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Heather Roy's Diary

Heather Roy's Diary

Facing Danger Every Day

Hon Heather Roy, ACT Deputy Leader 
Friday, November 27 2009
This evening I will be at Ohakea Air Force Base in the Manawatu to welcome home the New Zealand Defence Force personnel of Op Rata II, who are returning to New Zealand from a rotation in the Solomon Islands.

Tonight's welcome is particularly special for me: I farewelled these servicemen and women when they first deployed and, in September, visited them in theatre to observe the work they were doing with Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI).

While over there I noted that the troops were in great heart.  They had a real sense of purpose.  I was greatly impressed by their professionalism and enthusiasm for their mission, and I am delighted to be welcoming them home this evening - but probably not as delighted as their families.

Tonight will be my second visit to Ohakea this week, the first on a much sadder note.  On Tuesday I accompanied Prime Minister John Key to Ohakea to attend the funeral of Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) Flight Sergeant Andrew Forster, tragically killed when an artillery shell exploded during a training exercise at Waiouru Army Camp last week.

The funeral was particularly emotional as hundreds of mourners, family and friends gathered to bid farewell to a man who was a loving husband and father, and a military hero.  In Parliament, Party leaders stood one by one to pay their respects and mark Flight Sergeant Forster's passing.

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Born in Huntly, Flight Sergeant Forster enlisted to the RNZAF in 1982.  For the next 27 years he served with distinction in a number of units in a number of units, participating in exercises in Australia and Singapore.  He also deployed to the United Arab Emirates and had only recently returned from a stint in Afghanistan's Bamyan province with the Explosive Ordnance Disposal team.

Flight Sergeant Forster was known as a consummate professional in everything he did, and was held in the highest esteem by his superiors and peers.  He is also remembered as a tireless mentor to those working for and with him, known as always being patient with his subordinates and for always having their interests at heart.

He is also equally remembered as a committed and dedicated family man.  Leaving behind wife Karen and three children - Candice, Mitchell and Ashley - he balanced his commitments to both work and family to ensure that both were taken care of.  As his daughter Candice said at the service: "he is the best and most wonderful father you could ever ask for."

Flight Sergeant Forster's death is a salient reminder of the dangers faced by our New Zealand Defence Force personnel every day, at home and abroad.  These are men and women who have volunteered to defend our rights and freedoms, and to help those others in need when their governments request assistance and aid from New Zealand.  In the course of fulfilling those duties, our service men and women face more dangers on a regular basis than most other New Zealanders may face in a lifetime.

Times like these also serve to remind us that the families and whanau of our servicemen and women also serve in their own way.  The adage 'they also serve who stay at home and wait' is as relevant a phrase today as it was when it was first coined.
Just as our troops are brothers and sisters within the wider NZDF family, so too are they brothers and sisters - mothers, fathers, husbands and wives - at home. 

It is the families who feel most keenly the pain of separation that comes with deployment overseas - as well as the pressures and demands of continuing on with everyday life despite the gap left by the absence of a loved one. 

Thus families play an important role, along with our troops, in holding the flame of freedom high; they serve the country with their sacrifice so that the mothers, children and extended families of other nations - people they will probably never meet - can live in safety.

While a life within the New Zealand Defence Force is hugely rewarding, it also comes with challenges and burdens not borne in many other professions.  And just as we recognise the dedication and professionalism of our servicemen and women, we should never forget the debt of gratitude that we owe to their loved ones who give of their families and themselves so that we and others might live in peace and safety.

Lest We Forget - Women Vote For The First Time
On November 28 1893 New Zealand women took to the polls to vote in the General Election, making New Zealand the first country in the world to end the disenfranchisement of all adult women.

In direct contrast to the claims of opponents to the law change - that the 'lady voters' might be harassed at the polling booths - Election Day 1893 was reported to have had a relaxed and festive air.  In fact, one Christchurch newspaper went so far as to liken the streets to a "gay garden party", attributed the atmosphere specifically to the presence of the female voters in their "pretty dresses."

Given that the Electoral Act 1893 had only been enacted 10 weeks prior, the period for voter registration was short.  Despite this, however, a total 84 percent of the country's female population enrolled to vote in the election.

Of those registered female voters, 82 percent actually cast their votes - a far higher turnout than the 70 percent of registered male voters.  While there were no electoral rolls for Maori voters at the time, it is also estimated that women made up approximately 4,000 of the 11,269 Maori voters in 1893.


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