House debates

Thursday, 24 June 2010


Private Timothy Aplin; Private Benjamin Chuck; Private Scott Palmer

Debate resumed from 23 June, on motion by Mr Rudd:

That the House record its deep regret at the deaths on 21 June 2010, of Private Timothy Aplin, Private Benjamin Chuck and Private Scott Palmer, while on combat operations in Afghanistan, and place on record its appreciation of their service to our country and tenders its profound sympathy to their families in their bereavement

11:01 am

Photo of Bob BaldwinBob Baldwin (Paterson, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Defence Science and Personnel) Share this | | Hansard source

It is with an incredibly heavy heart that I rise to speak on this condolence motion. It was, as I am sure this chamber remembers only too well, but two days ago that I stood here and spoke on the condolence motion for Sapper Moerland and Sapper Smith who were tragically killed by an IED in Afghanistan on 7 June only a little over two weeks ago. To speak so soon after that tragedy is in fact extremely difficult for me as I am sure it will be for many in this chamber. Unfortunately, there will be some dark moments before we again emerge into the light, particularly of course for the families of those soldiers that were killed and those soldiers who were wounded.

Private Timothy James Aplin, Private Benjamin Adam Chuck and Private Scott Travis Palmer were tragically killed after their International Security Assistance Force helicopter crashed during the early hours of Monday morning. They were performing the duties they were asked to do—eradicating the heart of terrorism in Afghanistan so that people may live freer from oppression and the acts of terrorism. It was Thucydides, a Greek historian, who said:

The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet not withstanding go out to meet it.

That is what they did—clear of mind, determined in purpose. People often say that they remember where they were when the Berlin Wall was brought down or when the Twin Towers in New York were attacked. I will forever remember being in my office in this place gazing at the television and listening to the Chief of the Defence Force, calmly and respectfully delivering the terribly sad news to the Australian people that we had just lost another three fine Australian troops in Afghanistan.

This news came as a shock, because not two weeks prior we as a nation mourned the loss of Sapper Moerland and Sapper Smith. It also came as a personal shock because at that moment I knew exactly how the families of these fine young soldiers would be feeling. I knew it because not a week had passed since I witnessed the grief and absolute sense of loss that enveloped the families of Sapper Moerland and Sapper Smith. I stood with those families at the ramp ceremony; I stood with them at the respective funerals. They are still very fresh in my memory and I am sure in the public’s consciousness.

The English philosopher John Stuart Mill said:

War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.

These men were fine men. They were sons of Anzac, who were willing to fight and who did it so well. Recent captures of weapons caches showed they were effective. They were well trained and highly disciplined individuals who became an integral part of a team at 2nd Commando Regiment, a very tightly banded brotherhood, fighting for freedom from terrorism and oppression.

Private Timothy James Aplin was from the Sydney based 2nd Commando Regiment. He joined the Army Reserves on 4 February 1992 and transferred to the Regular Army on 20 September 1995 where he reached the rank of sergeant. In 2008 Private Aplin completed the Commando Selection and Training Course, a very notable achievement by the most demanding of measures. In January 2009 he was posted to the then 4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (Commando) after completing the Commando Reinforcement Cycle. As a part of the process that Private Aplin undertook to become a commando in the Royal Australian Army he was required to give up his rank of sergeant. He did this willingly, as many before him had done. In doing so Private Aplin joined with those who went before him. He revealed his unconditional commitment to the Australian Army and to the 2nd Commando Regiment.

By all accounts, Private Aplin was an outstanding commando, highly respected and dedicated to his job. He had been deployed as part of Operation Tanager in East Timor, in 2000; Operation Bastille in the Middle East, in 2003; and Operation Slipper in Afghanistan, in 2009 and then again in 2010. This, his second tour of Afghanistan, where he was serving as a member of the Australian Special Operations Task Group as a team demolition specialist, was unfortunately to be his last. But I am sure that, if asked, he would have gone around again. Like so many of his colleagues will attest, they were most happy when they were on the ground plying their trade for which they had trained so well and so hard.

Private Aplin has been awarded the Australian Active Service Medal with East Timor, Iraq and ICAT Clasps. He has been honoured with the Infantry Combat Badge; the Iraq Campaign Medal; the United Nations Medal with Ribbon UNTAET; the Australian Defence Medal; the Defence Long Service Medal; and the Afghan Campaign Medal. Private Aplin has also been awarded the Return from Active Service Badge from a prior deployment. The following statement was released on behalf of Private Aplin’s wife and family. I am honoured to read it to the House:

Timothy Aplin is a man who represented many things to many people.

He was first, foremost and most importantly, an adored husband to his beloved Natasha, and a loving, guiding light as father and stepfather to their children Ty, Shinae, Josie and Daniel.

Tim was a much loved, valued and loyal friend to so many.

He was a highly trained and highly regarded soldier, who as a senior non-commissioned officer decided to pursue his dream of becoming a Special Forces soldier, and ultimately, a Commando.

Private Aplin’s parents, Mrs Margaret Gunnell and Mr Richard Gunnell, also released a moving tribute:

We are all very proud of Tim.

Tim was very fit and active with a real sense of adventure. He loved life, loved his family and was a devoted friend, father, uncle, son, brother and nephew.

Tim was a proud Australian who followed his dream to join the army. He loved military life and enjoyed his job. He was a confident and highly capable soldier and his loss will be deeply felt.

On behalf of Tim’s very large and extended family, we would like to thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers and we would now like the opportunity to grieve with our family and friends in private.

Private Aplin will be sorely missed by all those who knew him, particularly his family, colleagues and friends. I especially convey to his family my sincere condolences at this very difficult time.

Private Scott Travis Palmer was also from the Sydney based 2nd Commando Regiment. He joined the Army in 2001 and, after successfully completing the Commando Selection and Training Course in 2006, he joined the 4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (Commando). Serving his country through overseas deployment was not something that Private Palmer shied away from. At just 27 he had seen operational service in East Timor, Iraq and twice in Afghanistan prior to this tour where he would tragically never return home from.

Private Palmer clearly understood the importance of his role to his country but also demonstrated a brave dedication to the safety of overseas nations and to the colleagues with whom he fought side by side. His lasting legacy to his colleagues will be one of professionalism, despite the demanding, dangerous, difficult work he was asked to do. Not only did he love his job but he was good at it. Having his mates to work alongside only made it better.

Private Palmer was awarded the Australian Active Service Medal with Iraq, East Timor and ICAT Clasps. He was awarded the Iraq Campaign Medal, the Australian Defence Medal, the Australian Service Medal with the Timor-Leste Clasp, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, the NATO ISAF Medal and the Returned from Active Service Badge from a previous deployment. I believe one of the greatest honours in this world is to serve one’s country. Private Palmer did that many times over, and Australia is blessed to have been served by such a dedicated and talented commando.

