House debates

Wednesday, 26 June 2013


Baird, Corporal Cameron Stewart, MG

10:12 am

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to honour our fallen commando: Corporal Cameron Baird MG, who was tragically killed aged just 32 while serving with the Special Operations Task Group in Afghanistan. Corporal Cameron Baird was born in Burnie in Tasmania in 1981 and is survived by his partner, his parents and a brother. He was on his fifth tour of Afghanistan and had previously served in Iraq and Timor-Leste. Corporal Baird becomes the 40th Australian soldier killed in war in Afghanistan.

Corporal Baird 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. Holsworthy barracks is, of course, in the electorate of Hughes, which I represent in this parliament. Our elite soldiers from Holsworthy have paid a very heavy price. With Corporal Baird becoming the 20th member of the Special Operations Task Group to fall in combat in Afghanistan, this tragedy is heartbreaking for our local community. One thing that is often overlooked is that we have many people in the local community of Hughes based around Holsworthy serving in Afghanistan. We have many children of serving soldiers going to our local schools. When the news comes through that there has been a death of one of our soldiers it hurts greatly across the entire community, especially in those schools. The uncertainty for those kids is something that we wish upon no child in our schools.

The loss of any one of our soldiers is always felt hard, but this tragedy also comes in the same week as his unit, the 2nd Commando Regiment, received the highest and rarest honour—receiving the first battle honour award since Vietnam. The Governor-General, Her Excellency the Hon. Quentin Bryce, presented the Eastern Shah Wali Kot battle honour to the 2nd Commando Regiment at Tobruk Lines, Holsworthy on Wednesday, 19 June this year, just three days before the tragic events we are now discussing took place.

The mates of Corporal Cameron Baird MG describe him as one of the most iconic figures in the regiment. General Hurley said of Corporal Baird:

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

The ADF stated that 32-year-old Corporal Baird:

… died how he lived—at the front, giving it his all, without any indecision.

Corporal Baird had been awarded the following honours and awards: Medal for Gallantry; Australian Active Service Medal with Clasp East Timor, Clasp Iraq 2003, Clasp International Coalition Against Terrorism; Afghanistan Campaign Medal; Iraq Campaign Medal; Australian Service Medal with Clasp—Counter Terrorism/Special Recovery; Australian Defence Medal; United Nations Medal with Ribbon United Nations Transitional Authority in East Timor; NATO non-article 5 Medal with Clasp ISAF and Multiple Tour Indicator; Infantry Combat Badge; and Returned from Active Service Badge. We have lost one of our best, and today this parliament grieves with his family and friends.

But his sacrifice was not in vain. Over the last decade our forces in Afghanistan have made many great achievements. Perhaps the greatest achievement is the education of Afghani girls. Before 2001, there were virtually no girls in Afghanistan receiving an education. Today, according to officials from the Afghan education ministry, there are almost 3,200,000 girls receiving an education. We realise that the dangers and the threats are still there—earlier this month we read how 100 girls going to school were taken to hospital when a Taliban Islamic radical attacked the school with poison gas. These are the conditions these girls face when they go to school. Winston Churchill said:

We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us.

Today, 3.2 million girls in Afghanistan are receiving an education, learning to read and write and to become productive members of their society because men such as Corporal Cameron Baird stood ready. Lest we forget.

10:17 am

Photo of Tony ZappiaTony Zappia (Makin, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I join with the Prime Minister, the defence minister, the Leader of the Opposition and others in expressing my condolences to the family of Corporal Cameron Steward Baird, who was killed while serving in Afghanistan as an ADF soldier. I understand that it was Corporal Baird's fifth tour of duty in Afghanistan, and, whilst I did not know Corporal Baird personally, I know many of his colleagues and I often think it could easily have been one of them who did not return from Afghanistan. For Corporal Baird's family and his partner their loss will have the most profound effect. The bond between family members and loved ones is unique. His loss will stay with each of them for the rest of their lives, and their memory of him will always be with them.

Corporal Baird's comrades will equally have a heavy heart as they relive the incident in which Corporal Baird was killed, their service time together, their friendship and what the future might have been had he not been killed. Knowing that this was the life that he chose, with the full knowledge of the risks he faced, may ease the pain of those who grieve his death. But the pain will still be there. I also extend my best wishes for a full recovery of the special forces soldier and the Royal Australian Air Force airman also injured in the incident.

