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Monday, 14 March 2005
Page: 24

Senator SANDY MACDONALD (2:07 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Defence, Senator Hill. Minister, will you please inform the Senate about the circumstances of last week’s tragic death of Private Jamie Clark, who was serving on operations in the Solomon Islands? Will you also provide the Senate with details of the current status of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I regret to inform the Senate of the death late last week of Private Jamie Clark while serving with the Australian Defence Force on operations as part of RAMSI, the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands. On behalf of the government, and I think I can say all senators, I take the opportunity to pass on our condolences to his family and friends for their loss, particularly his mother, father and two brothers. We join them in mourning the tragic death of a highly-regarded young Australian who served his country with great distinction.

Private Clark served in the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment and had done so since 2001. Apart from his operational service in the Solomon Islands he previously served in East Timor as part of Operation Citadel. Private Clark died in the Mount Austin area east of Honiara. An investigation has been carried out by police involved in RAMSI with assistance from the ADF. Without pre-empting the results of that investigation, it appears that he died after falling into a deep shaft while investigating a sinkhole. At the time, Private Clark was engaged in a routine patrol providing security for RAMSI’s participating police forces and searching for weapons caches.

This tragedy follows the murder of RAMSI police officer Adam Dunning last December. Private Clark was a member of the Ready Company Group, which had been deployed to the Solomons in response to Officer Dunning’s death. Private Clark had been serving in the Solomon Islands since January this year. These events serve to remind us of the risks inherent in both military and police service. We should never underestimate the dangers that service personnel face on deployment. Unfamiliar, challenging and often dangerous environments can pose as great a threat to the safety of our personnel as the threat of enemy action.

The Senate will also be aware of the success that RAMSI has had in restoring security and stability in the Solomons. Since the commencement of operations in July 2003, RAMSI has facilitated the arrest of over 900 people and removed more than 4,000 weapons and approximately 300,000 ammunition rounds from circulation. This accomplishment has only been made possible because of the hard and often dangerous work by police and military personnel conducting patrols on the ground. RAMSI is now working with the Solomon Islands government to improve governance and accountability, and to reinvigorate the economy. Private Clark’s death is deeply regretted by the government, by the Army and by all those associated with the mission to the Solomon Islands. I hope that his family and comrades will be able to draw some consolation from the importance and success of the work to which he contributed. He was part of a very important operation. His sacrifice will be honoured each time the RAMSI mission is remembered.