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Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Page: 12647

Ms O'DWYER (Higgins) (17:24): It is with great sorrow that any member of this House stands to speak on a condolence motion about any fallen soldier. It is even more difficult to stand here to mourn the loss of three soldiers. On what was one of the bloodiest days—29 October—for our nation in this campaign, three of our fine soldiers were killed. These three brave men and their families have made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation.

Captain Bryce Duffy, who was only 29 years of age, has been described as an exceptional and dedicated officer by those who served with him. We are told that he was a soldier who loved the Army and loved his country. Captain Duffy grew up in Brisbane and came from a military family. His ambition had always been to join the SAS, and he was not far off this goal. He was a decorated soldier, having been awarded the Australian Defence Medal, a Meritorious Unit Citation, the NATO Non Article 5 Medal with clasp International Security Assistance Force, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal and an Australian Active Service Medal with clasp International Coalition Against Terrorism. He is survived by his partner, his mother and his family.

Lance Corporal Luke Gavin, 29 years of age, had previously served in East Timor before being deployed to Afghanistan. Our hearts go out to Lance Corporal Gavin's wife Jacky and their three children, Joshua, Holly and Olivia. Our hearts also go out to his parents, Judith and Michael, who are living every parents' nightmare of having to bury their son.

Corporal Ashley Birt was the youngest of the three, aged just 22. Corporal Birt was a member of Combined Team Uruzgan and had been nominated for an award for his work during the Queensland floods. Corporal Birt lived in Gympie, where he was well known to the community, and has been described as a larrikin and someone who was always smiling. His loss is a tragedy for his parents, Don and Linda, and for his brother, Dale. Words cannot describe the emotions they must be feeling at this time. Our thoughts and prayers are with them just as they are with the other families.

What makes the loss of these young men so extraordinary are the circumstances in which they lost their lives. These deaths did not occur on the battlefield but in the relative safety of the operating base at Shah Wali Kot in Kandahar province. These murders were at the hands of an Afghan soldier—an Afghan soldier whom they had gone to Afghanistan to mentor. They had dedicated themselves to training this soldier, and it is for this reason that we feel an extra level of pain and distress. These fine men risked their lives to help build a nation—a nation as fortunate as ours has now been betrayed by those whom we seek to help. It is indeed a great tragedy.

We cannot, however, be blinded by this great tragedy to the tremendous good our soldiers are doing in Afghanistan or to the reason they are there. They are there to support the pursuit of democracy and freedom and to secure not only our nation's liberty but also the liberty of all free nations. To pull out now would mean that these lives have been lost in vain. It would create a dangerous vacuum, and the people who gave the orders for these murders would reassert control. We must stay the course, we must keep our resolve and we must never forget why these men, and their families, have ultimately paid the highest price in sacrificing their lives. Lest we forget.