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Tuesday, 21 June 2011
Page: 6808

Mr FITZGIBBON (HunterChief Government Whip) (19:15): I join with the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and all members who either have or will make a contribution to this very, very important condolence motion for Lance Corporal Andrew Gordon Jones and Lieutenant Marcus Sean Case. Both died in separate incidents on 30 May this year while on operations in Afghanistan.

Lance Corporal Andrew Gordon Jones was from the 9th Force Support Battalion and was serving with the Force Support Unit in the Chora Valley, an area I know well. It is a shockingly rugged part of the world. He was an Army cook by trade and an Australian soldier by profession, on duty in uniform the day he died. Sadly, he was only 25 years old.

Lieutenant Marcus Sean Case was a member of the Sydney based 6th Aviation Regiment. He began his training as a reservist and deferred his university studies to serve in the Army full-time. He trained as a commando, which is a great achievement, and was deployed to East Timor. Marcus then trained as a pilot and had deployed to Afghanistan as a Heron unmanned aerial vehicle operator. He was taking part in a resupply sortie in southern Afghanistan when the helicopter in which he was being carried crashed. Again, very sadly, he was only 27 years of age.

I did not know either of these very fine Australians but, like all those who have gone before them, it is easy for us to almost feel that we have known them. We know what they were and what they were doing, and we certainly know that they believed in what they were doing. It is a great constant in this conflict, and I am sure in conflicts before it, that while we mourn their lives very deeply we take some comfort, as do their families and their friends, because I have spoken with many of them on previous occasions. We know that they believed in what they were doing, they were committed to what they were doing and they knew all of the risks. Just as importantly, having very sadly attended a number of ramp ceremonies and military funerals, I know their families and loved ones supported them in what they were doing. Generally speaking, although I do not know the families on this occasion, soldiers have the support of their loved ones and their loved ones support what they are doing because they know that that is what they want to be doing. Soldiers who spend so much time training want to put that training into effect, and there is no better way to do so than in defence of their nation's interest.

We are in Afghanistan for important reasons even though there seems to be some doubt in the public mind from time to time. The reality is that failed states pose a risk to countries like Australia and of course we know that many Australians who were killed in places like Bali and Jakarta were killed at the hands of people who had their training in Afghanistan. We have been there too long and we have lost too many young lives, but our mission remains an important one. Like the Prime Minister, I am very, very strongly of the view—as is the Chief of the Defence Force, who spoke quite strongly very recently at a press conference on the occasion of a death—that we need to stay and finish the task we have at hand. That immediate task of course, in addition to the disruption operations of our special forces is to train the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police to the point at which they are able to take care of their own security. When we have done so we should be in a position to bring our people home with our heads held high.

There has been some speculation in recent days, and I suppose effectively confirmed by Secretary Gates of the United States that we are now going through a round of negotiations with the insurgents. I used to say when I was minister that there is a very big difference between negotiating with extremists and talking with moderates. The reality is that success in Afghanistan will not come by military means alone. It will only come when we have a political settlement, and of course when we have sufficiently built the systems of governance and effectively built the economic infrastructure that will be required to make Afghanistan what I might describe as a normal country. But finish the job we must. We cannot allow 27 Australians who have given their lives in Afghanistan to have given their lives in vain. Again, when I have spoken with families in the past they have asked that of me and us collectively—that is, do not let them down by not finishing the good work they began.

I take this opportunity to thank families, friends and loved ones of these two very, very brave Australians for giving us their sons and for the sacrifices their sons made. And, of course, I take this opportunity to extend my own very, very deep sympathy to all those who have been affected by these two very great tragedies.