Private Matthew Lambert
Mr CLARE (Blaxland—Minister for Defence Materiel) (11:54): This is a terrible time for the family and friends of Private Matthew Lambert. It is also a difficult time for the Australian Army and the wider Australian community. Matthew joined the Australian Army as a reservist in 2005 at 20 years of age. When he first enlisted he joined the 9th Battalion, Royal Queensland Regiment, the Fighting 9th. After 18 months he transferred into the Regular Army and was posted to Townsville with the 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, in February 2007. He deployed to East Timor in the second half of 2009. He deployed to Afghanistan just two months ago as part of Mentoring Task Force 3.
The Mentoring Task Force’s role is to train the 4th Brigade of the Afghan National Army to protect the people of Afghanistan. It is an important job. It is what ensures that the Taliban cannot just wait out coalition forces. When we leave Afghanistan we will leave an Afghan army and a police force able to protect the Afghan people. We are obviously now in the middle of what is a very deadly fighting season, and moments like this bear very heavily on the Australian people. It is important, at moments like this, to remember why we are in Afghanistan and the progress that we are making.
As I have said in debates like this before, we are in Afghanistan because it is in our national interest to be there. It is in our national interest to be there because of the threat posed by an unstable Afghanistan. An unstable Afghanistan poses a threat that reaches far beyond its own borders. It affects its neighbours and it affects us. September 11 and the Bali bombings are proof of that. We are not in Afghanistan alone. We are one of 48 countries that are contributing to the same effort under the mandate of the United Nations. We are all there for the same reason. The threat posed to all countries by an Afghanistan where malign forces take root again is a significant one. We cannot pretend that what happens in Afghanistan does not affect us here in Australia. It does, and because it does it is right that we are there.
I visited Afghanistan last month. Our soldiers told me of the progress that they are making. Our soldiers told me that where a few years ago they were at the head of a patrol, Afghan soldiers are now leading many patrols with Australian assistance. The work that we are doing in mentoring and training the 4th Brigade of the Afghan National Army is bearing fruit. Areas where fighting was taking place a couple of years ago are now relatively stable and we are expanding our footprint into new areas of the province. Khas Oruzgan is a good example of that. The district where Matthew sustained the injuries that killed him is a very bloody, very dangerous part of the Oruzgan Province where in the past insurgents have intimidated and murdered members of the local population. That the Mentoring Task Force and our Afghan partners are now patrolling in more districts like this is proof of the progress that is being made in Afghanistan. There is much more work to do, but the strategy that has now been adopted is the right one and we are on track to transfer responsibility for security in Oruzgan to Afghan authorities in 2014. We are making progress, but if we hand over responsibility to the Afghan army before they are ready to take over we will not leave a stable and secure Afghanistan. That is why the work of Matthew and his mates is so important.
I visited the team that Matthew was part of three times in the last few months, first in Townsville in March to make sure the kitting system at Lavarack Barracks was working and that they have the equipment they need. I met with them for a second time in May this year at High Range in the Townsville Field Training Area to see their final training activity before they deployed to Afghanistan and I talked to them about the preparations they had made. The third time I met them was four weeks ago in Afghanistan. They are a dedicated and professional group of men. They are led by a good man in Lieutenant Colonel Chris Smith and they have lost a very good soldier. Matthew is the first member of 2RAR to be killed in action since the Vietnam War. I know his loss will be a huge blow to Lavarack Barracks and to the wider Townsville community.
Brigadier Stuart Smith, the commander of 3rd Brigade, which includes 2RAR, said on Tuesday that Matthew was widely respected for his professionalism and commitment to duty and ‘his death has been felt deeply within our Army family’. In addition, he said that ‘a family has lost a son and a young woman has lost a partner’. Like many young couples, Matthew and his partner, Ellesse, had just bought their first home and they had planned to live a life together. None of us in this place can ever properly imagine the grief that must be consuming her at this time or his parents, Chris and Vicki, or his sister Jess, but what we can do is honour him.
Private Matthew Lambert is the 29th ADF member to lose his life in Afghanistan since 2001, the eighth since the beginning of this year. His CO, Lieutenant Colonel Chris Smith, said that he was a great Australian soldier, an Anzac. He is a sniper, which says it all. He is an elite marksman. His soldiering skills are above all others and probably pound for pound one of the toughest and best soldiers in the battalion.
Our responsibility is to be worthy of Private Matthew Lambert and the sacrifice that he has made. His father, Chris, said in a statement earlier today:
He was an extraordinary young man with everything, including incredible physical and mental agility. Matt had a great enthusiasm for living life, generously sharing his time, thoughts and ideas and inspiring us all by walking the talk.
It is our job to do just that, to walk the talk, to honour his memory with deeds not just words, and ensure that the job he went to Afghanistan to do is completed. Lest we forget.