Corporal Baird's death brings to 40 the number of Australians killed whilst on duty in Afghanistan. Hopefully it will be the last. Australia has paid a heavy toll in deaths and injuries for our involvement in Afghanistan. The burden is carried every day by the family and loved ones of those ADF personnel who have been killed or injured.

Earlier this year I attended an Anzac Day service at Golden Grove Primary School in my electorate. My electorate is home to many ADF families, with RAAF Base Edinburgh being in the region, so at the service special recognition was given to the children of serving ADF personnel, many of whom were either on duty in Afghanistan or on regular tours of duty. As those children stepped forward to be recognised, sometimes with one of their parents, my thoughts turned to how difficult it must be for those children, living with the knowledge of the dangers faced each day by one or both of their parents. Similarly, how difficult it must be for those children each time they say goodbye to their mum or dad who is leaving for service overseas. I imagine the same heart-wrenching thoughts must go through the minds of the ADF parents whenever they leave home for a tour of duty, knowing that they may never see their children and loved ones again. I can only imagine the feeling of relief for family members and loved ones each time ADF members safely return home.

This Saturday I will be attending a welcome home parade for the 7RAR Task Group, in acknowledgement of the operational service of personnel who have recently returned from operations in the Middle East. I understand that 466 personnel, including 433 members based out of Adelaide, will be welcomed home. All are associated with Operation Slipper, Australia's military contribution to the international campaign against terrorism, and maritime security in the Middle East area of operations and countering piracy in the Gulf of Aden. The personnel being welcomed home contributed to the International Security Assistance Force led multinational effort in Uruzgan, Afghanistan.

The withdrawal of most ADF personnel from Afghanistan by the end of this year will be welcomed by so many people I speak with and perhaps by none more than the ADF families directly involved. Historians will be left to judge whether our involvement in Afghanistan was justified and whether our mission there was accomplished. Whilst political leaders make decisions about wars and military interventions, and historians write in judgement, our ADF personnel carry out the deeds of war. They do so without flinching, without question, but with absolute professionalism and loyalty to the uniform they wear and the country they serve. And they forever carry the scars of war with them, a burden that only those who serve could ever understand. It is because of their service that the rest of us can get on with our lives. For all they do, to those who have served and to those who continue to serve, I say thank you. To Corporal Cameron Baird and to all those who have lost their lives, I say thank you. You have given all you had for the rest of us in Australia and it is appreciated by those of us who understand.

10:23 am

Photo of Jane PrenticeJane Prentice (Ryan, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to join with my colleagues to offer my condolences, on behalf of the Ryan electorate, to the family and friends of Corporal Cameron Stewart Baird MG and to pay tribute to his exceptional and heroic life.

I must confess that, on hearing the tragic news last Saturday that there had been an incident in Afghanistan that had injured and killed Australian soldiers, my first reaction was one of immense sadness combined with an almost guilty relief, knowing that my own son had returned from his deployment to Afghanistan several weeks ago. Not for a moment am I suggesting that my son's role was anything like the work being carried out by Corporal Baird and his team. However, last year when I was privileged to spend time in Afghanistan on the Australian Defence Force Parliamentary Program, as has my colleague the member for Longman, one thing I did find was that, if you are 'in country', incidents can occur at any time and anywhere, no matter your role.

My next reaction was to think of all the families and friends of service men and women still on duty in Afghanistan and how, every time the telephone rang for the next 24 hours, they would hope it was not bad news about their loved one.

Mr Deputy Speaker, as you are aware, while the ADF Parliamentary Program facilitates members of parliament spending time with our service men and women in their environment, there is also the reverse program. Last week Lieutenant Colonel Todd Vail joined my Canberra office. Lieutenant Colonel Vail is himself a former commando, who has undertaken many overseas deployments including to Afghanistan. So when we heard of the death of Corporal Baird, I asked Todd for his thoughts, to try to understand, even in a small way, how it feels to lose a comrade. This is what he said:

The first notification usually strikes you to the core—I was at home at the time and found out through friends who had heard it on the news—everyone who you meet or talk to will ask questions about who it was and the circumstances in which it occurred, expecting you as a member of the Defence Force to have all the answers. However, you know no details due to the blanket media ban, which is not lifted until the next-of-kin have been notified and approved the release of the name. During this time you speculate along with everyone else. Being a member of the ADF you do wonder if you knew him—particularly as the media said he was in a "leadership" role.

The news brings a sense of reality which hits home—you realise that the profession you have chosen can be deadly—you think of his family and what they must be going through—it makes you think of your own family and you put yourself in their shoes and wonder how they would cope. You also think of the injured and hope their injuries will not leave them maimed with little quality of life.

