House debates

Tuesday, 22 February 2011


Larcombe, Sapper Jamie Ronald

Debate resumed from 21 February, on motion by Ms Gillard:

That the House expresses its deep regret at the death on 19 February 2011, of Sapper Jamie Ronald Larcombe, while on combat operations in Afghanistan, and place on record its greatest appreciation of his service to our country and tender its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

8:12 pm

Photo of Nola MarinoNola Marino (Forrest, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to honour and respect the outstanding but tragically short life and supreme sacrifice of our brave Sapper Jamie Larcombe. It is important that we in this parliament acknowledge his life and his commitment to the freedoms and values that we hold so dear here in Australia. We also need to honour and respect the sacrifice of his loving family. I offer my heartfelt condolences to the Larcombe family—his mother, Tricia; his father, Steven; and his sisters, Anne-Marie, Emily and April; his partner, Rhiannon Penhall, and all of his extended family, his friends and his ADF mates in the 1st Combat Engineer Regiment.

Every single day this cherished young man will be in their thoughts and hearts. His mother and father will remember Jamie as a little boy, his happy, fun-loving nature and sense of humour, his many antics—as we all do as little people—his achievements as he grew through life and his life’s one ambition: to serve his country. His sisters will remember their childhood fun and their games and, I am sure, the endless adventures. His partner Rhiannon will remember how much they loved each other and the plans and dreams that they shared for a future together.

In spite of the terrible grief of the Larcombe family and Rhiannon, they do know that Jamie chose his path. They know why his personal qualities made him a leader, the very same qualities of the engineers—courage and a skill and capacity to lead, to go in ahead of their ADF mates to make sure an area is safe, to protect those who are to follow behind them and to make the area safe for the local people they are there to protect.

Jamie loved his job. He was well regarded, as Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston said, and was not only a real team player and someone you could rely on but also a quiet achiever who worked hard and was focused on getting the job done. Jamie will also be mourned and greatly missed by his close-knit local community, his fellow Country Fire Service volunteers and all of his mates at his local footy team. I have no doubt that everyone who knew Jamie will have their own special memories of this fine young man.

Can I also offer my most sincere condolences to the 1st Combat Engineer Regiment. You have lost two of your mates in the past two weeks or so, and I can only imagine what you are going through now and how tough this must be for you all. I do know, however, just how resolute and strong your units is—the very qualities it takes to be a sapper. I have no doubt that, like you, Jamie shared the views of Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith VC when he said:

I do what I do because I believe in the country that we live in.

…            …            …

I believe that we are making a difference in stemming the flow of terrorism into Australia, and I want my children to be able to live as everyone does now without the fear of getting onto a bus and having it blow up.

Jamie epitomised, I think, the motto of the combat team: ‘Never alone and fight together’. I honour and respect the life and supreme sacrifice of Sapper Jamie Larcombe. Lest we forget.

8:16 pm

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

I rise to support the condolence motion moved by the Prime Minister after the event of the loss of Sapper Jamie Ronald Larcombe. I note that members of both the government and the opposition have unsurprisingly been supporting the motion.

I did not know Sapper Larcombe, although it is possible that during my time as defence minister I may have met him. I met many members of the Navy, Army and Air Force during that time. But, notwithstanding not knowing Sapper Larcombe, I can be very, very confident of a number of things about him. The first is that he would have loved what he was doing, he would have been absolutely committed to what he was doing and he would have been proud of what he was doing. He would also have been undertaking his task without harbouring any doubt that what he was doing was important for his country and, of course, for our national security. It is important to note that Sapper Larcombe was, like all of our personnel who serve in Afghanistan, a volunteer. He was not conscripted to do what he was doing but a person who volunteered to serve the Army and to undertake the particular tasks he was undertaking in Afghanistan.

There is something else that I can be very confident about too, and I take some licence here because I have not spoken with his family, nor do I know his family. But I am very confident that, based on historical experience, Sapper Larcombe’s partner and family would have supported what he was doing. Sure, they may have been concerned from time to time about his choice of career but he would have gone to theatre with the full support of his family—a family who I am sure understood both what he was doing and why he wanted to do what he was doing.

We are doing important work in Afghanistan. There is no doubt that there is a direct link between our own national security and our work there. It is going to be tougher to maintain public support for our deployment the longer we are there and the more people we lose. But continue we must, until we are confident that the Afghan government is capable of taking care of its own security and therefore capable as a democracy of preventing Afghanistan once again becoming a breeding ground for those prepared to impose their fundamentalist reforms of Islamism on other people, with the terror events that flow from that.

I offer my very sincere sympathies to his partner, Rhiannon; his parents, Steven and Tricia; and, of course, his sisters, Ann-Marie, Emily and April. I am advised that the community of Kangaroo Island is a strong one. I know that both his family and the broader community will be feeling a great sense of loss at this time. Sapper Larcombe goes down in the annals of history as an Australian hero, having given his life for a good cause and for his country. For that reason we will not forget him.

