Standing up for Canberra

Private Robert Poate 2012

It is with great sadness that I rise today to support the condolence motion for Lance Corporal Stjepan 'Rick' Milosevic, Sapper James Thomas Martin and Private Robert Hugh Frederick Poate. These men, Australian soldiers on a mission to prevent the spread of terrorism and to bring peace and stability to the people of Afghanistan, died in the most tragic and heartbreaking way. My fellow members have spoken with great passion about the circumstances in which these men lost their lives. What has come across in the speeches that have been made today, and also from the sentiments in the community, is the devastation of the deaths and the fact that they were killed by someone they trusted, so there was an absolute breach of trust, which for any human being rocks you to the core.

I met many soldiers in Afghanistan when I was there and I met those who were training the ANA. They were very young men in their early 20s and they were classic Australian larrikin types, with a great sense humour and a bit naughty. What struck me about them was their absolute dedication and commitment to getting that army up to standard so that they could protect their own people and protect the stability of Afghanistan. For that breach of trust to occur, like it did under those circumstances, is just extraordinary, which is why I know it has rocked so many of my fellow colleagues here and the general community in Australia and throughout Canberra.

Today I offer my condolences to the family and friends of these soldiers. In particular, I offer condolences from the people of Canberra to the family and friends of Private Robert Poate. Robert was born here in Canberra in 1988. He attended the Canberra Grammar School. I understand he was a young man who attended right throughout his schooling. He was a Grammar boy through and through. Robert enlisted in the Army in 2009 and, after completing his basic and initial employment training, was posted as a rifleman to the 6th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment at the Gallipoli Barracks in Brisbane. In 2010 he completed specialist training as a protected mobility vehicle driver, going on to complete further specialist training in 2011 to become a protected mobility vehicle commander.

The funeral of Private Poate, known as 'Poatey' to his mates, will be held in Canberra today. Robert will be laid to rest with full military honours at the Canberra Grammar School, which is so appropriate. I understand the senior schoolboys and staff will be lining the route of the funeral service at the beginning of the service. This is a very sad and emotional day for many people in Canberra, particularly those at Canberra Grammar School. It came as a deep blow to the Canberra Grammar community. I spoke to the Principal of Canberra Grammar, Dr Justin Garrick, last week. He explained to me how the community was incredibly devastated by this loss. As soon as they heard the news they had a special service at the school. Private Poate was a deeply loved and honoured member of that community and it has been a very deep blow to them. It is appropriate that he is honoured in such a way today at his former school, where he spent so much of his life.

I was very moved by the words of Hugh and Janny Poate, Robert's parents, that were reported in today's Canberra Times. Their son was known as a larrikin like so many Australian soldiers, with the ability to create mischief without getting caught—also like so many Australian soldiers. I gather Robert liked to stir a bit. The tributes to him tell a story of a dedicated soldier with a mischievous sense of humour and, of course, that famous strawberry blonde hair. Robert's parents have been overwhelmed by the tributes that have filled their home, many from Robert's mates and many from fellow Canberrans expressing their condolences.

Janny Poate described her son as warm and loving and said he would probably be a bit embarrassed by all this attention. But this attention is more than deserved. Every soldier who gives their life to serve their country by helping to bring peace to people under threat deserves to be honoured by the parliament and by the people. As I mentioned before, I have been to Tarin Kot, Kandahar and Kabul as part of the Defence subcommittee and I saw firsthand the determination and focus of the Australian troops in their mission to eliminate terrorism from the region and create a peaceful and safe country for the people of Afghanistan. I also saw the loyalty and camaraderie of soldiers and I can only imagine the hurt and grief they are experiencing at the loss of three of their own. Our soldiers are a very tight-knit community and they are a very loyal bunch.

We heard others talk of Robert Poate's role as part of Operation SLIPPER in Afghanistan where he tragically died at a patrol base in the Baluchi Valley. I am not going to go into any more detail about that but what I will say is that the loss of these three young soldiers is having a devastating impact on their families, their friends and the Defence community. The Australian Defence Force is an integral part of the Australian and Canberra communities, touching the lives of many people. While the ADF headquarters are here in Canberra, the strong Defence presence is respected by the entire community and we have a deep admiration for all our men and women who serve, which is why it is so hard to lose three of these great soldiers.

Today, in particular, the thoughts and prayers of the Canberra community are with Robert Poate's parents, Hugh and Janny, and his sister, Nicola. While I did not know Robert Poate personally, over the last week I have heard incredible stories and tributes which are testimony to his talent and commitment. On behalf of all Canberrans, we honour the sacrifice of Lance Corporal Milosevic, Sapper James Martin and Private Robert Poate who lost their lives in such a tragic way and in a way that really does challenge our moral core. Lest we forget and may they rest in peace.

Download a copy of this speech.