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Tuesday, 22 June 2010
Page: 6216

Mr COMBET (Minister for Defence Materiel and Science and Minister Assisting the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency) (6:17 PM) —This is a very difficult time for the Australian Defence Force, with five casualties in the last two weeks and seven wounded, taking the toll for the ADF in Operation Slipper in Afghanistan now to 16 personnel having been killed in the course of their duty and no less than 134 ADF members wounded. It is an extremely important operation that the ADF is involved in, in partnership with our allies in the International Security Assistance Force led by NATO. Of course, we must not lose sight of the fact in these particularly tragic circumstances of the purpose of the mission. I know a lot of members have spoken in relation to it, but we must not lose sight of the fact that the ADF and Australia are involved with our allies in Operation Slipper as a contribution to fight international terrorism. The intention, the objective, is to bring security and stability to Afghanistan to prevent it from again becoming a haven for international terrorists.

I wish, of course, to add my deep sorrow at the deaths of Sapper Jacob Moerland and Sapper Darren Smith on 7 June this year. Before I speak further about them, I would like to refer to the news yesterday, as announced by both the Chief of the Defence Force and the Minister for Defence, Senator Faulkner, of three Australian commandos from the Special Operations Task Group having been killed and seven Australians wounded in an ISAF helicopter crash in southern Afghanistan. An ISAF civilian interpreter travelling with the Australian group was also wounded in that helicopter incident. One of the ISAF aircrew was also killed and three ISAF aircrew wounded. ISAF has now confirmed that the aircrew were US service personnel. The Australian government and I as a member of parliament extend our sincere sympathies and condolences to the families and friends of the aircrew member killed in this incident and our sincere regard for those members of the services of our partner nations in Afghanistan who were wounded in this incident. As Senator Faulkner has indicated on a number of occasions today, two of the Australian wounded are very seriously injured, one is in a very serious condition and four are currently in a satisfactory condition. Some, and possibly all, of the injured personnel are expected to be transferred to the health facility in Germany and, hopefully, will return to Australia in the very near future.

That incident follows closely on the circumstances of the casualties experienced in relation to Sapper Jacob Moerland and Sapper Darren Smith on 7 June. I was the acting defence minister at the time, Senator Faulkner being overseas, and in my capacity as Minister for Defence Materiel and Science I express my deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those men during what is obviously a terribly grief-stricken period of time. In particular, I would like to offer my condolences to Sapper Smith’s wife, Angela, his very young son, Mason, and his father, Graeme. I would also like to extend my sympathies to his extended family and friends and mates in the ADF. I would like to express my condolences to Sapper Moerland’s mother, Sandra, father, Robert, and sisters, Bethany and Laura, and his fiancée, Kezia. I also offer comfort to his extended family, friends and comrades in the ADF. I have had the privilege of meeting many men and women of the ADF and I am always, as I think all members in this place are, impressed by their professionalism and courage. Of course, the circumstances in Afghanistan demand every bit of professionalism and courage.

Sapper Smith, whose life and service we are honouring in this condolence motion, was aged 26. He was known as a very brave and dedicated soldier, committed to serving the nation. Over the period of time since 7 June, I have heard how Sapper Smith was a very loving husband and father and a quite remarkable person. He was very passionate about his job, putting others first, whether it was his friends in the Army or at home with his family and friends. He joined the Army Reserve, enlisting on 29 November 2001, and completed recruit training in January 2002, serving as part of the 3rd Field Squadron, South Australia. Sapper Smith went on to complete his combat engineer suite of courses in 2004 and became part of the Australian Regular Army. He was then first posted to the 1st Combat Engineer Regiment in Darwin in October 2004. He successfully completed his explosive detection dog handler course, I understand, in December 2006.

Sapper Smith was posted to the Brisbane based 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment in January 2009. He was a popular and valued member of the regiment and the Army, from all reports of his mates. He completed the junior leader course in November 2008. His deployment as a part of the 1st Mentoring Task Force, Afghanistan was in fact his first operational deployment, deploying in March this year. I was at Enoggera on that particular occasion when the troops were farewelled.

Sapper Smith was part of an Australian dismounted patrol conducting operations in the Mirabad Valley region of Oruzgan province at the time of his tragic death. As part of his deployment, he has been awarded the Australian Active Service Medal with the International Campaign against Terrorism clasp, the NATO Service Medal and the Afghanistan Campaign Medal. He has also received the Australian Defence Medal. On 7 June, when this incident occurred, Sapper Smith was tragically killed as a result of wounds sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated whilst he was on operations in the Mirabad Valley. The same blast, as has been widely reported, also claimed the life of Sapper Smith’s explosives detection dog, Herbie, with whom he obviously had a very special relationship.

Tragically, the IED also claimed the life of Sapper Jacob Moerland. Sapper Jacob Moerland was also a very loyal soldier, committed to serving this country and helping the people of Afghanistan. His passion and dedication to his service exemplifies again the courage and professionalism of those serving in the ADF. Sapper Moerland was only 21 years old. He was born in Cairns, joined the Army in 2007 and completed his initial recruit training at the 1st Recruit Training Battalion. After completing driver and combat engineer courses in May 2008, Sapper Moerland was posted to the 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment at the Gallipoli Barracks, Enoggera, in Brisbane. He was deployed for his first tour of duty to Afghanistan in January this year and was serving as a member of the 1st Mentoring Task Force at the time of his tragic death. Sapper Moerland has been awarded the Australian Active Service Medal with the International Campaign against Terrorism Clasp, the NATO Medal and the Afghanistan Campaign Medal. On 7 June Sapper Moerland was tragically killed by the improvised explosive device during the dismounted patrol while conducting operations in the Mirabad Valley region of Oruzgan province, where the Australian Mentoring Task Force is active. I am sure that someone so young will be very sadly missed by his family and his fiancee, Kezia.

This particular incident, as has been reported, was the nation’s first multiple combat fatality since the Vietnam War, almost four decades ago. How tragic it is that, only a very short period later, we have experienced the losses that the ADF experienced yesterday. But, as we remember Darren Smith and Jacob Moerland and fully contemplate the tragedy of the last 24 to 36 hours, I think the community is understanding the danger and the courage required to meet that danger that the ADF is facing in Afghanistan. All of us in this chamber know that we are in Afghanistan engaged with the international community in an extremely challenging campaign, and our troops in Afghanistan are doing a wonderful job in extremely difficult circumstances. Sappers Smith and Moerland died serving this country and they are owed a very special debt of gratitude that can never be repaid. Our thoughts, and my thoughts as a minister in the portfolio, are with the 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment, who are mourning the loss of these two comrades. Today, as we offer our sympathy and support to Darren Smith’s and Jacob Moerland’s families and friends, we say to them that we have not forgotten and we will not forget the very brave Australian soldiers that we have lost in this fight against the Taliban, but we retain the resolve to see the objectives of this mission achieved.