House debates

Monday, 24 June 2013


Baird, Corporal Cameron, MG

5:24 pm

Photo of Josh FrydenbergJosh Frydenberg (Kooyong, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to pay my respects following the passing of Corporal Cameron Stewart Baird MG following his tragic death in Afghanistan. Corporal Baird is Australia's 40th death following our decision to send combat troops to Afghanistan. Corporal Baird was born in Burnie, Tasmania, and was only 32 years of age. He was a brave soldier, admired for his gallantry on the field and for his professionalism off it. He was a member of the Special Operations Task Group 2nd Commando Regiment, and he received a number of distinguished citations for his contribution. He had served previously in Timor-Leste and in Iraq, and was on his fifth tour of Afghanistan. The many awards and honours he received included the Medal for Gallantry, the Australian Active Service Medal with Clasp East Timor, Clasp Iraq 2003, Clasp International Coalition Against Terrorism, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, the Iraq Campaign medal, the Australian Service Medal with Clasp Counterterrorism Special Recovery, the Australian Defence Medal, the United Nations Medal with ribbon, the United Nations Transitional Authority in East Timor, the NATO Non-Article 5 Medal with Clasp ISAF and multiple tour indicator, the Infantry Combat Badge and the Returned from Active Service Badge. The citation for his award for gallantry said:

… Lance Corporal Baird’s Platoon came under heavy fire and during the ensuing close-range fire-fight, a member of his team was mortally wounded. Displaying complete disregard for his own safety, Lance Corporal Baird led other members of his team forward under heavy fire from machine guns and assault rifles to recover the wounded team member back to a position of cover.

Corporal Baird did not die in vain. We say to all his loved ones and his closest family that, as a nation, we are most grateful for his service. Australia has participated in the war against terrorism at the front line in Afghanistan, because we have lost so many Australians and the world has lost so many good people at the hands of terrorists. Afghanistan was the world headquarters for those terrorists, and we have made a real difference in that country. I have had the privilege of travelling to Uruzgan province and also to Kandahar to meet with the Australian service men and women there on the front line. They do their country proud, they do their unit proud, they do their mates proud.

Corporal Baird has served his country with absolute distinction in so many fields of battle in so many ways. We mourn his passing and we say to his family that we thank him, and you, for the contribution he made to make our lives that much safer and secure. May he rest in peace.

5:28 pm

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

It is with a deep sense of regret and sadness that I stand here today to offer my condolences for the death of Corporal Cameron Baird of the 2nd Commando Regiment, who was killed on Saturday night while serving with the Special Operations Task Group in Afghanistan.

Corporal Baird, as we have heard, was a very professional and very dedicated soldier. He was experienced, having served in the army for over 11 years. He was involved in overseas deployments on many occasions: five times to Afghanistan, previously to Iraq in Operation Bastille, and also in Operation Tanager to Timor-Leste. He was a man of great experience. He had and demonstrated exceptional skills and the leadership required to command soldiers in one of our most elite fighting units.

Corporal Baird had clearly proven himself in combat on many occasions. In November in 2007, on one of his five deployments to Afghanistan, we know that he was awarded the Medal for Gallantry. Whilst we have heard what the commendation for his medal said, it is worth noting that he won this medal during the close-quarter battle with insurgents that resulted in the tragic death of Private Luke Worsley.

All of our service men and women in Afghanistan demonstrate courage that is very hard for most of us here to imagine or understand. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that, except for those people who have served in Afghanistan, it is totally beyond our comprehension. Many may have visited, like me, but to really understand the battle space, to understand the sacrifice and to understand the hardship, I think you would have to have worn that uniform the way in which so many proud Australian have worn it and continue to do so. How hard it is to comprehend the bravery one must demonstrate in these circumstances to be awarded the Medal for Gallantry. In a country where fierce and countless actions have occurred, only a very few of our bravest soldiers have demonstrated the extreme courage and professionalism needed to be awarded this prestigious medal. Corporal Baird was one of these very few.

Australia has lost a hero. His comrades will feel that loss. To his unit, regiment and every member of the ADF, I want to extend my deepest sympathies today. To his family and friends, I would say that, while nothing can lessen the horrible grief you must feel, Cameron was a remarkable Australian and a remarkable soldier. We will always remember his sacrifice.

Last Thursday and Friday, I had the immense honour to visit our forces in Dubai and Afghanistan. I visited the Special Operations Task Group last Friday and saw first-hand the incredible work being undertaken by this unit. I had a long briefing with Lieutenant Colonel 'J', who is a commanding officer of the Special Operations Task Group. I met soldiers from 2nd Commando, the same unit that Corporal Baird was from. Being able to talk to these soldiers and officers, to see what they were doing and to gauge the success of their mission, was indeed a privilege. The most obvious thing that struck me was the confidence, enthusiasm and professionalism that every member of the task group demonstrated. There was confidence in their skills and confidence in their leadership in the Special Operations Task Group and, indeed, across the ADF. They had a confidence in their professionalism and in their ability to do the job.

