The Hon. Dr Brendan Nelson,
Minister for Defence
PRIVATE JAKE KOVCO
The casket containing the body of Private Jake Kovco returned to Australia today at Sydney International Airport. It had travelled from Kuwait on an Australian Defence Force chartered aircraft.
A full military reception was provided by the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment in which Private Kovco proudly served.
Private Kovco’s family and closest friends were present for the solemn and emotional occasion. His widow, Shelley Kovco, their two children and his mother were able to pay their respects to him in a dignified and intimate manner.
Private Kovco’s funeral will be conducted next week.
This man did his nation proud. His wife and mates said that he "loved what he did and was a very proud Australian soldier".
Private Kovco was a highly skilled marksman, serving as a sniper in the Australian Army’s Baghdad security detachment.
He was proud of us. We are proud of him.
Speculation surrounding the tragic circumstances of Private Kovco’s death is not only unhelpful, it is hurtful to his grieving extended family whose privacy in this matter should be respected.
I announce today that a Board of Inquiry (BOI) into the death of Private Kovco will be convened as soon as practicable. This is in accordance with the Defence Force Act.
The Board will comprise three people:
• President: Group Captain Warren Cook – a RAAF reserve legal officer, retired magistrate and former NSW Coroner
• Civilian member: Mr Jim O’Sullivan, the former Queensland Police Commissioner who headed the investigation in relation to the Fitzgerald Inquiry
• Military Member: Colonel Michael Charles – reservist with an extensive intelligence background
The BOI will be convened in Sydney at the Victoria Barracks.
The Terms of Reference will be released when consultation with Mrs Shelley Kovco and Private Kovco’s mother has been conducted and they are satisfied that the issues important to them will be examined. I expect this to occur shortly after the funeral.
The Inquiry will examine not only the incident itself but pre and post incident issues, including the repatriation of Private Kovco’s body.
The BOI will convene for however long it takes to complete a thorough investigation of this tragic death. I would nonetheless expect it to be completed within a six month period.
Military investigators are currently in Baghdad undertaking their investigations and collecting evidence.
Defence will provide to Mrs Shelley Kovco any assistance she needs in attending the Inquiry, including personal support.
I also advise that a senior Army officer Brigadier Liz Cosson and a medical specialist Professor Donald Sheldon will travel to Kuwait Sunday evening to investigate the circumstances leading to the appalling despatch of the incorrect casket to Australia.
The outcome of this and other inquiries will be made available to the Kovco family once it is complete.
On Thursday morning (27th April) I instructed the Secretary of my department and the Chief of the Defence Force to develop and provide me options for the repatriation of deceased Australian Defence personnel that ensure they remain at all times in Australian hands.
Any reform in this area will be considered at a whole of government level.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION – INVESTIGATION INTO THE RETURN OF PRIVATE KOVCO'S BODY
Brigadier Liz Cosson
Brigadier Cosson entered the Australian Defence Force in 1979. Her career has included several stints in field operations including being the senior logistics officer in East Timor in 1999 before becoming the Chief of Staff of the Bouganville Peace Monitoring Group for which she received a Conspicuous Service Cross. In 2005 she was promoted to Brigadier and is currently the Director General of regions and bases within the Corporate Services and Infrastructure Group of the Defence Department.
Professor Donald Sheldon
Professor Sheldon has had a distinguished medical career including several senior surgical positions in Australia and the United Kingdon. In 1967 he was the Surgeon in Charge of the Australian Surgical Aid Team in Vung Tau, South Vietnam. He is currently the Head of Gastrointestinal Surgery at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and also holds the position as the Chairman, Division of Surgery at Sydney Private Hospital. Professor Sheldon's wealth of experience makes him ideally placed to investigate the events surrounding the handling of Private Kovco's body in the Kuwait morgue.