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Tuesday, 3 February 2009
Page: 45

Senator MINCHIN (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (3:49 PM) —I am pleased to rise on behalf of the coalition to support the motion moved by Senator Evans—despite his Welsh-inspired reflection upon English generals! We offer our sincere congratulations to Trooper Mark Donaldson VC on being awarded this highest of military honours, the Victoria Cross, for his gallantry in service in Afghanistan. As Senator Evans quite rightly said, the significance of this award must not be understated, nor should the courage and bravery displayed by Trooper Donaldson. He has joined the ranks of fewer than 100 Australians who have been awarded this honour in our history, spanning 150 years since the first Australian, Captain Howse, was awarded this honour. Warrant Officer Keith Payne was the most recent recipient before Trooper Donaldson, and that was as long ago as 1969, for bravery in the Vietnam War.

The circumstances that led to Trooper Donaldson’s award are a reminder of the extraordinary dangers facing our personnel in Afghanistan. The fact that he faced enemy fire during an ambush in which he ultimately saved the life of not a fellow Australian but an Afghani interpreter with the coalition force and administered medical assistance to wounded coalition soldiers really is extraordinary. His actions under enemy fire are worthy of this honour and a testament to the professionalism and capability of the whole of the ADF and its personnel. The Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, reflected properly the pride of the ADF in Trooper Donaldson’s actions when he said:

I ask you all to contemplate Trooper Donaldson’s selfless and courageous act of mateship and loyalty—not only to his fellow Aussie comrades but to the Afghani interpreter whose life he undoubtedly saved.

We in the Australian Defence Force stand united in our pride as one of our own is admitted into the most exclusive of military fraternities.

Trooper Donaldson has been inducted into the ranks of those military personnel deemed to be the most gallant; the most heroic; the most devoted.

He joins a band of brothers so admired for their valour that there are only ten surviving members in the world today.

Trooper Donaldson truly deserves this award and everything it embodies: valour in wartime. He joins a list of distinguished military personnel who have been awarded this top honour and have been duly recognised for their valour.

It is further testament, I think, to the character of Trooper Donaldson that he has accepted this honour with great humility, paying tribute to all our soldiers as heroes. In his own words:

I don’t see myself as a hero. I was in Afghanistan just doing my job. My training and my instincts took over on the day.

That is a very Australian thing to say. Trooper Donaldson immediately indicated that he would loan his VC to the Australian War Memorial for public display.

The coalition parties congratulate Trooper Donaldson on this great honour. It is a signal of his enormous bravery and courage in service to our nation. The Victoria Cross is not awarded lightly and it is important that we all really understand the significance of this honour, the first VC awarded in 40 years. The nation is very proud of Trooper Donaldson’s service and achievements, his distinguished service to the ADF since 2002 and his valiant actions under enemy fire in Afghanistan, and of all his comrades in Afghanistan. In his humility I am sure he would want us to acknowledge that there are many, many brave soldiers of ours serving in Afghanistan. So to Trooper Donaldson, his wife, Emma, and daughter, Kaylee, we record our sincere gratitude for your service and congratulate you on this most distinguished of honours.