These soldiers have been constantly working in terribly harsh conditions with an intensity that few can appreciate. During last week, the temperatures were in the 40s. While out on operations, with these extreme temperatures and the hardships that go with that, they carry incredible loads and do incredible things. They do it cheerfully and they do it with a spirit that is so incredible it is nothing short of heroic. It made me then, has made me since and will make me in the future a very proud Australian to have met these wonderful men and women and to observe what they do for us in Afghanistan.

We need to remember the very important role that the ADF is performing, an important role in Afghanistan that is making a real difference to the lives of the Afghan people. They have helped train and mentor the Afghan security forces, both police and the army. These Afghan forces are now responsible for the security in Uruzgan province. This is really no mean feat and it has taken years of hard dedicated struggle and work to achieve it. On Friday I was told on several occasions just how successful the training has been and how the Afghan security forces are now able to consistently defeat insurgents on their own. They have this great capacity which has been learnt and mentored by Australian Defence Force personnel.

Our special operations task group continues to work closely with the provincial response company and with great success. Together they continue to disrupt the insurgency and narcotics networks. This very dangerous work is helping Afghanistan to be a safer and more stable country, no longer a safe haven for terrorists. It is trite for us to stand here and make observations because it is really difficult to actually communicate the message to the Australian community and the world community about what magnificent work these men and women are doing and have done. Despite the enduring nature of the struggle, they are prevailing.

When we finally depart Uruzgan province, we will be able to do so with great confidence that we have done our job well but we can never forget—and will never forget—that now, as of today, this mission has come at a terrible cost and 40 Australian soldiers have made the ultimate sacrifice. Many more have been wounded or have suffered life changing injuries. But they willingly sacrificed their lives for us, for Australia, and we as a nation can never forget it and must never forget it.

I just wanted to make mention of those people who on the battlefield are the first responders to those who might be wounded or otherwise injured, the combat first aiders and the combat medics, people whose actions have clearly saved the lives of many. They are well trained, they are very capable, they are very professional, they are very dedicated and they are very calm under extreme pressure. I have heard this now on more than one occasion. The people in the role 2 medical facility at Tarin Kot—surgeons, doctors and nurses, the other medics, the allied health professionals—are all people whose actions have gone to save lives. The role 3 hospital at Kandahar and ultimately Landstuhl in Germany are for those injuries and wounds have been so traumatic that they have had to be evacuated out of theatre.

We should not underestimate and cannot overstate the contribution these wonderful people make to Australia's serving men and women and to the serving men and women of other nations. It is not just the role they play in maintaining our serving men and women in theatre but, most importantly, the way they intervene to save the lives of those out in the field on operations. Their very early stage interventions—make no mistake—keep people alive

Our thoughts and deep sympathies go out to Cameron's parents, his brother and his partner. Our thoughts also go to his mates at the 2nd Commando Regiment, particularly to those he served with in Afghanistan. For the remainder of the year, until Australian forces complete their mission in Uruzgan province, our troops will continue to confront danger. It is a dangerous place. It is still a war zone. Whilst we might be leaving, it is not a place for the faint-hearted; it is a place for dedicated soldiers, sailors and air men and women—those who make up our team in Uruzgan and elsewhere in Afghanistan. We wish them, first and foremost, a safe return home and to continue their efforts in the finest traditions of the ADF.

I have said this in the past, and indeed I made reference to it earlier in this contribution: I stand in awe of these men and women. When you eyeball these young people in theatre, you see how keen they are to do the job they are being required to do. You see their inventiveness, their larrikinism, their camaraderie, their humour and their ability, of which we can have no doubt. They have shown great leadership on the battlefield—from very brave soldiers such as this wonderful man, Corporal Baird, through to the most senior personnel. We can have great faith in the work they do for us. We need to appreciate, on a daily basis, that they are out there potentially sacrificing their lives for us at our command. We do ourselves and the nation a disservice if we do not continually remind ourselves of that fact.

Corporal Cameron Stewart Baird, Killed in Action, 22 June 2013. Lest we forget.

5:42 pm

Photo of Karen AndrewsKaren Andrews (McPherson, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to speak on the condolence motion for Corporal Cameron Stewart Baird MG of the 2nd Commando Regiment. Born in Burnie, Tasmania, Corporal Baird joined the Army in January 2000 and was posted to the commandos, after his initial employment training, in February 2000. He received the Medal for Gallantry in November 2007 for his actions during a clearance of a Taliban stronghold. According to his award citation, he had 'displayed conspicuous gallantry, composure and superior leadership under fire'.

