SENATE – Tuesday, 3 February 2009

CONDOLENCES

Private Gregory Michael Sher

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western Australia – Leader of the Government in the Senate) (3.31 pm) -by leave-I move: That the Senate record its deep regret at the death, on 4 January 2009, of Private Gregory Sher, 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 government senators, and I am sure on behalf of all senators, I wish to express my heartfelt condolences to Private Sher’s parents, Yvonne and Felix; his partner, Karen; and his two brothers, Steven and Barry. I know that a number of members of Private Sher’s family are present in the gallery today.

They should, please, accept our heartfelt condolences and sympathies for their terrible loss. We know that there are a large number of people-family, friends and fellow service men and women-who feel the loss very deeply.

Private Sher was known as a dedicated and courageous soldier and has been described by his family as ‘a man of purpose and committed determination; an extremely positive person with a kind soul’. Private Sher was born in South Africa in 1978 and migrated to Australia with his family in 1986. He joined the Army in 1998 as an Army Reserve infantryman. Private Sher went on to become a member of the 2nd Company, 1st Commando Regiment, and was with the Special Operations Task Group element that deployed to Tarin Kowt in Afghanistan’s Oruzgan province. There is no higher calling in Australia than to serve our nation in uniform, and Private Sher did this with distinction in both East Timor and Afghanistan. For his service in East Timor, Private Sher received the Australian Active Service Medal, the United Nations Transitional Authority in East Timor Medal and the Infantry Combat Badge. Private Sher has also been awarded the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, the NATO Medal with ISAF Clasp, the Australian Defence Medal and the Returned from Active Service Badge.

Private Sher lost his life in Afghanistan while serving his nation with courage and honour. I know all members of parliament feel very deeply the loss of servicemen like Private Sher. We take our responsibilities in committing Australian troops to combat very seriously. We feel the weight of that decision and we know that people like Private Sher take on the burden of the nation in putting their lives on the line. Unfortunately, Private Sher paid the absolute penalty-the loss of his young life. I have done a lot of farewells to see off troops departing for Iraq, Timor and Afghanistan.

The enthusiasm of the soldiers-their commitment to their job, their eagerness to put into practice their training, and their eagerness to serve their country and to do well-always strikes me. This is in contrast to the parents, who are very proud but live in fear of those children not returning. The conversations you have with those who are left behind and worry for them are always quite different. I know his family must be devastated by the loss. As I said, our thoughts are with them.

I had reason to have a chat to my son about the Vietnam War a month or so ago. He is 17. I was telling him about conscription, going to Vietnam and the thought that he might come out of the lottery. I was just young enough-it is hard to believe-to miss that period in our history. Our young men-and women now-go into such danger. He found it quite hard to come to terms with the idea that he may have been called upon to make that sort of sacrifice. I guess he showed his youth, but he also showed the benefit of the peaceful time we have had. That, of course, has ended with the service that our service personnel have had to provide in Iraq, East Timor and Afghanistan. We are now obviously suffering losses in Afghanistan that are very concerning. These are terrible tragedies for the families and the Defence Force, but I think there is a commitment on behalf of Australians and all politicians that the mission they take on is a very worthy one-that is, it is absolutely necessary for us to defeat the Taliban and the terrorist forces that are using Afghanistan as a base. Private Sher’s commitment and contribution will long be recognised by this nation as being very much in the national interest.

We are very grateful for Private Sher and his service and grateful for his family and their support of him. On behalf of the Australian government and all members of the Senate, we offer our support to his family, friends and fellow soldiers, and we mourn his passing.

 

Senator MINCHIN (South Australia – Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (3.37 pm) – On behalf of the coalition, I rise to support the motion moved by Senator Evans. The Liberal and National parties join in offering our sincere condolences to the family of Private Greg Sher, who lost his life while serving our country in Afghanistan. The coalition is deeply saddened by the tragic death of Private Sher, who was killed on 4 January this year when Taliban insurgents fired a rocket at an Oruzgan provincial patrol base.

