I took time out yesterday to honour Australia’s latest casualty in the bloody Afghanistan conflict, Sergeant Brett Wood. Brett was a bona fide Australian hero, an honourable man with a good heart, and, I am proud to say, a much loved member of my extended family.

At the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, I laid flowers for Brett beside the tomb of the unknown soldier on behalf of my family. This soldier was far from unknown — he was my brother-in-law and we are all devastated by his loss.

As I entered the hall, members of the Federation Guard formed an impromptu guard of honour around the tomb, their heads bowed and their rifles resting barrel-down on the stone floor.

A few minutes later, outside, they took time to shake my hand as they passed — men of principle, with a deep understanding of the loss that so many families and friends have already suffered in this conflict.

Later, back on Capital Hill, question time began with statements from Prime Minister Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott praising Brett’s distinguished and decorated career — and, importantly, turning the nation’s thoughts to his injured comrades, some still in critical condition. We stood for a minute’s silence. A formal condolence motion will follow in coming days.

And then much of the nobility and principle vanished from the chamber. The vicious attack and counter attack of this precarious parliament resumed, on the mining tax, the carbon tax, plans for plain packaging of cigarettes. For obvious reasons I couldn’t stick it out and left early.

The Afghanistan conflict has already produced far too many of these solemn moments in Canberra. But they should not be wasted — when they occur, it is vitally important to remember that the privilege of standing up in parliament to represent the Australian people is one of the great freedoms for which Brett, and so many others like him, have died.

For a day I may have lost the stomach to watch democratic debate diluted by too much unprincipled bickering across the chamber. But I can’t help hoping that at moments of national tragedy, our elected representatives take time out themselves to reflect on the great honour and responsibility preserved for them by the selfless actions of soldiers such as Brett.

Vale Brett. On behalf of my family, I can wholeheartedly say that you will always be our hero.

*This article was first published on Business Spectator

Peter Fray

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