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PM mum on drug claim in soldier’s death

Written by on May 19, 2024

The Prime Minister says reports members of an Army unit preparing parachutes for military exercises tested positive to illicit drugs just days before soldier Jack Fitzgibbon was killed in a training jump are ‘of concern’.

The six soldiers were serving at RAAF Base Richmond when they reportedly failed a comprehensive drug screening in mid-February and early March and now faced the possibility of expulsion, the ABC reported on Sunday by the ABC.

Asked about the revelations, Anthony Albanese described Lance Corporal Fitzgibbon’s death as an “enormous tragedy”, but would not “talk in any further detail about the specifics”.

“This is of concern,” Mr Albanese said of the reported drug tests.

“I can’t comment on the detail because the Australian Defence Force investigations are ongoing. That’s why my thoughts will be with the family and friends of Jack”.

Mr Albanese said it would be a “another difficult day” for the Cessnock community where Lance Corporal Fitzgibbon was raised, adding he was confident the ADF had “clearly undertaken appropriate investigations” into the death.

“Asking me questions about it (the drug claim) is a clear indication that the ADF are being transparent in how they’re dealing with these issues … it’s important that they be allowed to conduct these processes through to conclusion,” he said.

Lance Corporal Fitzgibbon, son of former Labor defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon and a member of the Sydney-based 2nd Commando Regiment, was killed on March 6 during a routine parachute jump during a training exercise.

Military sources reportedly told the ABC five members of the army’s 176 Air Dispatch Squadron were found to have taken prohibited substances, while another more senior soldier working in logistics also tested positive to cocaine.

But the ABC reported that the members packed the parachutes for the March 6 training exercise had tested negative for drugs.

A long-serving member of 176 Air Dispatch Squadron told the ABC on the condition of anonymity the drug tests put further pressure on a small unit that was already understaffed, having been “30 per cent below capacity”.

Lance Corporal Fitzgibbon was farewelled at a heartfelt ceremony earlier this year in his native Cessnook, which was attended by the Prime Minister, as well as a raft of political and military leaders from across the country.

The Department of the Defence has been contacted for comment on the report.