At the time of his death, he was in the process of completing his fifth tour of Afghanistan and had previously served in East Timor and Iraq. He had been described by his comrades as 'one of the most iconic figures' in the regiment. However, on Saturday, Corporal Baird was killed by small-arms fire from insurgent forces during an operation in the southern Afghanistan. At the time of the attack, Australian special forces were engaged in a partnered operation with Afghan forces. Together they were working to disrupt an insurgent network which was influencing insurgent activity in Uruzgan province. He is survived by his partner, his parents and his brother. During the engagement, two other Australian soldiers were wounded and I wish them a very speedy recovery and offer my thoughts to their families and friends.

Corporal Baird is now the 40th Australian to lose his life serving his country in Afghanistan. The danger that our troops face in Afghanistan and in other hot spots around the globe is still real and ever present. Australian troops continue to face the danger of loss, the danger of injury and the danger of death, yet they do so while showing the world the best of Australia and the best of the Australian people. With each life lost, the pain felt by the families and friends does not subside, nor does it ever truly leave. Yet each of the loved ones of all those brave men who have fallen should know that a grateful nation mourns with them and remembers their sacrifice.

Corporal Baird follows in the footsteps of the fine tradition that our Defence Force has maintained to this day: courage, mateship, sacrifice and endurance. It is at moments like this that we stop to remember the sacrifice of all those Australians who have served our country, what their sacrifice has been for and how grateful we are that there are brave men like Corporal Baird ready to serve. I offer my condolences to Corporal Baird's family, friends and comrades at this time. Lest we forget.

5:46 pm

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fraser, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

Tonight this parliament pays tribute to Corporal Cameron Stewart Baird MG, a member of the Special Operations Task Group from the 2nd Commando Regiment based in Holsworthy Barracks. Corporal Baird was killed in action by small arms fire during a firefight with Afghan insurgents on Saturday in the Khod Valley. He was noted for his leadership, his spirit and his unwavering respect for his colleagues. Corporal Baird was an experienced and decorated special forces soldier. This was his fifth tour of Afghanistan, and this relatively young man had also served in Iraq and East Timor. He died aged just 32.

Among the many honours that Corporal Baird received was the Medal for Gallantry for actions during close-quarters combat in Afghanistan on Operation Slipper. When his platoon came under heavy fire during a close-range firefight in the initial clearance phase of the operation, then Lance Corporal Baird took his team to recover their wounded members and took them to a position of cover. Following this, he was able to lead his team to re-engage with the enemy and successfully complete the clearance. ADF chief General David Hurley described Corporal Baird as an iconic figure within the ADF. He said:

In combat and as a team commander, he was the man to watch and was never happier than when the situation demanded decisive action and courage.

In the past Australia has been very clear about our commitment to Afghanistan. Our efforts, as other speakers have noted, have come with a heavy price. We have lost 40 ADF members, and 254 personnel have been wounded.

Australia's operations in Afghanistan have been a long and often gruelling commitment. We have invested a great amount of resources, equipment and, most significantly, personnel in these efforts. That work included the special task force deployment—around 150 personnel in the wake of 9-11 and then, in September 2005, the Special Operations Task Group of 190. To this task we also committed two Army CH47 Chinook helicopters and 110 personnel. The next year, a 240-strong reconstruction task force, with an extra 150 personnel to follow. 2007 saw the redeployment of around 300 Australian special forces personnel to Uruzgan. The ADF peak deployment was expected to be 1,000 personnel in mid-2008—a combination of the reconstruction task force, their protection company group, the Special Operations Task Group and RAAF air surveillance.

Our strategy placed a great emphasis on training and mentoring the Afghan National Army in Uruzgan province in early 2008, in recognition of the need for the government of Afghanistan to build its own security forces and take charge of its citizens' ongoing security. Australia therefore deployed a 50-person operational mentoring and liaison team, and that brought our total personnel supporting Australian operations in Afghanistan to around 1,100. This was again increased in 2009, bringing the personnel to 1,550, which included extra support for projects run by the Mentoring and Reconstruction Task Force and by the election support force. We have been working closely with the US, Singapore and Slovakia, as well as the civilian director of the Uruzgan Provincial Reconstruction Team. It was my pleasure last week to have lunch as part of a group meeting with the finance minister of Afghanistan, and he noted the willingness with which Australian forces worked in Uruzgan province, one of the least developed provinces in Afghanistan.

Last October we assumed management of the transitional process from the United States, making it now our duty to assist these responsibilities to move to Afghan security control. It is a huge responsibility and, as we have been recently and tragically reminded, one that carries inherent risk for our personnel. In November the Australian government announced that all four infantry Kandaks of the ANA 4th Brigade in Uruzgan province were operating independently without the need for Australian advisers. With this development, the ADF was able to transfer control of joint forward operating bases and patrol bases to the 4th Brigade.

