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Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Page: 8834

Mr BALDWIN (Paterson) (11:47): I join with the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and other distinguished colleagues in this House in commenting on the passing of Special Air Services Regiment Sergeant Blaine Diddams, who was tragically killed in Afghanistan on 2 July 2012. It was not until yesterday afternoon that I realised that Sergeant Diddams's parents, Peter and Cate, are from my electorate in Smiths Lake. I rang them, offered my sincere apologies for not contacting them earlier, expressed my condolences and asked if they could pass those on to his wife Toni-Ann, to his daughter Elle-Lou, to his son Henry, and to his siblings Nikki, Sian, Christian and Luke.

This was a young man who led from the front. This was a young warrior who joined the Australian Defence Force at 19 years of age. This was a young warrior who saw more battle and conflict than most others. His contribution to the Australian effort on the broader international stage, like that of his colleagues, should never be underestimated.

One of the key things that people need to understand is that there is no braver action than to lay down your life for others. Sergeant Diddams joined our Defence Force and went into theatres of operation knowing full well the risks to him, the risks to his mates and, more importantly, the risk to the nation which houses his children, and he did so very distinguishably. I want to put on the record his operational record and his honours and awards so that in years to come his children in particular—his young daughter Elle-Lou and his son Henry—can look back and know this nation has honoured his personal sacrifice. His operational record started in January 1993 when he went on Operation Solace in Somalia. The Parliamentary Secretary Mike Kelly pointed out that he served with him in that process. From there Sergeant Diddams went to Operation Warden in East Timor in 2000, Operation Tanager in East Timor in 2000, then to Operation Trek in the Solomon Islands in 2002.

He went to Operation Slipper in November 2001, and again in May 2007, again January 2008, again in May 2008, again in June 2009 and again in January 2011. He was involved in Operation Amulet for CHOGM in Perth in 2011 and then he returned to Operation Slipper in Afghanistan in February 2012.

For his very distinguished career, he has been awarded the Australian Active Service Medal, with Clasp Somalia, Clasp East Timor and Clasp ICAT. He has been awarded the International Forces East Timor Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, the Australian Services Medal with Clasp Solomon Islands, Clasp CT/SR, the Defence Long Service Medal, the Australian Defence Medal, the NATO ISAF Medal, the Meritorious Unit Citation, Infantry Combat Badge and Returned from Active Service Badge.

By any measure, this is a distinguished military hero. This, as I said, is a man who led from the front. He was not one to take a back seat. When he died on 2 July, he was in the processes in the Chora Valley where he led his team, which had just been dropped by helicopter, for a mission against an insurgent commander's compound in the Chora Valley in the Qala-e-Naw district. He was about 20 kilometres north of the provincial capital, Tarin Kowt, when, unfortunately and sadly, a high-powered round from an enemy AK-47 penetrated his chest armour and killed him.

As my colleague, the shadow minister for defence personnel, Stuart Robert, an ex-serving man himself, said, 'This was a soldier's death.' But death is never easy. It is never acceptable, but those in the military go into combat full knowing what the ramifications will be. But they go in with a very proud chest, knowing they are doing what is right and knowing they are making a contribution to making this place so much better.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to put on the record the family statement on behalf of Peter and Cate Diddams. When I spoke to Pete yesterday he said that all that they want to say has been posted on the Defence website, and they just need time to grieve. So the following statement is released at the request of Peter and Cate Diddams, the parents of Sergeant Blaine Diddams, who was tragically killed on operational service with the Special Operations Task Group in Afghanistan, on Monday, 2 July 2012. It says:

Today we lay to rest our eldest son Blaine, who died doing what he loved, what he believed in, in the company of those with whom he shared a special bond.

To Blaine he couldn't imagine doing anything else, he was living his dream and living it with pride and distinction.

Whilst we are devastated at his loss, we lovingly remember the man who was absolutely focused and driven to be the best he could be in everything he pursued, yet always with that wonderful sense of humour, boundless enthusiasm and perspective that will be sorely missed.

Blaine was totally devoted to his wife and children, to his extended family, and unreservedly dedicated to his mates and to his country.

Blaine's brothers and sisters all looked up to him as their hero long before he became a national hero.

As parents we are so very proud of Blaine; proud of what he stood for; proud of what he had achieved; proud of who he was.

Our grief has been tempered by the overwhelming expressions of sympathy and support we have received, and we are steeled to face the difficult days ahead by the knowledge that we do not grieve alone.

We would like to thank the Australian Defence Force for their efforts in supporting us through this traumatic time, and in particular the regimental family of the Special Air Service Regiment—the military family Blaine loved so much, and whose support has been unstinting.

Finally we ask that out of respect for Blaine and in recognition of the ultimate sacrifice he has made for his country, you grant his family and friends complete privacy as we all come to terms with his loss

The second piece I would like to read into the record is the statement on behalf of Sergeant Blaine Diddams' immediate family. Defence released the following statement on behalf of Mrs Toni-Ann Diddams, wife of Sergeant Blaine Diddams, and their children Elle-Lou and Henry:

Didds passed away on 2 July 2012 in a place very foreign to most of us, surrounded by his mates, and doing what he truly loved. He was without doubt a "hard hitter".

Given how he passed, it would be easy to define him as just a soldier, but to those that knew him he was so much more. Didds was the most loving of husbands and a devoted and very proud father to our children, Elle-Lou and Henry. Whenever he could, he loved watching the kids play sport and taught them at a very young age to ski. Skiing was a passion for Didds and each year our family would take a ski trip together come hell or high water! We will look back at these holidays and cherish the moments we shared with Didds.

Friends and families were so very important to Didds. His mates really became members of our family, and I know just how hard his loss is for them also. In this difficult time the support they have shown to the children and I has been unwavering. Didds was a man who stood by his mates no matter what and I know he will be sorely missed and well remembered by them all. The men he stood side by side with in the SASR were his brothers in every sense of the word.

He lived his life to the fullest, his enthusiasm and humour were utterly infectious, if you were around Didds you were having a good time. Everyone has a 'Didds story'.

We would like to thank family, friends and the defence community for their support, and finally we would like to thank those sectors of the media community who have respected our request for privacy and hope this will continue during this difficult time.

To his parents, Pete and Cate, I repeat my apology for not knowing as soon as my constituents that this was your son, and I expressed that yesterday. His father, Peter, understood full well the trials, the challenges and the risks associated with going to war to defend your nation, as Peter was a young officer in Vietnam with the 104 Signal Squadron in 1969. When I spoke to Peter yesterday he said one of the best things that we can do to remember the sacrifice of his son is to make sure our serving men and women are taken care of. I had dialogue sometime ago with Peter in relation to the DFRDB increases. Here is a man who served his nation well, went to Vietnam and did not leave the army until 1988, but he is also a man who struggles to survive on his military pension.

I say to my colleagues on the benches opposite that here is an opportunity to look at the service of our defence men and women of this nation, pay them due respect and compensate them as they truly deserve to be. This man, Sergeant Blaine Diddams, is a national hero. In putting the record of this fine Australian on the Hansard of this House, I know his children can be truly grateful for the contribution and the sacrifice their father made to this nation, standing up for children like them in a foreign country so that they can enjoy the freedoms and the democracy that his children have. Sometimes, whilst the personal loss is very deep, as the children in particular grow older and learn more about their father from his actions, his mates and his colleagues, they will understand the difference this man made in leading from the front. They will get to know their father even more and they will get to respect the sacrifice that he made for them and for this nation. This man is gone. There is no braver action than laying down your life for others, and that is not to be taken for granted by anyone in this nation.