It is also with deep sadness that we say farewell to Private Benjamin Adam Chuck from the Sydney based 2nd Commando Regiment. Born in Atherton Queensland, Private Chuck joined the Army in May 2004 as part of the Special Forces Direct Recruiting Scheme at just 21 years of age. After completing commando selection and training, he was posted to the then 4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (Commando) and served as the patrol medic with his sniper team.

Colleagues of Private Chuck have described him as an outstanding, passionate, caring, highly trained commando who excelled at everything he attempted. I have no doubt his talents served his team immeasurably during these three tours of Afghanistan. He was awarded the Australian Active Service Medal with the ICAT Clasp, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, the NATO ISAF Medal, the Infantry Combat Badge, the Australian Defence Medal and the Returned from Active Service Badge from his first deployment in Afghanistan.

Of course, Private Chuck’s passion extended beyond work and into his life at home with his family. As his mother, Susan, told the Australian:

“He loved what he did … He was focused on what he was doing. Even though he knew it was dangerous, he did it with the utmost pride.

“He was a passionate family man. He wasn’t married, but he was in a lovely relationship. We were a very close family, my husband, his siblings and I. What happened to him was just a tragic accident.”

His father, Gordon, has told of a young man who loved life and all that he could pack into it. I would like to read from an article in the Cairns Post written by Stephanie Harrington, whose words go some small way to describe the man that Private Chuck was to his family and to his team.

BEN Adam Chuck was a man among men. He handled crocodiles and venomous snakes at a local zoo. He flew helicopters and was a “beautiful kickboxer” who never lost a fight.

It was this thirst for adventure that spurred the former Atherton State High School student to train as a commando and become part of the Australian forces in Afghanistan in May 2007.

Pte Chuck was due to return home from his third mission in a fortnight, but for his devastated Tableland family, he will never walk through their door.

Pte Chuck was one of the three Australian commandos who died when their Black Hawk helicopter crashed in Kandahar Province in southern Afghanistan early on Monday morning.

It was the biggest loss of life in any incident during Australia’s near-decade long involvement in Afghanistan.

Pte Chuck was a passenger in the helicopter, along with Pte Tim Aplin and Pte Scott Palmer, who also died in the accident.

Yesterday, Pte Chuck’s heartbroken family spoke of their pride for their “courageous and kind” son who celebrated his 27th birthday on Friday.

Dad Gordon, 61, mum Susan, 58, brother Jason, 29, and his wife Gemma gathered at their Yungaburra home yesterday supported by a family friend.

“Ben believed very much in what he was doing and so did we. We knew the risks and so did he,” Mr Chuck said.

“I guess we will just live with the thought that when you believe in something strongly enough, there’s always the possibility the ending may be like this.

“But he loved his country. I guess he paid the ultimate price and so have we.”

Mrs Chuck said her son, who is also survived by his sister Tiffany, 23, and his partner of 18 months Tess Crane, had followed in the footsteps of his grandfathers, both decorated soldiers who served in World War II.

“He was an amazing solider and loved it,” Mrs Chuck said.

Pte Chuck was among fewer than 20 of 250 applicants who made the Special Forces during a recruitment drive in 2004, when he was given the most outstanding soldier award.

He went on to earn four medals and two badges during his six years of service. A Department of Defence spokesperson described him as an outstanding and highly-trained commando whose “affectionate and caring nature drove his passion for helping his mates”.

Pte Chuck was based at Sydney’s Holsworthy Barracks. Jason Chuck, who spoke to his brother on Saturday, said Pte Chuck’s goal was to fly a helicopter in search and rescue missions when he returned to Australia on July 8.

“He was a very strong leader. He just naturally commanded a lot of respect,” Jason Chuck said.

“Joining the army was probably the best thing he ever did, regardless of the outcome. It gave him such a sense of purpose and direction he didn’t have before.”

As I noted, before joining the army as a commando, Private Chuck worked at Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures in Queensland from 1 July 2003 to 14 January 2004. It seemed somewhat natural that an enthusiastic crocodile handler would make the transition to the army’s elite commandos. Through the former member for Leichhardt Warren Ench, a known crocodile farmer, I made contact with Ms Angela Freeman, Private Chuck’s previous supervisor at Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures. She spoke of a highly respected and well liked young man. She spoke of his gentle and polite nature. She said:

He was an outstanding person, an outstanding human being. There’s no way you can take away from his bravery and remarkable nature. He enjoyed things which involved some risk-taking so understandably he got a great deal of joy working with crocodiles. His colleagues were very impressed with how quickly Ben progressed and learned the trade of croc. handling where in a very short time he became a very highly valued employee. In fact every time he came back to visit us I tried to get him back working for us. Ben was always willing to take on new tasks and challenges, including working with venomous snakes and appearing on ABC television promos which many people would’ve seen him on.

Ben had a very cheeky sense of humour and thoroughly enjoyed his work. We were sorry to see him go, but we understood he was training very hard to join the army and the army was his passion. The last time I saw Ben he was on his way back to Afghanistan. He came in for a visit and he said he was very happy working in the army. He was well aware of the danger, but believed he was part of something very important and proud of the work that he was doing.

I have the deepest regard for his parents who gave their wholehearted support for Ben in his pursuits and I have the deepest sympathy for them now during this very difficult time. I’m sure Ben would have moved up the ranks and gone on to become a very successful soldier.

I sincerely hope that Private Chuck’s family can take some small comfort in knowing that he died performing a job he loved, supported by people he loved and who loved him. Many people never find either of these great blessings despite their long lives. As I said at the beginning, it has been a rather emotional week for everybody in this parliament. At the ramp ceremony just 12 days ago, the arrival of Sapper Jacob Moerland and Sapper Darren Smith, I spoke to Sandy Moerland, Jacob’s mother. She gave me one message to sum it all up. She said: ‘Don’t let Jacob’s death be in vain.’

The work that our men and women do in Afghanistan and in other theatres of operation, where they place themselves in harm’s way for the benefit of others, should never be underestimated or undervalued, and we must make sure that the deaths of these fine Australians are not in vain. I have not yet spoken to the families of Private Timothy James Aplin, Private Benjamin Adam Chuck or Private Scott Travis Palmer but I am sure they share that same sentiment: they do not want the deaths of these fine sons of Anzac to be in vain. In all of this, I think of the quote by Joaquin Miller:

The bravest battle that ever was fought!

