless terrorism perpetrated.

The sacrifice of Sapper Moerland and Sapper Smith has been in the cause of our security here in Australia, the security of Australians abroad, the rule of law in Afghanistan and respect for human rights throughout this globe. Australian troops have had a very proud tradition of upholding those principles from the early days of Australian nationhood. Sapper Moerland and Sapper Smith are without doubt now held in the highest regard in that great tradition.

I want to make one other comment about the work they did. It takes a special sort of person to be in the military. It takes an even more special person to do the work they were doing. Dealing with unexploded ordnance, as they did, really does take a different set of nerves. You have to have a different mindset to do the work they did, and yet they did it with great joy, as was shown by some of the photos displayed at the funeral of Sapper Smith. There was one photo of Sapper Smith and Sapper Moerland together with their dog. They were obviously enjoying the work they were doing in providing safety to people around them, including their own troops and the villagers. It is a special person who does that sort of thing, and they deserve particular mention for that.

On behalf of all my constituents in Brisbane, who are so familiar with the military—we have got a long tradition with the Enoggera Army barracks, the Gallipoli Barracks—I extend to the bereaved families our very deep and sincere condolences. Especially because these two sappers were based at Enoggera and were Brisbane’s own, we feel it deeply.