Minister Hamilton-Smith’s Ministerial statement on the passing of Air Vice Marshal Brent Espeland

Mr Speaker, I seek leave to make a Ministerial Statement.

The Veterans’ Advisory Council (VAC) was established by Cabinet in July 2008 and held its inaugural meeting in February 2009 under the Chairmanship of former South Australian Governor, the Hon Sir Eric Neal AC CVO.

Established to promote the wellbeing of the South Australian ex-service community, promote co-operation across ex-service organisations and unit associations, and provide advice to the State Government, the VAC continues to make an invaluable contribution.

In the last 12 months, the VAC has pursued an agenda under the theme of “the next 50 years” ensuring our deployed servicemen and women in Iraq and Afghanistan are looked after when they return home, while ensuring that veterans from earlier conflicts including World War II, Malaya, Borneo, Korea, and Vietnam continue to receive their due entitlements and acknowledgements.

The VAC, under the leadership of the late Air Vice Marshal Brent Espeland AM, has played a leading role in conjunction with the Veterans’ Health Advisory Council, in the development of the Framework for Veterans’ Healthcare 2016-2020. Setting the strategic direction for the provision of veterans’ health care in South Australia, the framework informs us of the health needs of veterans so we can develop a shared understanding of how we will work together to improve quality of care for veterans.

This forward-looking focus would not have been possible without the drive and enthusiasm of Air Vice Marshal Brent Espeland: a warrior, a gentleman, a colleague, and a friend.

Sadly, I regret to inform the House that Brent passed away, quite suddenly, on Friday 29 September.  A man of service who persevered because he believed his efforts would deliver a better life for those who followed, AVM Espeland is part of an unbroken chain of those who have served with honour through the life of our nation.

Educated at Woodville High School and graduating as Dux of the College, Air Vice Marshal Espeland entered the Royal Australian Air Force Academy, Point Cook in 1966, and was awarded the Sword of Honour as the top graduate in 1969. Brent enjoyed a career in the Royal Australian Air Force spanning 36 years that included service flying C130 Hercules in Vietnam, leader of the Roulettes aerobatic team (he could certainly fly!) and was selected to attend the Canadian Forces Staff College in 1981-1982.

I had the good fortune to serve directly with Brent during the 1992 “Kangaroo Exercise Series”, which put most of the Australian Defence Force into Northern Australia. Brent was the Orange Force Commander across sea, air and land.

My task as Commanding Officer of the Commando Regiment was to act as the Orange Force Land Commander which led infantry companies from the Royal Australian Regiment, including an SAS squadron and the First Commando Regiment.

We spent most of 1992 and a good part of 1991 working closely together, as we prepared to invade Northern Australia. Brent was a wonderful commander in the field. He was capable, considered, fair but firm and always friendly. This man was one of the RAAF’s finest with whom I served. I was delighted to find him back in Adelaide and to be able to invite him to lead the Veterans’ Advisory Council. Brent did not hesitate to serve when asked.

His career encompassed command appointments at unit and formation level as well as having tenure as the Air Officer Commanding Training Command and Deputy Chief of Air Force. His final military appointment was a secondment to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet with responsibility for the coordination of security and intelligence at the national level for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. A second career followed with 10 years in senior sports administration.

In retirement Brent worked tirelessly in support of many worthwhile causes as National President of the Australian Flying Corps, and Royal Australian Air Force Association, and both National and South Australian President of the Royal United Services Institute of Australia. He was a member of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Ex-Service Organisation Round Table, and was Chairman of The Board of Governors of The Repat Foundation – the Road Home.

Brent believed that we owe a profound debt to veterans and service personnel, and their families who have suffered related health issues. He also believed that, as a nation, we must ensure we have the best-led, best-trained, best-equipped military in the world. He was fond of reminding everyone that our troops wear the uniform for a time, yet they wear another proud title, that of “veteran”, for the rest of their lives.

Brent was firm in his commitment that we devote just as much energy and passion to making sure we have the best-cared for, best-treated, best-respected veterans in the world. Brent was a man who believed there were better days ahead. His graciousness, easy smile, reassuring tone, and sense of humour were all qualities that helped him effortlessly wear the burdens of expectation throughout his life and career.

Brent’s approach to life was never more evident than during the last few months, dealing with his illness while continuing to work tirelessly on the matters that were important to him. His positive outlook, mental strength, and resilience were a study in courage that was, in short, inspirational.

Our thoughts are with Brent’s wife Judy and his children Brady and Kirsty.

Lest We Forget.