Shall I tell you where and when?

On the maps of the world you will find it not;

‘Twas fought by the mothers of men.

Shortly, Australia will welcome home another three sons. We will respect them, we will thank them and we will bless them. As John 15:13 says:

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

This they did, and for that their nation will be forever truly grateful. We will always remember them. We will remember their contribution, we will remember their mates and we will persevere—because the job is not yet finished, and to pull out before the job is finished would be to discredit these fine Australians who gave their all.

Photo of Danna ValeDanna Vale (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Paterson for his very moving contribution. The question is that the motion be agreed to.

11:21 am

Photo of Joel FitzgibbonJoel Fitzgibbon (Hunter, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Madam Deputy Speaker Vale, I think it is very appropriate that you be in the chair at this time, given your previous roles in this place, your deep-seated interest in our military history and of course your support for the men and women of the Australian Defence Force. I know that you feel very keenly these very emotional debates.

The member for Paterson, at some length and in some detail, provided us with information about the three soldiers we pay tribute to this morning, so I will not go over that again. I apologise in advance, though, if I am a little bit repetitive, because, sadly and tragically, we were in this chamber only two days ago paying tribute to Sappers Moerland and Smith, and in many ways the issues we confront today are much the same.

I begin by extending my sympathy to the families of Private Tim Aplin, Private Ben Chuck and Private Scott Palmer. To all of their family members, to all of their friends, to all of their ADF colleagues, I say how sorry I am, as I am sure we all are, that they are no longer with us. They are no longer with us because they, like many who have gone before them, were prepared to give their lives in service to their nation. I knew none of these three fine soldiers, but there is an extraordinary level of consistency in these matters, and I do not need to have known them to know that they were highly skilled, courageous and dedicated. Just as importantly, they knew what they were doing, they knew the risks and they believed in what they were doing.

As I said two days ago, I hope that their family and friends draw some strength from that fact—that they really believed in what they were doing. As a former defence minister I have been to many repatriations and funerals for soldiers who have fallen in operations, and again it is very consistent that the family members do draw strength, I have found, from the fact that their boys knew the risks and believed in what they were doing. That is absolutely the case with respect to the three soldiers we pay tribute to and whom we thank this morning.

We have now lost 16 fine Australians in Afghanistan—17, if you include Rifleman Nash, a western suburbs boy who was serving with the UK force in Afghanistan. I think we should include him in that list. He was fighting for the same cause, albeit in a different uniform, and with the same dedication and the same courageous approach. I want to read their names into the record again, because I think we should do that regularly to ensure that these people are not forgotten. They are: Sergeant Andrew Russell, Trooper David ‘Poppy’ Pearce, Sergeant Matthew ‘Matty’ Locke, Private Luke Worsely, Lance Corporal Jason Marks, Signaller Shaun McCarthy, Lieutenant Michael Fussell, Private Gregory Sher, Corporal Matthew Hopkins, Sergeant Brett Till, Private Benjamin Ranaudo, Sapper Jacob Moerland, Sapper Darren Smith and, of course, again today, Private Aplin, Private Chuck and Private Palmer.

Afghanistan is a very, very dangerous place. The campaign we are part of there is a very challenging one. I said two days ago that, unfortunately, the longer we are there, the more people we lose and the more people who are injured—and I also refer to those who were injured in the same helicopter crash that took out these three fine soldiers—the harder it will be to maintain the support of the Australian electorate for this campaign. Again, I make an appeal to the broader Australian electorate to understand, first of all, that we are there for good reason. We are there to stabilise a country which previously provided a safe haven, a breeding ground and a launching pad for terrorists prepared to perpetrate their acts of terror right around the globe, including on our doorstep and even on our own homeland. It is a very, very important thing to play our role in ensuring that people are able to travel freely around the globe and enjoy a safe lifestyle in their own homeland without threat or any question about their freedom. That is why we are there.

How do we achieve that? We achieve that by ensuring that the democratically elected government of Afghanistan has the capacity to take care of its own security and therefore deny groups like al-Qaeda the opportunity to once again use their own country to launch those vicious terrorist attacks around the globe. We do so by building up their security forces—both their defence force and their police forces—helping them build an economy, helping them build a system of governance and assisting them in establishing a justice system. These are important initiatives. We are only a relatively small part of the global effort to achieve those aims but we play an important part.

It is important that we continue to make a contribution, not just because of what our contribution provides on the ground—and it is a significant one; we are certainly punching above our weight—but also because it is important to send a signal that the international community is working together in a common cause against a common foe and that it is not a conflict between the United States of America and one particular fundamentalist group, or one particular country, even. It is an international effort, and we are standing together and cooperating together to achieve those aims. That is a very, very important message to both those who we confront in Afghanistan and the global community more generally.

Of course, there are other implications. Afghanistan has implications for countries like Pakistan in particular, a nuclear capable state, a state so critical to maintaining stability in that part of the region. But there is another point. Imagine a precipitate withdrawal from Afghanistan now, after nine years of operations. Can you imagine the humanitarian disaster which would flow from that precipitate withdrawal, as retribution was sought against all those who have sided with the international security forces? It would probably be a humanitarian disaster on a scale we have not seen before. Again, of course, that has implications for countries like Pakistan, which was the destination for so many refugees who fled war-torn Afghanistan in the early to mid-eighties, and countries like Australia, which will undoubtedly be a destination for those who again flee the acts of terror perpetrated by fundamentalist groups like the Taliban and indeed others. These are very, very good reasons to stay the course.

Today we saw a momentous event in Parliament House. We saw a change of Prime Minister. We will be reading about it for some days, weeks and indeed months ahead. I cannot speak on behalf of the new Prime Minister. She will speak for herself. I speak merely as a humble backbencher, but I am confident that the government’s policy will not change on Afghanistan. I am confident that our commitment to Afghanistan will remain in place. Indeed, I would urge the new Prime Minister to ensure that we continue to maintain our commitment. It is not an open-ended commitment. The government have made it clear that we have a clearly defined mission, and that is to train the 4th Brigade of the Afghan National Army in Oruzgan province up to a capacity where it is able to play its important role in enforcing and maintaining local peace and security. While our Mentoring Task Force is doing so, our Special Forces soldiers continue to clear and deny the worst of the enemy. But we do have an end goal, and that is it. I remind the Australian people that the government under Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has clearly defined the mission now and has provided an end point for the mission, and I ask them to be very, very patient with us.

