The matter of whether Teddy Sheean deserves the Victoria Cross is settled.
The 2019 report of the Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal outlines in comprehensive and compelling detail why the Tasmanian 18-year-old should be awarded the Commonwealth’s most distinguished military honour. I urge every member to read it.
The issue bedevilling the government is not whether Teddy Sheean deserves the Victoria Cross. It is about the paperwork.
Defence has an internal policy that ‘compelling new evidence or evidence of maladministration’ must be provided in order to consider a retrospective application for the Victoria Cross.
The High Court has considered the matter of policy and what weight should be placed upon it. It has held, that “while a general policy may be taken into account, a decision-maker must not preclude themselves from considering a matter on its merits”.
More recently the Federal Court also discussed the issue: “The boundary is clear – policy is not to become a rule of law. The statute is the expression of the rule of law. Executive policy cannot, in form or more importantly in substance, be perceived by decision makers as, or operate as, a rule”.
And yet it is this policy the prime minister is treating as Holy Writ, as “a rule”. He has commissioned a new panel to examine the sole question of whether the tribunal’s recommendation abides by the policy.
In commissioning the Nelson Review, this prime minister has elevated an internal bureaucratic mechanism – which has no legislated authority behind it – above eligibility criteria which is LAID OUT IN STATUTE.
Let us be clear. If the Nelson Review returns with a verdict that the policy has not been met, irrespective of whether legislated eligibility criteria have been, the Government will continue to block Teddy Sheean’s nomination.
In effect, Prime Minister Morrison is prepared to deny Teddy Sheean the Victoria Cross not because he is unworthy, but because someone didn’t do the paperwork.
It is frankly inconceivable to me that any service man or service woman should ever be denied consideration for combat decoration because of bureaucratic inconvenience.
The only consideration should be to assess whether action in the face of the enemy meets the eligibility criteria for the decoration in question.
There is no doubt, none, that Teddy Sheean exceeds the requirements for the awarding of the Victoria Cross.
Conspicuous gallantry in the face of the enemy - Sheean made the conscious decision to man the aft cannon rather than obey the order to abandon ship. He decided upon this action himself – he required no order. Furthermore, Sheean was ordinarily the cannon’s loader not its gunner. In firing that weapon and bringing down at least one enemy aircraft he went above and beyond what was expected of his station and his training.
Self-sacrifice – Sheean did not hesitate to place himself in mortal danger in order to save his shipmates being machine-gunned in the water. Badly wounded and unable to stand, he continued firing until the Armidale sank below the waves.
I urge all in this place to read the stories of the 181 men who earned the Victoria Cross in WW2 and I defy any to say that Teddy Sheean does not deserve to be in their company.
This boy who in the last minutes of his life personified the values of this nation - courage, mateship, a larrikin spirit and self-sacrifice – deserves better than to have his legacy held hostage by bureaucracy.
I find it extraordinary that there can be such unity on the merits of Sheean’s actions but such deep divisions over how those actions should be recognised.
In short, according to this prime minister and the mandarins of Defence, merit is not enough.
The paperwork has to be right, because if the paperwork isn’t right it may upset the British admiralty or perhaps the Queen herself.
Well, if we are to have a fight with the British over the awarding of the Victoria Cross for Sheean then let’s stop wasting time and have at it!
The prime minister must abandon the folly of this panel he has announced and instead come into this parliament to declare he will advance Teddy Sheean’s deserved nomination for the Victoria Cross.
This entire parliament - indeed every man, woman and child in the nation – would be behind him. Let the British if they dare seek to deny our Australian son the award he earned with his last breath and his last drop of blood.