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Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Page: 12649

Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (17:31): Today I extend my deepest sympathies to the devastated families and friends and the courageous colleagues of Captain Bryce Duffy, Corporal Ashley Birt and Lance Corporal Luke Gavin. These three brothers in arms were shot dead on Saturday, 29 October, by a rogue member of the Afghan National Army during a parade at a remote patrol base in Kandahar province. This is the worst single incident in Afghanistan involving Australian personnel, and 32 Australians have now died in the Afghanistan mission with 209 wounded, including 43 this year.

It is with great sadness that we in parliament acknowledge the deaths of three fine men, described as exceptional and dedicated diggers. They epitomised what it means to be Australian soldiers—beyond brave, determined, mates, resolute. Mothers and fathers and wives and children have given their most treasured possession for the cause of our freedom for the sake of a better world. While the pain of the loved ones who mourn the most is unimaginable, I hope that in time the gratitude of a proud nation helps to ease their burden.

Yesterday a video was posted online of Lance Corporal Gavin speaking about his deployment to Afghanistan. In this four-minute documentation recorded not long after the death of the 29th Australian digger, Private Matthew Lambert, Lance Corporal Gavin spoke of the difficult conversation he had already had with his family and of his wishes for his wife and children should a similar incident occur. Lance Corporal Gavin simply stated:

My family knew of my dream to follow in the footsteps of the soldiers before me.

A man of few words, when he was asked what he most missed when away on deployment he clearly and simply wrote on a small whiteboard, 'My kids'—a heartbreaking image embedded in the mind of the viewer. But it is a comforting thought that his children will know that they were and will be forever on his mind.

I also extend my best wishes to the seven Australian soldiers wounded in the incident and to the family of the Afghan interpreter who also lost his life. Their deaths were not in vain. The motives of this mission are admirable, just and right.

I am from Wagga Wagga, the city which proudly has Blamey Barracks Kapooka, home of the Australian soldier, on its outskirts. The officers at Kapooka training the recruits to carry on the outstanding work of those serving in Afghanistan know how important it is for our troops to be physically and mentally equipped for the challenges which lie ahead. They know how crucial it is for our soldiers to be the very best they can be, and Captain Duffy, Corporal Birt and Lance Corporal Gavin certainly embodied that fine Kapooka tradition, exemplified by every recruit—that digger ethos, that ANZAC spirit. Disturbingly, of the 32 Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan during the past decade, 15 were involved in mentoring and training Afghan troops—for some, tragically, a betrayal of trust—but we must not give in to terrorism, not now, not in the future. We cannot allow terrorists to form training camps to continue coercing suicide bombers to carry out random acts of evil against innocent people around the globe. We must stay the course in Afghanistan for the sake of humanity; for all those who cherish the ideals of a free world; for the good local people who want us and need us there and who value our presence; for those who want their children to grow up in a peaceful world; and certainly for and on behalf of the memories of Captain Bryce Duffy, aged 26, Corporal Ashley Birt, 22, and Lance Corporal Luke Gavin, 29.

We will bring our brave military personnel home when their valiant work is done. These three slain heroes are coming home, not the way anyone would have expected but to be laid to rest. They will be remembered solemnly on Friday week, Armistice Day, when we pause, as is customary and reverent, at 11 o'clock on the 11th day of the 11th month to reflect upon the sacrifice of all those who have laid down their lives on active service. They will also be remembered each and every Anzac Day and they will be missed each and every day by their family and friends. In the words of the English poet Laurence Binyon in his third stanza of the ode For the fallen:

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,

Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow,

They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,

They fell with their faces to the foe.

Lest we forget.