Extraordinary act of bravery by our latest Victoria Cross recipient

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.