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Tuesday, 12 February 2008
Page: 47

Mr RUDD (Prime Minister) (6:46 PM) —I move:

That the House record its deep regret at the deaths in late 2007 of Sergeant Matthew Locke, Trooper David Pearce and Private Luke Worsley while on combat operations in Afghanistan and place on record its appreciation of their service to their country and tender its profound sympathy to their families in their bereavement.

We extend our condolences to Sergeant Locke’s wife, Leigh-Ann, and his son, Keegan; to Trooper David Pearce’s wife, Nicole, and their two children, Stephanie and Hannah; and to Private Worsley’s mother and father, Marjorie and John. I also want to offer my sympathy to the extended family and friends of these brave Australian soldiers, including to their fellow soldiers, who also feel their loss keenly.

Like the Leader of the Opposition, I have had the pleasure and privilege of meeting many of our men and women in uniform, and it is always a remarkable time that you have with them when they are on deployment. I had the pleasure and privilege of meeting our troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, when I visited those countries just before Christmas. On that visit, as always, I was impressed by their courage, their commitment and their professionalism and by the way they uphold the great traditions of the Australian military. These three soldiers who gave their lives were part of that tradition—and that tradition is as important today as it ever has been.

More than 3,500 Australian troops are currently deployed in front-line operations around the world, from Afghanistan to the Solomon Islands. They are making valuable contributions to humanitarian operations, peacekeeping, border protection and nation building. They are working on regional missions and UN operations and under bilateral arrangements. The tragic events—very tragic events—in East Timor yesterday underscore the dangerous conditions in which our forces are often required to serve. Those events have also reminded us of how Australia’s defence forces are recognised for their role in bringing security and stability to various regions, as the East Timorese government has requested the deployment of extra personnel to assist in the challenges which it now faces. The government has agreed to that request and we are aware that we are sending Australian troops and police into a tense and volatile situation. We know that they will do a thoroughly professional job and we hope that they will return home safely.

Our troops on active service overseas should never be far from any of our minds. All of us in this place should be proud of their work. We should not forget the dangers they face. Even when they are not in the newspapers, they are out on operations that are never ever recorded; each day that they are out there, they are facing life-threatening situations—and they do it with extraordinary courage and professionalism.

These three soldiers—Sergeant Locke, Trooper Pearce and Private Worsley—died while serving their country, and this parliament and the government owes them a debt of gratitude, a debt that we are aware we can never fully repay to their families. These men made significant contributions while serving with the Australian Army, which they loved, and they made significant contributions to securing peace in Afghanistan to try to allow that country to rebuild. They did so in a very difficult and a very dangerous—an increasingly dangerous—operating environment. Other brave Australians soldiers continue their crucial work.

These were valued members of their regiments. Their commanders and fellow soldiers describe them as loyal, courageous and dedicated. They will be remembered, as we in this place should remember and reflect on the fact that our troops abroad, particularly those in Afghanistan, are facing increasingly difficult and dangerous times ahead—and I fear greatly the prospect of further losses. On behalf of the Australian government and all members of the House, I offer our prayers, our thoughts and our support to the families and friends of Sergeant Locke, Trooper Pearce and Private Worsley, brave soldiers all.