In March this year the Prime Minister and defence minister welcomed the decision by the International Security Assistance Force to close multinational base Tarin Kot in Uruzgan province, Afghanistan by the end of 2014. That decision to draw down and close the base indicates that we are now transitioning to full Afghan-led security forces. We have to continue the transition but we need to also be aware of the challenges that remain. The Taliban continue to target the ANSF and the Afghan authorities. Propaganda motivated attacks, particularly suicide bomb attacks, are still widespread, as we have seen in Kabul. These attacks are part of operating in a counterinsurgency environment.

This morning Minister Warren Snowdon, shadow minister Senator Michael Ronaldson, the member for Canberra and I spoke at a ceremony to mark the Boer War Memorial. It was remarked by a number of speakers at that event that, like Afghanistan, the Boer War was a conflict that saw Australians operating in a counterinsurgency environment, an environment that is extremely risky, an environment that leads to loss of life, as with the 40 brave Australians that we mourn today.

I pay tribute to Corporal Cameron Stewart Baird. I offer my condolences to his parents, his brother and his partner. I again echo the words of General Hurley, 'We share their loss and we feel their pain, and we will support them through the difficult days ahead.' His sacrifice will not be forgotten.

5:52 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Another, sadly, another: another brave Australian digger has fallen in Afghanistan with the death of Corporal Cameron Stewart Baird, a deserved recipient of the Medal for Gallantry; another life has been taken far too soon—Corporal Baird being just 32 years young; another solemn ramp ceremony; another heart-wrenching funeral service to follow; another flag to fly at half-mast; another Anzac Day on which his local community and others too will pause and reflect on the fact that he laid down his life for his friends and greater love hath no man than this; another hero and proud Australian; another name to be added to the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra where, as its founder Charles Bean so poignantly noted in part, 'Here is their spirit in the heart of the land they love'; another red poppy to be placed alongside that gallant name signifying his link to the Anzac spirit to pay the ultimate price in the service of this nation, his nation, in the pursuit of freedom; another tree to be planted in the Avenue of Honour memorial at Lake Tinaroo, at Yungaburra, north of Cairns, which was coincidentally unveiled on Saturday by the Prime Minister and opposition leader barely an hour before Corporal Baird's tragic death; another soldier, the 20th of the Special Operations Task Group, to die in combat in Operation Slipper; another reminder of the ever present dangers those who place their lives on the line each and every day face as part of their call to duty; another wonderful family and group of friends left to grieve forever more; another time when those at the Army Recruit Training Centre at Kapooka near Wagga Wagga in the Riverina will be left to mourn such a terrible loss; another reason why Corporal Baird's sacrifice and that of the 39 other courageous Australians who have gone before him must never be forgotten; another cause to say with heartfelt emotion, lest we forget.

5:54 pm

Photo of Sid SidebottomSid Sidebottom (Braddon, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

Tonight we grieve for a very brave young man who lost his life in the service of his country and for the freedom of another country, namely Afghanistan, and its people. I would like to offer the sincerest condolences of this government and parliament on behalf of the Australian nation and also as the member for Braddon, where Corporal Cameron Stewart Baird was born in Burnie in 1981.

Corporal Baird, as others have testified here today, was a member of the Special Operations Task Group and was from the 2nd Commando Regiment, based at Holsworthy Barracks, in Sydney, New South Wales. Corporal Baird is survived by his parents, his brother and his partner, who grieve with us today and we with them. He joined the Army in January 2000 and upon completion of his initial employment training was posted to the then 4th Battalion (Commando), Royal Australian Regiment, now the 2nd Commando Regiment, in February 2000.

Corporal Baird was an outstanding special forces soldier. He exemplified what it meant to be a commando, living by the attributes of uncompromising spirit and honour, which in turn earned him the unconditional respect of his fellow commandos. His leadership in action was exemplary, constantly inspiring those around him to achieve greater things. He was extraordinarily brave. Corporal Baird was an extremely dedicated and disciplined soldier, always striving for excellence, we are told by his peers and his commanding officers, in everything he did. Corporal Baird died how he lived, and that was at the front, giving his all without any indecision. He will be forever remembered by his mates and the soldiers he served with in the 2nd Commando Regiment.

Corporal Baird was awarded many honours and awards—indeed, nine awards related to his service in a variety of spheres, five times with service in Afghanistan, in Iraq and in Timor-Leste. He was also honoured with the Medal for Gallantry for an extraordinarily brave act over a good deal of time in November 2007, not only showing absolutely conspicuous bravery in saving the life of one of his fellow soldiers but also leading his fellows in what could only be described as lethal combat, preserving the life of many more. His actions were of the highest order and in the finest traditions of the Australian Army and the Australian Defence Force.

Outside of his family, his partner and his friends, Corporal Baird devoted his life and gave his life in the service of his nation. Sadly, he died in that service and in the love of his partner, family and friends. I offer them our deepest sympathies and condolences.

