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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 784

Mr SLIPPER (4:15 PM) —At the outset I thank the honourable member for Petrie for relieving me as Deputy Speaker in the main chamber to enable me to make this contribution in this very important debate. The citation that was given to Corporal Benjamin Roberts-Smith VC, MG when he was awarded the Victoria Cross for Australia started for the most conspicuous gallantry in action in circumstances of extreme peril as Patrol Second-in-Command, Special Operations Task Force, on Operation Slipper. I am sure that the name of the operation is purely a coincidence!

I think it really is vital that we as Australians be able to hold our role models up as examples for others. We are really fortunate that we have people like Corporal Benjamin Roberts-Smith who have been prepared, in the heat of battle, to risk everything to make sure that we as a nation remain free. The actions of Corporal Benjamin Roberts-Smith, in the heat of a very intense battle in Afghanistan in June 2010, were incredibly courageous and heroic. They deem him an extremely worthy recipient of the Victoria Cross—which is, of course, as we all know, Australia’s highest military honour. He is very much a fine example of the men and women of the Australian defence forces and of the dedication and commitment each of them has to this great nation.

When I read through what Corporal Roberts-Smith had achieved I felt enormously humbled. It is captivating and inspiring to read through the step-by-step description of the actions of Corporal Roberts-Smith in the heat of battle. Soon after the troop was dropped off by a helicopter, they were engaged in a fierce battle. Under attack from all sides, Corporal Roberts-Smith realised that he and his fellow troop members were in an extremely precarious situation and faced serious injury and quite possibly death. He risked his own life to take out enemy machine gun and grenade strongholds.

Corporal Roberts-Smith has lots to live for. He has a wonderful wife. He has twin children. Yet, as a professional soldier in the service of his nation, he was prepared to risk everything to make sure that his fellow soldiers were able to mount an effective counterattack. I think very few of us are really capable of such bravery. I am so pleased that he has been appropriately recognised with the Victoria Cross for Australia. In doing what he did, he enabled his troop to take back the initiative in the firefight and break through what had been a well-armed and active enemy stronghold, with the results of this day on the battlefields triggering a chain of victories that resulted in the troop being able to clear the nearby village of Tizak of Taliban and eventually clear the entire district—Shah Wali Kot District—of Taliban.

On behalf of the nation, I join colleagues in congratulating Corporal Roberts-Smith on the receipt of this medal and also for his military skill, his quick mind in battle, his unquestioned dedication and commitment to his fellow soldiers and his clearly displayed extreme love of his country. He is a man who was so resolutely dedicated to the objectives of that day that he was prepared to do all that he could to help achieve that outcome.

Frankly, I shudder to think what could have become of other troop members if Corporal Roberts-Smith had not taken the extremely risky but ultimately very effective actions that he took. These are actions that occur in the heat of battle and they attract the attention and admiration and wonder of the media, of ordinary Australians and of our leaders. But these actions also serve to remind us of the events and challenges encountered by our fighting men and women regularly as they carry out their duties for their country.

We as elected representatives and the governments that govern Australia send young men and women, and sometimes not so young men and women, to fight abroad for freedom. What we ask them to do is a tough ask and yet I have always been impressed with the way that our serving men and women do what they do with pride and discipline. I would like to congratulate not just Corporal Benjamin Roberts-Smith but all other members of our military on their efforts on behalf of Australia, a nation which is relatively peaceful. We have a very sensible and respected military. We as a country have a great understanding of our place in the world and the strong commitment and responsibility as a good international citizen towards doing what we can in international conflicts with the overall aim of, wherever possible, delivering peace and stability.

Corporal Roberts-Smith is among those many individuals who carry with them those objectives. Not only is he big in physical stature but also he has a big heart for Australia. He is also now a role model for all other Australians, young and not so young. As the Leader of the Opposition mentioned when he spoke in this debate, Corporal Roberts-Smith and others who have received the Victoria Cross are heroes, but they are also humans. Through that they are an encouragement to the rest of us to strive to be the best that we can be in whatever fields and endeavours we pursue, whether it be in the military, as is Corporal Roberts-Smith, or as teachers, retailers, health workers, construction workers, stay-at-home parents or anything else. We all face challenges from time to time and, while they may not be the highly charged challenges of a battlefield in Afghanistan or elsewhere, we do all possess an ability on occasion to rise to those challenges and meet them head-on and get the best possible outcome.

I am a great supporter of our military men and women who put up their hands and enlist as volunteers in what is truly the most challenging of vocations. All of our soldiers deserve praise for making the incredible sacrifices that are required and for having the discipline and determination that are so vital in the defence fields to serve their and our Australia in conflict. I have said so many times publicly and I will repeat it yet again: there is no duty more challenging yet more honourable than that of serving in the military and putting up your hand to go to war in defence of our country.

Service people are a very special group of people, risking their lives for their country and fellow citizens, and so it means a lot to me to be able to speak on this topic. Australia has an honourable and dedicated heritage in many conflicts in our history, stretching from the Boer War and World Wars I and II through to Korea, Malaya, Vietnam, Iraq in various conflicts and now Afghanistan, as well as in many other battles in between. Our soldiers, sailors and air men and women have always been known for their loyalty, courage, skill, values, work ethic and penchant for teamwork. All these traits are reflected and demonstrated in the events of June 2010, involving Corporal Roberts-Smith and his fellow troop members. Along with those traits we cannot forget the endearing quality of a great sense of humour in the face of adversity, which is also an important weapon in the survival pack required in military operations and on the battlefield. All these traits are held so dear by our serving personnel and our ex-servicemen and ex-servicewomen and are now also widely understood and respected by those who are not soldiers—the rest of us—as is becoming more and more apparent with the ever-increasing numbers of people of all ages attending Anzac Day dawn services, other services and marches.

Anzac Day is not far away. It is always a full day for all of us. I manage to attend numerous events on that day, as do other elected representatives and, more importantly, other members of the community. I believe it is vital that a wide cross-section of people of all ages are involved in these events to not only ensure that the diggers know that their efforts mean a lot to us but also entrench into the rest of us the value of standing up to be counted and also the achievements of those who face the enemy head-on.

I can imagine they may have asked themselves in the heat of battle: ‘What am I doing here?’ The truth is that what they are doing and what they have done there is help secure our nation and protect our people. Corporal Benjamin Roberts-Smith has shown us in an extremely practical and brave way the qualities that are carried by all of our fighting men and women. As a nation we have much to be proud of, and Corporal Roberts-Smith and others who have been recognised as he has been are people who are role models for all of us. They are icons of our society, and our community would be a much better place if more of us were able to show similar courage and quality.