Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Sergeant Blaine Flower Diddams
Sadly, on Monday 2 July 2012, Australia lost one of it finest young men when Sergeant Blaine Flower Diddams was killed in action in Afghanistan. Sergeant Diddams was doing what he was trained to do as a Special Air Service Regiment patrol commander in the Special Operations Task Group. He was deployed many times to several countries including Somalia, East Timor, the Solomon Islands and Afghanistan, and to Perth during CHOGM.
He was a career soldier and, indeed, he was on his seventh tour of duty to Afghanistan since 2001. In his short life, he had received many honours and awards. Those honours and awards include the Australian Act of Service Medal with Clasp Somalia, International Forces East Timor Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Australian Service Medal with Clasp Solomon Islands, Defence Long Service Medal, the Australian Defence Medal, NATO ISAF Medal, Meritorious Unit Citation, Infantry Combat Badge and Returned from Active Service Badge.
It was a sad and deeply moving occasion to attend the funeral service of Blaine Diddams and to hear the outpouring of love and affection from his family and friends. Although Blaine Diddams was born in Canberra, he was a member of the Special Operations Task Group from the Perth based Air Services Regiment, and he and his family lived in my electorate of Pearce.
I was not privileged to have personally known Sergeant Diddams but I did know some of his colleagues in the SAS and I know that he was held in the highest regard by all those who knew him and worked with him. I felt deeply moved by the tributes to Sergeant Diddams and the depth of concern his friends showed towards his family. Everyone who spoke at the funeral talked of his zest for life and he certainly achieved much and did a lot of living in his too-short life. I know his death was deeply felt by the SAS Regiment in Swanbourne. I express my deepest sympathy to the regiment and to the many other SAS colleagues who came from all over Australia to pay tribute to their mate.
Blaine Diddams was devoted to his loving family and is deeply mourned by them. Their loss is profound. Once again, I extend my heartfelt condolences to his wife, Toni-Ann; his children, Elle-Lou and Henry; his parents, Peter and Cate; and his sisters and brothers, Nikki, Sian, Christian and Luke. Lest we forget.
I join with the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Minister for Defence, indeed, the member for Pearce and all those who have made or will make a contribution to this condolence motion in extending my sympathies and condolences to the family of Sergeant Blaine Flower Diddams. We have now lost 34 Australians in Afghanistan—one serving with the UK forces, who gave his life in the period when I was defence minister—and it is 34 too many. We are, and will be, forever grateful for what Sergeant Diddams and those who fell before him have done in our uniform, in the name and in the interests of our country.
I still remain a firm believer in the Afghanistan mission. We are there for the right reasons and we are making real progress. The mission is not without its critics and, given the history of Afghanistan, the complexity of the campaign and the difficult challenges of the campaign, we are making a real difference. We are making a real difference on the security front, the governance front, building capacity in the justice system, building a police force as well as an Afghan National Army. We continue to build schools, bridges, roads, hospitals and things that make living in Afghanistan better and we are, of course, building a democracy, generally speaking, in that country. The work is far from complete. It will be a long time before we can claim that what we set out to achieve in Afghanistan is complete, but what is complete is the initial mission to ensure that Afghanistan no longer provides a safe haven and training ground for terrorists to perpetrate their acts of terror around the globe on all people living in our community of nations including, of course, Australians.
Sergeant Diddams, like every member of the ADF I have met, was obviously a committed person, obviously a very courageous person. As a member of the Special Operations Task Force, he was highly trained and very, very capable, a soldier with a lot of experience in the ADF and a person who had effectively given his life—not just literally but before the loss of his life—to the Australian Defence Force. We need to be very sure in this place that the life of Sergeant Diddams and those who have fallen before him have not been given in vain. We owe it to them and their families to continue the mission, to see the mission through and to complete all the objectives we set down for ourselves, not just when we first went into Afghanistan but those broader ambitions like capacity building that we embraced some time thereafter.
Again, my condolences go Blaine's widow, Toni-Ann; his daughter, Elle-Lou; his son, Henry; his parents, Peter and Cate; his siblings, Christian, Luke, Nikki and Sian; and all those who served closely with Sergeant Diddams throughout the course of his time serving the Australian Defence Force. We in this country owe him a great debt and today, in this place, we bestow upon him a great honour and say, 'Thank you, Sergeant Diddams, for your service.'
