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Thursday, 24 June 2010
Page: 6707

Dr KELLY (Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Support and Parliamentary Secretary for Water) (12:23 PM) —I thank all members for their words today, as we gather again to farewell favourite sons lost in the cause in which they were engaged and offer our condolences to the families of Private Ben Chuck, Private Timothy Aplin and Private Scott Palmer. I echo of course all the comments about the importance of this conflict in which we have been engaged, and which I have previously commented on, in fighting this Islamic extremism.

Australians have always steeled themselves in the cause of freedom and peace and have steeled themselves to endure costs in pursuing those aims. Australia lost 60,000 killed in the First World War and 48,000 in the Second World War. Our allies are alongside us in Afghanistan, where the Americans have lost over 1,100 troops, the British, 300, and the Dutch, our partners in Oruzgan, have lost 24 killed. We remained steeled to this task. It is extremely heartening and I think should be heartening to the families, to the colleagues of these soldiers and to the Australian people that the major parties of this parliament are united in continuing to support our troops and continuing to support this operation.

It is particularly of note that these soldiers were reservists of the 2nd Commando Regiment. It is my privilege to have as part of my portfolio responsibilities the administration of the reserves—and what wonderful and special people they are. They devote aspects of their lives that would normally be reserved for leisure time or time with their families and make that extra commitment to train themselves, to serve and to offer their lives and limbs in the defence of this country above their ordinary commitments in their daytime job. In terms of the 2nd Commando Regiment, that goes to another level altogether. We know these are special operations or special forces soldiers who must train to an extremely high degree of proficiency, so the courses and training that they undertake are in addition to that which would normally be undertaken by a reservist. And, of course, in order to be deployed in Afghanistan they have to go to another level yet again in their proficiency and the excellence of their skills at arms. So we should very specially salute the commitment that they make, above and beyond their daytime jobs, to attain those skills and to serve in this cause.

As the member for Melbourne Ports mentioned, we have had experience with losses in the regiment, dealing in particular with the family of Greg Sher. Felix and Yvonne Sher have been typical of the stoic families who have endured these losses, and in their commitment to supporting the troops and the mission. We attended various ceremonies associated with the Sher family in their loss, met many members of the 2nd Commando Regiment and know well their commitment to this operation and to each other and their ongoing determination to confront this Islamist threat.

The nature of these situations is terribly traumatic for everyone, of course. I would ask people to think of those who have to bring the news of these losses to the families. I have been in the position of being the duty officer who has to go and visit a family and be first person to advise them of their loss. This is a very difficult job to perform. We should spare a thought for those who serve that purpose in our Defence Force as well. I have seen the consequences of what happens on the ground to our men and women and to our allies, and know what trauma it causes to the colleagues of these soldiers and how they will be grieving and drawing together to deal with that grief. We should spare a thought for their colleagues who remain and of course for the injured as well, who will have long periods of recovery to contend with. We should provide them with all the support we can.

The other aspect that is worth noting is the nature of service in the Australian Defence Force that is highlighted by this incident. People focus, of course, on some of the combat casualties that we experience. But, on a daily basis, men and women of this Defence Force risk their lives in hazardous training to achieve their states of professional proficiency. We do lose people in accidents in training. The nature of that service is why we salute so much the men and women in the Australian Defence Force, because they assume those risks just to be in a position to deploy in the first place. There are quite often casualties in conflict zones relating to these types of transport or other situations. Before you even confront the threat of the enemy, the hazards of the environment are great to begin with, in relation to the diseases, the extremes of weather conditions, the hazardous nature of the terrain and the circumstances of having to move around in an operational context following operational procedures where the normal standards of the air traffic control or occupational health and safety will not apply. So we ask our personnel to assume that risk in the context of their training, in the context of deploying, in the context of conducting these operations. One of the most heartbreaking experiences of my service was a previous helicopter accident we experienced here in Australia where we lost 18 of our personnel in the crash of the Black Hawk helicopters in northern Queensland. That was incredibly traumatic for the defence family at the time. Once again, they were training for the difficult circumstances of night operations, albeit not in an operational zone. So we should bear in mind that the entirety of service life encompasses these risks. That is why it is so special. That is why we pay such tribute to these personnel in the first place.

We are here today to recognise the further addition of names to the list of those which we honour in the service of this nation in the context of this conflict and the cause against Islamic extremism and the cause of peace and freedom. Their names will be added to that glorious history of the Australian Defence Force, the Australian Army. It will be an enduring memory. Our thoughts and our prayers go out to the families, the survivors and the colleagues of these members. We will bear them in our hearts forever and we will continue to support our troops in every way possible.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr S Georganas)—I understand it is the wish of honourable members to signify at this stage their respect and sympathy by rising in their places.

Honourable members having stood in their places—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I thank the Committee.