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Tuesday, 3 February 2009
Page: 7

Mr TURNBULL (Leader of the Opposition) (2:29 PM) —On behalf of the opposition, I join with the Prime Minister in this motion of appreciation and praise for Trooper Mark Donaldson, a brave and great Australian who put his own life at enormous risk to save the life of another. It was an extraordinary moment of bravery on 2 September 2008, during the conduct of a fighting patrol in southern Afghanistan. Trooper Donaldson was part of a combined Afghan, United States and Australian convoy that came under an ambush by the Taliban. Their patrol was heavily outnumbered. They were under heavy machine-gun fire and fire from rocket propelled grenades, and for more than two hours they were pinned down by this assault. All the while, Trooper Donaldson provided cover for wounded comrades. He bought time so that his wounded comrades could be moved to safer ground. He covered all that ground by foot, and then he noticed that an Afghan interpreter, badly wounded, had been left behind. Displaying a complete disregard for his own survival and safety, Trooper Donaldson ran across 80 metres of exposed ground to recover and carry back the wounded interpreter. He did not flinch. He brought the man back to the convoy, administered first aid and kept on fighting.

Trooper Donaldson showed remarkable valour in a land where armies have marched and battled ever since the army of Alexander the Great fought its way through those hard hills and rocky valleys 2½ thousand years ago. He fought for freedom, as our soldiers are fighting for freedom today. He was in the front line of the battle for freedom; a battle against terrorism. It is a battle we cannot and must not lose, and we will not lose that battle because of brave men like Trooper Donaldson and because of the sacrifices of brave men like Private Sher. Another great Greek soldier, Pericles, wrote that, ‘Freedom is the sure possession of those alone who have the courage to defend it.’ So we can take our freedoms for granted, but we are very unwise to do so because our freedom depends on the valour of men and women of courage—men like Trooper Donaldson and Greg Sher—who are prepared to pay the ultimate sacrifice.

Trooper Donaldson was there at Government House in the company of all the top brass from the armed forces, his family and his comrades from the SAS. But there was another old soldier there, Keith Payne, who nearly 40 years ago in Vietnam risked his life for others who, like Trooper Donaldson, wear Australia’s uniform and serve under Australia’s flag. He, too, stood up for the freedoms that we enjoy and it is courage like his that has made those freedoms possible. It was a beautiful moment to see those two VCs together there at the day of the investiture. When I spoke at the investiture, I recalled a poem written by another soldier, Tony Blake, who served in Vietnam in the 7th Royal Australian Regiment. He wrote, ‘Here comes the rising sun, another night of duty loyally done. I am awake, so others can sleep.’ Trooper Donaldson risked his life so that others could live. He risked his life so that all of us can live in freedom.

The SPEAKER —Order! I believe it is appropriate that, on behalf of honourable members, I associate the House with the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister on the courage and valour of Trooper Mark Donaldson VC.