The toughest of tough soldiers, known as a hard hitter, Special Air Services Regiment Patrol Commander Sergeant Blaine Flower Diddams was also a tender, loving husband and father to his wife Toni-Ann, daughter Elle-Lou and son Henry. He was a valued friend who is sadly missed. His family and friends were of greatest importance to him. Described as totally devoted to his wife, children and extended family, Blaine's brothers and sisters also looked up to him as their hero long before he became a national hero. Didds, as they called him, was all that we cherish about the Australian spirit—a man who stood by his mates no matter what. The men who served side by side with him in the SASR were his brothers in every sense of the word. He was unreservedly dedicated to his mates and to his country. Known for his outgoing personality, quirky sense of humour and infectious enthusiasm, he was held in the highest regard by his mates and comrades alike. His friends became part of his family. Their loss, too, is acute and we in this place stand with them as well as Blaine's family as they seek to come to terms with their loss.
Raised in Canberra, Sergeant Diddams was a career soldier. He enlisted at 18 and by 24, when many are starting careers, he had passed the gruelling SAS selection course and been posted to the West, in Perth. As a Special Air Services Regiment patrol commander, Sergeant Diddams was a member of the Special Operations Task Group. The professionalism and the experience they built up working with other countries over many years is valued by coalition partners as they seek to bring security and stability to Afghanistan and the region.
I recently had the opportunity to observe firsthand the rigorous training that these cutting-edge forces undergo, and I can say without doubt that they are fit and capable in the extreme.
One of their best, and a many times decorated SAS veteran, Blaine served his country in Somalia, East Timor and the Solomon Islands and did no fewer than seven tours of Afghanistan—leading with courage, skill, humour and balanced good sense.
Early on Monday morning, 2 July 2012, Sergeant Diddams was leading his Special Operations Task Group against insurgents when a round from an enemy AK47 took his life. Family and friends declared that Blaine Flower Diddams made the ultimate sacrifice doing what he truly loved. We thank him for his service to our nation and our deepest condolences go to his family.
We are again paying tribute to one of the proud and wonderful soldiers who have sacrificed their lives for our country in this difficult conflict in Afghanistan. It is one of the most important conflicts of the modern era and is in our national interest and the interests of our region. We have heard references to Sergeant Diddams's biography and background. He is a proud son of the ACT, born in the ACT in 1971. I served with Didds in Somalia. He was first and foremost a straight-legged infantryman who joined the Defence Force back in 1990, and his first posting was to 1st Battalion. He was deployed to Somalia with True Blue, 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment. He served there with great distinction, as did his comrades in 1RAR.
Even then, Didds was always known for his sense of humour. We take their military skills for granted—these are exceptional professionals—but if there is one quality that is extremely important in these types of environments it is the one Australians have long been known for and have long known: that sense of humour. He was an invaluable member of every unit, every subunit and every team he worked with because of that sense of humour.
Didds had an amazing career, serving not only in Somalia but in the Solomons and East Timor and in multiple deployments in Afghanistan. I have often thought when we have reflected on these lives that have been cut short, and when I have reflected on friends and colleagues that I myself have lost, that you do not judge the value of a life by its length. You judge the value of a life by how well it was lived, and by that standard Blaine Diddams lived a wonderful life, a life of great value. We should not believe that there was any waste to his life because it was cut short. On his last day he would have been able to say proudly to the world and to himself: 'I made a difference.' There is no more important thing you can say at end of a life than that.
There are many people alive today—men, women and children—in Somalia, in the Solomons, in Timor and in Afghanistan who all have cause to be grateful for the sacrifices, the effort and professional execution of his duties that Blaine Diddams managed to perform in all those environments. That is something that I think is not always greatly appreciated. We often see reports in the news of incidents in these places. You do not often see the effects, the results on the ground, that these service men and women are generating and have generated in those operations.
For Blaine, his time has ended. We know that the effect of these deaths on the families is huge, of course, and today we think of his wife, Toni-Ann, their daughter, Elle-Lou, and their son, Henry. Blaine was the eldest son of his parents, Pete and Cate, and a great brother to his siblings, Nikki, Sian, Christian and Luke. For them, the battle will just be beginning: to live with this loss.
We often neglect the side of the story about those who were wounded and did not lose their lives and about families who have to deal with that experience. I urge people to read a recent book written by David Finkel called The good soldiers, which really brings home the whole experience of the families and the wounded soldiers returning from, in that case, the Iraq war. It is something that motivates us to reach out to those families, to those members who have been wounded or who are suffering in other ways. In that sense I commend the work of a couple of fine young officers, John Bale and Cavin Wilson, who have set up a new venture called Soldier On, which is doing a wonderful job encouraging the community to reach out and play its part in supporting families and wounded soldiers to find endeavours they can engage in within the limits of their incapacities or injuries. It is doing a wonderful job, so I encourage all people to either donate to or get involved with this Soldier On venture.