I remind that House that the three brave Australian soldiers we pay tribute to today were not conscripts; they were volunteers, highly professional soldiers, highly trained, highly skilled, highly committed and highly determined to do their bit for their country. They believed in what they were doing, and we as an international community should also believe in what they were doing and what those who are still serving in Afghanistan and other operations are doing. I will say it again: the most effective way in which we can express our appreciation to them and indeed support their families—I should be careful not to generalise on that, but I believe it would be a general view amongst the families and friends—is to stay the course and finish the job. Their families and friends would not want their sacrifice to have been in vain.

I know it is hard because from time to time decisions come out of Brussels and Kabul which leave us somewhat bewildered. There are countries in the partnership that from time to time do not seem to be pulling their weight, but that is no reason not to continue on that very important mission. Having said that, it is incumbent on the government to continually reassess the mission to ensure that success is achievable and of course to ensure that in those global councils, whether they be in Washington, Brussels or Kabul, the right decisions are being made and a strategy is in place to deliver the key objectives we seek to achieve.

Again, I pay tribute to Privates Tim Aplin, Ben Chuck and Scott Palmer and extend my sympathies to their families and friends. Having made a contribution now to two of these condolence motions in one week, I dearly hope that this will be my last.

11:35 am

Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

The previous speakers referred to bravery. If you want to know about bravery, look at the mothers. In my own family, my great-great grandmother suffered this and then my great-grandmother suffered it as well—Bert Henley, my great-grandfather’s brother, died at Gallipoli. His namesake, Bert Henley, died soon after coming home from Changi Prison.

I think the most moving scene I have ever seen in a movie was the first one in Saving Private Ryan. In that movie, the camera is behind the mother at the door. The black limousine pulls up and the telegram is brought telling the mother that her three sons are dead. Everything that was in that woman’s body that held her upright simply crumpled as she collapsed to the floor. Tommy McIver, the famous rough rider and country music singer, wrote in the song 21 Guns: ‘The angel of death with his knock at the door, the crumpled up telegram falls to the floor. Her reason for livin’ is livin’ no more as she cries for the pride of Australia.’

That is the story of Susan Chuck, the mother of the soldier we are commemorating here in the House. I sincerely congratulate the Cairns Post on the really wonderful treatment and effort they have made to honour one of our North Queensland sons. Mr Deputy Speaker, as you do in Tasmania, we live in a very small community where everybody knows everybody. Whilst I do not know the Chucks personally, Gordon Chuck went on the walk at Kokoda with Ian Hosey, and I know Ian very well. My chief of staff and right hand director comes from Malanda, which is just 15 or 20 kilometres down the road, and her mother knows the family well. You can see the sort of people that they are, with Gordon Chuck doing the Kokoda Track. They established Eden House, which is a wonderful tourist attraction and enriches the tourist basket we can offer visitors from outside Far North Queensland. They have made a very great contribution to the Far North Queensland industry.

I am drawing a picture for you of what these people are like. Private Chuck’s home town of Yungaburra must be one of the most beautiful places on earth. It has a magnificent lake and behind it is the dense high-elevation jungle of North Queensland. Every night of the year you use one blanket, and there is no night of the year when you need to use two blankets. It truly is a beautiful place with beautiful buildings and people that are very, very civilised.

Private Chuck, because he was a man who clearly loved challenges, took himself off to become a crocodile handler. I hold up for the benefit of the House a picture of Private Chuck contending with a crocodile, all but wrestling with it. He was also a handler of dangerous snakes at the zoo. He was a man that loved life, loved excitement, loved adventure and was making his contribution, like his parents, to a wonderful industry in Far North Queensland. I quote from the very wonderful treatment by the Cairns Post commemorating one of our sons:

THE brother of fallen soldier Pte Ben Chuck yesterday cautioned against using the commando’s death as a reason to pull Australian troops out of Afghanistan.

As support for the war wanes and is likely to continue to fall after the death of three Australian commandos on Monday, Jason Chuck said his brother was committed to Australia’s role in Afghanistan.

“I don’t want this used as some sort of political justification for bringing troops home. That wouldn’t have been something Ben would have endorsed. He was so proud of what he did,” Mr Chuck said.

A very moving editorial by the paper says:

… on Monday, one of our own sons, Ben Chuck of Yungaburra, was among three experienced Special Forces soldiers killed in a helicopter crash.

Now it is very real, very raw and very painful.

The war is now very much part of our community and we all share the grief of his family and friends in the close-knit Tableland village.

Ben’s death and that of his two colleagues are the worst suffered by the Australian army on operations since Vietnam. …

The Chuck family blames no one for the death of their 27-year-old son. They knew the risks he faced and he did too.

Ben was among the elite in the Special Forces and received a most outstanding soldier award.

He was dedicated to the war on terrorism and determined to play his part in removing these killers who spare no one in their misguided quest of murder.

The family supports Australia’s involvement in the war and do not, for one moment, want the Defence Force to withdraw, despite current debate …

We grieve for the family but we know, as they know, he died bravely and courageously fighting to rid the world of the terror which has changed the face of this planet forever.

Another article in the Cairns Post reads:

BEN Adam Chuck was a man among men. He handled crocodiles and venomous snakes at a local zoo. He flew helicopters and was a “beautiful kickboxer” who never lost a fight.

It was this thirst for adventure that spurred the former Atherton State High School student—

I might add, for those that follow the great game of rugby league, that just up the road is the home of Dallas Johnson and just down the road, at Gordonvale, is the home of Nate Myles. We pride ourselves on the boys coming out of the Atherton Tableland, like Mickey Nasser’s mob. They have always been tough people who love excitement and adventure. The article goes on:

It was this thirst for adventure that spurred the former Atherton State High School student to train as a commando and become part of the Australian forces in Afghanistan in May 2007.

Pte Chuck was due to return home from his third mission in a fortnight, but for his devastated Tableland family, he will never walk through their door.

Yesterday, Pte Chuck’s heartbroken family spoke of their pride for their “courageous and kind” son who celebrated his 27th birthday on Friday.

Dad Gordon, … mum Susan, … brother Jason, … and his wife Gemma gathered at their Yungaburra home yesterday supported by a family friend.

“Ben believed very much in what he was doing and so did we. We knew the risks and so did he,” Mr Chuck said.

“I guess we will just live with the thought that when you believe in something strongly enough, there’s always the possibility the ending may be like this.

“But he loved his country. I guess he paid the ultimate price and so have we.”

Mrs Chuck said her son … followed in the footsteps of his grandfathers, both decorated soldiers who served in World War II.

“He was an amazing solider and loved it,” Mrs Chuck said.

