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Thursday, 24 June 2010
Page: 6690

Mr BALDWIN (11:01 AM) —It is with an incredibly heavy heart that I rise to speak on this condolence motion. It was, as I am sure this chamber remembers only too well, but two days ago that I stood here and spoke on the condolence motion for Sapper Moerland and Sapper Smith who were tragically killed by an IED in Afghanistan on 7 June only a little over two weeks ago. To speak so soon after that tragedy is in fact extremely difficult for me as I am sure it will be for many in this chamber. Unfortunately, there will be some dark moments before we again emerge into the light, particularly of course for the families of those soldiers that were killed and those soldiers who were wounded.

Private Timothy James Aplin, Private Benjamin Adam Chuck and Private Scott Travis Palmer were tragically killed after their International Security Assistance Force helicopter crashed during the early hours of Monday morning. They were performing the duties they were asked to do—eradicating the heart of terrorism in Afghanistan so that people may live freer from oppression and the acts of terrorism. It was Thucydides, a Greek historian, who said:

The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet not withstanding go out to meet it.

That is what they did—clear of mind, determined in purpose. People often say that they remember where they were when the Berlin Wall was brought down or when the Twin Towers in New York were attacked. I will forever remember being in my office in this place gazing at the television and listening to the Chief of the Defence Force, calmly and respectfully delivering the terribly sad news to the Australian people that we had just lost another three fine Australian troops in Afghanistan.

This news came as a shock, because not two weeks prior we as a nation mourned the loss of Sapper Moerland and Sapper Smith. It also came as a personal shock because at that moment I knew exactly how the families of these fine young soldiers would be feeling. I knew it because not a week had passed since I witnessed the grief and absolute sense of loss that enveloped the families of Sapper Moerland and Sapper Smith. I stood with those families at the ramp ceremony; I stood with them at the respective funerals. They are still very fresh in my memory and I am sure in the public’s consciousness.

The English philosopher John Stuart Mill said:

War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.

These men were fine men. They were sons of Anzac, who were willing to fight and who did it so well. Recent captures of weapons caches showed they were effective. They were well trained and highly disciplined individuals who became an integral part of a team at 2nd Commando Regiment, a very tightly banded brotherhood, fighting for freedom from terrorism and oppression.

Private Timothy James Aplin was from the Sydney based 2nd Commando Regiment. He joined the Army Reserves on 4 February 1992 and transferred to the Regular Army on 20 September 1995 where he reached the rank of sergeant. In 2008 Private Aplin completed the Commando Selection and Training Course, a very notable achievement by the most demanding of measures. In January 2009 he was posted to the then 4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (Commando) after completing the Commando Reinforcement Cycle. As a part of the process that Private Aplin undertook to become a commando in the Royal Australian Army he was required to give up his rank of sergeant. He did this willingly, as many before him had done. In doing so Private Aplin joined with those who went before him. He revealed his unconditional commitment to the Australian Army and to the 2nd Commando Regiment.

By all accounts, Private Aplin was an outstanding commando, highly respected and dedicated to his job. He had been deployed as part of Operation Tanager in East Timor, in 2000; Operation Bastille in the Middle East, in 2003; and Operation Slipper in Afghanistan, in 2009 and then again in 2010. This, his second tour of Afghanistan, where he was serving as a member of the Australian Special Operations Task Group as a team demolition specialist, was unfortunately to be his last. But I am sure that, if asked, he would have gone around again. Like so many of his colleagues will attest, they were most happy when they were on the ground plying their trade for which they had trained so well and so hard.

Private Aplin has been awarded the Australian Active Service Medal with East Timor, Iraq and ICAT Clasps. He has been honoured with the Infantry Combat Badge; the Iraq Campaign Medal; the United Nations Medal with Ribbon UNTAET; the Australian Defence Medal; the Defence Long Service Medal; and the Afghan Campaign Medal. Private Aplin has also been awarded the Return from Active Service Badge from a prior deployment. The following statement was released on behalf of Private Aplin’s wife and family. I am honoured to read it to the House:

Timothy Aplin is a man who represented many things to many people.

He was first, foremost and most importantly, an adored husband to his beloved Natasha, and a loving, guiding light as father and stepfather to their children Ty, Shinae, Josie and Daniel.

Tim was a much loved, valued and loyal friend to so many.

He was a highly trained and highly regarded soldier, who as a senior non-commissioned officer decided to pursue his dream of becoming a Special Forces soldier, and ultimately, a Commando.