But, as I say, Sergeant Blaine's family were proud of him and were able to say that Sergeant Blaine—Didds—died doing what he loved, what he believed in and in the company of those with whom he shared a special bond. I do not think there is any better way to go if you do meet your end. Certainly his comrades are going to struggle with his loss, but they are entirely motivated and dedicated to paying tribute to him by their continuing efforts in Afghanistan.
At this point in time I am the parliamentary secretary for the transition in Afghanistan, so I think it is important to reflect for a moment on the success that Sergeant Blaine Diddams and his colleagues, the men and women who are serving over there, have achieved. It is an incredibly difficult and challenging environment. It is challenging from the point of view of the physical environment and maintaining your basic health, but obviously there is also the challenge posed by the enemy, the Taliban, and the broader challenges of trying to stabilise a nation so that it will not be a threat to security in our region.
In that effort I have spent quite a bit of time on the ground in Afghanistan and in places like Washington, engaging with many experts and people who have been in the field, forming the best way forward not only to achieve success in Oruzgan but to make sure their efforts in Oruzgan and the immediate region that the special forces operate in is not wasted because of the deterioration of the national situation. We have often had this historical experience of Australians having provinces and doing a brilliant job, such as in Phuoc Tuy in Vietnam, in the Bay province that I was in in Somalia, in Al Muthanna in Iraq and now in Oruzgan in Afghanistan. We are determined to try to make sure that those sacrifices, those efforts, are not in vain.
In these environments we know that it is not just a question of security operations; it is very much a matter of social, economic and political issues as well. We have committed not only to support security sector capacity building in Afghanistan but also, in these critical other areas of that social, economic and political space, to engage in the things that will be critical to stabilising this nation: road building, building of governance and rule of law capacity and ensuring the 2014 election goes smoother than the 2009 election, to build faith in legitimacy. In key areas we will ensure that the aid and development contributions we make from here land well in Afghanistan and are not subject to distortion or corruption and the like. That is going to be a critical challenge moving forward.
Afghanistan is a country with great mineral wealth, worth between $1 trillion and $3 trillion, which will produce revenue to the government coming onstream in the next eight to 10 years. The challenge will be to help mentor them through that period to that point and also to make sure that the revenue that comes from those resources goes to the benefit of the Afghan people.
I have a degree of optimism about the progress that is being made in other areas. The Afghan National Army has been the most successful piece of the national central governance story. It is performing much better than I think a lot of people would have expected. It is not just in Oruzgan province that that is a good story; it is right across the country. Certainly there are major threats that still remain to destabilise the situation—not just the Taliban. I really do not think that in the future they will pose an existential threat. There are issues internally in Afghanistan that will have to be managed through actors that sit outside the formal structures, and how that evolves in the future will be critical.
There are quite a few success stories across the space of education, health and attitudes. When I was in Washington recently we were very fortunate at the Pentagon to get a briefing from the President of the Asia Foundation, David Arnold, who has produced the most extensive survey of Afghan attitudes ever undertaken—a face-to-face survey, approaching something like 7,000 Afghans. The interesting thing was that that survey of the population indicated that 82 per cent of respondents support the government's attempts to address the situation through negotiation. So they do support that effort. The level of sympathy for opposition groups has dramatically fallen over these last few years. Whereas there was some degree of sympathy, which amounted to something like 56 per cent in 2009, that has now fallen to about the 29 per cent mark, so the vast majority of the population have completely lost all sympathy for those who are opposing the government and ISAF. The majority of respondents are also very pleased and satisfied with the progress in areas of education for children and basic services—water for drinking, the ability to move safely in local areas, the availability of clinics and hospitals. But there are remaining concerns in relation to employment and levels of corruption.
It is interesting to note that 73 per cent of respondents say that the government is doing a good job. That is quite an amazing statistic in the circumstances. Eighty-five per cent of them say the government is doing a good job in education, 68 per cent say health care is going well and 62 per cent say security is going well. This is very important. It obviously remains for us to address these key economic areas of employment and corruption, and that is very much of concern to them. They are very happy with governance not only at the national level but at the provincial level, although their concerns remain in relation to the municipal level of governance.
So the challenge is there in that respect, but I think most pleasing were the attitudes revealed about women. Support for the principles of gender equality remains high, including equal rights under the law regardless of gender, ethnicity or religion—82 per cent was the figure there. Equal educational opportunities for women show 85 per cent support and there is 79 per cent support for women being allowed to stand up for their individual rights. While there are still pockets of conservatism, there has been great progress in human rights. I met with the Afghan head of their human rights organisation, Muhammad Musa, who has lived through the worst of things. He is a Hazara, and he is very pleased with the progress in that space and believes that Afghans really want to hang on to the gains they have made in human rights.
