Standing up for Canberra

Lance Corporal Mervyn McDonald and Private Nathanael Galagher 2012

It is with great sadness that I rise today to support the condolence motion to honour Lance Corporal Mervyn John McDonald and Private Nathanael John Aubrey Galagher. Lance Corporal McDonald and Private Galagher were both members of the Special Operations Task Group in Afghanistan. Tragically they both lost their lives when their helicopter crashed on 30 August 2012. This has been a very tough time for the family and friends of Lance Corporal McDonald and Private Galagher and their mates still serving in Afghanistan. However, I would like them to know that our thoughts and prayers are with them.

Lance Corporal McDonald was on his sixth tour to Afghanistan. He served in Operation Slipper in Afghanistan, as well as Operation Astute in Timor-Leste and Operation Citadel in East Timor. By all accounts Lance Corporal McDonald was noted for his quick wit and positive energy. He has been described as a dedicated, wholehearted and highly professional soldier and a credit to his company. The moving words of Lance Corporal McDonald's fiancee, Rachael Sprigg-McKinnie, paint a picture of a loving family man with an infectious personality who was passionate about the Army and serving his country. Rachael's touching tribute to her fiance brings to the fore the tragic loss of this young soldier.

I also want to offer my condolences to the family and friends of 23-year-old Private Galagher, who was serving on his second tour to Afghanistan. Private Galagher, known as Nate to his family and mates, was deployed as part of the operation. I have spoken before about meeting soldiers of the calibre of Lance Corporal McDonald and Private Galagher when I travelled to Afghanistan. In my short time in Tarin Kot, Kandahar and Kabul, I saw firsthand the determination and focus of the Australian troops and the passion that they have in their mission to eliminate terrorism from the region and create a peaceful and safe country for the people of Afghanistan. I also got to see the loyalty and the camaraderie of these soldiers, and I can only imagine what they are feeling and what they are experiencing at the moment at the loss of two of their own, because they are a very tight-knit and loyal group, and they are very close. It is like a brotherhood.

They operate in an environment that is unimaginable to most people. Our troops face unique hardships and risks. They share the satisfaction of serving in an operation that is designed to bring freedom from oppression, and they share the loss of their fellow soldiers very deeply. In my visit I met with those soldiers and commandos and got a sense of the conditions and challenges they endure, because the environment in Afghanistan is difficult and it is difficult to describe. When I was there I was told of life in winter, when the temperature can drop to minus 20, and of life in the summer months, when the temperature can rise to 50 degrees. Within a year the people of Afghanistan experience freezing conditions and boiling hot and dusty days that test the most highly trained and experienced soldiers.

So I have tremendous admiration for the people of Afghanistan, who endure these extreme conditions while under the constant threat of war and terrorism, and I hold in great admiration our service men and women who are there to help the Afghani people as they work towards building their own resilience and stability. Our service men and women are there to assist the people in Afghanistan. They want and need our help, and there are overwhelming sacrifices being made on all sides.

What impressed me about the soldiers there was the incredible dignity and respect that they have. Of course, the soldiers being Australian, I also saw a lot of humour and larrikinism, which is very much a trait of Australian soldiers. I have previously described our service men and women in Afghanistan and those serving in other operations as being like a brotherhood, as I mentioned before. As in a brotherhood, if one of their brothers dies or is injured then they are commemorated, often with bracelets bearing their names. There are many ways we can honour and pay tribute to our soldiers. While I did not know these soldiers personally, I can understand the incredible loss their mates are experiencing.

Lance Corporal McDonald and Private Galagher were bravely serving their country with distinction and honour. The tributes we have heard today are a recognition on behalf of the parliament that we honour their commitment to our Defence Force and the operations they engage in. I extend my sincere sympathies to the family of Lance Corporal McDonald—his fiancee, Rachael; his mother, Myrna, and stepfather Bernie; and his brothers, Percy, Roger and Gary—and to the family of Private Galagher—his partner, Jessie; his parents, Wayne and Sally; and his sister, Elanor. Lest we forget.

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