Death of Australian Defence Force Personnel
The Hon JOHN DELLA BOSCA (Special Minister of State, Minister for Commerce, Minister for Industrial Relations, Minister for Ageing, Minister for Disability Services, Assistant Treasurer, and Vice-President of the Executive Council [8.01 p.m.]: I move:
That this House expresses its profound sorrow and sympathy to the relatives of Royal Australian Navy and Royal Australian Air Force personnel who tragically lost their lives in the Sea King helicopter accident while undertaking humanitarian relief work in Indonesia on 2 April 2005.
Only a short time ago members in this Chamber paid tribute to the effort mounted by Australia to assist countries affected by the horrific tsunami disaster on Boxing Day 2004. We acknowledged the compassion and generosity of the Australian community. We also acknowledged the efficient role played by Australia's national and State emergency service bodies and the Australian Defence Force. It is now with great sadness that we pay a mark of respect to the men and women who lost their lives doing just that. On Sunday afternoon the crash of a Royal Australian Navy Sea King helicopter from HMAS Kanimbla on the Indonesian island of Nias took the lives of nine Australian Defence Force personnel and injured two others.
The helicopter was based at HMAS Albatross, the naval station near Nowra on the South Coast. The Navy personnel who were killed were Lieutenant Mathew Davey, Lieutenant Matthew Goodall, Lieutenant Paul Kimlin and Lieutenant Jonathan King, Petty Officer Stephen Slattery, and Leading Seaman Scott Bennet. The Air Force personnel were Squadron Leader Paul McCarthy and Flight Lieutenant Lyn Rowbottom. The Army lost Sergeant Wendy Jones. Lieutenant Goodall, Petty Officer Slattery and Leading Seaman Bennet were from New South Wales, and Lieutenant Kimlin and Lieutenant King were currently serving at Nowra. The loss of nine young lives is a tragedy at any time, but in these circumstances it is even more so. In a wartime combat situation there is always the fear of casualties, but peacetime fatalities, even in the defence forces, come as a great shock.
One morning recently I was listening to one of the city's prominent commentators, Sally Loane, who noted that the men and women who died in this tragedy were a group of extremely impressive Australians, as demonstrated by the things they had achieved, the selection processes they had gone through, the service they were giving to their country, and their courage. She said they were people we would be proud to have as sons and daughters. I am about the same age as Sally Loane. Initially I was puzzled by her comments, and it was somewhat sobering to realise that these defence force personnel were young enough to be my children. I consider myself to be relatively young, with plenty of life to live and things to experience and achieve.
Not only are we saddened at the loss of life but we are saddened at the heartbreak, the shattered dreams, the never-to-be-fulfilled aspirations of those outstanding young Australians, and the pain that must have been inflicted on the families of those whose lives have been taken, not to mention the pain of their mates and comrades.
We can all appreciate the impact of this event on the tightly knit service community in Nowra. I understand that news of the tragedy broke during Saturday night's naval ball at HMAS Albatross. It reminds us all that the work of people sworn to protect our community and our country is always fraught with danger and risk. That applies to our police and emergency services as well as to our defence force personnel. However, Saturday's air disaster was even more poignant. The personnel involved were on a mercy mission to a remote area devastated by yet another natural calamity. We do not expect such missions to end in death and injury. Worse still, HMAS Kanimbla should not have even been there. On its way back to Australia after a tour of duty in the tsunami-affected areas, it was diverted to assist with the new disaster on Nias. All those killed should really have been back here in Australia.
It reminds us in the most stark and tragic way of risks taken by military personnel. Like the tragic Army Blackhawk helicopter crash at Townsville in 1996, or the HMAS Voyager-HMAS Melbourne collision in 1994, it brings home to us the pressures and risks under which defence force personnel operate even in peacetime. The disaster also reminds us that we are very much part of the Asian region. These men and women were serving their country, performing humanitarian work for our nearest and now closest neighbour. We should remember that they are not the first Australian service personnel to give their lives in the Indonesian archipelago, an area vital to Australia's interests and security both in peace and in war. In World War II many young Australians, just like the victims of the Sea King crash, laid down their lives in the seas, the skies, and the jungles of the various colonial territories now known as Indonesia.
