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Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Page: 12642

Mr SNOWDON (LingiariMinister for Veterans' Affairs, Minister for Defence Science and Personnel and Minister for Indigenous Health) (17:00): Firstly let me associate myself with the remarks of the previous speaker and for all those who have spoken in this condolence motion. I particularly want to associate my remarks with those of the Prime Minister, both in expressing my condolences to the family and friends of Captain Bryce Duffy, Corporal Ashley Birt and Lance Corporal Luke Gavin and expressing support for our mission in Afghanistan.

We remember Captain Bryce Duffy. Captain Duffy was born in Sydney in 1984 and was only 26 years old. He graduated from the Royal Military College, RMC, in December 2006 and was from the 4th Field Regiment Royal Regiment of Australian Artillery based in Townsville. Captain Duffy was a dedicated officer who had held long career aspirations in the Army, having recently completed the SAS selection course—no mean feat in itself. He was passionate about his place within the Australian Defence Force and Army and always strived to serve his country in the best way possible. Captain Duffy's selfless dedication to duty was demonstrated by the fact that he had volunteered for his second tour of duty in Afghanistan at short notice after a fellow officer was wounded in action. Of him, Captain Duffy's family have said:

He was forever the consummate professional, extremely competent and very well respected by his colleagues and commanders.

He was passionate about what he did, truly believed in his cause, and always strived to serve his country in the best way possible.

Captain Duffy is survived by his partner, parents and family.

We remember Corporal Ashley Birt. Corporal Birt was born in Nambour in Queensland in 1989. He was just 22 years old. He wore the Australian Army uniform with pride and died doing the job he loved. His sacrifice will forever be remembered. He enlisted in the Australian Regular Army in June 2007 and was recognised for his natural leadership style, work ethic and dedication. He was a great mate to his many colleagues and was well liked by all who knew him. He was described as a larrikin and someone who was always smiling. His mates remember him as a great bloke, a distinguished sportsman and an excellent soldier. Corporal Birt was on his first deployment to Afghanistan. He had previously deployed to the Solomon Islands in 2010 and was nominated for a soldier's medallion for his work in Operation Queensland Flood Assist. Of him, his family have said:

Ashley was a proud soldier who loved his job. He was a loving son, devoted brother, wonderful uncle and loyal friend who will be dearly missed.

Corporal Birt was a member of Combined Team Oruzgan and is survived by his parents, Don and Linda, and brother Dale.

We remember, also, Lance Corporal Luke Gavin. Lance Corporal Gavin was born in Manly in 1982 and was 29 years old. He enlisted in the Army in 2004 and was a highly respected member of the 2nd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment. He was acknowledged by his superiors for his positive attitude and loyalty. Those soldiers who served either alongside him or under him were motivated by his professionalism, mateship and outstanding specialist skills. He was very highly qualified soldier, having completed specialist training as a combat first aider, Pashtu linguist and infantry support weapons operator. He was a devoted husband and father of three children—Joshua, Holly and Olivia. His family were all very proud of him, saying he loved his country and believed in what he was doing. His brother Joel said Lance Corporal Gavin was a fine soldier and a better husband and father. Lance Corporal Gavin was deployed to East Timor three times and was on his first deployment to Afghanistan.

Despite this terrible tragedy, this dreadful loss, progress is being made in training and mentoring the Afghan National Security Forces in Oruzgan province and across Afghanistan generally. We will not be in Afghanistan forever and we are on track to transition to Afghan-led responsibility for security arrangements in Oruzgan in 2014, but on this very, very sad day we will reflect on the service and sacrifice of these brave men and all members of the Australian Defence Force. We will provide support to their families at this difficult time and into the future.

Our thoughts are also with seven of their comrades—seven soldiers that were wounded in this dreadful attack. These men have now been flown to Germany to Landstuhl Regional Medical Centre where they will be given the very best treatment. We are very heartened by news in recent days that their condition is improving, including one soldier's condition being upgraded from life-threatening to serious. They remain in the thoughts and prayers of Australians everywhere.

Our condolences also go to the families and friends of the Afghan interpreter that was killed and to two other Afghan interpreters and an ANA solider who were wounded.

This is a very difficult time for those families but it is very important in the hullabaloo of this place with the arguments across the chamber that we as a parliament stand together to recognise the service and sacrifice that has been made on our behalf by these brave men. When we think about that bravery, we need to just contemplate for a moment what it is like—and I have said this previously in this place—to invest your life in an Australian uniform. Once you sign up to the ADF, there is a capacity for you to be deployed to an area such as Afghanistan and put your life in great danger.

These brave souls have done that and to their comrades, who are no doubt feeling very deeply at this time around the events that took place so recently and seeing these three brave men lose their lives, we say: thank you for your continuing work, your intestinal fortitude, your courage, your capacity, your resilience and your bravery. At this time of tragic loss, we remember Captain Bryce Duffy, Corporal Ashley Birt, Lance Corporal Luke Gavin—lest we forget.