Also in relation to that incident, we wish a speedy recovery to the two other Australians also injured in Afghanistan. We thank them for their service. We thank them for their dedication. We hope that what they did will never be in vain. Lest we forget.

5:59 pm

Photo of Ewen JonesEwen Jones (Herbert, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the condolence motion for Corporal Cameron Stewart Baird MG. We have heard today a number of speakers talk about this man's bravery. I want to put on a record that he received: the Medal for Gallantry; an Australian Active Service Medal with clasp from East Timor, with clasp from Iraq 2003 and with clasp from the international coalition against terrorism; an Afghanistan campaign medal; an Iraq campaign medal; an Australian Service Medal with clasp, counterterrorism and special recovery; an Australian Defence Medal; the United Nations medal with ribbon from the United Nations transitional authority in East Timor; a NATO non-article 5 medal with clasp, ISAF and multiple tour indicator (3); an Infantry Combat Badge; and a Returned From Active Service Badge.

We are talking about a serious soldier here. He was a tremendous bloke. The people who come back from Afghanistan, as we have seen with 2RAR and 3RAR in Townsville, are quite ordinary people when you talk to them. But you know where they are going is no ordinary place. You know what they do is no ordinary thing. To say that he was a brave man is an understatement. To have won a Medal for Gallantry, it means he put himself in the line of fire to save another person.

When we speak on condolence motions is when I struggle the most in this place. When you speak to soldiers in Townsville and they talk about Afghanistan they say that they would go there 100 times before they would come into parliament and put up with what we do. To say that they are brave is one thing; to say that they are capable is completely another. These guys are highly trained. These guys are very, very effective machines. They have trained muscle memory. But Cameron Baird was 32 years old. That his death was glorious and brave is cold comfort to his partner and his family.

I was thinking on the way over here that when I was 32 years old I was getting ready for the birth of my first child. She has now just landed in London on her first overseas trip. I was two years into my new career as an auctioneer after 12 years in banking. This guy will not have those things. Cameron Baird will not have those opportunities. He will not have the opportunity to come home to peace time and find something else that he can do. He will not have the opportunity to find out just how good he could be at something else. He was an exemplary soldier. It was a tremendous effort. He was a credit to himself, his family and his unit, the 2nd Commandos. But that is cold comfort for his family now that he is gone. I do wish for a speedy recovery for the two others who were wounded in this engagement.

Every time I speak on these things I say that it is the people who come home who are wounded that we worry about the most because they are the ones who carry the scars. Some who come home to Townsville and other places around Australia do not have visible scars. They do not have scars on their bodies. Post traumatic stress disorder is a major issue for Australia and for Australia's defence forces, and it will be for the next 20 or 30 years. This is going to be part of our community and something with which we must be prepared to deal. It is something which we must be prepared to confront and man up on. The problem is that we have these soldiers, airmen and sailors who are not the sort of people who will put their hand up and ask for help. So as a community in places like Townsville, who see a lot of it, we must be aware of what is going on. Books like John Cantwell's talk about the stress of these guys are put under. If one in five of us in normal life goes through an episode of mental health issues then put yourself in a situation where you are in a battle zone—stress levels are going to be very, very high. It is not a sign of weakness to experience these things. Cameron Baird could say that he helped soldiers both here and overseas. God rest his soul. Lest we forget.

6:03 pm

Photo of Joel FitzgibbonJoel Fitzgibbon (Hunter, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to join with the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Minister for Defence, the opposition spokesperson for defence and all those who have made a contribution to this very, very sad condolence debate. I pay my tribute to Corporal Cameron Stewart Baird, holder of the Medal for Gallantry, and extend my sympathy to his family—his parents, his brother, his partner and all those who served alongside him. I recommend that those taking an interest in this debate read the citation that lies behind the awarding of the Medal for Gallantry to this very, very brave Australian soldier. Typically, the citation describes a situation in combat leading to great acts of courage and bravery that leave us mere mortals somewhat gob-smacked—actions, as in the case of Corporal Baird, undertaken to protect those who serve alongside you.

I did not know Corporal Baird—at least, I do not know that I did; I had the great privilege, of course, of serving as the country's defence minister and during that time I made a number of visits to what was then 4RAR, now 2nd Commando Regiment. During my regular visits to Afghanistan, I was always protected by a group of special forces soldiers, sometimes from the Special Air Service Regiment, sometimes from what was then 4RAR Commando. Every individual was different, of course, but they all had the same attributes. They were not necessarily always big, but they were usually pretty big guys, very strong and tough people both mentally and physically, and they all had that courage that is difficult for us to comprehend. I am sure that Corporal Baird had within him all those very special attributes.

