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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 12025

Ms GILLARD (LalorPrime Minister) (14:00): I move:

That the House record its deep regret at the deaths on 29 October 2011 of Captain Bryce Duffy, Corporal Ashley Birt and Lance Corporal Luke Gavin during combat operations in Afghanistan, place on record its appreciation of their service to their country and tender its profound sympathy to their families in their bereavement.

Saturday was a bitter day for Australia in Afghanistan. Captain Bryce Duffy, Corporal Ashley Birt and Lance Corporal Luke Gavin were killed in action in Afghanistan. Seven Australian soldiers were also wounded in this attack. They are receiving the best of medical care. Today in this place we share our small part in the great grief of three Australian families, knowing only a small part not just of their loved ones' sacrifice but also of their loved ones' service. This was Captain Bryce Duffy's second deployment to Afghanistan with the Mentoring Task Force. He also served on Operation Yasi Assist earlier this year. Like every member of the Australian Defence Force he was a proud volunteer. He volunteered for this tour of duty in Afghanistan as well, at short notice after a fellow officer was wounded in action. He was a Townsville based officer of the 4th Field Regiment Royal Australian Artillery. Captain Duffy is survived by his wife, his mother and family.

Corporal Ashley Birt was on his first deployment to Afghanistan. He had previously served in the Solomon Islands and was part of Operation Queensland Flood Assist in Queensland in January. Nambour born and Brisbane based, Corporal Birt is remembered by his mates as a great bloke, a larrikin who was always smiling, and as a proud sapper. He will not be forgotten by the corps. Corporal Birt is survived by his parents and by his brother.

Lance Corporal Luke Gavin served three tours in East Timor and was on his first deployment to Afghanistan. He was a skilled soldier, a valued member of his unit, the 2nd Battalion RAR based in Townsville. Lance Corporal Gavin put duty first. He is survived by his wife and their three children.

If I can echo the Chief of Defence Force's words, it is critical that we show restraint and reserve our judgments until the investigation of this incident is complete. What we do know is this: this was an attack on Australia and on Afghanistan. One Afghan soldier is dead alongside three Australians. Australia's parliament does not forget his sacrifice today, nor his family's grief. Two other Afghan interpreters and an Afghan National Army soldier were wounded alongside the seven of our own. Our partners in the 4th Brigade, our Afghan partners, are shocked and horrified by what has occurred. The Afghan National Army is a force of some 300,000 soldiers—a force making steady progress like the nation it serves. We must not allow this attack—an attack like this one—to strike at the core of our training and mentoring mission in Afghanistan. The government will not judge the progress of our mission by any one incident or any one day, no matter how bitter. There have been days of progress and days of sorrow in this war. On all those days Australia's national interests in seeing the mission through in Afghanistan have been very real. There must be no safe haven for terrorists. We must stand firmly by our ally the United States. And every day we stand firmly by our troops.

Ours is an army, defence force and defence community, which is more than worthy of the people it serves. They are there for our nation on our nation's hardest days. Today we say that we will be there for them on their hardest days too.