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Tuesday, 3 February 2009
Page: 44

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Leader of the Government in the Senate) (3:43 PM) —by leave—I move:

That the Senate records this occasion of national significance in the awarding of the Victoria Cross to Trooper Mark Donaldson, VC, on 16 January 2009.

I would first like to note the support of the chamber for the preceding condolence motion and the contributions of senators, which were very heartfelt and, I think, very appropriate. While this is also a matter closely related to an engagement in Afghanistan, it is on a much happier note in that it celebrates the bravery of Trooper Donaldson—and I think it also represents recognition of the bravery of all our forces serving in Afghanistan.

The Victoria Cross is the pre-eminent award for acts of bravery in wartime and is Australia’s highest military honour. It is awarded to those who ‘in the presence of the enemy display the most conspicuous gallantry; a daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice; or extreme devotion to duty’. Not only is Trooper Donaldson the first Australian in 40 years to receive this award but he is also the very first to receive the Victoria Cross of Australia, which was established 20 years ago as the national form of this highest military honour. I think everyone celebrates the fact that Australia now recognises its own heroes rather than relying on the recommendations of English generals, who generally did not take a balanced view of such things. Trooper Donaldson is responsible for a tremendous act of bravery, and the recognition of that with the awarding of the Victoria Cross is highly significant.

On 2 September 2008, Trooper Donaldson was travelling in a coalition vehicle convoy in Afghanistan’s Oruzgan province when it was ambushed by a Taliban force while returning to base. During an early stage of the battle, Trooper Donaldson deliberately exposed himself to enemy fire on a number of occasions to draw attention away from the wounded. After two hours of fierce fighting, the patrol finally extracted itself from the ambush but soon realised that a severely wounded coalition force interpreter had been left behind. Trooper Donaldson’s citation says:

Of his own volition and displaying complete disregard for his own safety, Trooper Donaldson moved alone, on foot, across approximately 80 metres of exposed ground to recover the wounded interpreter. His movement, once identified by the enemy, drew intense and accurate machine gun fire from entrenched positions. Upon reaching the wounded coalition force interpreter, Trooper Donaldson picked him up and carried him back to the relative safety of the vehicles then provided immediate first aid before returning to the fight.

…         …         …

Trooper Donaldson’s acts of exceptional gallantry in the face of accurate and sustained enemy fire ultimately saved the life of a coalition force interpreter and ensured the safety of the other members of the combined Afghan, US and Australian force.

Trooper Donaldson’s actions displayed exceptional courage in circumstances of great peril and are in keeping with the finest traditions of the Special Operations Command, the Australian Army and the Australian Defence Force. Through his deeds, Trooper Donaldson has brought great honour upon himself, his family, the Australian Defence Force and our nation.

In acknowledging the awarding of the Victoria Cross, I also think it is worth noting the role that Afghan interpreters and other support persons play and the danger they put themselves in in serving our armed forces. It was the same situation in Iraq, and a number of those people have been assisted to settle in Australia because of the dangers they faced as a result of the services they provided. I think that is a very good development and I think similar action may well be required in Afghanistan at some stage.

It is with great pleasure that I move this motion today. I think everyone throughout Australia recognises the significance of the Victoria Cross and the rarity of its awarding because of the requirement for such extreme bravery to be exhibited. As the son of a Welsh parent, I grew up with the memory of the 12 VCs awarded before breakfast at Rorke’s Drift to Welshmen serving there which is part of Welsh legend and national identity. It is good that we honour not only those who receive the Victoria Cross but also those they represent in terms of the broader defence forces. I have great pleasure in congratulating Trooper Mark Donaldson on the awarding of his VC.