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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 624

Ms GILLARD (Prime Minister) (2:00 PM) —Mr Speaker, I move:

That the House expresses its deep regret at the death on 19 February 2011, of Sapper Jamie Ronald Larcombe, while on combat operations in Afghanistan, and place on record its greatest appreciation of his service to our country and tender its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

It is my sad duty to report to the House that on Saturday night Australian time Sapper Jamie Larcombe serving with Mentoring Task Force 2 in Afghanistan was killed in action. He was killed along with an Afghan local national who was employed as an interpreter. Both were struck by gunshots and, despite immediate first aid, were unable to be saved. As a result, there are two families in grief, two families in shock, and we mourn with them today.

Sapper Larcombe’s parents, Steven and Tricia, his three younger sisters, Ann-Marie, Emily and April, and his partner, Rhiannon, will be grieving for him very deeply indeed today. The small community of Kangaroo Island, which is a small and close-knit community, will be in mourning for him today. His second family, the 1st Combat Engineer Regiment, will also be mourning for him today, coming as this does so soon after the loss of Corporal Richard Atkinson, who was laid to rest just seven days ago.

I want to say a word about our combat engineers because they are some of the most remarkable individuals in the Australian Defence Force. These are soldiers who build bridges and roads for our forces. They clear landmines and other obstacles. They locate and disarm booby traps and roadside bombs. Their main weapons are patience, steadiness and courage and they stand in a very proud tradition. The 1st and 2nd Combat Engineer regiments trace their origins back to the first weeks of World War I in 1914, and in the past 12 months these close-knit units have been paying a high price. Jacob Moerland and Darren Smith were lost last year, Richard Atkinson and now Sapper Larcombe this year. Today in honouring Sapper Larcombe, I honour all combat engineers, whose work is so critical to the task at hand.

Last year when I spoke to this parliament about our strategy in Afghanistan, I wanted our nation to be under absolutely no illusion about the dangers that lay ahead. I warned then that there would be hard days, and this is one of those days. Every day we lose a soldier is a hard day and every loss hits us as hard as the first loss hit us. Our grief and our gratitude will never diminish, and neither does our determination. Jamie Larcombe knew why he was in Afghanistan and he did not resile from the job. Nor should we: our purpose in being in Afghanistan is very clear. Working under a UN mandate our forces are in Afghanistan to take the fight to the insurgents, to assist with building governance and capacity and of course to train the Afghan National Army. Jamie Larcombe died doing these three things. He was there to mentor and train, he was part of our efforts in Afghanistan, and he was taking the fight to insurgents. He was doing what he was trained for. He was doing what he signed up for.

As we mourn for Sapper Larcombe, let us never mix sorrow with pity. It is obviously hard from our safe and comfortable civilian existence to understand this, but this is the life our soldiers chose. They could do jobs here at home but they freely chose the life of a combat soldier with all of its dangers and with all of its risks, and despite those risks they go on.

The road is hard, but the cause is right. Sapper Larcombe’s loss was not in vain and we best honour his sacrifice by maintaining our resolve and backing his mates as they continue to do the job until the job is done. May this brave young soldier rest in peace and may his family and friends take comfort from the condolences today of a grieving and grateful nation.