Pte Chuck was among fewer than 20 of 250 applicants who made the Special Forces …

Remember that those 250 applicants are only the people who thought they would have some chance. If you asked how many people wanted to be a commando, it might be 2,000 or 3,000, but only those 250 thought they were good enough to apply. Of that 250, only 20 became commandos. So this man was an elite of the elite. The article goes on:

He went on to earn four medals and two badges during his six years of service. A Department of Defence spokesperson described him as an outstanding and highly-trained commando whose “affectionate and caring nature drove his passion for helping his mates”.

As a person who spent eight years in uniform in the militia on 24-hour call-up to fight in Indonesia and later in Vietnam, I do not think you really go out there with a burning love for your country. In the back of your mind, you know that that is what it is all about, but really in the Army you do what your country requires of you and you do it because you do not want to let your mates down. That probably is one of the strongest forces operating inside a military unit. The article goes on to quote Private Chuck’s brother Jason:

“Joining the army was probably the best thing he ever did, regardless of the outcome. It gave him such a sense of purpose and direction he didn’t have before.”

The Australian flag at the family’s business Eden House Retreat and Mountain Spa at Yungaburra was flying at half mast yesterday as the Tableland community started to grieve for their fallen son.

Staff at Atherton State High School, from where Pte Chuck graduated a decade ago, remembered him as a well-liked and personable student.

“He’s from a very respected family and was well thought of within the school,” acting principal Stuart Edwards said. “It’s terrible.”

Pte Chuck worked as a wildlife keeper and crocodile handler at Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures, north of Cairns, for six months before joining the army.

He earlier worked at the Cairns Crocodile Farm.

At Hartley’s, Pte Chuck learned to handle venomous snakes and thrilled tourists as a performer in the crocodile attack show.

Zoo co-owner Peter Freeman said Pte Chuck had left a lasting impression and would drop by Hartley’s to catch up with staff when he visited his family.

“He was an extremely good employee,” Mr Freeman said.

“Everyone who worked with Ben has remembered him and remembered him as a great person and a great colleague.”

…            …            …

“He loved life and all of the adventure he could pack into it,” Mr Chuck said.

“He was a man amongst men.”

Another article says:

“We will be bring him home,” his mother Susan Chuck told The Cairns Post yesterday.

…            …            …

The decorated soldier, 27, described as a “man among men”, died in a Black Hawk helicopter crash in Kandahar Province early on Monday morning.

Pte Chuck’s brother, Jason, said the news had hit the family hard but there was some comfort in knowing he died doing what he loved.

“He was a passionate soldier and he, and his unit, were always so excited leading into a deployment,” he said.

“He had pride in serving his country and deeply believed in what they were doing.

“It helps us knowing he died doing what he loved and we are sure this is the way he would have wanted to go.”

It is worth mentioning that Private Chuck received commendation as an outstanding soldier on one occasion. We are a small community up on the Atherton Tableland. Particularly in this area we take very great pride in the achievements of our sons like Dallas Johnson and Nate Myles, but we take infinitely greater pride in someone of this nature who died serving his country. The article goes on:

Mrs Chuck said Pte Chuck would be brought home shortly.

“He loved north Queensland,” she said.

“It’s where he would want to be.”

11:50 am

Photo of Alan GriffinAlan Griffin (Bruce, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Veterans' Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to express my sorrow at the passing of three Australian Defence Force members who were killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan on Monday. Privates Tim Aplin, Ben Chuck and Scott Palmer were all members of the Sydney based 2nd Commando Regiment and were serving with the Special Operations Task Group in Afghanistan when they lost their lives in the service of their nation.

Private Tim Aplin was serving as a demolitions specialist and was on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan. He has been described as an outstanding and dedicated commando who was highly respected.

Private Ben Chuck was the patrol medic within his sniper team and was on his third tour in Afghanistan. He has been described as an outstanding commando who excelled at all he attempted. His affectionate and caring nature drove his passion for helping his mates.

Private Scott Palmer was also on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan. He has been described as having professionalism of the highest order and excelling at everything he did.

I extend my sincere condolences to the family and friends of these men and to the members of the Australian Defence Force, who also feel this great loss. In particular, I offer my deep condolences to: Private Tim Aplin’s wife Natasha; his children Ty, Shinae, Josie and Daniel; and his mother Margaret; Private Ben Chuck’s mother Susan, father Gordon, brother Jason, sister Tiffany and partner Tess; and Private Scott Palmer’s mother Pam, father Ray and brother Adam.

To the members of the 2nd Commando Regiment, my thoughts are with you as you mourn the loss of three of your members and the wounding of another seven. I offer my prayers to the family and friends of Private Tim Aplin, Private Ben Chuck and Private Scott Palmer and also for the safe homecoming of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen who continue to serve in operations all around the world. Privates Aplin, Chuck and Palmer have made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their nation and this will not be forgotten. I mourn their loss.

11:52 am

Photo of Luke SimpkinsLuke Simpkins (Cowan, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to take the opportunity to pay tribute today to the three soldiers who lost their lives in Afghanistan on 21 June, 2010. This is one of those moments where we are reminded of the seriousness of our actions here in the parliament and the potential consequences on our soldiers and of course their families. War is a serious business with serious consequences.

I would, firstly, like to pay tribute to Timothy James Aplin, who was 38 years old. When I read that Private Aplin was 38 years old, I thought that 38 was quite old for a private and that there must be a story behind it. Indeed, there is a story behind Private Aplin. Having joined the Army Reserve in 1992 and having transferred to the Regular Army in 1995 Private Aplin had progressed to the rank of sergeant. But his goal was to pursue a career in Special Forces. He undertook the commando selection course and then the commando training course in 2008. But of course to enter Special Forces as an OR—other rank—normally you cannot, under any circumstances, go in taking that more senior rank such as sergeant or even corporal.

Sergeant Aplin was presented with a choice: did he want to proceed with a posting to the 4th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (Commando) or did he want to retain his sergeant rank? Pursuing the goal that he had always sought, he put aside his rank, reverted to private and went in as a commando. I think we need to remember that the rank of sergeant is very highly regarded by the soldiers of the Australian Army. It is not achieved lightly. There are subject courses to be passed for the rank of corporal and then sergeant. Recommendations by commanders need to be made. It is not something that is just achieved. It is no handout in the lolly packet, the cereal packet or anything like that. He worked hard to achieve his rank of sergeant, but his goal was Special Forces. His goal was the commandos, and he set aside his rank of sergeant to achieve his goal and join the commandos.

