February 27, 2014
Mr CHESTER (Gippsland—Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence) (11:30): I join with colleagues on both sides of the chamber to speak in relation to Corporal Cameron Stewart Baird VC, MG, and I say at the outset, on behalf of the people of Gippsland, that I would like to extend my personal condolences to Corporal Baird’s family and associate myself with the remarks of many other speakers who have spoken in a very emotional and moving way in relation to his extraordinary service to our nation.
Corporal Baird was on his fifth special forces tour when he was killed in action. He was the 40th Australian soldier to be killed in Afghanistan. His unit, the 2nd Commando Regiment, incurred the highest casualties of any Australian unit during the Afghanistan campaign, and it is a testimony to the gruelling operational tempo of that distinguished unit.
Corporal Baird’s acts of valour and self-sacrifice preserved the lives of his team members. His actions were of the highest order, and in keeping with the finest traditions of the Australian Army and the Australian Defence Force. He was the 100th recipient of the Victoria Cross, and it could not have been more appropriately awarded.
The Victoria Cross is not an honour that people actively seek out. The Victoria Cross has been described as a golden thread linking acts of extraordinary courage and selflessness. As the citation reads, Corporal Baird’s Victoria Cross is:
For the most conspicuous acts of valour, extreme devotion to duty and ultimate self-sacrifice at Ghawchak village, Uruzgan Province, Afghanistan …
as a Commando Team leader. As one of his comrades testified: ‘By disregarding his own safety numerous times in order to assault a heavily armed and fortified enemy position, Corporal Baird’s courage and resolve provided the tipping point. His repeated attempts to attack that room with six insurgents inside was the bravest event that I have ever seen.’
And they are strong words when the bravest of the brave speaks so highly of one of their fallen comrades. As Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in his address last week:
Our country has lost a citizen, a soldier, a hero.
Fittingly, the Chief of Defence announced yesterday that the Australian headquarters at Al Minhad Air Base in the United Arab Emirates will be renamed Camp Baird in memory of Corporal Baird’s self-sacrifice.
As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence, I am acutely aware of how precious these awards are to the serving members and their families. It is important that we do recognise their service and acknowledge these moments of extreme bravery and sacrifice. I think it is also fitting that this parliament pauses and expresses its views and support on behalf of their constituents.
It is the former Liberal leader Brendan Nelson who once said in this place words to the effect that there is no greater service to our nation than to put on the uniform of our Army, Navy or Air Force and place yourself in harm’s way. As I meet with more members of the Australian Defence Force on a daily basis, I am constantly struck by two things. The first is their age—it must be a sign of my accumulated birthdays that I am constantly struck by the youthfulness of the men and women in the Australian Army, Navy and Air Force. The other thing that strikes me as I meet with our defence personnel is their dedication: they have remarkable values of courage, honesty and commitment to duty, and they are extraordinarily professional and they are dedicated to the job they have chosen to do.
I also have responsibility, in my role, for the Australian Defence Force honours and awards, within my portfolio. I receive daily correspondence from serving members and their families detailing the courage of our Australian defence forces. I would like to thank Doug, Kaye and the Baird family for lending their medal to the Australian War Memorial. There probably can be no better example of a bittersweet moment for the Baird family than to have lost their dearly loved son but have seen the outpouring of support from a grateful nation which has expressed its thanks with its highest possible military honour. As Prime Minister Abbott remarked at his address at the Victoria Cross investiture ceremony, ‘We will always draw strength from his actions, for we are a nation of memory not just of memorials.’ The medal will be displayed in the Hall of Valour, for young Australians to learn about the actions of Corporal Baird and his unit and to serve as a reminder of the courage and selflessness of serving Australian men and women.
Lest we forget.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: As a mark of respect to the memory of Corporal Cameron Baird, I ask members to stand in silence.
Honourable members having stood in their places—