Sadly, Saturday's victims were engaged not in a combat role but in a humanitarian one. This tragedy will cause an understanding community to reflect on the commitment and demands made on service men and women—long periods away from home, the pressure of work and, as Saturday illustrated, the elements of danger. Fortunately, Australians today, perhaps never as before, will recall and honour these sacrifices inflicted on us by events such as this tragic accident. This will be manifested in three weeks when we commemorate Anzac Day. It serves to remind us of the often unpayable debt we owe to the families of those who volunteer to look after our nation's security. I extend the Government's profound condolences to the grieving families, friends, comrades in arms and colleagues of all involved in Saturday's great tragedy.
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER [8.07 p.m.]: Tonight we honour the nine Australian service men and women who lost their lives when their Sea King helicopter crashed on the Indonesian island of Nias during a mercy mission to the quake-stricken area. The men and women who were claimed on the remote island off the coast of Sumatra were Lieutenant Mathew Davey, Lieutenant Matthew Goodall, Lieutenant Paul Kimlin, Lieutenant Jonathan King, Petty Officer Stephen Slattery, Leading Seaman Scott Bennet, Squadron Leader Paul McCarthy, Flight Lieutenant Lyn Rowbottom and Sergeant Wendy Jones. Local villagers dragged Able Seaman Shane Warburton and Leading Aircraftman Scott Nicholls from the burning wreckage. We wish them a speedy recovery.
Every day ordinary Australians put their lives on the line protecting individuals in our nation and abroad. Service men and women confront the challenges they are well trained for on a daily basis. However, we are tragically reminded by terrible incidents such as this how, in an instant, the jobs they perform can become so extremely dangerous. The footage of brave seven-year-old Jarryd Bennet, son of Leading Seaman Scott Bennet, receiving the Indonesian bronze medal of valour from the Indonesian President yesterday will remain with Australians forever. As the ode reminds us, we will never forget. Our thoughts and our prayers go to the families and friends of these fine men and women.
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [8.09 p.m.]: On behalf of The Nationals of New South Wales I offer our condolences to the families and friends of the nine service men and women who were tragically killed when the Sea King helicopter in which they were travelling inexplicably crashed while on a return humanitarian mission to Indonesia. The personnel had been on their way home, thinking they were safe, having done a terrific job, when they had to turn around and do the job again, and this tragedy occurred. It has certainly touched the hearts of many.
Like many people, on Saturday evening I was enjoying a sporting event. I was at a function with the former Leader of the Government, the Hon. Michael Egan, the Chief of the Australian Defence Force, General Peter Cosgrove, and former member Rodney Cavalier. We had dinner and began to watch the sporting event. At half time I noticed that General Cosgrove was no longer present but it was not until the next morning that I realised why he left. Our deepest sympathy and our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the nine Australians—nine of Australia's most skilled defence personnel—during this very sad and difficult time.
It is truly heartbreaking that such an accident occurred. Those men and women of the Australian Defence Force—Paul Kimlin, Scott Bennet, Jonathan King, Matthew Goodall, Mathew Davey, Paul McCarthy, Lynne Rowbottom, Wendy Jones and Stephen Slattery—made an extraordinary commitment and the ultimate sacrifice for their country and the people of our region. I know that the people of Australia and Indonesia will always be grateful for the selflessness of those seven men and two women who were so tragically lost during this humanitarian mission. As my colleague the Leader of the Opposition pointed out, it is indicative of the esteem in which they were held that the Indonesians recognised their sacrifice by awarding them that country's second highest medal for valour.
I offer my personal condolences and those of The Nationals to the families and friends of the victims of this tragic accident. I also take this opportunity to commend all Australian Defence Force personnel for their tireless work and dedication during the tsunami crisis and other recent military campaigns.
The Hon. DON HARWIN [8.12 p.m.]: The deaths of nine Australian service personnel in a Sea King helicopter accident over the Indonesian island of Nias last Saturday are heartbreaking tragedies for their families and a cause of great sorrow to us all. The four crewmen and five medics died providing emergency relief to the survivors of the recent earthquake. With no operating theatres on Nias, the Sea King helicopter crews were transporting medical teams to the island and evacuating the worst of the injured survivors to the nearby HMAS Kanimbla for treatment. As we extend the condolences of the House to the families and to the men and women of our nation's armed services, it is appropriate that we acknowledge that these dedicated Australians died performing a mission of compassion and aid. They died assisting our regional neighbours at a time of unimaginable hardship. While this makes their deaths tragic, it also makes their lives of service quite exceptional.