The only area where attitudes still lag in relation to women is in the employment of women. That is probably an attitude associated with the high levels of unemployment in Afghanistan. So there is a great deal to be satisfied with in the way things have evolved and matured in Afghanistan from the efforts of our outstanding soldiers, soldiers like Blaine Diddams.
Didds is someone who we are going to miss. There is no question about that. His skills and experience are not easily compensated in the value of what his career achieved on the ground. The motivation that he leaves behind for his colleagues will drive us to further success in Afghanistan. He now has contributed his own page to the most magnificent story that this nation has produced—the Anzac story. I am very pleased to see that the record of our SAS, which has long been unknown, has been the subject of a very extensive DVD production which we launched the other day over at the War Memorial. I think all Australians will be very proud, pleased and surprised at some of the information contained in there. It will be a great tribute to Didds and his colleagues in the regiment. We salute you, Didds. You will not be forgotten. We will take your example as a motivation for what we do from here.
I join with the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and other distinguished colleagues in this House in commenting on the passing of Special Air Services Regiment Sergeant Blaine Diddams, who was tragically killed in Afghanistan on 2 July 2012. It was not until yesterday afternoon that I realised that Sergeant Diddams's parents, Peter and Cate, are from my electorate in Smiths Lake. I rang them, offered my sincere apologies for not contacting them earlier, expressed my condolences and asked if they could pass those on to his wife Toni-Ann, to his daughter Elle-Lou, to his son Henry, and to his siblings Nikki, Sian, Christian and Luke.
This was a young man who led from the front. This was a young warrior who joined the Australian Defence Force at 19 years of age. This was a young warrior who saw more battle and conflict than most others. His contribution to the Australian effort on the broader international stage, like that of his colleagues, should never be underestimated.
One of the key things that people need to understand is that there is no braver action than to lay down your life for others. Sergeant Diddams joined our Defence Force and went into theatres of operation knowing full well the risks to him, the risks to his mates and, more importantly, the risk to the nation which houses his children, and he did so very distinguishably. I want to put on the record his operational record and his honours and awards so that in years to come his children in particular—his young daughter Elle-Lou and his son Henry—can look back and know this nation has honoured his personal sacrifice. His operational record started in January 1993 when he went on Operation Solace in Somalia. The Parliamentary Secretary Mike Kelly pointed out that he served with him in that process. From there Sergeant Diddams went to Operation Warden in East Timor in 2000, Operation Tanager in East Timor in 2000, then to Operation Trek in the Solomon Islands in 2002.
He went to Operation Slipper in November 2001, and again in May 2007, again January 2008, again in May 2008, again in June 2009 and again in January 2011. He was involved in Operation Amulet for CHOGM in Perth in 2011 and then he returned to Operation Slipper in Afghanistan in February 2012.
For his very distinguished career, he has been awarded the Australian Active Service Medal, with Clasp Somalia, Clasp East Timor and Clasp ICAT. He has been awarded the International Forces East Timor Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, the Australian Services Medal with Clasp Solomon Islands, Clasp CT/SR, the Defence Long Service Medal, the Australian Defence Medal, the NATO ISAF Medal, the Meritorious Unit Citation, Infantry Combat Badge and Returned from Active Service Badge.
By any measure, this is a distinguished military hero. This, as I said, is a man who led from the front. He was not one to take a back seat. When he died on 2 July, he was in the processes in the Chora Valley where he led his team, which had just been dropped by helicopter, for a mission against an insurgent commander's compound in the Chora Valley in the Qala-e-Naw district. He was about 20 kilometres north of the provincial capital, Tarin Kowt, when, unfortunately and sadly, a high-powered round from an enemy AK-47 penetrated his chest armour and killed him.
As my colleague, the shadow minister for defence personnel, Stuart Robert, an ex-serving man himself, said, 'This was a soldier's death.' But death is never easy. It is never acceptable, but those in the military go into combat full knowing what the ramifications will be. But they go in with a very proud chest, knowing they are doing what is right and knowing they are making a contribution to making this place so much better.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to put on the record the family statement on behalf of Peter and Cate Diddams. When I spoke to Pete yesterday he said that all that they want to say has been posted on the Defence website, and they just need time to grieve. So the following statement is released at the request of Peter and Cate Diddams, the parents of Sergeant Blaine Diddams, who was tragically killed on operational service with the Special Operations Task Group in Afghanistan, on Monday, 2 July 2012. It says:
Today we lay to rest our eldest son Blaine, who died doing what he loved, what he believed in, in the company of those with whom he shared a special bond.
To Blaine he couldn't imagine doing anything else, he was living his dream and living it with pride and distinction.
Whilst we are devastated at his loss, we lovingly remember the man who was absolutely focused and driven to be the best he could be in everything he pursued, yet always with that wonderful sense of humour, boundless enthusiasm and perspective that will be sorely missed.