I know this about Corporal Baird, even though I am not sure we ever had a discussion: he would have believed very much in what he was doing in Afghanistan, he would have wanted to be in Afghanistan—and that is fairly obvious, given the number of rotations he had there—and, very importantly, he would have believed in the success of the mission. I also suspect—I will not say 'I know', but I speak with some confidence when I say this—that his family and his partner would have supported his decision to be there and given him, even if somewhat reluctantly, every encouragement, knowing that he had a deep-seated commitment to the Army and to the mission there.

As we know, Corporal Baird is the 40th Australian soldier to have given his life in Afghanistan. Many, many more have been wounded in action, and our thoughts are with all of them as we continue this condolence motion this evening. From my perspective, our key role now is to ensure that those lives were not given in vain and that all those injuries were suffered for no reason. We owe it to them to finish this task. It is a difficult task in Afghanistan, and it is now best described as a protracted task. But we went there for a good reason, we remain there for a good reason and we should continue the mission for the same very good reason. Happily, we are now in a position to be winding down our commitment in Afghanistan, but I suspect that the work of our special forces soldiers will be ongoing for some time to come. To do otherwise runs the risk of unravelling all we have done there and making it seem these lives were lost in vain.

I am very pleased that we are now talking in Afghanistan about negotiation—first, between the United States of America and the Taliban, and then, hopefully, in the not-too-distant future, between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban. When we first spoke about the need to hold negotiations, not with extremists but with those who are serious about ending the conflict in Afghanistan, it was very controversial. These days, it is not, and I think that in itself is a measure of our success in Afghanistan. Our disruption has been substantial and we have undermined the capacity of the Taliban in many ways. We have always argued that the best place from which to negotiate is a position of strength. No, we are not in a position to declare victory or 'mission accomplished' in Afghanistan tomorrow, but the fact that we are now sitting around the negotiating table is a reflection, I think, of our success, that the Taliban felt it was necessary to start talking.

Afghanistan has a long and turbulent history. We are reminded on a daily basis that there are no easy fixes there. The tension there is from myriad sources, including ethnic and sectarian conflict. The people live with borders that have been imposed upon them by what might be described as the Western world, which causes great difficulties. There are no easy fixes. In the end, peace will only be found when sensible people get together and discuss sensible outcomes. Of course, we need to go on with building an economy and a society. The aid flow to Afghanistan will need to be very significant for a long time to come. I appeal to future governments of any persuasion to maintain and sustain that task. It will be critical. You cannot have peace and stability and security in a country that does not have an economy, and Afghanistan has a long way to go before we can claim it has an economy that is sustainable.

I pay tribute to Corporal Baird. I extend my sympathy to his family and I thank him for what he has done for his country. He was obviously a very special, courageous and brave man. He was a person with a deep-seated commitment to his country and a real belief in what he was doing there in Afghanistan. Lest we forget.

6:11 pm

Photo of Scott MorrisonScott Morrison (Cook, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) Share this | | Hansard source

'Thank you for your service'—they are very simple words and they are the only words I believe our Defence Force personnel ever expect to hear in response to the incredible courage that they show and the risks that they take. So we gather here today as we did earlier in the other chamber and simply say, 'Thank you for your service, Corporal Baird.' The 2nd Commando Regiment, as the former minister was just saying, is an extraordinary group of men. They have a deep connection to my community of the Sutherland Shire. The former minister may remember Paul Cahill. I suspect Paul may have actually guarded him on one or two occasions when he was in Afghanistan. I know he has done that for many other ministers. He has since moved on from the Defence Force. But he, like so many others, demonstrated the courage, strength and commitment of this incredible regiment of fine Australian soldiers. With one of their number having fallen yet again, we come together and we simply bow our heads and say: lest we forget and thank you. We do that out of a sense of grief but also out of a great sense of pride not just in their achievements but in their fine character, dedication and commitment.

Corporal Baird was shot and killed in action in a fire fight with insurgents in southern Afghanistan on Saturday while serving with his mates of the 2nd Commando Regiment under the distinguished Special Operations Task Group. He was the 40th Australian soldier killed in Afghanistan. Before Corporal Baird's death, 19 of his colleagues in that group had fallen in combat. They were men who had walked different paths but were brought together to live, fight and die together for the love of their country and their desire to defend its values.

The Australian Defence Force Chief, General Hurley, described Corporal Baird as one of the most iconic figures in the regiment. That is no small tribute to a man in a regiment made up of so many incredibly iconic figures. Cameron Baird was a soldier on his fifth tour of Afghanistan, having also served his country in East Timor and Iraq. It is not uncommon for those from the 2nd Commando Regiment to serve that many tours. On average, they do about three, they tell me. But many do far more than that, as Corporal Baird had done. He won the Medal for Gallantry for his Iraq actions in 2007 of leading his men forward under heavy fire to recover a mortally wounded member of the team, with complete disregard for his own safety. That is the commando's mark of bravery. The 2nd Commando Regiment is 800 strong—sons, brothers, fathers and uncles who face danger every day, yet go about their work with quiet determination and professionalism. Over the weekend they lost their 11th son in Afghanistan. The 2nd Commando Regiment now represent more than one in four of Australia's 40 war dead since 2001. The regiment specialise in intensive offensive action and uphold the proud legacy of their forefathers who served in independent companies in the Second World War.