This tragedy will be keenly felt in the community in which I live. The four crewmen killed on Saturday—Lieutenant Matthew Goodall, Lieutenant Paul Kimlin, Lieutenant Jonathan King and Leading Seaman Scott Bennet—were from 817 Squadron based at HMAS Albatross in Nowra, although several of them came from other parts of Australia. The facility has strong connections to the local community, with many residents and surrounding businesses providing services to the base at Nowra Hill and its personnel. I listened to the comments of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition about the interruption on Saturday night. I am sure that the news was a great shock to many who heard it that night. Sadly, on Saturday night at HMAS Albatross the major social event of the year, the annual winter ball, was in full swing. One can imagine that it has served only to magnify the deep sense of loss that the news came through when the base family were celebrating together. The news of their colleagues' deaths has shaken everyone very badly.
The primary role of HMAS Albatross is to support the four naval air squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm, which are based there and provide aircraft and air support to our Navy's ships. The engineering workshops, logistics units and medical teams at HMAS Albatross perform important operational and training roles for the Australian Defence Force. The personnel at HMAS Albatross do an exceptional job and they pride themselves on their teamwork. The loss of four colleagues in this accident will be felt throughout the base as well as in the surrounding Shoalhaven community. The small village of Tomerong, about five kilometres from my home, is hurting particularly badly, having lost Scott Bennet, who leaves behind a wife and two young sons. I note that my Leader referred earlier in his remarks to one of the boys.
I extend my deepest sympathies to the families affected by this terrible tragedy. I also pay tribute to the Indonesian national who pulled two defence force personnel from the burning wreckage of the helicopter. I hope that his courage will be recognised appropriately by the Federal Government. We should not forget his heroism.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE [8.16 p.m.]: The Christian Democratic Party supports the condolence motion, which states:
That this House expresses its profound sorrow and sympathy to the relatives of the Royal Australian Navy and Royal Australian Air Force personnel who tragically lost their lives in the Sea King helicopter accident while undertaking humanitarian relief work in Indonesia on 2 April 2005.
It was a tragic loss of the lives of young men and women who were committed to serving our nation. Those who died were Leading Seaman Scott Bennet, Navy Lieutenant Mathew Davey, Navy Lieutenant Matthew Goodall, Royal Australian Air Force Sergeant Wendy Jones, Navy Lieutenant Paul Kimlin, Navy Lieutenant Jonathan King, Royal Australian Air Force Squadron Leader Paul McCarthy, Royal Australian Air Force Flight Lieutenant Lynne Rowbottom and Navy Petty Officer Stephen Slattery.
As other members have said, these men and women were based at HMAS Albatross, which is located not far from where I live at Gerroa on Seven Mile Beach, overlooking the ocean. Almost every day we see Sea King helicopters fly over Seven Mile Beach on training flights. The flights are such a regular feature that the people of Gerroa now take them for granted and even the children take no notice. As members know, the remains of the nine deceased Australians were borne home yesterday in a Royal Australian Air Force C-130 Hercules. I commend the Federal Government for paying tribute to our service men and women, who were met by the Prime Minister and the President of Indonesia. One hundred men and women formed a guard of honour and there was a service band, a lone piper and 54 pallbearers from the Australian Federation Guard. There were six for each of the seven men and two women who died when a Sea King helicopter crashed on a relief mission on the earthquake-hit island of Nias last Saturday night.
It is also a matter of great pleasure that the Indonesian President bestowed on each of the nine persons the highest award that his country could give. Perhaps the death of these nine service men and women has helped to bind the links between the nations of Australia and Indonesia even closer than they were. Both the President and his wife were in tears. Major General Jeffery, Governor-General of Australia, laid a sprig of wattle on each coffin, which is one of the customs of service funerals. I join in this tribute and thank God for the men and women who serve our nation and obey the call, as is expected of them, whether it leads them to do humanitarian work in Indonesia and other countries or peacekeeping efforts overseas in places such as Iraq. I am sure all honourable members are very proud of the men and women who serve our nation.
