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Tuesday, 3 February 2009
Page: 42

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Leader of the Government in the Senate) (3:31 PM) —by leave—I move:

That the Senate record its deep regret at the death, on 4 January 2009, of Private Gregory Sher, while on combat operations in Afghanistan, and place on record its appreciation of his service to his country, and tender its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

On behalf of government senators, and I am sure on behalf of all senators, I wish to express my heartfelt condolences to Private Sher’s parents, Yvonne and Felix; his partner, Karen; and his two brothers, Steven and Barry. I know that a number of members of Private Sher’s family are present in the gallery today. They should, please, accept our heartfelt condolences and sympathies for their terrible loss. We know that there are a large number of people—family, friends and fellow service men and women—who feel the loss very deeply.

Private Sher was known as a dedicated and courageous soldier and has been described by his family as ‘a man of purpose and committed determination; an extremely positive person with a kind soul’. Private Sher was born in South Africa in 1978 and migrated to Australia with his family in 1986. He joined the Army in 1998 as an Army Reserve infantryman. Private Sher went on to become a member of the 2nd Company, 1st Commando Regiment, and was with the Special Operations Task Group element that deployed to Tarin Kowt in Afghanistan’s Oruzgan province. There is no higher calling in Australia than to serve our nation in uniform, and Private Sher did this with distinction in both East Timor and Afghanistan. For his service in East Timor, Private Sher received the Australian Active Service Medal, the United Nations Transitional Authority in East Timor Medal and the Infantry Combat Badge. Private Sher has also been awarded the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, the NATO Medal with ISAF Clasp, the Australian Defence Medal and the Returned from Active Service Badge.

Private Sher lost his life in Afghanistan while serving his nation with courage and honour. I know all members of parliament feel very deeply the loss of servicemen like Private Sher. We take our responsibilities in committing Australian troops to combat very seriously. We feel the weight of that decision and we know that people like Private Sher take on the burden of the nation in putting their lives on the line. Unfortunately, Private Sher paid the absolute penalty—the loss of his young life. I have done a lot of farewells to see off troops departing for Iraq, Timor and Afghanistan. The enthusiasm of the soldiers—their commitment to their job, their eagerness to put into practice their training, and their eagerness to serve their country and to do well—always strikes me. This is in contrast to the parents, who are very proud but live in fear of those children not returning. The conversations you have with those who are left behind and worry for them are always quite different. I know his family must be devastated by the loss. As I said, our thoughts are with them.

I had reason to have a chat to my son about the Vietnam War a month or so ago. He is 17. I was telling him about conscription, going to Vietnam and the thought that he might come out of the lottery. I was just young enough—it is hard to believe—to miss that period in our history. Our young men—and women now—go into such danger. He found it quite hard to come to terms with the idea that he may have been called upon to make that sort of sacrifice. I guess he showed his youth, but he also showed the benefit of the peaceful time we have had. That, of course, has ended with the service that our service personnel have had to provide in Iraq, East Timor and Afghanistan. We are now obviously suffering losses in Afghanistan that are very concerning. These are terrible tragedies for the families and the Defence Force, but I think there is a commitment on behalf of Australians and all politicians that the mission they take on is a very worthy one—that is, it is absolutely necessary for us to defeat the Taliban and the terrorist forces that are using Afghanistan as a base. Private Sher’s commitment and contribution will long be recognised by this nation as being very much in the national interest.

We are very grateful for Private Sher and his service and grateful for his family and their support of him. On behalf of the Australian government and all members of the Senate, we offer our support to his family, friends and fellow soldiers, and we mourn his passing.