Private Aplin’s parents, Mrs Margaret Gunnell and Mr Richard Gunnell, also released a moving tribute:

We are all very proud of Tim.

Tim was very fit and active with a real sense of adventure. He loved life, loved his family and was a devoted friend, father, uncle, son, brother and nephew.

Tim was a proud Australian who followed his dream to join the army. He loved military life and enjoyed his job. He was a confident and highly capable soldier and his loss will be deeply felt.

On behalf of Tim’s very large and extended family, we would like to thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers and we would now like the opportunity to grieve with our family and friends in private.

Private Aplin will be sorely missed by all those who knew him, particularly his family, colleagues and friends. I especially convey to his family my sincere condolences at this very difficult time.

Private Scott Travis Palmer was also from the Sydney based 2nd Commando Regiment. He joined the Army in 2001 and, after successfully completing the Commando Selection and Training Course in 2006, he joined the 4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (Commando). Serving his country through overseas deployment was not something that Private Palmer shied away from. At just 27 he had seen operational service in East Timor, Iraq and twice in Afghanistan prior to this tour where he would tragically never return home from.

Private Palmer clearly understood the importance of his role to his country but also demonstrated a brave dedication to the safety of overseas nations and to the colleagues with whom he fought side by side. His lasting legacy to his colleagues will be one of professionalism, despite the demanding, dangerous, difficult work he was asked to do. Not only did he love his job but he was good at it. Having his mates to work alongside only made it better.

Private Palmer was awarded the Australian Active Service Medal with Iraq, East Timor and ICAT Clasps. He was awarded the Iraq Campaign Medal, the Australian Defence Medal, the Australian Service Medal with the Timor-Leste Clasp, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, the NATO ISAF Medal and the Returned from Active Service Badge from a previous deployment. I believe one of the greatest honours in this world is to serve one’s country. Private Palmer did that many times over, and Australia is blessed to have been served by such a dedicated and talented commando.

It is also with deep sadness that we say farewell to Private Benjamin Adam Chuck from the Sydney based 2nd Commando Regiment. Born in Atherton Queensland, Private Chuck joined the Army in May 2004 as part of the Special Forces Direct Recruiting Scheme at just 21 years of age. After completing commando selection and training, he was posted to the then 4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (Commando) and served as the patrol medic with his sniper team.

Colleagues of Private Chuck have described him as an outstanding, passionate, caring, highly trained commando who excelled at everything he attempted. I have no doubt his talents served his team immeasurably during these three tours of Afghanistan. He was awarded the Australian Active Service Medal with the ICAT Clasp, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, the NATO ISAF Medal, the Infantry Combat Badge, the Australian Defence Medal and the Returned from Active Service Badge from his first deployment in Afghanistan.

Of course, Private Chuck’s passion extended beyond work and into his life at home with his family. As his mother, Susan, told the Australian:

“He loved what he did … He was focused on what he was doing. Even though he knew it was dangerous, he did it with the utmost pride.

“He was a passionate family man. He wasn’t married, but he was in a lovely relationship. We were a very close family, my husband, his siblings and I. What happened to him was just a tragic accident.”

His father, Gordon, has told of a young man who loved life and all that he could pack into it. I would like to read from an article in the Cairns Post written by Stephanie Harrington, whose words go some small way to describe the man that Private Chuck was to his family and to his team.

BEN Adam Chuck was a man among men. He handled crocodiles and venomous snakes at a local zoo. He flew helicopters and was a “beautiful kickboxer” who never lost a fight.

It was this thirst for adventure that spurred the former Atherton State High School student to train as a commando and become part of the Australian forces in Afghanistan in May 2007.

Pte Chuck was due to return home from his third mission in a fortnight, but for his devastated Tableland family, he will never walk through their door.

Pte Chuck was one of the three Australian commandos who died when their Black Hawk helicopter crashed in Kandahar Province in southern Afghanistan early on Monday morning.

It was the biggest loss of life in any incident during Australia’s near-decade long involvement in Afghanistan.

Pte Chuck was a passenger in the helicopter, along with Pte Tim Aplin and Pte Scott Palmer, who also died in the accident.

Yesterday, Pte Chuck’s heartbroken family spoke of their pride for their “courageous and kind” son who celebrated his 27th birthday on Friday.

Dad Gordon, 61, mum Susan, 58, brother Jason, 29, and his wife Gemma gathered at their Yungaburra home yesterday supported by a family friend.