Blaine was totally devoted to his wife and children, to his extended family, and unreservedly dedicated to his mates and to his country.
Blaine's brothers and sisters all looked up to him as their hero long before he became a national hero.
As parents we are so very proud of Blaine; proud of what he stood for; proud of what he had achieved; proud of who he was.
Our grief has been tempered by the overwhelming expressions of sympathy and support we have received, and we are steeled to face the difficult days ahead by the knowledge that we do not grieve alone.
We would like to thank the Australian Defence Force for their efforts in supporting us through this traumatic time, and in particular the regimental family of the Special Air Service Regiment—the military family Blaine loved so much, and whose support has been unstinting.
Finally we ask that out of respect for Blaine and in recognition of the ultimate sacrifice he has made for his country, you grant his family and friends complete privacy as we all come to terms with his loss
The second piece I would like to read into the record is the statement on behalf of Sergeant Blaine Diddams' immediate family. Defence released the following statement on behalf of Mrs Toni-Ann Diddams, wife of Sergeant Blaine Diddams, and their children Elle-Lou and Henry:
Didds passed away on 2 July 2012 in a place very foreign to most of us, surrounded by his mates, and doing what he truly loved. He was without doubt a "hard hitter".
Given how he passed, it would be easy to define him as just a soldier, but to those that knew him he was so much more. Didds was the most loving of husbands and a devoted and very proud father to our children, Elle-Lou and Henry. Whenever he could, he loved watching the kids play sport and taught them at a very young age to ski. Skiing was a passion for Didds and each year our family would take a ski trip together come hell or high water! We will look back at these holidays and cherish the moments we shared with Didds.
Friends and families were so very important to Didds. His mates really became members of our family, and I know just how hard his loss is for them also. In this difficult time the support they have shown to the children and I has been unwavering. Didds was a man who stood by his mates no matter what and I know he will be sorely missed and well remembered by them all. The men he stood side by side with in the SASR were his brothers in every sense of the word.
He lived his life to the fullest, his enthusiasm and humour were utterly infectious, if you were around Didds you were having a good time. Everyone has a 'Didds story'.
We would like to thank family, friends and the defence community for their support, and finally we would like to thank those sectors of the media community who have respected our request for privacy and hope this will continue during this difficult time.
To his parents, Pete and Cate, I repeat my apology for not knowing as soon as my constituents that this was your son, and I expressed that yesterday. His father, Peter, understood full well the trials, the challenges and the risks associated with going to war to defend your nation, as Peter was a young officer in Vietnam with the 104 Signal Squadron in 1969. When I spoke to Peter yesterday he said one of the best things that we can do to remember the sacrifice of his son is to make sure our serving men and women are taken care of. I had dialogue sometime ago with Peter in relation to the DFRDB increases. Here is a man who served his nation well, went to Vietnam and did not leave the army until 1988, but he is also a man who struggles to survive on his military pension.
I say to my colleagues on the benches opposite that here is an opportunity to look at the service of our defence men and women of this nation, pay them due respect and compensate them as they truly deserve to be. This man, Sergeant Blaine Diddams, is a national hero. In putting the record of this fine Australian on the Hansard of this House, I know his children can be truly grateful for the contribution and the sacrifice their father made to this nation, standing up for children like them in a foreign country so that they can enjoy the freedoms and the democracy that his children have. Sometimes, whilst the personal loss is very deep, as the children in particular grow older and learn more about their father from his actions, his mates and his colleagues, they will understand the difference this man made in leading from the front. They will get to know their father even more and they will get to respect the sacrifice that he made for them and for this nation. This man is gone. There is no braver action than laying down your life for others, and that is not to be taken for granted by anyone in this nation.
It is with great sadness that I rise this afternoon to offer the condolences of the people of Canberra to the family and friends of Sergeant Blaine Flower Diddams. Sergeant Diddams was born in Canberra in 1971. He was a member of the Special Operations Task Group and was from the Perth based Special Air Services Regiment. He was employed as a Special Air Service Regiment Patrol Commander.
The ADF touches the lives of many Canberrans every day. Canberra is home to the headquarters of the Defence Force and there is a very strong defence presence here. We have a deep affection and respect for all those in the ADF who serve their country, which is why this loss is so great.
Sergeant Diddams enlisted in the Army in 1990 and after completing his initial employment training for infantry was posted to the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment in Townsville. He successfully completed his SASR selection course and was posted to the regiment in 1995. This was his seventh tour to Afghanistan since 2001, which is an extraordinary achievement by an extraordinary soldier. But Sergeant Diddams was well seasoned in operations. He had been deployed on four occasions to Somalia, to East Timor and to the Solomon Islands.
