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Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Page: 1064

Mr SNOWDON (Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Minister for Defence Science and Personnel and Minister for Indigenous Health) (8:24 PM) —We are here to mourn the death of Sapper Jamie Larcombe and express our sincere condolences to his parents, Steven and Tricia; his younger sisters, Ann-Marie, Emily and April; and his partner, Rhiannon. I would also like to offer my sympathy to his extended family, friends and comrades in the Australian Defence Force.

Sapper Larcombe was, as we have heard, an outstanding career soldier. His life ambition was to serve his country. He was born in Kingscote on Kangaroo Island, South Australia, in 1989. Sapper Larcombe joined the Army in 2008 and was posted to the 1st Combat Engineer Regiment in Darwin after completing his initial training. He was just 21 years old. To those in this place who are parents, let us try to put ourselves in the position of his mum and dad. I have a son who is 21 years old. He attends university in Melbourne. I cannot imagine the pain and grief that is being suffered by his family as a result of his death.

His mates have described him as a dependable and genuine young man, and we need to express to them our understanding of the way they are feeling. I spoke to Brigadier Gus McLachlan only today, and we talked about how his mates are feeling. They are feeling the pain of losing a mate, a comrade, someone who they served beside. He was described as a young man whose country upbringing instilled a wisdom that was respected.

This was his first tour to Afghanistan. He had previously deployed on Operation Padang Assist. Sapper Larcombe has been awarded the Australian Active Service Medal with Clasp: International Coalition Against Terrorism, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, and the Army Combat Badge. Sapper Larcombe’s commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Darren Huxley, said Sapper Larcombe will be missed terribly. He remarked:

He was a trusted sapper, our comrade in arms and our mate.

We have had the privilege of serving with a fine Australian and we will honour his sacrifice by finishing what he helped us to start.

As I said, I spoke to Brigadier Gus McLachlan, Commander, 1st Brigade, based at Robertson Barracks in Darwin, this afternoon. The Darwin based 1st Combat Engineer Regiment has now lost two of its best within a fortnight, with Sapper Larcombe’s death following that of Corporal Richard Atkinson. Brigadier McLachlan assured me that he had made all necessary support arrangements for the family of Sapper Larcombe. I know that the 1st Combat Engineer Regiment are a tight-knit group, and they will be feeling it. They have lost two of their comrades in a very short period of time. I understand that the unit are doing it tough. But I have great faith in their professionalism, their determination and their ability to support each other as they focus on their mission.

I want to make sure in this place that we all understand what Sapper Larcombe was doing for us. Along with his mates, as part of Operation Geelong, Sapper Larcombe was participating in an unpartnered patrol. The aim of the operation is to extend our influence in the Mirabad region, where the Army are building a new patrol base. His platoon was outside the wire, patrolling an area to the south-east of Patrol Base Wali, when they were engaged by an insurgent group. The Chief of the Defence Force said:

The patrol was dismounted from their Bushmaster vehicles and were stationary at the time of what appears to be a coordinated insurgent attack employing both machine gun and small arms fire.

The other soldiers on the patrol were able to repel the attack …

Sapper Larcombe was taking the fight to the insurgents. In the incident in which Sapper Larcombe was killed, a local Afghan national rendering translation assistance to Australian forces was also killed. Both of these men were struck by gunshots and despite immediate first aid were not able to be saved

When I spoke to Brigadier McLachlan, the thing he stressed to me was how grateful he was, and the unit was, for the support being expressed by this parliament for Sapper Larcombe and his mates, for the understanding that was being expressed through this discussion in the parliament of what was being done, and for our understanding that those soldiers who put on the uniform know what they are doing. They are very professional young men. They are trained to a very high standard. They understand the risks that confront them as they embark upon their task. They deserve our support, they deserve our adulation, because they have taken the decision to put on a uniform and fight for their country.

As Minister Smith has said, and I echo it, Sapper Larcombe died pursuing his country’s national interests. He was helping to stare down international terrorism. He was there, in Afghanistan, doing a job that we asked him to do. On behalf of the Australian government, I offer my support to Sapper Larcombe’s family and friends and assure them that the sacrifice of this exceptional young soldier will not be forgotten. Sapper Larcombe made the supreme sacrifice. He died serving his country and is owed a special debt of gratitude that can never be repaid. We will not forget him. Lest we forget.