Private Sher was highly regarded by his colleagues of the 1st Commando Regiment and those he served with in the Special Operations Task Group. He was also held in high regard in Melbourne, where he initially trained, having come to this country, as Senator Evans said, from South Africa. Private Sher was an experienced member of the ADF, having joined the Australian Army in 1998 and having served in East Timor in 2002. In a statement released after his death, Private Sher’s family described him as a ‘man of purpose and committed determination’. They said: He was the sort of mate who would do anything for anyone, and his friends knew him for the great guy that he was. He was a loyal and loving family member who always put his family high on his list of priorities. Our thoughts and prayers are very much with Private Sher’s family at this most wretched of times for them. Private Sher was the eighth Australian soldier that we have lost in the conflict in Afghanistan, and his death again highlights the dangers that our personnel face every day in that country. As a member of the cabinet that first committed our troops to Afghanistan, the fight against the Taliban remains vitally important. Our troops are assisting the Afghani people with their own security and with building their own democracy and are helping to ensure that Afghanistan does not again become a haven for terrorists. We do not take for granted the work that our troops are doing there. We appreciate the bravery and professionalism of our forces as they face enormous challenges in Afghanistan against a vicious and hostile Taliban insurgency. We are reminded of the important sacrifices made by our ADF personnel and their families every day when on deployment in Iraq, Afghanistan, East Timor or the Solomon Islands.

Private Sher made the ultimate sacrifice for his country, and we will remain forever indebted to him for that. To Private Sher’s family: we offer our sincere condolences for your great loss. Private Sher was clearly an honourable and talented man who will be missed by all those who knew him. I also take this opportunity to send on behalf of the coalition our best wishes to all those Australian personnel still serving in Afghanistan and elsewhere and to their families at home.

 

Senator JOYCE (Queensland – Leader of the Nationals in the Senate) (3.40 pm) – I concur with the comments made by Senator Evans and Senator Minchin. It is at times like this that we have to reaffirm, regardless of our differences around the chamber, the absolute and unambiguous worth of Private Sher’s life in his defence of our nation, even though it was in a form that is not current or immediate to where we see right now. It is absolutely imperative that his family know that throughout this chamber our thoughts and prayers go out to them, that we cannot fathom the depth of sadness that they would be feeling at this moment and that, in some small way, we completely recognise the sacrifice that Gregory Michael Sher has made on behalf of his nation-a nation that he travelled to, a nation that he became a part of. He is a great example to all Australians that your love of this country can be as absolute as anybody else’s, regardless of where you were born in this world.

Formerly being a member of the Army Reserve myself, I also admire that he was a person whose dedication to the Army was immense. The capacity to go from the Army Reserve into a commando unit requires incredible dedication, and Private Gregory Michael Sher was obviously a person of that capacity. Without going on longer than I should, I concur with the remarks of my colleagues and once more note that Private Gregory Michael Sher will remain in our thoughts and our prayers and that we hold his sacrifice for our nation in the highest and most immense esteem.

 

Senator FIELDING (Victoria – Leader of the Family First Party) (3.42 pm) – Family First acknowledges with great sadness the death in Afghanistan of Private Gregory Sher and expresses condolences to his family and friends. Private Sher was just 30 years old when he made the ultimate sacrifice for his country. Private Sher’s death has a special significance for me as my son has joined the Army today. In these days of political and economic turmoil, I hope that we never forget while we sit here in this air-conditioned chamber that there are Australian men and women patrolling the deserts of the world to keep us safe and secure. I pray that, if Private Sher could see us today, he would be as proud of us as we are of him. Family First’s thoughts and prayers are with Private Sher’s family and friends at this difficult time.

Question agreed to, honourable senators standing in their places.

Senate – Hansard – Tuesday 3 February 2009

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