He was also a highly distinguished soldier. He had been awarded the Australian Active Service Medal with clasp Somalia, clasp East Timor and clasp ICAT; the INTERFET Medal; the Afghanistan Campaign Medal; the Australian Service Medal with clasp Solomon Islands and clasp CT/SR; the Defence Long-Service Medal; the Australian Defence Medal; the NATO ISAF Medal; the Meritorious Unit Citation; the Infantry Combat Badge; and the Returned from Active Service Badge—an extraordinarily distinguished soldier.
Our thoughts and prayers are with Toni-Ann, Elle-Lou and Henry, Sergeant Diddams's parents, Peter and Cate, and his siblings, Nikki, Sian, Christian and Luke. While I did not know your husband, your dad, your son, your brother, he sounds a wonderful man, and the tributes that we have heard over the last few days testify to that. On behalf of all Canberrans we honour his sacrifice.
I join with colleagues on both sides of this House in this condolence motion to pay tribute to Sergeant Blaine Diddams, otherwise known as 'Dids' to his mates, a soldier's soldier. Forty years of age and born in Canberra in 1971, Sergeant Diddams was killed on 2 July this year, the 33rd Australian soldier to be tragically killed in Afghanistan and the fifth SAS officer to be killed in Afghanistan. He was a 17-year SAS veteran. He joined the Army when he was just 18 years of age. He was on his seventh tour of Afghanistan since 2001. He had been deployed as a regiment patrol commander with a special operations task group in Afghanistan. He was a member of the elite Swanbourne based Special Air Services Regiment.
Sergeant Diddams had previously been deployed to Somalia, East Timor and the Solomon Islands. He had been decorated many times, including by US forces in the wake of the fierce Battle of Anaconda in Afghanistan in 2002. I would like to list for the House some of Sergeant Diddams's awards and honours as they pay tribute to his contribution. He was awarded the Australian Active Service Medal with clasp Somalia, clasp East Timor, clasp ICAT; the International Force East Timor Medal; the Afghanistan Campaign Medal; the Australian Service Medal with clasp Solomon Islands, clasp CT/SR; the Defence Long-Service Medal; the Australian Defence Medal; the NATO ISAF Medal; the Meritorious Unit Citation; the Infantry Combat Badge; and the Returned from Active Service Badge. This is a long list of citations, honours and awards that went to Sergeant Diddams for his bravery and for his contribution.
He will be remembered by his wife, Toni-Ann, daughter, Elle-Lou, son, Henry, parents, Peter and Cate, and siblings, Nikki, Sian, Christian and Luke. We cannot give them comfort at this time that we will bring Sergeant Diddams back, but we can tell the family that his life was not lost in vain. I went to Afghanistan last year and met with the Australian men and women who were serving in uniform. Their contribution there is significant. Their contribution is helping make Australia a safer place. Their contribution is helping to bring stability and prosperity to Afghanistan. They are performing an important job in protecting our freedoms.
Finally, I would like to end with the words of Commanding Officer Lieutenant-Colonel J who said of Sergeant Diddams:
… he was humble, loyal to the end and respectful of all who contributed to the delivery of operational capability.
His pursuit of professional excellence, his devotion to his family, his dedication to his mates and to his country will always be remembered by an eternally grateful regiment, defence force and nation.
On behalf of my many colleagues in this House, I say to the family of Sergeant Blaine Diddams that his sacrifice was not in vain. On behalf of a grateful nation, we say thank you. Lest we forget.
I thank the member for Kooyong for his heartfelt and very sincere contribution to this condolence motion. I too would like to add my sympathy and condolences at the death of Sergeant Blaine Diddams. I express my great respect for his sacrifice and our great sorrow to his parents, Peter and Cate, his wife, Toni-Ann, his children, Elle-Lou and Henry, his extended family and his comrades.
We now know, because of the contributions to this debate, of Sergeant Blaine Diddams' record as a serving person. He was born here in Canberra, enlisted at a young age and then, I think at the age of 24, passed SAS entry. Those of us who have not worn the uniform in battle—that is, most of us—cannot imagine what confronts Australian serving men and women when they go overseas to face the possibility of death as a result of being sent there by us. We cannot imagine the risks that are taken by individuals, teams, units and battalions when they go out and do what we require of them to safeguard our national interests. Those of us who have not experienced the training or the personal development that comes with being a member of an elite fighting force, such as the Special Air Service Regiment, cannot contemplate the hardship and sacrifice that leads the person in this position, such as Sergeant Diddams, to achieve the great things they achieve.