“Ben believed very much in what he was doing and so did we. We knew the risks and so did he,” Mr Chuck said.

“I guess we will just live with the thought that when you believe in something strongly enough, there’s always the possibility the ending may be like this.

“But he loved his country. I guess he paid the ultimate price and so have we.”

Mrs Chuck said her son, who is also survived by his sister Tiffany, 23, and his partner of 18 months Tess Crane, had followed in the footsteps of his grandfathers, both decorated soldiers who served in World War II.

“He was an amazing solider and loved it,” Mrs Chuck said.

Pte Chuck was among fewer than 20 of 250 applicants who made the Special Forces during a recruitment drive in 2004, when he was given the most outstanding soldier award.

He went on to earn four medals and two badges during his six years of service. A Department of Defence spokesperson described him as an outstanding and highly-trained commando whose “affectionate and caring nature drove his passion for helping his mates”.

Pte Chuck was based at Sydney’s Holsworthy Barracks. Jason Chuck, who spoke to his brother on Saturday, said Pte Chuck’s goal was to fly a helicopter in search and rescue missions when he returned to Australia on July 8.

“He was a very strong leader. He just naturally commanded a lot of respect,” Jason Chuck said.

“Joining the army was probably the best thing he ever did, regardless of the outcome. It gave him such a sense of purpose and direction he didn’t have before.”

As I noted, before joining the army as a commando, Private Chuck worked at Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures in Queensland from 1 July 2003 to 14 January 2004. It seemed somewhat natural that an enthusiastic crocodile handler would make the transition to the army’s elite commandos. Through the former member for Leichhardt Warren Ench, a known crocodile farmer, I made contact with Ms Angela Freeman, Private Chuck’s previous supervisor at Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures. She spoke of a highly respected and well liked young man. She spoke of his gentle and polite nature. She said:

He was an outstanding person, an outstanding human being. There’s no way you can take away from his bravery and remarkable nature. He enjoyed things which involved some risk-taking so understandably he got a great deal of joy working with crocodiles. His colleagues were very impressed with how quickly Ben progressed and learned the trade of croc. handling where in a very short time he became a very highly valued employee. In fact every time he came back to visit us I tried to get him back working for us. Ben was always willing to take on new tasks and challenges, including working with venomous snakes and appearing on ABC television promos which many people would’ve seen him on.

Ben had a very cheeky sense of humour and thoroughly enjoyed his work. We were sorry to see him go, but we understood he was training very hard to join the army and the army was his passion. The last time I saw Ben he was on his way back to Afghanistan. He came in for a visit and he said he was very happy working in the army. He was well aware of the danger, but believed he was part of something very important and proud of the work that he was doing.

I have the deepest regard for his parents who gave their wholehearted support for Ben in his pursuits and I have the deepest sympathy for them now during this very difficult time. I’m sure Ben would have moved up the ranks and gone on to become a very successful soldier.

I sincerely hope that Private Chuck’s family can take some small comfort in knowing that he died performing a job he loved, supported by people he loved and who loved him. Many people never find either of these great blessings despite their long lives. As I said at the beginning, it has been a rather emotional week for everybody in this parliament. At the ramp ceremony just 12 days ago, the arrival of Sapper Jacob Moerland and Sapper Darren Smith, I spoke to Sandy Moerland, Jacob’s mother. She gave me one message to sum it all up. She said: ‘Don’t let Jacob’s death be in vain.’

The work that our men and women do in Afghanistan and in other theatres of operation, where they place themselves in harm’s way for the benefit of others, should never be underestimated or undervalued, and we must make sure that the deaths of these fine Australians are not in vain. I have not yet spoken to the families of Private Timothy James Aplin, Private Benjamin Adam Chuck or Private Scott Travis Palmer but I am sure they share that same sentiment: they do not want the deaths of these fine sons of Anzac to be in vain. In all of this, I think of the quote by Joaquin Miller:

The bravest battle that ever was fought!

Shall I tell you where and when?

On the maps of the world you will find it not;

‘Twas fought by the mothers of men.

Shortly, Australia will welcome home another three sons. We will respect them, we will thank them and we will bless them. As John 15:13 says:

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

This they did, and for that their nation will be forever truly grateful. We will always remember them. We will remember their contribution, we will remember their mates and we will persevere—because the job is not yet finished, and to pull out before the job is finished would be to discredit these fine Australians who gave their all.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. DS Vale)—I thank the member for Paterson for his very moving contribution. The question is that the motion be agreed to.