Going back to the theme of why we are in Afghanistan: we need to remind ourselves that we should collectively ensure that his sacrifice was not in vain, that we continue Sapper Larcombe’s good work and, just as importantly, that we continue to give bipartisan support to those who served with him in Afghanistan and to those who will serve in Afghanistan until our work there is done.

8:21 pm

Photo of Rowan RamseyRowan Ramsey (Grey, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We stand in the chamber together today united in grief and mourning at the tragic loss of 21-year-old Sapper Jamie Larcombe, who was killed in Afghanistan on the weekend. It is the second fatality for the Darwin based 1st Combat Engineer Regiment, which laid to rest Corporal Richard Atkinson less than a week earlier. Sapper Larcombe was the 23rd Australian to die in Afghanistan while serving in the Defence Force, but it never seems to get any easier to accept, understand or come to terms with the loss of a fine young Australian. The death of Sapper Larcombe, a country boy from Kangaroo Island, leaves his immediate family stricken with grief. His mother, father, three younger sisters and a loving partner have been dealt the most unimaginable blow.

While Sapper Larcombe does not come from my electorate, I am moved to speak because Parndana could be any one of a hundred or more country communities that I represent. I come from just such a community. I know how strong the family and friendship links are in such communities and how individual tragedies are amplified because everybody knows everybody. I have spoken to the member representing Kangaroo Island, Jamie Briggs, who is unable to be in parliament this week and who would wish to speak on this motion. He is concerned for the family, and has written to them, and the community. When he returns he will seek space in another debate to make a statement.

While I do not know them personally, I know that Jamie’s school mates, his footy club mates and all in the Parndana and Kangaroo Island community who knew him well are sharing his family’s pain and grief. Jamie was fulfilling his dream to serve his country in the armed forces. By all accounts, he loved his job. Every member of our forces knows the risks and their families know the risks, but still, thankfully, we have the best of the best putting their name forward to be first in the line of resistance of those who would dismantle our societies and seek to suppress the democratic freedoms sought by the oppressed.

This brave young soldier was on his first tour of Afghanistan when he was shot by insurgents while on patrol on Saturday night. An Afghan interpreter was killed in the same incident. A true-blue South Aussie, he grew up playing footy and riding motorbikes and was a volunteer in the local CFS. He was a passionate Adelaide Crows follower and idolised Andrew McLeod, as many of us who support the Crows do. He loved life, his family and his country. He had dreams and aspirations for the future. He was a dearly loved and cherished member of a family and a community. Sapper Larcombe was a dedicated and honourable young man and I, like all Australians, am deeply saddened by his death. I offer my sincere condolences to his family, friends, community and regiment. My thoughts are with his mates and all Australians fighting in Afghanistan. Rest in peace, Jamie: you have done your family and your country proud.

8:24 pm

Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Defence Science and Personnel) Share this | | Hansard source

We are here to mourn the death of Sapper Jamie Larcombe and express our sincere condolences to his parents, Steven and Tricia; his younger sisters, Ann-Marie, Emily and April; and his partner, Rhiannon. I would also like to offer my sympathy to his extended family, friends and comrades in the Australian Defence Force.

Sapper Larcombe was, as we have heard, an outstanding career soldier. His life ambition was to serve his country. He was born in Kingscote on Kangaroo Island, South Australia, in 1989. Sapper Larcombe joined the Army in 2008 and was posted to the 1st Combat Engineer Regiment in Darwin after completing his initial training. He was just 21 years old. To those in this place who are parents, let us try to put ourselves in the position of his mum and dad. I have a son who is 21 years old. He attends university in Melbourne. I cannot imagine the pain and grief that is being suffered by his family as a result of his death.

His mates have described him as a dependable and genuine young man, and we need to express to them our understanding of the way they are feeling. I spoke to Brigadier Gus McLachlan only today, and we talked about how his mates are feeling. They are feeling the pain of losing a mate, a comrade, someone who they served beside. He was described as a young man whose country upbringing instilled a wisdom that was respected.

This was his first tour to Afghanistan. He had previously deployed on Operation Padang Assist. Sapper Larcombe has been awarded the Australian Active Service Medal with Clasp: International Coalition Against Terrorism, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, and the Army Combat Badge. Sapper Larcombe’s commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Darren Huxley, said Sapper Larcombe will be missed terribly. He remarked:

He was a trusted sapper, our comrade in arms and our mate.

We have had the privilege of serving with a fine Australian and we will honour his sacrifice by finishing what he helped us to start.