I think that the way he did that was certainly a testament to great character: someone who wanted to serve his nation, someone who wanted to serve in a particular area as a commando, someone who had dedication to service. Private Aplin strikes me as the sort of man who was every commander’s dream, someone who just wanted to be there, just wanted to serve, just wanted to do the job, who was not wrapped up with the trappings of rank or anything like that but just wanted to get on and do his duty, and I imagine that he enjoyed doing his duty as well. Indeed, he was already something of a veteran, having had operational service in East Timor in 2000, the Middle East in 2003 and Afghanistan already in 2009. His second tour of Afghanistan was where he lost his life in the helicopter accident. I guess it is not that easy to replace people like that, who have that sort of unique and driven dedication to their profession. I think his loss in the 2nd Commando Regiment will be felt greatly, as indeed the loss of any of our soldiers is felt greatly within Defence. So I pay tribute to Private Aplin today.

I would also like to speak of Private Benjamin Adam Chuck, also a member of the 2nd Commando Regiment. The service of 27-year-old Private Chuck is also a story of its own. Some years ago, it was determined that there could be direct recruitment into the Special Forces, where people off the street, you might say, or maybe from the police could apply with the specific intent of entering the Special Forces. As I think all of us here know, and some of us who have served in the Army as well maybe know just a little bit better—and I am not Special Forces myself by any means—it is serious business out there. The weapons, the explosives and the training can be pretty dangerous stuff. Some may call them supersoldiers, as the SAS are often referred to, but there is no doubt that they are a highly trained organisation and highly effective. For someone like Private Chuck to have come from civilian life, to have specifically joined and to have just gone straight through those courses to become a commando is again a testament to an excellent character. He has been described as a person who excelled at everything he attempted. Clearly he was a very tough and determined young man. As we have heard from other speakers, he was fulfilling the role of patrol medic within his sniper team. It has also been said that he was devoted to his mates, as I am sure that all members of the 2nd Commando Regiment certainly are.

I also take this opportunity to pay my respects regarding Private Palmer, the third soldier who unfortunately died in this helicopter crash. Private Palmer joined the Army in 2001. By the end of 2006, he had completed his commando selection course, his commando training course, and was then posted to the 4th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (Commando) as it was then called, now the 2nd Commando Regiment. He certainly had plenty of operational experience. This was his third tour to Afghanistan, and he had also served at other times in East Timor and Iraq. He was also notable—as indeed, as I have said before, are all members of the 2nd Commando Regiment and members of the Australian Army in general—for his professionalism and dedication to excellence.

A lot has been said about why we are in Afghanistan. Questions have been asked. Some people still ask why we are there. What possible influence can that place have on us here in Australia? The reality is that there are evil people in the world. The Taliban wish to increase fundamentalist Islamic rule across the region and beyond. Of course, they need a base. They need somewhere to train, somewhere to gather, somewhere to launch their wider operations from, and that place is Afghanistan—but only if we let it be Afghanistan. We remember, not too long ago, the Taliban’s operations in the Swat Valley, in Pakistan, and I commend the Pakistani army and services for driving them back out of the Swat Valley and re-establishing legitimate government control over the Swat Valley. The Taliban continue to pursue a re-establishment of their bases in Afghanistan and their control in Afghanistan, and they intend to use that place to launch their forms of terrorism.

We know that they are suppressors of women and the rights of women. They are controllers of education. They are soldiers of totalitarianism. I would just add one other thing to that. Who can forget those famous views of where the Taliban destroyed the image of Buddha carved into a cliff face in Afghanistan? These are, without doubt, evil people. We have no choice, and we have an obligation, to continue that fight against them. Certainly the Taliban provide no value in the world. They are enemies of democracy. The point is that, if we do not stay in Afghanistan until the Afghan government can ensure their own security, this nation and our neighbours may be subject to terrorism that originates from Afghanistan. That is my view about our national cause.

But, down from such heights, I will bring it back home. There are the families who will forever have to live with the loss of their loved ones—in this case, the families of Private Aplin, Private Chuck and Private Palmer. It can be a struggle to find the words to say to those who have lost their loved ones in this cause. To the parents, brothers and sisters, partners and friends of these lost loved ones: my thoughts, my deepest sympathy and my heartfelt condolences are with them. These men died in defence of democracy and for liberation. Australia never wants to have to send soldiers abroad, but we have. Australians did not ask for violence, but we have answered it. Australia did not start this war, but we will move on with the coalition to win it. To all the Australian Defence Force personnel still engaged in the conflict in Afghanistan: take a moment to honour your fallen comrades, but maintain your vigilance, your confidence, your courage and your commitment to carry on with the mission. I thank them for their service. I thank the families of these fallen soldiers for the sacrifice.

12:04 pm

Photo of Michael DanbyMichael Danby (Melbourne Ports, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is with great sadness that I rise to speak again, as I have previously in this chamber, about the deaths of Australian soldiers in Afghanistan, particularly Private Timothy James Aplin, Private Benjamin Adam Chuck and Private Scott Travis Palmer, all special operations soldiers in 2nd Commando Regiment, who were killed in action just days ago. The three soldiers we are mourning today died in what seems to have been an accidental helicopter crash of one of our allied military helicopters. These are deaths in active service, and we honour them as we have honoured the other 13 Australians who have died in active service over the past eight years, including Sappers Moerland and Smith, for whom we had a condolence motion just the other day. I join with all the political leaders and other parliamentarians who have spoken before me in sending my deepest condolences to the families of those who have died. I think of the families of those who have been wounded and, like all members of this House, pray for their rapid and complete recovery. I also think of our American, British and Afghan allies and the losses they have sustained.

Wars, particularly prolonged wars, are very difficult for democracies. It is easy to say, ‘We shall stay the course,’ but when we have months like this, with five deaths in rapid succession, we begin to realise what that means in practice. Questions begin to rise and pressure begins to mount on elected governments to find the best way to end the sacrifice of our best and bravest. We need to resist those calls. This is not a war that Australia or the democratic world as a whole can afford to lose. We need to win this war not for its own sake and not just to protect ourselves against terrorism; we need to win it for the sake of the people of Afghanistan.

I thought that point was made very strongly by the member for Paterson, on the other side of the chamber, who talked about having attended the ramp ceremonies and funerals of soldiers killed in Afghanistan very recently. I can echo that experience, having represented the government on the death of a soldier from Melbourne from 2nd Commando Company, 1st Commando Regiment, Private Greg Sher. Private Sher was our first reservist to be killed in action since Vietnam, and I am in constant contact with his father, Felix, and family. All parliamentarians from the various electorates of the families of these brave people who are killed should remain in contact with them as part of our continuing service to them. I think Felix was quoted in the papers just in the last few days saying very clearly that these three boys died in the service of Australia and that they would want our leadership, the military in our country and Australia generally not to be dissuaded. He spoke as the father of a very precious son who died in Afghanistan, saying that we should not give up the struggle and the fight there.

