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Thursday, 7 July 2011
Page: 8101

Mr SNOWDON (LingiariMinister for Veterans' Affairs, Minister for Defence Science and Personnel and Minister for Indigenous Health) (11:37): I would like to offer my sympathies at the death of Sergeant Todd Langley and of course extend my condolences to his wife, Reigan; his parents, Val and Neville; his three daughters and his son; his friends; and, of course, importantly, those who will not be hearing this message because they are in Afghanistan, namely his comrades. Clearly, Sergeant Langley among so many is survived by a loving family. He was a beloved son, husband, father, brother, uncle, son-in-law and brother-in-law, who will always be in the hearts of his family. Nothing we can say in this place or anywhere can fill the gap that is now there permanently.

Sergeant Langley was born in Margaret River, a lovely part of Western Australia, in 1976 and grew up in the towns of Katanning and Broomehill. He enlisted in the Army on 18 April 1993 and transferred to the Regular Army on 14 September 1994 and was posted to 1RAR. On completion of the commando selection and training course in 2004 he was posted to the 4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (Commandos), now the 2nd Commando Regiment. He was a highly experienced, decorated, 35-year-old commando section commander, normally based at the 2nd Commando Regiment, Holsworthy Barracks. Of course, as we know he was serving with the Special Operations Task Group in Afghanistan. We know that Sergeant Langley was killed in action during a small arms engagement with insurgents in southern Afghanistan, on 4 July 2011, during one of the several engagements between partnered Afghan National Police and Special Operations Task Group patrolling insurgents. Another Special Operations Task Group commander was seriously wounded in action earlier, in a separate engagement, and was evacuated from the field for medical treatment. I wish him a speedy recovery.

We know that this was Sergeant Langley's fifth tour of duty in Afghanistan, having previously served with the Special Operations Task Group in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009. He also served in East Timor in 2000 and 2001, and again in 2003. He was awarded the Commendation for Distinguished Service in 2002 and 2008. All in all, Sergeant Langley devoted to us, the Australian people, 2½ years of service overseas, much of it beyond the wire, fighting a deadly enemy.

The Chief of the Defence Force, General David Hurley, said that the commando section commander was leading his team in the thick of battle when he was killed in action. He said:

Sergeant Langley was a brave and professional soldier, who never took a backward step. Despite their grief, his comrades say he will continue to inspire them.

He was an exemplary warrior, as we know—a true leader who always brought out the best in those around him. He was awarded the following honours and awards: the Commendation for Distinguished Service 2002 and 2008; the Australian Active Service Medal with clasp East Timor, clasp ICAT; the Afghanistan Campaign Medal; the Defence Long Service Medal; the Australian Defence medal; the United Nations Medal UNTAET; the NATO Non Article 5 Medal with clasp ISAF; the Infantry Combat Badge; and the Unit Citation for Gallantry.

Sergeant Langley is the 28th Australian soldier to have been killed since Australia commenced Operation Slipper in Afghanistan in late 2001. Seven Australian soldiers have been killed in action this year. Fifteen members of the special forces have been killed in Afghanistan since the ADF commenced Operation Slipper. One hundred and eighty-two soldiers have been wounded since 2001. Thus far, 17 soldiers have been wounded this year. We cannot anticipate what may happen in the future, but what we know in this place is that these brave men and women put on the Australian uniform knowing they will put themselves in harm's way. They are different from the rest of us. They show the courage and heart that is required to defend us and fight for us. They do it without question. We are a volunteer army; a volunteer defence force. When these people sign up to serve this country, they know they may have to pay the ultimate sacrifice. Here we had a brave soldier, a father with four young children, paying the ultimate sacrifice.

I am not sure that the community comprehends all of this. It is, after all, a foreign land. This engagement is in a foreign place. But we need to assure the people who are doing the fighting that they have our total and unqualified support in the work they do. We have to assure them and continue to assure them, as we are doing, that there is no difference across this parliament about the support for Australian Defence Force people who are wearing our uniform overseas and are fighting on our behalf. They know, and they need to continue to know, that they have our total and unqualified support. Theirs is a difficult task. We, members of parliament, the executive government, determine what they do. They operate under instruction from government, representing the Australian people, so we bear a special responsibility when we hear of the death of an Australian serving man or woman in conflict as a result of us placing them there. This responsibility is with us and we need to understand how grave that responsibility is every day we are here, because whilst we are here people are fighting for us in Afghanistan. They are putting themselves in danger. When they put themselves in danger, they do it because we have requested them to do it for us, so we need to pay them the respect that is properly their due. We need to assure them that they need not worry about their families. They need to be assured that whilst they are there, whilst they are in uniform, we will be looking after them and that, should sad events such as this occur, their families will be cared for into the future. That is the very least we can do to share our obligation as members of the Australian community and, most importantly, as members of this parliament. Ultimately, whether we are in opposition or government, we share the responsibility for sending them there in the first instance. It is a special responsibility we have and it is one which we need to comprehend.

I say to the Australian community that, whilst there may be some sceptics about the mission in Afghanistan, people should understand that, whatever their views about the mission, the people who are carrying it out are carrying it out because we have requested they do it. People should not brook—and I know they do not—any question about the sincerity of those who work and sacrifice for us and who potentially can make the ultimate sacrifice, as Sergeant Langley has.

We can assure his family—and I know this view is shared across the parliament—that this outstanding soldier will be forever remembered. We remember him now, just as we remember all the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of a very grateful nation. His family must know that we are extremely proud of his courage, his selflessness and his service. We know from his family that Todd epitomised the spirit of the Aussie digger: loyal, hard-working and well-respected. We need to know, and we need to make sure everyone else knows, that he will never be forgotten. Lest we forget.