As I said, I spoke to Brigadier Gus McLachlan, Commander, 1st Brigade, based at Robertson Barracks in Darwin, this afternoon. The Darwin based 1st Combat Engineer Regiment has now lost two of its best within a fortnight, with Sapper Larcombe’s death following that of Corporal Richard Atkinson. Brigadier McLachlan assured me that he had made all necessary support arrangements for the family of Sapper Larcombe. I know that the 1st Combat Engineer Regiment are a tight-knit group, and they will be feeling it. They have lost two of their comrades in a very short period of time. I understand that the unit are doing it tough. But I have great faith in their professionalism, their determination and their ability to support each other as they focus on their mission.

I want to make sure in this place that we all understand what Sapper Larcombe was doing for us. Along with his mates, as part of Operation Geelong, Sapper Larcombe was participating in an unpartnered patrol. The aim of the operation is to extend our influence in the Mirabad region, where the Army are building a new patrol base. His platoon was outside the wire, patrolling an area to the south-east of Patrol Base Wali, when they were engaged by an insurgent group. The Chief of the Defence Force said:

The patrol was dismounted from their Bushmaster vehicles and were stationary at the time of what appears to be a coordinated insurgent attack employing both machine gun and small arms fire.

The other soldiers on the patrol were able to repel the attack …

Sapper Larcombe was taking the fight to the insurgents. In the incident in which Sapper Larcombe was killed, a local Afghan national rendering translation assistance to Australian forces was also killed. Both of these men were struck by gunshots and despite immediate first aid were not able to be saved

When I spoke to Brigadier McLachlan, the thing he stressed to me was how grateful he was, and the unit was, for the support being expressed by this parliament for Sapper Larcombe and his mates, for the understanding that was being expressed through this discussion in the parliament of what was being done, and for our understanding that those soldiers who put on the uniform know what they are doing. They are very professional young men. They are trained to a very high standard. They understand the risks that confront them as they embark upon their task. They deserve our support, they deserve our adulation, because they have taken the decision to put on a uniform and fight for their country.

As Minister Smith has said, and I echo it, Sapper Larcombe died pursuing his country’s national interests. He was helping to stare down international terrorism. He was there, in Afghanistan, doing a job that we asked him to do. On behalf of the Australian government, I offer my support to Sapper Larcombe’s family and friends and assure them that the sacrifice of this exceptional young soldier will not be forgotten. Sapper Larcombe made the supreme sacrifice. He died serving his country and is owed a special debt of gratitude that can never be repaid. We will not forget him. Lest we forget.

8:32 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

‘He was just a lovely boy and very well known and liked around here. He was the kind of boy you’d wish your daughter brought home with her.’ They are words spoken about a departed friend from someone—a Kangaroo Island local—who was lucky enough to know him better than most; words spoken about an everyday, fun-loving Aussie bloke; words spoken about our latest, our 23rd, digger killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan.

As the member for Riverina, whose home of Wagga Wagga is also home to the Army Recruit Training Centre at Kapooka—the home of the Australian soldier—the death of soldier Jamie Ronald Larcombe is especially sad. It is especially sad because I know how strongly this will be felt at Kapooka; especially sad because this is another young life lost. Sapper Larcombe was just 21 years old.

Many of the war monuments which dot the Australian countryside, in every city and town large enough to support even a handful of volunteers who answered our country’s call in its greatest hour of need, have a solemn message chiselled on them. They are the words of St John: ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’ What powerful words. What an appropriate epitaph for Sapper Larcombe, who has made the supreme sacrifice. He leaves behind grieving parents, three sisters who thought the world of him and a girlfriend whose happy face, pressed close to Jamie’s in a beautiful recent picture which featured in yesterday’s media accompanying the tragic news, really reinforced what a terrible loss the nation in general and his own close-knit community in particular have suffered.

The ANZAC spirit burns brightly in the hearts and minds of all who proudly wear an Australian military uniform. We must stay the course in Afghanistan. Australia’s oldest surviving Victoria Cross recipient, Vietnam hero Keith Payne, has warned that it would be a mistake for Australia and its allies to set a specific exit date from the conflict. It would, he argued, encourage the Taliban to hide in the mountains and emerge when our troops departed. The sacrifice of Sapper Larcombe and his 22 brave comrades must not be in vain. We must now, more than ever before, ensure that terrorism and oppression do not win out against those who seek peace, the price of which is eternal vigilance.

We give thanks to Sapper Larcombe, to his three engineer mates who have also lost their lives and to the other diggers who have returned to our shores not in the way they ever should have had to, but as fallen heroes having fought the good fight, having kept the faith—the faith of their family and friends, of a nation and of the ageless ANZAC legend. May it always endure. May Sapper Larcombe rest in peace. Lest we forget.

Photo of Kirsten LivermoreKirsten Livermore (Capricornia, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I understand it is the wish of honourable members to signify 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 honourable members.

8:35 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.

Due to production difficulties the remainder of the transcript will be available at a later date.