House debates

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Statements on Indulgence

Keighran, Corporal Daniel Alan, VC

5:57 pm

Photo of Nola MarinoNola Marino (Forrest, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am very pleased to talk about Corporal Daniel Keighran, the third soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross for service in Afghanistan. We know that the Victoria Cross is awarded for conspicuous bravery, some daring or pre-eminent act of valour, self-sacrifice or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy. In the 2010 battle of Derapet in Uruzgan province—yet another battle where Australian soldiers were significantly outnumbered—we saw Daniel, as part of Delta Company, 6th Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment, do exactly what the Victoria Cross acknowledges.

Daniel's story, and the Delta Company story, is in my view quintessentially Australian. It is just a great story. It is one that epitomises the true Anzac spirit—one that, like the Battle of Long Tan, may well be told and retold throughout history. I think that is what it is going to happen with this particular story. Not only is it a true Australian story; it is actually one that deserves by its very nature, by the actions of Daniel and others in Delta Company, to be told again and again—not least because of the courageous actions of Corporal Keighran and his comrades but also because of the inherently Australian circumstances in which Daniel was made aware that he had been awarded the Victoria Cross.

Last year, Daniel had been transferred to the active reserves, who are affectionately known as 'chockos'. He was in a new career and was someone who, to his workmates, seemed to be a quiet, ordinary bloke, working with them 12 hours a day in an underground goldmine in the Kalgoorlie Boulder goldfields of Western Australia. That is where he was. He is someone who, by his own admission, does not like to talk about himself. So no-one knew what Daniel had done. This is the man who is described by his driller workmates at La Mancha's Frog's Leg underground goldmine—and you might recognise this description—as unassuming, an average bloke, laid back, humble, a good bloke and an absolute champion. They are all descriptions that have been made of Daniel. And that is what most of us would think: 'This is a quiet, unassuming, seemingly ordinary man working in an underground mine.' But he has done extraordinary things.

Then at the time he gets a call to a meeting at Kalgoorlie airport during a work break—down the mine and now we are off to the airport. This is where it is such a great Australian story, not only what happened in the battle of Derapet but this. I can only imagine the reaction of the patrons at Angies Bar and Kiosk at the outback airport terminal when Lieutenant General David Morrison delivered the letter on approval by the Queen from Government House to Dan. It is also quintessentially Australian that Daniel's wife Kathryn knew nothing about his actions or his bravery at that time.

Not surprisingly, you might think—and there might be a movie made about this one day, where Kathryn will see what happened at Derapet—Kathryn was not impressed. It reminds me of the movie A Town Like Alice. You remember how that movie started? This I think is the script for another movie. She was not really impressed. You can see the movie starting with Kathryn and Dan going to the airport and then we will see the battle unfolding after that. I should be a movie producer. Kathryn was not really impressed when she first heard exactly what he had done at Derapet. She was not impressed, I suspect, with the risks he had taken and probably not impressed that she knew nothing about it. She did not know about his actions or his bravery either. Again typically Australian, when asked how Daniel had taken the fuss and publicity surrounding the Victoria Cross, Kathryn said she expected him to be back behind the wheel of his truck: 'We have to pay the bills.' There are some pretty good Australian comments in that one. I want to read the citation into the record. This is what the Victoria Cross citation says:

FOR the most conspicuous acts of gallantry and extreme devotion to duty in action in circumstances of great peril at Derapet, Uruzgan Province, Afghanistan as part of Mentoring Task Force One on Operation Slipper.

Corporal Daniel Alan Keighran deployed to Afghanistan in February 2010 with the 6th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment.

On 24 August 2010 he was a member of a partnered fighting patrol with soldiers of the Afghan National Army's 1st Kandak, 4th Brigade, 205th (Hero) Corps which was engaged by a numerically superior and coordinated enemy attack from multiple firing points in three separate locations.

The attack was initiated by a high volume of sustained and accurate machine-gun and small arms fire which pinned down the combined Australian and Afghan patrol and caused a loss of momentum.

In the early stages of the attack, and upon realising that the forward elements of the patrol needed effective fire support, Corporal Keighran and another patrol member moved under sustained and accurate enemy fire to an exposed ridgeline to identify enemy locations and direct the return fire of both Australian and Afghan machine guns.