The 28 million people in Afghanistan have suffered a great deal over the past 30 years: revolution, civil war, dictatorship, foreign invasion, political and religious fanaticism and savage repression. Millions have had to flee the country and spend years in refugee camps. At one stage, four million people had fled from the Taliban to Pakistan. Anyone who has seen the films of refugee camps teeming with millions of people can only have sympathy for those who have had to live under that dreadful regime.

Thanks to Australia and its allies, the lives of most people in Afghanistan have been improved, and that is particularly true for Afghan women and children. That is something of which we should be proud, and we should be particularly proud of the role that the young women and men of our defence forces have played in bringing security and safety to so many people. I think of the huge numbers of young girls in Kabul who can now attend education, who were barred from it literally under the threat of death—as some of them still are in regional areas in Afghanistan—by the Taliban regime.

The members for Cowan and Kennedy spoke very movingly about the nature of these servicemen—devoted to their mates, not over there with grand theories or ideological obsessions but representing Australia quietly and efficiently with their comrades in 2nd Commando Regiment and killed in action with their friends. They were fully devoted to each other and representing Australia, as Australian servicemen have been in recent conflicts, and we are so very proud of them.

Things are very far from perfect in Afghanistan. You only need to read some Kipling to realise the dreadful terrain and the nature of recriminations and interfactional fighting there. It goes back a long way. The British experienced it. The Soviets did as well. I hope and I pray that we are fighting in a different cause—for the people of Afghanistan, not against the people of Afghanistan.

In some ways things have deteriorated in recent times. No-one ever supposed that rescuing such a country from the depths to which it had sunk under the Taliban regime was going to be easy. I remember seeing a dreadful film of a public execution of a woman in Afghanistan who was stoned to death in a public stadium. The reporter—for a British television program, I think—asked the Taliban minister, outside the country, ‘How can you spend the money of the international community on a sports stadium where you kill people by public stoning?’ His response was to say, contemptuously, ‘Give us the money for another sports ground and we’ll play soccer there.’ This is the nature of the people that we are fighting against, in which cause these three brave men have laid down their lives.

It is a massive task and many mistakes have been made. We have been too tolerant of corruption and warlordism there. I am pleased to see our friends in the American congress are getting very tough with some of the contractors and some of the transport convoys about the bribes being paid to some of the gunmen for the warlords. Frankly, the recent presidential election was a disgrace. But I remain optimistic. The United States troops surge has shown the strong commitment of the leading country in the coalition to give Afghanistan the help it needs to create a stable and defensible government and to give security to its population. That is, after all, the aim of Australia, the international force and the United States—to train the Afghan army into a position where eventually the allies can withdraw and leave the population of Afghanistan in some kind of security and safety. I think we have an obligation to assist in doing that, despite the price we are asking our men and women in uniform to pay.

The consequences of failure for the people of Afghanistan, for us and for all those who look to the democratic world for help would be very grave. Just the other day in New York—to connect all the dots—the would-be terrorist who left the huge bomb in Times Square boasted that he was trained and paid by the Taliban. If we do not understand from that incident what it means to confront people over there, rather than letting them have a secure base there and having them come to us, then we do not understand anything.

We cannot ask our defence forces and their families to make sacrifices like this unless we strongly believe in the justice of the cause for which we are fighting. I believe that the cause of helping the Afghan people to defeat those who want to return them to slavery is a just one. The member for Cowan had a very insightful comment when he talked about the nature of a regime that would take the ancient and beautiful statues carved into the stone hills of Bamiyan by another civilisation thousands of years earlier, those famous buddhas, and blow up them up in their total contempt and hatred for other people’s religions. That is an insight into the nature of the people that we are confronting there. That is why, despite our grief over these deaths, I believe it is right to maintain our commitment. To the parents, the partners, the children and the friends of these three incredibly brave servicemen who died in the helicopter accident, I say that I believe we are right to maintain that commitment. It is the best way can honour the last full measure of devotion to our country that these three brave commandos made for Australia.

12:15 pm

Photo of Greg HuntGreg Hunt (Flinders, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Climate Action, Environment and Heritage) Share this | | Hansard source

I wish to join with all members of the House in expressing my condolence to the families of the three very brave young Australian soldiers who were lost in the recent helicopter accident in Afghanistan, Private Timothy Aplin, Private Benjamin Chuck and Private Scott Palmer, all of whom lost their lives on 21 June 2010. They were accompanied by seven other Australians, one of whom is from my electorate. Obviously the name of this very brave young man from my electorate, for reasons of both family privacy and national security, remains confidential, but I note that I have spoken with the partner and the father of this brave young soldier.

On behalf of the family, I say to the government: we thank you for your help. The partner will be transported to Germany. There has been some confusion. The family was of the belief that the mother would also be transported. That was confirmed by the government and then that hope was taken away late last night. The family is not in a position to make these travel arrangements without assistance from the government. I realise that there are other issues concerning the government at the moment, but I respectfully ask that all care and immediate action be taken to assist the mother to travel to Germany. There is great distress in the family. There is particularly not just a concern about the son but a double emotion, having been offered the prospect of travel and having had that withdrawn in the last few hours. I have been in contact with the office of the Minister for Defence to this effect and the staff have been very helpful, but we do need a resolution, and I ask that a resolution be put in place today.

More broadly, to the families of these three very brave young men who have been lost: they could not have given a greater sacrifice for Australia and, more significantly still, for the people of Australia and their long-term security. It is a tragic outcome. These are the finest of young people. They have extraordinary training, skill, intelligence and compassion and such a high-functioning nature that their deaths are doubly tragic.

I want to talk briefly about the broader context: the foe. The challenge which is underway in Afghanistan is part of a broader global challenge to deal with a stream, a strand, of extremism which, irrespective of its religion, is aimed at destabilising the modern way of life. It is nihilist in many respects in that it is indiscriminate in its target. It seeks to destroy progress. It seeks to destroy the very freedoms that people on all sides of this House believe in, whether it is freedom of religion, freedom of action, gender freedom, in particular—all of the noble virtues which give people the ability to live their lives in full. These are under attack.

What we see at the moment is the Wahhabi stream of Islamic extremism attempting in its own way to bring down governments. Whether it is the government of Pakistan, the government of Indonesia, the government of Saudi Arabia or the government of Egypt, it wants to destabilise these major Islamic countries and ensure that there is either a fragmentation or a takeover—those are the long-term, millennial objectives—and, in so doing, create and craft a very different world from that in which we live. That is a profound global challenge. It is real, it is important and it manifests itself in forms of terrorism, in acts of violence, first and foremost, within and against the Islamic world itself. The four countries that I have mentioned are all targets of extremist Islamic violence. Secondly, it manifests itself in acts of violence such as those that we saw so tragically close to home in Australia, in Bali, with both Bali bombings, with the attack on our embassy in Jakarta and on the Marriott Hotel and, most prominently, the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon and the four flights.

