Once again I rise in this place to honour an Australian soldier who has fallen in Afghanistan doing the vital work of restoring security, peace and prosperity to that country. Today I honour the life and service of Private Matthew Lambert. In doing so, I once again offer my condolences and the condolences of all Canberrans to his family and his friends.
As I have said before, this is a town that is home to many members of the Defence Force. We are a community linked very closely with those men and women who come from around the country to serve their nation and their people. In my former roles in the Department of Defence I met many members of the Army and other services, so while I never met Private Lambert I know all too well the kind of man he was. I have no doubt at all he was dedicated, courageous, proud and honoured to serve.
I had reason the day before yesterday to join with the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel and Minister for Veteran’s Affairs to launch the FamilySMART program, which is being developed by the Defence Community Organisation. The purpose of this program is to make sure that the families of defence personnel are looked after when their loves ones are deployed. At this event I spoke to many relatives, wives and children of members of the services who are or have recently been deployed overseas. I mention this program because I think it shows just how connected the defence forces are and just how much the death of Private Lambert will be hurting the entire defence community. It will cut deep, just as the deaths before him have done. These are tough, gritty and determined men and women and they know the risks they face when they are deployed to places like Afghanistan. However, this does not make the loss any easier.
As I have mentioned before, I have been fortunate in my short time as a member of this place to travel to Afghanistan and to meet soldiers like Private Lambert. I was very, very impressed and deeply affected by their professionalism and their dedication to their duties and to their mission of bringing stability to Afghanistan. It is not just a very important mission for ensuring that the global environment is more secure and protected from terrorism and the brutality of the Taliban and alQaeda but a mission with direct consequence for the safety and security of Australians here and overseas. It is a mission that is making a difference.
While on my trip we met with a number of members of the Afghan parliament, one of them the internationally renowned Fawzia Koofi. Ms Koofi is the chairwoman of the defence and territorial affairs standing committee, has a masters in business and management and is a strong advocate of human rights, particularly of women’s and children’s rights. She is also from a political active family. In our meeting she was articulate and forthright. She praised the international presence in Afghanistan and wanted it to last as long as possible because it ensured women like her were safe.
In Oruzgan we met only with men from the provincial government, army and police in Tarin Kowt and local leaders in the Mirabad Valley. All of them praised the international community’s work in building vital infrastructure, including schools, waste management and food storage facilities and women’s and children’s health centres. They were at pains to point out the gains in stability and security in the last 12 months, particularly in the last six months.
My trip to Afghanistan left a permanent mark on me and put into sharp focus the reality of life on the ground for those deployed there. It is a place that is hot and dusty during the day and freezing at night. It is a hard place. But, as is so typical of the character of Australian defence personnel, they just got on with the job. Words cannot possibly do justice to the work and sacrifice of Private Lambert or to the extent of the grief of his family and friends. Once again, all I can offer is my eternal thanks and to say that the people of Canberra are grateful and we will not forget the sacrifice of Private Lambert and his efforts, and neither will the people of Afghanistan. His commitment will not be in vain and he will be remembered.