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Tuesday, 15 June 2010
Page: 3239

Senator FAULKNER (Minister for Defence) (3:30 PM) —by leave—I move:

That the Senate records its deep sorrow at the death, on 7 June 2010, of Sapper Jacob Moerland and Sapper Darren James Smith, while on combat operations in Afghanistan, and places on record its greatest appreciation of their service to our country, and tenders its profound sympathy to their families in their bereavement.

On behalf of all senators, I express my heartfelt condolences to Sapper Moerland’s mother, Sandra; father, Robert; sisters, Bethany and Laura; and fiancee, Kezia; to Sapper Smith’s wife, Angela; son, Mason; and father, Graeme; and to other members of both families and all their friends. Sapper Smith was a loving husband and father and a remarkable person. His wife Angela said:

He was very passionate about his job and … always put others first … whether it was his mates in the Army or at home with his family and friends.

Sapper Jacob Moerland was a loving son, a very good brother to his sisters and a strong support to his fiancee, Kezia. His exuberant personality will be sorely missed by his family and all those who knew him, particularly his comrades in the service. Both these men put their mates first. Both displayed the true qualities of an Australian soldier: courage, loyalty, resilience, determination. It was as mates that they died together.

Today our thoughts are also with the members of the 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment, who are deeply mourning their loss. I have met many men and women of the Australian Defence Force and am always impressed by their professionalism and courage, and I am told by those who knew and served with them that Sapper Moerland and Sapper Smith were two of the finest. Sapper Moerland was a loyal soldier committed to serving his country and helping the people of Afghanistan. His passion and dedication exemplify the finest qualities of those serving in the Australian Defence Force. Friends and colleagues remember ‘Snowy’ Moerland as a highly skilled soldier. Sapper Smith was a brave and dedicated soldier. He had a very close bond to his explosive detection dog, Herbie, who also died in the incident. Like Sapper Moerland, Sapper Smith was committed to serving his nation and protecting his colleagues, despite the risk to himself.

Both Sapper Moerland and Sapper Smith were posted to the Brisbane based 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment. They were popular and valued members of the regiment and the Army. For both soldiers this was their first tour of duty to Afghanistan, serving as members of the 1st Mentoring Task Force. Tragically, on 7 June 2010 the young lives of Sapper Smith and Sapper Moerland were cut short by an improvised explosive device during a dismounted patrol while conducting operations in the Mirabad valley in Oruzgan province. They were 26 and 21 years old. These soldiers and their families are owed a special debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.

All of us in this chamber know that we are engaged with the international community in a very challenging campaign in Afghanistan. Our troops in Afghanistan are doing a very difficult and dangerous job. Sappers, or military engineers, have a heavy responsibility and face special dangers. One of their roles, put simply, is to clear the way and make it safe for other troops to move. In Afghanistan, sappers such as Jacob Moerland and Darren Smith wage a daily battle against those deadly, brutal, indiscriminate weapons of the Taliban: improvised explosive devices. It is a battle of steady nerves and clear heads, rather than of guns and rockets. But, as we have been reminded this week, it is just as dangerous. Sapper Moerland and Sapper Smith served their country with great distinction. Their loss of course reminds us of the dangerous conditions that are faced every day by our soldiers in Afghanistan. It also reminds us just how brave our soldiers are.

Today, as we offer our deepest sympathy to the families, friends and comrades of Darren Smith and Jacob Moerland, we say to them: we will never forget you; we will never forget all the brave Australian soldiers that we have lost in the fight against the Taliban. As part of his deployment, Sapper Smith has been awarded the Australian Active Service Medal with the International Campaign against Terrorism clasp, the NATO Service Medal and the Afghanistan Campaign Medal. He has also received the Return from Active Service Badge and the Australian Defence Medal. Sapper Moerland has been awarded the Australian Active Service Medal with the International Campaign Against Terrorism Clasp, the NATO Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal and the Return from Active Service Badge.

These losses are a sombre reminder of the cost of this conflict. This is the nation’s first multiple combat fatality since the Vietnam War, almost four decades ago. I am grateful that I was able to pay my respects to these fallen soldiers as they were returned to Al Minhad Air Base on their journey back to Australia. On Sunday, together with the Chief of the Defence Force, the Chief of the Army and representatives of the opposition, I joined family members at a moving ramp ceremony at Amberley air base to mark the return home of these two Australian soldiers.

I have spoken with family members of both families and I acknowledge the extraordinary support those families have given to these young men. I want today to acknowledge their sacrifice too, and the absolutely devastating loss that they have suffered. On behalf of the Australian government, I offer my deepest sympathy and support to Sapper Smith and Sapper Moerland’s families and friends. I assure them that the courage and the sacrifice of these two fine young Australian soldiers will never be forgotten.