I can say to you, with the greatest of respect to our athletes who have come from the Olympic Games, that surely there are no finer athletes, in many respects, than our elite fighting men and women. We need to understand how elite they really are. In the context of our community, they are wonderful people. They are brave, they are intelligent, they are courageous to a fault and they would sacrifice themselves for their mate at a blink. It is hard for us to contemplate, but such is our military tradition, which goes back so many generations. We see it in the service of Sergeant Diddams. All of his service exemplifies that great military tradition: his courage, his bravery, his sacrifice for us. I have stood here on many occasions—this is the 33rd person killed in action in Afghanistan—and have spoken about how difficult it is for us to really understand the battle, to really know what people confront on a minute-by-minute basis.
In the case of the Special Forces, they are doing the business of facing the sacrifices, the threats and the unknowns. These are highly trained men and women. The Special Air Service is particularly well trained and very well led. They know the risks involved in what they do, yet they do it. They know the challenges involved, yet they do it. They understand the magnitude of the threat, yet they do it—and they do it for us. There can be no finer tribute to a nation than the sacrifice of its service men and women.
Here we see a family who will suffer forever as a result of this very sad death, but their sacrifice was not in vain. We need, as a community, as a nation, as a parliament in particular, to acknowledge that that contribution will be respected. We need to know that we can enforce with all our will the view that this contribution, this sacrifice, will be forever remembered and forever valued for what it does for us. It protects us and it saves us in an ephemeral way, not directly in this room but in terms of our national priorities and national interests. In this case, it is protecting us from acts of terror in the long term. There can be no finer contribution.
This is no consolation to Peter and Cate, his dad and mum, to Toni-Ann, his wife, or to his beautiful children, Elle-Lou and Henry. This is no consolation at all, really. I am a parent of a daughter who is 25 and of a son who is 23. This is the age when these people go to fight. This man had seven tours of duty, seven tours of fighting for us through what would have been horrendous sets of circumstances that are for us too difficult to imagine. We can see all manner of television but the reality of battle is so hard for us to imagine. There is not a lot we can do to console those who now grieve, but we can say thank you and make sure that this man's life is never forgotten, because he has made an extraordinary contribution to our lives by the sacrifice of his own. Lest we forget.
Sergeant Blaine Diddams was gunned down during a mission against an insurgent commander's compound near Tarin Kowt in Afghanistan on 2 July. The 40-year-old father of two was a Special Forces soldier and a member of the Perth based Special Air Service Regiment. Canberra born, Sergeant Diddams was a career soldier, described by the shadow minister for science, technology and personnel as a 'soldier's soldier'—a leader who led tough men, who fought tough fights and who paid a tough price. Indeed, he paid the ultimate price. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
'Dids', as he was affectionately known, joined the Army in 1990 when he was just 19—he was only 19. In 1995, at the age of 24, Sergeant Diddams joined the Special Air Service Regiment. He was deployed on many operations during a decorated and gallant career, and these operations were the toughest test of all. His career spanned more than 20 years. His final tour was his seventh to Afghanistan over an 11-year period. He was the 33rd Australian soldier killed in Afghanistan, the fifth from his regiment.
At Sergeant Diddams' funeral on 14 July, Special Operations Commander 'Gus' Gilmore told the gathering that the Army had lost a distinguished soldier. He said:
The scale of our loss of Sergeant Diddams is perhaps only surpassed by our recognition of his contribution to Australia over so many years in so many places and at such a consistently high standard.
Australia is truly lucky to have men such as Sergeant Diddams fighting for our freedom, fighting for peace and fighting for the freedom of the Afghan people so they can hopefully one day live in peace as we so fortunately do here in Australia.
Wagga Wagga, in my electorate of Riverina, is a city which proudly has Blamey Barracks at Kapooka, home of the Australian soldier, on its outskirts. The officers at Kapooka train the recruits to carry on the outstanding work of those serving in Afghanistan and they know how important it is for our troops to be physically and mentally equipped for the challenges which lie ahead. It is during these sad times that we are reminded of the sacrifices that men and women make, and make selflessly and willingly, in order to bring peace and stability to a country so that in it one might live a life as good and democratic as ours. Sergeant Diddams died doing what he loved and in the only way he knew how—leading his men from the front. A man described as living life to the fullest, Sergeant Diddams was widely respected for his command, his leadership and his acumen.
He leaves behind a loving wife, Toni-Ann, two children, Elle-Lou and Henry, his parents, Peter and Cate, and four siblings. May their pain be comforted by the knowledge that Blaine Flower Diddams made a difference in his life and by his legacy. We salute him. We remember this warrior's sacrifice. We thank him for his service and may he rest in peace. Lest we forget.