This insidious strand of terrorism has a strategic goal: to take as a base one of the four large states with a strong Islamic heritage and in so doing bring about a transition through internal destabilisation and violence. That is why it is not just an internal issue in Afghanistan. Afghanistan was the base for the Taliban, Afghanistan has been the hiding place for the senior leadership of al-Qaeda and Afghanistan was a centre for the activity which occurred on September 11 and throughout much of South-East Asia. So it is real and profound and of significance to Australia.

The cause could not be greater in terms of our global responsibilities. The cause for which these Australian soldiers lost their lives could not be greater. Having said that, we have a duty to do everything in our power to ensure that, where our forces are deployed, they are deployed in a way that protects them and their mission and does not in any way lead to them being needlessly exposed. There is a bipartisan commitment to this broader cause. We believe in it because it is profound and important. I recognise, though, that the costs are extraordinary and that it is ever so easy for those of us in this place to make easy gestures which are borne by others. We must never, ever forget the risk and the price and the commitment of those on the front line. The association I have had with the family of this very brave young soldier from my electorate over the last few days reminds me all too clearly that it is the brave young sons and daughters of Australia who are on the front line. We thank them for their commitment. I offer my profound thanks and condolences to the families of these three brave young Australian men: Private Timothy Aplin, Private Benjamin Chuck and Private Scott Palmer.

12:23 pm

Photo of Mike KellyMike Kelly (Eden-Monaro, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Support) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank all members for their words today, as we gather again to farewell favourite sons lost in the cause in which they were engaged and offer our condolences to the families of Private Ben Chuck, Private Timothy Aplin and Private Scott Palmer. I echo of course all the comments about the importance of this conflict in which we have been engaged, and which I have previously commented on, in fighting this Islamic extremism.

Australians have always steeled themselves in the cause of freedom and peace and have steeled themselves to endure costs in pursuing those aims. Australia lost 60,000 killed in the First World War and 48,000 in the Second World War. Our allies are alongside us in Afghanistan, where the Americans have lost over 1,100 troops, the British, 300, and the Dutch, our partners in Oruzgan, have lost 24 killed. We remained steeled to this task. It is extremely heartening and I think should be heartening to the families, to the colleagues of these soldiers and to the Australian people that the major parties of this parliament are united in continuing to support our troops and continuing to support this operation.

It is particularly of note that these soldiers were reservists of the 2nd Commando Regiment. It is my privilege to have as part of my portfolio responsibilities the administration of the reserves—and what wonderful and special people they are. They devote aspects of their lives that would normally be reserved for leisure time or time with their families and make that extra commitment to train themselves, to serve and to offer their lives and limbs in the defence of this country above their ordinary commitments in their daytime job. In terms of the 2nd Commando Regiment, that goes to another level altogether. We know these are special operations or special forces soldiers who must train to an extremely high degree of proficiency, so the courses and training that they undertake are in addition to that which would normally be undertaken by a reservist. And, of course, in order to be deployed in Afghanistan they have to go to another level yet again in their proficiency and the excellence of their skills at arms. So we should very specially salute the commitment that they make, above and beyond their daytime jobs, to attain those skills and to serve in this cause.

As the member for Melbourne Ports mentioned, we have had experience with losses in the regiment, dealing in particular with the family of Greg Sher. Felix and Yvonne Sher have been typical of the stoic families who have endured these losses, and in their commitment to supporting the troops and the mission. We attended various ceremonies associated with the Sher family in their loss, met many members of the 2nd Commando Regiment and know well their commitment to this operation and to each other and their ongoing determination to confront this Islamist threat.

The nature of these situations is terribly traumatic for everyone, of course. I would ask people to think of those who have to bring the news of these losses to the families. I have been in the position of being the duty officer who has to go and visit a family and be first person to advise them of their loss. This is a very difficult job to perform. We should spare a thought for those who serve that purpose in our Defence Force as well. I have seen the consequences of what happens on the ground to our men and women and to our allies, and know what trauma it causes to the colleagues of these soldiers and how they will be grieving and drawing together to deal with that grief. We should spare a thought for their colleagues who remain and of course for the injured as well, who will have long periods of recovery to contend with. We should provide them with all the support we can.

The other aspect that is worth noting is the nature of service in the Australian Defence Force that is highlighted by this incident. People focus, of course, on some of the combat casualties that we experience. But, on a daily basis, men and women of this Defence Force risk their lives in hazardous training to achieve their states of professional proficiency. We do lose people in accidents in training. The nature of that service is why we salute so much the men and women in the Australian Defence Force, because they assume those risks just to be in a position to deploy in the first place. There are quite often casualties in conflict zones relating to these types of transport or other situations. Before you even confront the threat of the enemy, the hazards of the environment are great to begin with, in relation to the diseases, the extremes of weather conditions, the hazardous nature of the terrain and the circumstances of having to move around in an operational context following operational procedures where the normal standards of the air traffic control or occupational health and safety will not apply. So we ask our personnel to assume that risk in the context of their training, in the context of deploying, in the context of conducting these operations. One of the most heartbreaking experiences of my service was a previous helicopter accident we experienced here in Australia where we lost 18 of our personnel in the crash of the Black Hawk helicopters in northern Queensland. That was incredibly traumatic for the defence family at the time. Once again, they were training for the difficult circumstances of night operations, albeit not in an operational zone. So we should bear in mind that the entirety of service life encompasses these risks. That is why it is so special. That is why we pay such tribute to these personnel in the first place.

We are here today to recognise the further addition of names to the list of those which we honour in the service of this nation in the context of this conflict and the cause against Islamic extremism and the cause of peace and freedom. Their names will be added to that glorious history of the Australian Defence Force, the Australian Army. It will be an enduring memory. Our thoughts and our prayers go out to the families, the survivors and the colleagues of these members. We will bear them in our hearts forever and we will continue to support our troops in every way possible.

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Hindmarsh, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I understand it is the wish of honourable members to signify at this stage their respect and sympathy by rising in their places.

Honourable members having stood in their places—

Photo of Ms Anna BurkeMs Anna Burke (Chisholm, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the Committee.

12:31 pm

Photo of Michael DanbyMichael Danby (Melbourne Ports, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That further proceedings be conducted in the House.

Question agreed to.