Recently I had the opportunity, with my friend the member for Blaxland, to walk the Wau to Salamaua track, the Black Cat Track, in Papua New Guinea. Joining us on that trek was Lance Corporal Andrew Ellis of the 2nd Commando Regiment. At the 2nd Commando Regiment's headquarters at Holsworthy—as the member for Hughes will know—there is a picture of Major George Warfe, who was part of the 2nd/3rd Independent Company. Each day as they go about their business, training and various things out there, this figure looms large—Major George Warfe. He led a highly skilled unit. He was flown into Wau from where they set about driving the Japanese back towards Mubo around the Black Cat Track. The 2nd/3rd Independent Company were credited with a series of key successes in New Guinea and were known for their dogged perseverance against the odds. These men went deep into enemy territory to gather intelligence and set ambushes in the most rugged mountains and impenetrable jungle at the mercy of a very hostile enemy. Their victories came at a great price, just like those of the 2nd Commando Regiment. Of the hundreds of men who initially flew into Wau, there were just 34 left by the end of the campaign. The 2nd/3rd Independent Company were credited with killing almost 1,000 enemy soldiers and they lost 65 of their own in battle. Another 119 were wounded and 226 were evacuated on medical grounds.

I tell this story because that is the tradition of the 2nd/3rd Independent Company and the commandos who have inherited the legacy. Their legend is today carried on by men like Corporal Baird and his mates and those who serve in the 2nd Commando Regiment, formerly known as 4RAR Commando. Corporal Baird was born in 1981; that makes him about the same age as Major Warfe was when he first commanded that independent company back in 1942 and throughout 1943. Many years later, Major Warfe was brought back time and time again to set up their jungle warfare school and advise during the Vietnam war. These were men who were very highly skilled and dedicated in this form of fighting, whether it be in the jungles of New Guinea or, now, the deserts of Afghanistan.

The 2nd Commando Regiment is based in Holsworthy. Many of their members, their families and their friends live in my electorate of Cook in the Sutherland Shire—and they will be feeling this deeply. They will be thinking of their friends, brothers and husbands who will be going on the next tour. They will be thinking of those who are already there. It is a time for the community to put their arms around them and embrace them. In this place, it is a time for us to honour them, to say thank you and to let them know we are with them, because each day—I can only imagine—must be absolute torture for the wives, partners, girlfriends and children. I remember several years ago that we stood in this place and remembered Sergeant Brett Till of Oyster Bay, who was the 10th soldier to fall. I went to the baptism of Sergeant Till's young son, Ziggy, whom he never got to meet and who is now growing up with his mother. There must be constant stress for the families of those who are over there serving.

When this terrible news came, it was not just Corporal Baird's family who had to confront it—that is terrible enough, indeed too terrible—but all the families out there who are thinking about their loved ones. The sense of shock, the sense of fear and the sense of isolation is something we must empathise with and identify with today as we remember, rightly, the bravery and sacrifice of Corporal Baird.

That they have inherited the legend is now being borne out in the battlefields of Afghanistan, because these soldiers from 2nd Commando Regiment are now the most decorated, have suffered the highest casualties and have served in the greatest numbers. That is a record of service which should just humble us all—and I know it does, to a person—within our parliament.

The 2nd Commando Regiment changed its badge recently when it formed its new name to reflect the history and traditions. That is why I have spoken about this history and these traditions: because they are very important to those men who serve. They reflect on them constantly. When I was with Corporal Ellis with Jason Clare in New Guinea, he would talk about this often—about their tradition, the brand of brotherhood amongst them and how committed to each other they are, in a way that is very hard for anyone outside of that to understand. A new badge was chosen, and, in the tradition of the Australian independent companies, it includes the distinctive double diamond unit colour patch, along with the traditional commando knife. I am proud to wear that badge, which was given to me by Corporal Ellis, today in this place, particularly on this day as we remember his fallen comrade, Corporal Baird.

We extend our heartfelt prayers and deepest sympathies to Corporal Baird's family. We mourn his loss and we honour his sacrifice. We think especially of his partner, his parents and his brother. So too do we remember and honour the corporal's many colleagues, his mates who doggedly continue on his work in his memory, brave Australian sons of the 2nd Commando Regiment, who continue to serve today in our name, under our flag, to defend our values. Lest we forget.

