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Tuesday, 12 May 2009
Page: 2398

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Leader of the Government in the Senate) (3:49 PM) —by leave—I move:

That the Senate records its deep regret at the death, on 19 March 2009, of Sergeant Brett Till, while on combat operations in Afghanistan, places on record its appreciation of his service to his country, and tenders its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

On behalf of all senators I wish to express my deepest condolences to Sergeant Till’s family—particularly his wife, Breeanna; his children, Jacob and Taleah; his mother, Susan, and her husband, Leigh; and his father, Noel, and his wife, Cathy. I am sure they are all grieving deeply at this tragic loss of Sergeant Brett Till. I also wish to express our sympathy to his extended family and friends, and of course to his fellow service men and women of the Australian Defence Force, who must be devastated by the loss of their colleague. This reinforces again the commitment of our forces in Afghanistan and the extreme danger in which they are operating. It brings home to us the absolute commitment and bravery those forces are showing in what are increasingly difficult circumstances.

Afghanistan remains a very dangerous battleground for our troops, but it is essential for our security that we continue our fight to bring security and stability to that country. I think reports out of Afghanistan in recent times have reinforced the need for that area to be stabilised and for the forces of the Taliban to be defeated. We cannot allow Afghanistan to again become a safe haven for international terrorists. At the time of his death Sergeant Till was serving as a bomb disposal expert with the Special Operations Task Group. He was, tragically, killed while attempting to defuse an improvised explosive device in order. Obviously this was a very dangerous task, and one that only very special people are trained to do. It is inherently dangerous. Sergeant Till, in performing that duty, was seeking to protect his colleagues.

As I say, those who play this role not only put themselves at great personal risk but also are completely dedicated to ensuring the safety of their fellow soldiers. Throughout his military career Sergeant Till had risen to all the challenges that had been presented to him. He had earned the privilege of commanding one of the Special Operations Task Group’s mobility and survivability teams in Afghanistan, and that is a very demanding role. He was well respected by those he commanded as a man who led from the front and who led by the example of his conduct. Through his skill and his commitment, Sergeant Till demonstrated all of the values that typify the Australian service men and women: courage, initiative, teamwork and selflessness.

Australia is deeply indebted to Sergeant Till and all the other brave soldiers who have given their lives on our behalf. I would like to reinforce to the family our gratitude for the sacrifice they have made. We take very seriously our responsibility in terms of committing our forces to combat, and the government’s recent decision to continue its commitment in Afghanistan, to try to empower the Afghan government security operations and to allow them to govern that country with stability is a sign that we regard the task as an ongoing one and that we need to continue the commitment we have made; but we do so highly conscious of the responsibility of committing our troops there and recognising the dangers in which we place them. I was talking to a soldier who was about to be deployed to Afghanistan for the second time. The enthusiasm and the commitment these soldiers bring to going back there never ceases to amaze me. I guess I would take the view that if you have survived it once it would be a case of quitting while you are ahead, but the fact that they volunteer to go back and recommit to what they know is a highly dangerous situation is a sign of their great commitment.

On behalf of the Australian government and, I am sure, all members of the Senate, we offer our condolences to Sergeant Till’s family, friends and fellow soldiers. We grieve with you at this terrible loss, but you should take comfort that his service and sacrifice is acknowledged and honoured by this government and this Senate.