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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 782

Dr MIKE KELLY (Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (4:05 PM) —On indulgence: it is wonderful to be able to be here in this chamber to talk about a positive story from Afghanistan, in the context of all of the times that we have been here talking about some of the tragedies that we have faced and also of the condolences this morning reflecting on our most recent loss, Sapper Larcombe. I would like to reiterate the comments that have just been made by the member for Forrest about the circumstances that Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith has highlighted in relation to our continuing commitment to Afghanistan. If there is one thing that has come out of all of the commentary and discussion about his actions and what took place, it is that focusing of the national attention on what this is actually all about: why he was prepared to make those sacrifices, why he was prepared to risk his life and why he is prepared to go back there and continue to risk his life. It is about those words, that it is for his children and that he wants his children not to have the fear of getting on a bus that might explode. It is about the rest of us with our fears for our children travelling around a world that is fraught with risk from terrorists who know no bounds in their atrocities and their attacks on civilisation. That is really what it is all about.

In the long history of the Victoria Cross, obviously this nation has an extremely proud record. It is a very significant part of our history, with 96 imperial Victoria Crosses and two Victoria Crosses for Australia. Victoria Crosses have become such a deep and abiding aspect of our culture and reference to our values as a nation that everybody knows many of the stories and understands how significant it is when one of these decorations is awarded. I remember talking to the Governor-General, who had the honour of bestowing the decoration on Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith. She highlighted that there was a special thrill for her in just handling that decoration, knowing all of the associations for this country and its history and knowing that that medal itself has been struck from the gunmetal of the cannons that were captured in the Crimean campaign. It was an absolutely electrifying sensation for her.

Now, of course, Mark Donaldson will have a companion in being a recent recipient of the VC. I am grateful for that on his behalf because now some of the attention and burden as a VC holder will be deflected and they can share some of the load of the attention that the nation focuses on the recipients of these awards. I know that Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith’s family is extremely proud of him—his wife, Emma, and their two girls, Eve and Elizabeth—but I am more aware of the special meaning this will have for his father, Len Roberts-Smith, whom I have known for a number of decades now, who also had a distinguished service in the Defence Force and has served this country in many ways. Len Roberts-Smith is an outstanding member of our community in his own right. He will be enormously proud of the achievements of his son. It was wonderful to see this family that has contributed so much to the nation being able to be acknowledged in that way on the day of the presentation of the decoration.

In the days when the media could not cover conflicts, there was a bit of a Boys’ Own aspect to how people considered this decoration, but in modern times we have seen coverage of exactly what the nature of war is and the risks that people take. I think, though, that there is sometimes a tendency to garnish the language around these things and lose sight of what is actually involved in the circumstances that these men and women find themselves in. Ben Roberts-Smith has previously been awarded the Medal for Gallantry, too, for a particularly difficult action in which he had to insert into the area of operations through a 10-hour route march through mountainous terrain and then engage in combat activities.

For a man like Ben Roberts-Smith, that initial step just to become a member of the SAS Regiment carried with it enormous burdens of training and stress. On top of that, to overlay the circumstances in which they find themselves in order to earn this decoration is something I do not think any member of the community could really appreciate unless they have been in those circumstances. We are not talking about a game of football here where there might be knee cartilage damage or a bit of grazing or a bit of concussion. We are talking about high-velocity military rounds of ammunition that can tear your limb off or rip holes in you. If they hit you, you will know all about it for a long, long time, if you are lucky enough to survive. These are pure life-and-death, adrenalin-pumping, fear-invoking situations. And what is most admirable about these people is that none of them is immune to the fear. Notwithstanding that fear, they go anyway, and they do that job. Certainly the motivation that Corporal Roberts-Smith highlighted about standing up for his mates, standing up for his country and making his world a safer place for all of us and all of our children is incredibly commendable and he deserves all the respect and honour that we pay to him.

So I salute Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith and all of his family. My special regards go to Len Roberts-Smith, his father. A grateful nation admires and respects the sacrifice that all these members are making. On this day when we acknowledge the loss of another member, it is bittersweet, but we dedicate ourselves with our resolve to carry through this mission, as was so eloquently outlined by Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith himself. Thank you.