6:21 pm

Photo of Gai BrodtmannGai Brodtmann (Canberra, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Like every Australian on the weekend, I was deeply saddened and deeply humbled by the news of the death of Corporal Cameron Baird. We have heard that Corporal Baird was a Medal for Gallantry winner who was born in Tasmania. He was based in the 2nd Commando Regiment in Sydney, and he was killed by small-arms fire during an engagement with insurgents on Saturday. In a statement made by Defence, Corporal Baird is described as someone who had the unconditional respect of his fellow commandos, who died how he lived—at the front, giving it his all without any indecision—and who will be forever remembered by his mates and the soldiers he served with in the 2nd Commando Regiment.

That is high praise indeed, exceptional praise for an exceptional man who was in brotherhood with exceptional men. Anyone who has met commandos, particularly in situ in operations, is overwhelmed by their sense of dedication, commitment, professionalism and honour and their very strong will to advance Australian values in fields of war. This was a man of that calibre, as are his comrades in the regiment.

Corporal Baird was an outstanding special forces soldier. He exemplified what it meant to be a commando, living by the attributes of uncompromising spirit and honour, which in turn earned him the unconditional respect of his fellow commandos. His leadership in action was exemplary, constantly inspiring those around him to achieve greater things. He was an extremely dedicated and disciplined soldier, and that is saying something for this group of people. These commandos are extremely dedicated and disciplined, so for those qualities to be highlighted it sounds like he was an exceptional man always striving for excellence in everything he did.

He was highly awarded, as so many of these commandos are. He won the Medal for Gallantry for his acts during a mission to clear and search a Taliban stronghold in November 2007. During the initial phase of the clearance, his platoon came under heavy fire, and during the ensuing close-range firefight, a member of his team was mortally wounded. Displaying complete disregard for his own safety, Lance Corporal Baird—as he was at that stage—led other members of his team forward under heavy fire from machine guns and assault rifles to recover the wounded team member to a position of cover. He then re-entered the compound, with extraordinary bravery, and continued to engage the enemy. Even though he was under constant fire, Lance Corporal Baird continually moved amongst his team members, coordinating their fire, and throwing grenades to neutralise the enemy machine gun positions.

Once the close-quarter battle had been won, Lance Corporal Baird again led his team forward and began room-to-room clearance, where he was again engaged by several enemies. Lance Corporal Baird continued to lead the fight, killing several enemies and successfully completing the clearance. Throughout the action, he displayed conspicuous gallantry, composure and superior leadership under fire. He was personally responsible for killing several enemy combatants during the clearance, ensuring that the momentum of the assault was maintained and undoubtedly preventing further members of his section from becoming casualties. His performance and his actions were of the highest order and in the finest traditions, as we can hear, of the Australian Army and the Australian Defence Force.

Lance Corporal Baird also was awarded the Australian Active Service Medal with clasp East Timor, clasp Iraq 2003 and clasp International Coalition Against Terrorism; the Afghanistan Campaign Medal; the Iraq Campaign Medal; the Australian Service Medal with clasp—Counter Terrorism/Special Recovery; the Australian Defence Medal; the United Nations Medal with ribbon United Nations Transitional Authority in East Timor; the NATO non article 5 Medal with clasp ISAF and Multiple Tour Indicator; the Infantry Combat Badge; and the Returned from Active Service Badge.

Since the beginning, I have been a strong supporter of our efforts in Afghanistan. I am strong supporter for the people of Afghanistan and, most importantly, for the women and children of Afghanistan. I do believe that we are making a difference. I have been to Afghanistan and I have seen the difference we are making on the ground in terms of building mosques, roads and trade training centres; in allowing the community to take their food to market, which was impossible in the past; in allowing them to slowly, day by day, build up economic strength through roads; and in putting systems to place to ensure that they can have the economic strength to succeed in the future.

We are making a difference in Afghanistan. I want the parents, brother and partner of Lance Corporal Baird to know that he made a difference and that his sacrifice will improve the lives of people in Afghanistan. I share and send my deepest condolences and sympathies on behalf of the people of Canberra. I would want his parents, brother and partner to know that they are in our thoughts and prayers. I am also deeply heartened by knowing that, on joining the 2nd Commando Regiment, a soldier and his family become commandos for life. They become a band of brothers. His family—his parents, his brother and his partner—will be provided with very, very strong support from the regiment.

From meeting these exceptional young men, these exceptional soldiers and exceptional Australians, I know that the commandos are a brotherhood. When one of their brothers dies in action, they wear little mementoes, tokens, in memory of that brother. They wear braids, beads or bracelets on their wrists. It is a brotherhood. Lance Corporal Baird's parents, brother and partner will receive incredibly strong support. I know what the regiment have done for their past fallen comrades and I know they will provide that support in the future, and that gives me great heart.

Australia has lost an exceptional young man. I send my deepest sympathies, on behalf of the Canberra people, to his parents, brother and partner. Lest we forget.

Debate interrupted.