On reaching this position and with complete disregard for his own wellbeing, Corporal Keighran deliberately drew enemy fire by leaving the limited cover he had and moved over the ridgeline in order to positively identify targets for the machine gunners of the combined patrol.

After identifying some of the enemy firing positions, Corporal Keighran, under persistent enemy fire, continued to lead and mentor his team and move around the ridge to both direct the fire of the Afghan and Australian machine gunners and to move them to more effective firing positions.

As the intensity of enemy fire grew, Corporal Keighran returned to the crest of the ridgeline to identify targets and adjust the fire of Australian light armoured vehicles.

His actions resulted in the effective suppression of enemy firing points, which assisted in turning the fight in the favour of the combined patrol.

Moving to a new position, Corporal Keighran deliberately and repeatedly again exposed himself to heavy enemy fire to assist in target identification and the marking of the forward line of troops for fire support elements whilst simultaneously engaging the enemy.

Realising that the new position provided a better location for the patrol's joint fire controller, Corporal Keighran moved over 100 metres across exposed parts of the ridgeline, attracting a high volume of accurate enemy fire, to locate and move the fire controller to the new position.

He then rose from cover again to expose his position on four successive occasions, each movement drawing more intense fire than the last, in order to assist in the identification of a further three enemy firing points that were subsequently engaged by fire support elements. During one of these occasions, when his patrol sustained an Australian casualty, Corporal Keighran with complete disregard for his own safety, left his position of cover on the ridgeline to deliberately draw fire away from the team treating the casualty. Corporal Keighran remained exposed and under heavy fire while traversing the ridgeline, in order to direct suppressing fire and then assist in the clearance of the landing zone to enable evacuation of the casualty.

Corporal Keighran's acts of the most conspicuous gallantry to repeatedly expose himself to accurate and intense enemy fire, thereby placing himself in grave danger, ultimately enabled the identification and suppression of enemy firing positions by both Australian and Afghan fire support elements. These deliberate acts of exceptional courage in circumstances of great peril were instrumental in permitting the withdrawal of the combined Australian and Afghan patrol with no further casualties. His valour is in keeping with the finest traditions of the Australian Army and the Australian Defence Force.

That description, whilst extensive, explains very graphically exactly what Daniel did. We do know that Lance Corporal Jared MacKinney, who was killed in this battle, was one of Daniel's mates.

Since this event, Daniel has been nicknamed Prince Harry. I suspect it is something to do with the red hair and something to do with the exploits. Having been to Afghanistan and to Uruzgan province, and having seen the conditions that our Defence members work and operate in, and knowing exactly what Daniel did and how he did it, I think he is a very worthy recipient of the Victoria Cross. We measure the value and worth of our Australian Defence Forces not only because of their good work on the ground in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world but because of the fact that when they come home, they act like ordinary blokes. Daniel fit right back into his community and went back to work, with nobody having any idea of what he had gone through. I think that is a measure of the man. I am very proud of what Daniel achieved and the fact that he has been awarded the Victoria Cross.

6:07 pm

Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Defence Science and Personnel) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to thank the previous speaker for her contribution and for outlining the heroism and great gallantry of Corporal Daniel Keighran, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for Australia on 1 November this year. I am honoured to say that I was present—it was a great privilege—when he was at the investiture for his VC. We know that he was awarded this distinguished, highest of military honours by demonstrating the most conspicuous gallantry and extreme devotion to duty in 2010 at Derapet in Uruzgan province in Afghanistan. His was an act which demonstrated again the commitment of our men and women deployed overseas as well as here at home.

Corporal Keighran grew up in Nambour in Queensland and enlisted in the Army in December 2000. He completed his initial training at the School of Infantry. He was based in 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, based at Enoggera Barracks in Brisbane. During his military career, Corporal Keighran was deployed to Malaysia, East Timor, Iraq and, most recently, Afghanistan. That was the deployment for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

He is the 99th Australian to be rewarded the Victoria Cross. It should be noted, importantly, that he is distinguished by the fact that he is the first member of the Royal Australian Regiment to receive this magnificent honour. A member of Delta Company from the 6th Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment, Corporal Keighran has continued the proud and distinguished history of those men. Delta Company is most famously remembered for fighting in the Battle of Long Tan during the Vietnam War, so it has a proud record. Having visited Afghanistan on several occasions I, like others, have witnessed the bravery, sacrifice and professionalism that our young sailors, soldiers and air men and women demonstrate on a daily basis. Like many other battalions deployed in Afghanistan the 6th Battalion suffered several casualties, sadly some fatal, during 2010. Despite this they endured and they achieved for us. They demonstrated numerous acts of bravery and enormous devotion to duty.

