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Tuesday, 28 September 2010
Page: 67

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations) (5:54 PM) —by leave—I move:

That the Senate records its deep sorrow at the death of Private Nathan Bewes, Trooper Jason Brown, Private Tomas Dale, Private Grant Kirby and Lance Corporal Jared MacKinney while on combat operations in Afghanistan, and places on record its appreciation of their service to our country and tenders its profound sympathy to their families and friends in their bereavement.

Senators and all Australians would be aware of the loss of these five Australian defence personnel since the Senate last met. Their service has been acknowledged. The funerals have occurred and due respect has been shown, but we think it is important that the Senate formally record its appreciation of their service and extend our sympathies to the families, friends and defence colleagues of those five Australian soldiers. We have seen significant loss of personnel in Afghanistan, 21 in total, but obviously these most recent five losses bring home the sacrifice and commitment of our defence personnel and the risks they take.

I want to acknowledge, first of all, the loss of Private Nathan Bewes, who was 23. He joined the Army in 2005. On completion of his recruit and infantry basic training he was posted to the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, in Brisbane. Private Bewes completed a deployment to East Timor in 2006 and was on his second deployment with the First Mentoring Task Force in Afghanistan at the time of his death. To his parents, Gary and Kaye; to his sister, Stephanie; and to his partner, Alice Walsh, please accept our deepest sympathies.

The second person I want to place some remarks about on the record is Trooper Jason Brown. Jason was 29. He joined the Army in 2000. On completion of his recruit and infantry basic training he was posted to the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment. In 2004 he joined the 4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, the Commandos. Trooper Brown became a member of the Special Air Service Regiment after successfully completing that most searching selection course in 2007. He was deployed in June 2010 for the first time to Afghanistan as a member of the Special Operations Task Group. To Jason’s parents, Graham and Ann; and to his sister, Stephanie, our deepest sympathies.

Private Tomas Dale was also killed in action. He was just 21. He joined the Army in 2007. After successfully completing his recruit and infantry basic training he was posted to the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment. This was Private Dale’s first operational deployment. To his parents, Karen and David; and to his brothers, Samuel and Joe, our deepest sympathies.

Private Grant Kirby was 35 when he was killed while serving his country. He joined the Army in 2006. After successfully completing his recruit and infantry basic training he was posted to the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment. This was Private Kirby’s first deployment to Afghanistan. However, it was his second deployment to the Middle East. He had previously been deployed to East Timor and Iraq. To his parents, Gary and Dianne, and Jo-Anne; his sister, Lauren; his brothers, Luke and Shaun; his former partner, Edwina; and his two daughters, Isabella and Madeleine, our deepest sympathies on your terrible loss.

Finally, I want to pay tribute to Lance Corporal Jared MacKinney. He was 28 when he joined the Army in 2002 and in the same year he successfully completed his recruit training. In 2003 he completed his infantry training, prior to being posted to the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment. This was his third deployment to the Middle East and his second to Afghanistan. I want to convey to his wife, Beckie; his daughter, Annabell; his son, Noah; his parents, Terry, Jane and Ian; and his siblings, Caleb, Jordan, Meg and Charlotte, our deep sympathies and condolences on his loss.

These five men have been laid to rest, but it is important that we in the parliament acknowledge their sacrifice. We will remember these five men, each from different backgrounds, who came together to serve in the Australian Defence Force and give to their country. They did so willingly, deliberately choosing to serve their country in what they knew was a dangerous mission.

The government takes its responsibility in committing troops to combat very seriously—I know every member of this parliament takes that responsibility very seriously—and the burden of those decisions, the burden of knowing what we ask of our defence personnel and the risks that they take. The loss of life brings home the seriousness and the import of these decisions. We know that not every Australian or indeed every member of the parliament necessarily accepts the wisdom of our presence in Afghanistan. That is obviously part of our democracy: that people have different views about this. But I do know the parliament is united in paying its respects to those who serve us and in paying its respects to those who have lost their lives and expressing its sympathy to their families, friends and colleagues.

We will shortly have a parliamentary debate on the subject of our ongoing involvement in Afghanistan. That is as it should be in a democracy; we ought to be able to debate these issues. I look forward to that debate because I think it will be useful to have proper consideration of all those issues. I am sure that will occur in the spirit of total support for our troops and recognition of the commitment they show. Obviously the government will argue that Australia’s mission to Afghanistan is essential for us to defeat the Taliban and the terrorist forces that are using it as a safe haven. As I say, we will have that debate in this place.

Today we want to honour the courage of these men, and their 16 colleagues, who have given their lives in pursuit of this mission. We have, as I said earlier, lost 21 soldiers in Afghanistan—historically, a large loss. Those 21 men have paid the ultimate price for maintaining the security of this nation and the world. I would like to reinforce to their families our gratitude for the sacrifice they have also made. I think all of us who have seen the television coverage as well as those of us who have attended the funerals have been moved by the real, personal impact of these losses on families and friends. Seeing the children left behind by some of these men made a real impact on me and many other members of parliament. We know that the families have to share the burden of their loved one’s decision to serve in our Defence Force, and these families are obviously now suffering after the tragic loss that they have experienced.

We know the magnitude of your loss, and the nation grieves with you. But you should take some comfort from knowing that this government and this parliament will continue to offer you their full support. Australia is deeply indebted to these five young men, and we acknowledge the tremendous sacrifice that they have made.

I wish to note the tragic toll on the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, who have particularly suffered, having lost four of the five serving men who died recently—a huge hit to the 6th Battalion. We recognise their ongoing contribution and express our sympathies over what has been, I know, a terrible period for that very proud battalion.

I would also like to acknowledge the role of former defence minister Senator Faulkner in supporting the families of defence personnel. I think his commitment to those families and his support of them in their time of grief has been fantastic. There is a long tradition of defence ministers doing that, but I think his commitment has been quite obvious. I also acknowledge the continuing support of Senator Johnston and the opposition in this regard. I know Senator Faulkner took his role very seriously and had to bear the burden of those terrible losses. I know the Chief of the Defence Force, Angus Houston, an outstanding Australian, also carries the burden of the loss of those men, who were ultimately under his command, and I know the whole of the Australian Defence Force mourns the loss of these men and feels it very deeply indeed. Minister Smith, the new Minister for Defence, will of course carry on supporting the defence forces in this way. We will ensure to every extent possible that our troops are supported in every way possible while they undertake this mission for the nation.

I finish by saying that, clearly, the parliament will always acknowledge the courage and sacrifice of these five men. We acknowledge the suffering of their families but urge them to take great pride in the sacrifice offered by their loved ones. We record our appreciation of and our sympathy for their loss.