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Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Page: 12650

Mrs PRENTICE (Ryan) (17:36): I rise to mark another sad day for Australia, to share my condolences for three brave young men taken before their time and the seven diggers who lay wounded far from home. We are a nation with a heavy heart as we mourn Captain Bryce Duffy, Corporal Ashley Birt and Lance Corporal Luke Gavin, who now join 29 others who have fallen in Afghanistan. The deaths of these young men occurred in circumstances that make it more confusing to accept, not killed in the battlefield but by a rogue ANA soldier—an experienced ANA soldier who had already served for three years and who was part of the force our diggers are mentoring. It is frightening to imagine those minutes, the uncertainty about whether it was the beginning of a Taliban attack and seeing your mates falling around you. Of the 12 Australian soldiers present, only two were not struck by rounds. Australian coverage shone through. One medic paused only to secure his own tourniquet before aiding the wounded, saving his mates. Soldiers back at the base raced to donate blood; anything they could do to help.

This rogue soldier has dealt a shocking blow to the confidence of our mentoring operations. Australian soldiers are amongst the most professional in the world and the most courageous. However, these three men mean that out of our 32 fallen, 15 have lost their lives while involved in training and mentoring Afghan troops. It is a crucial role, demonstrating that our defence forces are truly committed to making Afghanistan a better place for its own citizens. We must all remember that danger and bravery is not only the province of battle but of improving lives.

Our diggers are mentoring Afghan forces, sharing the dangers they face in order to keep insurgents on the move, to locate weapons and caches, and to help give local Afghans confidence against the Taliban. They are succeeding. Over the past 18 months allied forces have achieved in driving insurgents out of areas they had considered safe for many years. I hope that their achievements, their commitment and their dedication to the goal of making Afghanistan safer will provide some comfort to their families. All of Australia is proud of our diggers. All Australian hearts go out to the families of the fallen.

Captain Bryce Duffy from the Townsville base volunteered for his second tour of duty on short notice, after another officer was wounded in action. He was serving in the 4th Regiment of the Royal Regiment of Australian Artillery. He had just successfully completed the Special Air Service and leaves behind his partner, mother and family. Lance Corporal Luke Gavin of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment was from Sydney. He had learnt the dialect of the local province. He was a Pashto linguist and had been trained in combat first aid. Lance Corporal Gavin is survived by his wife and three children as well as his parents.

Corporal Ashley Birt, just 22, and from Gympie was part of the 1st Topographical Survey Squadron. He will be brought home to his parents and family by his brother, who was serving by his side in Afghanistan.

These young men were all unique and all leave behind people whom they loved and who loved them. They were dedicated to their cause, and their country is proud of them. I extend my condolences to the families of these men and keep our other Australian soldiers serving in Afghanistan and around the world in my thoughts and prayers. Lest we forget.