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Tuesday, 8 February 2011
Page: 1

Ms GILLARD (Prime Minister) (2:02 PM) —I move:

That the House record its deep sorrow at the death, on 2 February 2011, of Corporal Richard Edward Atkinson 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.

On behalf of the government and on behalf of the people of this nation—this very proud and very grateful nation—I rise to honour Corporal Richard Atkinson, who gave his life last week in the cause of a safer world. Corporal Atkinson was a brave young man on his first deployment to Afghanistan. He was a young man, 22 years old. He was soon to be married and he had so much of his life ahead of him. He died serving our nation, he died alongside his mates, he died for his country; and his sacrifice was not in vain.

Today the loved ones of Corporal Atkinson mourn: his mum and dad, Ross and Kate, his brother, James, and sister-in-law, Sumah, and his fiancée, Dannielle. I have spoken to Ross, his father. He is a man of great dignity and he is struggling with some very great grief. Ross told me that he takes comfort from the fact that the last few times he spoke to Richard, the last few times that he called home, he talked about how much he enjoyed being in the Army. He talked about how much he wanted to be there serving the nation in Afghanistan.

Our thoughts are with Richard’s mother and father and his brother and sister-in-law, but they are also very much with a very young woman, Dannielle, his fiancée. Dannielle is a young woman who has now lost the man she loves, a young woman whose dreams of having Richard’s children are now shattered. Her pain, I believe, is almost beyond our imagining and we should not pretend that the uttering of words of condolence in this chamber today will ease that pain. But today we honour her sacrifice and we are united in wishing her the courage and the strength she will need for the future. Today we also mourn with Richard’s colleagues in the 1st Combat Engineer Regiment and the wider Australian Army. They have lost a mate.

Corporal Atkinson’s death is the 22nd loss our nation has faced in Afghanistan. It is, as I warned last year, a hard road—a road that will bring more bad news before the job is done.

In the same incident a comrade of Corporal Atkinson’s was wounded and we hold him in our hearts today as well. He is receiving the best care we can provide him and we wish him well in the days of recovery that lie ahead. One hundred and sixty-eight ADF personnel have been wounded in Afghanistan, many grievously. All of them have our support; all of them have our thanks. We will not let go and we will not forget.