Mr IAN COHEN [8.21 p.m.]: On behalf of the Greens I offer our condolences following the terrible tragedy last Saturday that occurred with the disastrous downing of the Australian Navy Sea King helicopter and the deaths of nine service crew on board. I join with all other honourable members of this House and offer my condolences to the families, friends and children of those wonderful people, people who on their way home turned around and, as I understand it from reports, enthusiastically embraced the humanitarian effort that they were called upon to undertake. That is so typical of Australian people, who are so open and generous of spirit, as became clear after the tsunami that devastated these same areas, and now following the recent earthquake. Australian armed forces again have been called to help. This tragedy is even sadder and more terrible because the crew members were undertaking humanitarian support at the time.
So often I hear in the peace movement the catchcry about turning swords into ploughshares. I saw for myself in the tsunami-hit areas in Sri Lanka the organisation and equipment and the ability of the armed forces to assist people in difficulties. The armed forces once again were offering support after this most recent tragedy. I offer my condolences to all the bereaved families and to those in the local community on the South Coast who knew these people personally. Nias is a surfing area off the coast of Sumatra. I have not been there but I have intended to go there for many years. The area has now been rocked by devastation on top of the impacts of the tsunami in that region.
I am glad that many members of the Australian community, and particularly the surfing community, have volunteered their services. SurfAid International, which was originally a group of doctors who were going to the Mentawai Islands because they enjoyed the surfing so much, undertook to give back what they could to those people. After the tsunami and the Nias earthquake, Australians have gone to affected areas and have been at the forefront in offering assistance. I am pleased to say that my community has made contributions, as I have, to SurfAid International. Hopefully that will help in some small way to continue the good works being done by Australians from all walks of life in supporting Indonesia.
One can only hope that these natural events and catastrophes, and the tragic deaths of nine service men and women from the Australian Navy, will serve to bring our people and nations together towards greater mutual support and peace so that the loss of life that has been suffered will not be altogether in vain. I congratulate the Governments of Australia and Indonesia on the positions they have taken in terms of their relationships.
I acknowledge the Indonesian person who, as I understand it, very bravely saved two of the servicemen and dragged them away from the burning helicopter. I hope that that person, his family and his community gain support because of his incredibly brave act in the midst of that catastrophic crash. I hope that this disaster sends a positive message to help bring the nations of Australia and Indonesia a little closer together in their efforts towards peace.
The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS [8.26 p.m.]: On behalf of the Australian Democrats I express our condolence to the Australian personnel killed during their relief mission in Indonesia after the earthquake at Nias. It is very sad to realise the irony of losing nine young Australians on a humanitarian mission when Australia is involved in a war in which one Australian has been killed. The six naval people dead were: Lieutenant Mathew Davey, a doctor from Canberra; Lieutenant Matthew Goodall, a helicopter observer from New South Wales; Lieutenant Paul Kimlin, a pilot from Canberra; Lieutenant Jonathan King, a pilot from Queensland; Petty Officer Stephen Slattery, a medic from New South Wales; and Leading Seaman Scott Bennet, an air crewman from New South Wales. The Air Force personnel were: Squadron Leader Paul McCarthy, a senior medical officer from Western Australia; Flight Lieutenant Lynne Rowbottom of Queensland; and Sergeant Wendy Jones of Queensland.
They have courageously done their job looking after victims of the earthquake. We must salute their contribution and be grateful for it. It is very sad for Australia, particularly for their families, that this has happened. Hopefully, the only good that will come out of it is that it will mend the relationship with Indonesia which has been damaged by our somewhat belligerent foreign policy. Hopefully, Australia's contribution to the difficulties of Indonesia in terms of both the tsunami and the earthquake will build that relationship so that something positive does come out of these deaths.
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA (Special Minister of State, Minister for Commerce, Minister for Industrial Relations, Minister for Ageing, Minister for Disability Services, Assistant Treasurer, and Vice-President of the Executive Council) [8.29 p.m.], in reply: I thank honourable members for their contributions. All members have sincerely expressed their condolences. In my remarks on behalf of the Government I did not formally note, as a number of honourable members have done, the courageous actions of Indonesian civilians who saved the lives of the two personnel who survived the crash. The point I would like to make, in reply, is that the Government underlines those sentiments and extends condolences to both the comrades and families of the personnel.
Motion agreed to.