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Wednesday, 23 June 2010
Page: 4139

Senator FAULKNER (Minister for Defence) (3:29 PM) —by leave—I move:

That the Senate record its deep sorrow at the death, on 21 June 2010, of Private Timothy Aplin, Private Benjamin Chuck and Private Scott Palmer, 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.

Private Tim Aplin, Private Ben Chuck and Private Scott Palmer were outstanding soldiers with exemplary service records who were held in the highest esteem by their mates. The helicopter crash that took the lives of these brave and dedicated commandos and wounded seven of their fellow soldiers is a heavy blow for Australia, for the ADF and most especially for the families, friends and loved ones of Private Aplin, Private Chuck and Private Palmer. Our thoughts and our deepest sympathies are with them today. Our grief for these fine soldiers cannot match the devastation felt today by those mourning the loss of a beloved son or brother, father or friend. On behalf of the government and, I know, of all senators, I offer deepest condolences to those personally touched by this terrible loss.

All three of these fine soldiers were part of the Special Operations Task Group drawn from the Sydney based 2nd Commando Regiment. Our commandos are highly skilled, highly trained and very dedicated. Many seek out this challenging career, but not all succeed in their training. Those who pass are physically and mentally the toughest of our men in uniform. Private Aplin, Private Chuck and Private Palmer were among that small and select group, who not only volunteered for some of the most challenging and dangerous work in the ADF but endured and excelled in demanding training to gain that opportunity. As senators would know, all commandos take the rank of private. They are equals; they are comrades; they are mates.

Private Tim Aplin completed the Commando Selection and Training Course in 2008 after 13 years in the Regular Army and willingly took a reduction in rank from sergeant to achieve his goal of being posted to the then 4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (Commando)—now the 2nd Commando Regiment. Private Ben Chuck joined the Army in 2004 as part of the Special Forces Direct Recruiting Scheme and he was posted to the same regiment. Private Scott Palmer enlisted in the Australian Army in 2001, successfully undertook commando selection and training in 2006 and joined that same 4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (Commando) in November 2006. These three men served together, and tragically they died together, but they were also unique individuals who brought their own qualities and virtues to the Special Operations Task Group.

Private Tim Aplin, a team demolitions specialist, was highly respected by all for his dedication and skills. Private Aplin has been awarded the Australian Active Service Medal with East Timor, Iraq and International Coalition Against Terrorism clasps, the Infantry Combat Badge, United Nations Medal with Ribbon UNTAET, the Iraq Medal, the Australian Defence Medal, the Defence Long Service Medal and the Afghanistan Medal. Private Aplin had also been awarded the Returned from Active Service Badge from a previous deployment. He had deployed to East Timor in 2000, to the Middle East as part of Operation Bastille in 2003 and to Afghanistan as part of Operation Slipper in 2009 and again this year. He was a loving husband and father and a remarkable person, who was 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. Our thoughts and sympathies are with Private Aplin’s wife, Natasha, his children—Ty, Shinae, Josie and Daniel—and his mother, Margaret.

Private Ben Chuck, who faced down crocodiles in a wildlife show before becoming a commando, was the patrol medic in his team. His mates say that his affectionate and caring nature and his passion for helping his mates made him especially suited for this role. Private Chuck has been awarded the Australian Active Service Medal with the ICAT clasp, the Afghanistan Medal, the NATO ISAF Medal, the Infantry Combat Badge and the Australian Defence Medal. Private Chuck had also been awarded the Returned from Active Service Badge from his first deployment to Afghanistan. He deployed to Afghanistan as part of Operation Slipper three times, from May to August in 2007, from June to November in 2008 and again in February this year. Our thoughts and sympathies are with Private Chuck’s father, Gordon; mother, Susan; brother, Jason; sister, Tiffany; and partner, Tess.

Private Scott Palmer’s outstanding professionalism was driven by his love for his job and his love for working alongside his mates. He excelled at everything he did. Private Palmer was awarded the Australian Active Service Medal with the Iraq, East Timor, and ICAT clasps; the Iraq Medal; the Australian Defence Medal; the Australian Service Medal with clasp Timor-Leste; the Afghanistan Medal and the NATO ISAF Medal. Private Palmer was also awarded the Infantry Combat Badge and the Returned from Active Service Badge. He had previously deployed to East Timor in 2003 and again in 2007, to the Middle East as part of Operation Catalyst in 2005 and to Afghanistan as part of Operation Slipper three times, in 2007, 2009 and again this year. Our thoughts and sympathies are with Private Palmer’s parents, Ray and Pam, and his brother, Adam.

While I cannot discuss the operational details of the work that these fine soldiers were doing when they were killed, I can assure their families and friends that they were striking at the heart of the Taliban insurgency as part of our mission in Afghanistan to make sure that extremists and international terrorist groups do not again find safe havens and training grounds in that country. This work is very much part of the protection of Australia and the Australian community. Australia cannot afford—Australians cannot afford—for Afghanistan to again become a safe haven for terrorist organisations, such as al-Qaeda, that have Taliban support, that have a global reach and are a global threat. The Bali bombing on 12 October 2002, which killed 202 people, including 88 Australians, was carried out by terrorists with direct links to Afghanistan.

The difficult work that our soldiers do, as all senators know, is very dangerous. Sixteen Australian soldiers have now tragically lost their lives in Afghanistan. One hundred and thirty-five have been wounded in action. They were, as their comrades still are, carrying out their work with courage and professionalism in conditions of real hardship and very real danger. We thank them for their dedication, for the sacrifices they make and the risks that they face for all of us. We thank the families of the men and women in uniform serving overseas for the sacrifices that they make and the support that they give to their loved ones. Our fallen soldiers and their families have paid a very high—an unthinkably high—price for that dedication. We will never forget, although we can never repay, that debt.

Tim Aplin, Ben Chuck and Scott Palmer were brave men, fine soldiers and outstanding Australians. Their families can be very proud of their commitment to our country. We are profoundly honoured by their service to our nation.