Having spent time in Afghanistan you can visualise the incident, your senses are alert to the sights, sounds and smell of the Afghan countryside, they play over and over again in your mind on a never ending loop.

In the end you reconcile your feelings by knowing he died doing what he loved, surrounded by his mates.

Today is business as usual—we have a job to do and he would expect us to get on and do it. On Friday we will pause, as a group, and remember him at a memorial service where his name will be added to a memorial wall along with 39 others who have also paid the supreme sacrifice carrying out their nation's work in trying to bring peace and stability to the people of Afghanistan.

Corporal Baird's commitment to his chosen career as a soldier and to our mission in Afghanistan was unwavering, as was his loyalty to his mates and his love for his own family and the Army family. Soldiers like Corporal Baird are making a difference in Afghanistan and we must not let his sacrifice, and those of his fellow 39 soldiers, be in vain. On behalf of the Ryan electorate, I offer my sincere condolences to Corporal Baird's family, friends, colleagues and loved ones. Lest we forget.

10:28 am

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I also rise to speak on this condolence motion on the death of Corporal Cameron Stewart Baird MG, a former commando and a young man who gave great service to our country. He died during special ops activities in Afghanistan.

We have heard some great words from the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Minister for Defence and other members of parliament. I am speaking on behalf of the people of the Moreton electorate, who would all wish to pass on to Corporal Baird's family our thanks, condolences, prayers and thoughts.

Obviously, the first thing that strikes me about Corporal Baird, as someone born in 1981, is how young he was. With a name like Cameron Stewart Baird, he joins that long, proud tradition of people of Scottish descent. But I also note that he came from Tasmania, a state that makes up less than one per cent of the population but that currently provides nine per cent of our defence forces—a state that has always punched above its weight. Corporal Baird was one of its finest sons.

To have roll off the tongue talk about the fifth tour of duty in Afghanistan can only hint at the service that this man has given our country, the people of Afghanistan and freedom-loving people everywhere—particularly, as noted by some of the earlier speakers, women in Afghanistan, who have benefited from the establishment of a rule of law and security to combat some of the extremism visited upon the nation by the Taliban. This was his fifth tour of duty in Afghanistan, but I note that Corporal Baird had also done tours of duty in Iraq and Timor-Leste. I take some comfort from the fact that a few days before his death Corporal Baird would have shared in the pride of the award of the unit's Battle Honour, which was handed over on 19 June by the Governor-General, Quentin Bryce. I am at least sure that he would have had a few days during which its members would have been proud to be the only unit since Vietnam to have received such an honour from a Governor-General.

I also note another soldier and an airman were injured in the exchange. I know that they would be feeling nothing but grief at the death of their comrade, Corporal Baird, and I wish them well in their recovery.

Afghanistan, like any overseas engagement, is special work serving the nation. The nation has called on our ADF personnel to do great work and they are doing it. Obviously, when Australia calls on our ADF personnel to go overseas the people who suffer are the families. I particularly acknowledge Corporal Baird's family and friends and I wish them well in the years ahead as they look back on the great sacrifice that Corporal Baird has made for, and the great service he has given to, this nation. In our jobs as parliamentarians we have the smallest of insights—up at the pointy end of the plane—into what a FIFO lifestyle does for families, but I have never understood how our ADF personnel are able to do the job they do and still maintain loving families. There is sacrifice all around for our ADF personnel.

Sadly, parliament has stood 40 times to acknowledge the death of our ADF personnel in Afghanistan, 30 of those occasions being in this 43rd Parliament under Prime Minister Gillard. Here we are commencing her fourth year as Prime Minister and we have done this 30 times. I am lucky to have married a North Queenslander, and my in-laws live just down the road from Yungaburra. The Prime Minister was there on Saturday opening the Avenue of Honour, the 39 trees acknowledging the ADF personnel who have passed away in Afghanistan. Sadly, there will be another tree planted to acknowledge Corporal Cameron Stewart Baird. I look forward, in a horrible way, to making my way up to Yungaburra and seeing the trees. I will make my pilgrimage to acknowledge Corporal Baird and thank him for his service to the country.

Photo of Geoff LyonsGeoff Lyons (Bass, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I understand it is the wish of honourable members to signify at this stage their respect and sympathy by rising in their places.

Honourable members having stood in their places—

I thank the chamber.

10:33 am

Photo of Kirsten LivermoreKirsten Livermore (Capricornia, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That further proceedings be conducted in the House.

Question agreed to.