On 24 August 2010 the valour demonstrated by Corporal Daniel Keighran was so courageous, bold and selfless that his actions earned him Australia's highest military honour. As we know from other contributions on that day Corporal Keighran and his patrol came under fire from a numerically superior enemy in Derapet. Under intense fire, the combined Australian and Afghan patrol was forced into a defensive position causing a loss of momentum and initiative. Corporal Keighran acted decisively and deliberately by repeatedly exposing himself to heavy enemy fire. His actions enabled the remainder of his patrol to regain the tactical initiative and coordinate their collective firepower to force the enemy from the battlefield.

The success of this engagement can be attributed directly to the bravery of Corporal Keighran. A typically humble Australian, a humble country lad, Corporal Keighran chose not to burden his wife, Kathryn, with the story of his actions until the weeks preceding his investiture at Government House. I was talking to the Chief of Army, Lieutenant-General Morrison, who retold his trip to Kalgoorlie when he went there to inform Corporal Keighran that his award had been approved by the Queen. That was when he was forced to tell his wife the story. Explaining this, Daniel said: 'It wasn't that I couldn't talk about it, it's just that what happened over there is for me and for the boys. But she knows now and she wasn't too impressed at first.' Can you imagine why? Aren't those words telling? That demonstrates very clearly one of the key attributes of Australian fighting men and women. They see themselves as part of a team, part of a group, where individuals are not singled out in the way in which we do appropriately single out such brave men and women. Clearly, at that point at least, he did not want to be seen to be doing something different or enormous; he was doing his job with his mates.

This story is not without sorrow because on this dreadful day Lance Corporal Jared MacKinney lost his life in that same battle. I well recall the previous motions of condolence made in reference to the death of Lance Corporal MacKinney in 2010. His death deeply affected and will continue to affect his family, his mates in the Defence Force, the Defence Force generally and the wider community. As his citation describes, Corporal Keighran's bravery significantly contributed to the medical evacuation of his mate Jared to Tarin Kot. From his citation:

Corporal Keighran remained exposed and under heavy fire while traversing the ridgeline, in order to direct suppressing fire and then assist in the clearance of the landing zone to enable the evacuation of the casualty.

The young gentleman here is a man who has been to war. As I have said before in this place, it is relatively easy for us in the serenity of these surrounds to talk about war. The fact is we have not experienced it. To understand precisely what confronted Corporal Keighran in those moments can only be for those who have had that experience. We wonder at their valour, we wonder at their selflessness and we wonder at their bravery and their commitment to one another. As with generations past, the current generation of men and women in the Defence Force are members of an extremely honourable profession. They deserve our adulation for the work they do for us. They serve their nation with distinction and forever place duty ahead of their own personal safety. That is amplified magnificently by the heroism of Corporal Keighran. It is because we have such men and women like Corporal Keighran, prepared to sacrifice so much of themselves, that Australians enjoy the freedoms we have.

It is an unofficial but moving tribute to the importance of the Victoria Cross that all members of the Defence Force salute a Victoria Cross winner, from the Chief of the Defence Force right through to the ranks. Perhaps the most telling moment of the investiture was when the Chief of the Defence Force fronted up to Corporal Keighran; Corporal Keighran stood and the Chief of the Defence Force saluted him. A very moving occasion. I work closely with the Defence Force, and I know the value they place on a salute. To see our foremost military officer, the CDF, offer a salute to a corporal, is a remarkable and moving moment. This mark of respect recognises the extreme courage and valour of those few men who have demonstrated their bravery under the most telling of circumstances and been awarded a Victoria Cross.

It is really difficult for us who have not been there to understand the circumstances that may have confronted this brave man on that day. I see a weapon and I shake. To have one pointed at me and to have a group of people firing at me, to be under heavy fire—I am not sure what I would do. But this man, trained as he was, a competent, confident professional, was able to achieve something magnificent.

Today, on behalf of a grateful nation, I am pleased to join the members of the Australian Defence Force in saluting Australia's latest Victoria Cross winner, Corporal Daniel Keighran.