I rise to pay my respects to Sergeant Blaine Flower Diddams who has paid the ultimate price fighting for Australia, fighting for all Australians. This is also an opportunity to honour all those Australians who have served in our military forces and to honour all those who have died while serving. Sergeant Blaine Diddams is the 33rd Digger who has been killed while on deployment to Afghanistan. His death is a timely reminder of the risks that our servicemen and women face, and the honour and bravery of all Australian soldiers, and the sacrifices they make knowingly and willingly in defence of our country.
Sergeant Blaine Diddams served in the Special Air Service Regiment as a patrol commander. He served for our country on 12 deployments, including seven tours of Afghanistan. I did not know Sergeant Diddams personally but I was recently in Afghanistan with the Australian Defence Force and the serving members with whom I spoke told me that the death of Sergeant Diddams in the Chorah Valley was as a result of a fluke shot—a fluke shot that had tragic consequences. They spoke of Sergeant Diddams's unwavering dedication to Australia's cause in Afghanistan, his professionalism and also his kind-hearted spirit.
As his parents Peter and Cate Diddams said in their statement, 'Blaine's brothers and sisters all looked up to him as their hero long before he became a national hero. As parents, we are so proud of Blaine, proud of what he stood for, proud of what he had achieved, proud of who he was.'
Sergeant Diddams's colleagues and senior officers with whom I spoke in Afghanistan were understandably upset that a journalist who was there at the time broke a long-held agreement and ran the story of his death before all his family could be contacted and, subsequently, some heard the tragic news through the media. The way in which Sergeant Blaine Diddams conducted himself is a reflection of all Australian soldiers who are known to be among the most professional in the world and, indeed, the most courageous. As the Chief of the Defence Force, General David Hurley, so eloquently expressed to Sergeant Diddams's family and friends:
Words cannot ease the overwhelming grief they feel today but I hope they can find comfort in the knowledge that this soldier served his country with pride and distinction.
This distinction was reflected in the many honours and awards Sergeant Diddams received from the ADF, including the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, International Force East Timor Medal and the Australian Defence Medal, among many others.
Sergeant Diddams was dedicated to his cause—our cause—and the country is justifiably proud of him. On behalf of the residents of Ryan, as we continue to keep our other Australian soldiers serving in Afghanistan and around the world in our thoughts and prayers, I extend my condolences to the family of Sergeant Blaine Diddams. We will remember him. Lest we forget.
I rise to join others in honouring Special Air Service Regiment Sergeant Blaine Diddams who was tragically killed in Afghanistan on 2 July 2012. I also pass on my condolences to his wife, Toni-Ann, his daughter, Elle-Lou, his son, Henry, his parents, Cate and Peter, and his siblings, Nikki, Sian, Christian and Luke.
Sergeant Diddams joined the Army as a 19-year-old and was the son of a Vietnam veteran. He joined the SAS as a 24-year-old. He has served with distinction in Somalia, East Timor and the Solomon Islands, and he has done seven tours of duty in Afghanistan. I repeat the words of the shadow minister, Stuart Robert, when he said:
Today we honour one of the toughest of the tough, 'a soldier's soldier' whose uniform guarded us while we slept. Today we honour Sergeant Blaine Diddams and we humbly thank him and his family for the burden they have borne for the freedom we enjoy.
I never served—and I would never even think about putting my hand up for SAS training. I do not know the toughness required for that. I do not know the toughness needed to leave your wife and kids and risk your life so that others can sleep safely and soundly. I come from the city of Townsville and we are home to 3rd Brigade, which are ready-deployed. They talk about the level of training they have to do, and it becomes instinct—they have what they call muscle memory. They have to train to become so attuned that when something happens they automatically go into the correct position. Extrapolate that out to what it must take to become a sergeant in the SAS and do seven tours of duty in Afghanistan. We can never know the toughness, the athleticism, the grit and the determination that Sergeant Diddams must have had.
To his wife Toni-Ann, his daughter Elle-Lou and his son Henry, I say thank you—you are grieving so that others can be saved. I do not have the toughness to do what you have endured and will endure. May god bless you.
I take this opportunity to say a few words about those who do come home. They do not get condolence motions if they come home with a limp or they come home with post-traumatic stress disorder. We must understand the damage that these actions do to people; we must understand that people will come home and they will not be obviously injured but they will carry a heavy toll nonetheless. We must understand and we must support, and as Australian people we must be prepared to pay for that support. We have sent these people to these places; they have defended our rights and our way of life and tried to establish a better way of life for others. There is a price to pay for that and we as a nation must be prepared to pony up for it.
To Sergeant Blaine Diddams, I say thank you—thank you for a life well lived—and I say sorry for a life cut too short. To all of us I say, 'Lest we forget'.