HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES – Tuesday, 3 February 2009

The SPEAKER (Mr Harry Jenkins) took the chair at 2 pm and read prayers.

LEAVE OF ABSENCE

Mr RUDD (Griffith – Prime Minister) (2.01 pm) – I inform the House that the Minister for Sport and Minister for Youth will be absent for the later part of question time today as she will be representing me at an event in Melbourne. The Minister for Health and Ageing will answer questions regarding sport and the Deputy Prime Minister will answer questions regarding youth on her behalf.

CONDOLENCES

Private Gregory Sher

Mr RUDD (Griffith – Prime Minister) (2.01 pm) – I move: That the House record its deep regret at the death on 4 January 2009, of Private Gregory Sher, killed while on combat operations in Afghanistan, and place on record its appreciation of his service to his country, and tender its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

On behalf of the government I wish to express heartfelt condolences to Private Sher’s mother and father, Yvonne and Felix, to his partner, Karen, and to his two brothers, Steven and Barry. I would also like to extend those condolences to other family members and friends who are with us today: his grandmother Sylvia, his cousins Darren and Anthony, his best mate, Brett, and his brother Steven’s fiancee, Ronit. The nation is grateful for the service of this proud soldier. I wish also to express sympathy to Private Sher’s extended family and friends, including his fellow service men and women of the Australian Defence Force.

On 11 January, along with the Leader of the Opposition, I attended Private Sher’s funeral at Melbourne’s Chevra Kadisha cemetery. To see so many friends and family gather to pay their respects was very moving, and it was a testament to the love and respect so many had for this fine young Australian. Private Sher was known both as a loyal and loving family man and as a dedicated soldier. His courage, commitment and professionalism were a credit to his family and to his unit.

As a proud member of that elite group, the commandos, he upheld the greatest traditions of the Australian military. There is no higher calling for an Australian than to serve our nation in the uniform of Australia.

Private Sher did this with distinction in both East Timor and Afghanistan. Private Sher lost his life while serving his nation with courage and with honour. He is the eighth Australian soldier to lose his life in Afghanistan.

His sacrifice and the sacrifice of those who have fallen before him will never be forgotten by this grateful nation. On behalf of the Australian government and all members of the House, we offer our prayers and our support to Private Sher’s family, to his friends and to his fellow soldiers.

 

Mr TURNBULL (Wentworth – Leader of the Opposition)

(2.04 pm) – I join with the Prime Minister in offering the condolences of the opposition and the nation for the death of Private Greg Sher. Whatever the challenges in our world today, it is important to remember that we owe our greatest debt to those who give their lives in the defence of freedom. On the evening of Sunday, 4 January, in southern Afghanistan, Private Greg Sher died in the service of our nation. He was 30 years of age. He was born and raised in South Africa; he died a proud Australian, wearing our uniform and serving under our flag. He was killed during a rocket attack in Oruzgan province, and at the time of the attack he was serving in a special operations task group. He was a member of Sydney’s first commando regiment but he trained with and was a member of Victoria’s second commando company. He was, as the Prime Minister said, the eighth Australian Defence Force member to die in Afghanistan since 2002. He was the first reservist.

Private Sher leaves behind a large and loving family, including his parents, Felix and Yvonne, his two brothers, Steven and Barry, and his loving partner, Karen Goldschlager. He was so much admired by his family, his friends, his comrades in arms and the whole community.

He was so admired for his determination and his courage. He was, as one of his friends said, a man of purpose and committed determination, the sort of mate who would do anything for anyone and whose friends knew him for the loyal and loving family member who always put his family high on his list of priorities.

Private Sher was a volunteer for the Australian Army Reserve in 1998. He served in East Timor. He was determined to become a commando in special operations, and his fellow soldiers have spoken of the determination he brought to that task. Out in the rugged hills outside Melbourne, up early on the coldest and wettest of mornings, running up and down steep fire trails carrying enormous weights in the pack on his back-all readying himself to win that green beret, which he won in 2004.

He made all of these commitments unreservedly and with passion. He was well read, he was articulate, he was keenly engaged in the great issues facing the world and, like one of the greatest of Australia’s soldiers, Sir John Monash, Greg Sher’s Jewish faith was also profoundly important to him. The Prime Minister and I joined many other Australians at the ceremony at the interment at the Chevra Kadisha cemetery in Melbourne.

The deep bonds of emotion and admiration that were felt for Private Sher by all of his friends, his family and the men and women with whom he served were clear.

In Afghanistan, our soldiers are doing the most difficult work in the most dangerous conditions. They are truly in the front line in the battle against terror. In that role, they continue the Anzac tradition of Australians being in the front rank of the global struggle to defend the values of liberty and democracy on which our nation was founded. They are doing a great job-and a vital one, but it is very dangerous work. That is why the thoughts and prayers of all Australians should be with them always. Today we honour the service and the sacrifice of a true Anzac, Private Greg Sher. Our prayers are with his family and today this parliament extends the nation’s gratitude.

The SPEAKER-Order! As a mark of respect, I invite honourable members to rise in their places.

Honourable members having stood in their places-

The SPEAKER-I thank the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Albanese) adjourned.

MAIN COMMITTEE

Condolence: Private Gregory Sher

Reference

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler-Leader of the House)

(2.09 pm)-I move: That the resumption of debate on the Prime Minister’s motion of condolence in connection with the death of Private Gregory Sher be referred to the Main Committee.

Question agreed to.

Private Gregory Sher

Hon. Peter Howson CMG

Mr COSTELLO (Higgins) (2.16 pm)—On indulgence, I wish to contribute to the condolence motion for Peter Howson. Before I do, I would like to pay tribute to the Sher family.

The Sher family came to Australia from South Africa. They are well known and well respected in Melbourne, in my electorate of Higgins. It is hard to think of any greater sacrifice a family could make than to give a son, who has died for his country. I want to pay tribute to them for the great Australians they are and to his brothers and his partner in the deep loss that they have suffered.

House of Representatives – Hansard – Tuesday 3 February 2009

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