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Wednesday, 4 February 2009
Page: 478


Mr SIMPKINS (4:51 PM) —I rise today to make my own tribute to the efforts of Trooper Mark Donaldson VC. A lot has been said so far today and I do not intend to go back over the same ground, but I would like to begin by talking a little bit about the terrain and the circumstances—a bit like the previous speaker, the parliamentary secretary, did—to put his effort into some sort of context. I have never been to Afghanistan, but I have travelled through Pakistan, up through the Khyber Pass, and have been able to observe the valleys of Afghanistan below. I believe that the ground is very similar. The ground is just made for ambushes. The terrain is very difficult for vehicles, and in many ways it gives great possibilities to those who look to set ambushes and attack the coalition forces that fight so hard for democracy, the preservation of democracy and the freedom of people in Afghanistan. So the risk of ambush is a real, present and in fact realised danger, as we have seen and as we are seeing through the citation regarding the awarding of this Victoria Cross.

I would also like to make some comments on the weapons that Trooper Donaldson used during the engagement. The M4 is a rifle four to five kilograms in weight. We should also remember that the equipment that Trooper Donaldson would have been wearing would have had some weight in it as well, because he would have carried ammunition and other supplies on him. The 66-millimetre anti-armour weapon is a one-shot article of weaponry, but again we are talking about seven or eight kilograms there. It has a very short range—up to 150 metres. He would have had to carry this with him as well while he was doing this movement and engaging the enemy in the combat zone. Then there was the actual 84-millimetre anti-armour weapon, which we know as the Karl Gustav. Again, this is a significantly heavy weapon. My recollection is that it is somewhere between 15 and 20 kilograms—no, in fact it would be more than that. It would be about 25 kilograms, and the round that is fired would have to be six or seven kilograms. You can fire the weapon either on the shoulder, which is obviously a very exposed position, or there is a small stand so you can fire it from a lying position. When you fire it, it seems to suck the oxygen out of the air around you. It is like being hit in the chest by a medicine ball thrown hard. If you made the mistake of having the venturi—the blast distribution device which restricts the recoil on the weapon—at the back it would be just above your bottom and would blast down your legs and your legs would be badly burnt; you would be on fire. So these sorts of weapons are not light and they are not easily deployed.

Also, the ability to engage the enemy when they are shooting back at you—the two-way firing range—requires great presence of mind. As was referred to by all the previous speakers, all Defence Force personnel in the Australian services are well trained, but those in the special forces are the best in the world, in my opinion, and they are very, very well trained. It is no surprise that we send those guys if we want a job done like the job we need done in Afghanistan.

There have been plenty of mentions of Trooper Donaldson being a hero, and there is no doubt that he is a hero, in the truest sense of the word. When someone puts their life on the line for others, for the defenceless—for the wounded, in this case—there is no doubt that they are a hero. While he might be uncomfortable with the term, the view of the Australian people is rightly that this is the sort of man that is a great hero.

It is a real shame, though, that we have people involved in sport or in other capacities who are also called heroes. When you make a decision, when you are just trying to push through a pain barrier in sport, when you take a mark on the football field or a catch in cricket and win a game, that is great—but there is simply no comparison between an event on a sporting field and someone putting their life on the line for others. I think that those who call sportspeople ‘heroes’ greatly devalue the word.

However, in the case of Trooper Donaldson we have a modern, contemporary example of someone who is a hero and who epitomises what is great about Australians—the mateship, the commitment to a cause. This is someone that the nation is justifiably proud of, and I am sure his unit, the SAS Regiment, and his family are proud of him as well. Despite the tragedy that occurred in his youth, the loss of his mother—he was orphaned by the time he was 19—Trooper Donaldson has risen well above the circumstances that fate dealt him early in his life.

Just in closing, I would say that the operations in Afghanistan are about the defence of freedom and democracy. That is what is at stake. Sometimes you just have to fight. Sometimes there is no other course of action but to pick up weapons and fight. Tragically, sometimes people have to be killed. In protecting the wounded Afghan interpreter, Trooper Mark Donaldson VC saw his duty; it was clear, and he acted with ‘conspicuous gallantry’ to save that man. Throughout the entire action, over some four hours, he kept presence of mind, used his training and used his personal courage to do what needed to be done. People would say that he had done his best even if he had not done these things. If he had tried and not succeeded because the circumstances had possibly been too much for an ordinary person then people, knowing the circumstances, would probably have cut him a break. But Trooper Mark Donaldson’s professionalism, presence of mind, courage and character saw him through, as they saw a lot of people through that day.

It is my honour to at least say some words to try to add my appreciation to the salute that this nation has given Trooper Donaldson, the award that this nation has given him and the respect that this nation will always have for him and all those who serve in the uniform of this great country, including those who unfortunately die in the service of this great country. We are proud of them all. I think Trooper Donaldson deserves all the accolades he has received but above all the greatest respect from a grateful nation.