The head of a tribunal that recommended Tasmanian war hero Edward “Teddy” Sheean receive a posthumous Victoria Cross has accused the Defence Minister of “misrepresenting” the tribunal.
- Senator Jacqui Lambie says the “only thing stopping Teddy from getting the honour he deserves is the stubbornness of the bloke in the lodge”
- Despite the Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal unanimously recommending Sheean receive a Victoria Cross, the Federal Government decided against it
- Tribunal chair Mark Sullivan said Defence Minister Linda Reynolds had misled the Senate over its findings
Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie also took aim at Prime Minister Scott Morrison over the affair following last week’s announcement the Government had decided Australia’s highest wartime honour would not be awarded to Sheean.
Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal chairman Mark Sullivan AO wrote to Linda Reynolds saying she had misled the Senate, in a stunning rebuke of the Coalition’s handling of Sheean’s case.
The rebuttal has also drawn the ire of the Tasmanian Liberal Government, Tasmanian Liberal senators, federal Labor MPs and Sheean’s descendants.
Despite the 11-member tribunal unanimously recommending Sheean receive a Victoria Cross after examining his bravery in 1942 in a special review last year, Senator Reynolds said the tribunal “did not present any new evidence that might support reconsideration of the valour inquiries recommendation”.
“It is a very difficult decision, but I believe in the circumstance, the right decision,” Senator Reynolds said at the time.
Senator Reynolds pointed to the findings of a 2013 inquiry that recommended against posthumously awarding the Lower Barrington-born sailor Australia’s highest military honour.
Mr Sullivan has written to Senator Reynolds demanding she “correct the record”, noting the Valour Inquiry had different terms of reference to last year’s merit review.
“The tribunal conducted a review of the decision of the Chief of Navy and its report does not review what occurred in the Valour Inquiry nor seek to overturn its recommendations,” the letter said.
“Any reading of the tribunal’s recommendation would confirm this critical point.”
Mr Sullivan added finding new evidence about Sheean’s bravery was outside the tribunal’s remit for the 2019 review, but that new accounts had emerged anyway.
He also said Coalition MPs were incorrect when they argued there had to be new evidence or a display of manifest injustice for Sheean to receive the Victoria Cross.
“The act, in outlining how a decision must be reviewed, contains no such prescription,” Mr Sullivan said.
“[The recommendation] was presented to the Minister for Defence Personnel (Darren Chester) in July 2019.
“Shortly after, the Minister advised me that he was comfortable with the recommendations and that he would be communicating with senior ministers including yourself and the Prime Minister.”
Senator Reynolds has been contacted for comment.
Tasmanian Liberal wants ‘justice’ for Teddy
Last week’s rejection of the tribunal’s recommendation marked the latest blow in the long fight to have Sheean’s actions recognised beyond his Mention in Dispatches.
The sailor was just 18 when he died aboard HMAS Armidale, ignoring orders to abandon the sinking ship to instead stay and fire his anti-aircraft battery at Japanese aircraft that were strafing his shipmates as they floundered in the water.
His actions were credited with helping save the lives of 49 crew.
Tasmanian Veterans Affairs Minister Guy Barnett welcomed the tribunal’s letter to Senator Reynolds — described by Mr Sullivan as the first time he had made a public statement relating to a government decision.
“It was a breach of process, a denial of natural justice and provides further impetus of the opportunity for the Federal Government to review the decision, and in fact to correct the decision and provide a Victoria Cross for Teddy Sheean,” Mr Barnett said.
The tribunal is made up of 11 members including Mr Sullivan, with Major General Simone Wilkie (retired), Air Vice-Marshal John Quaife (retired), Lieutenant Colonel (Army Reserves) Naida Isenberg, Rear Admiral James Goldrick (retired), Brigadier Mark Bornholt (retired), and former Regimental Sergeant Major David Ashley AM (retired) also sitting as members.
Lambie broadside at Prime Minister
Last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended the decision, saying that while Sheean was an “extraordinary Australian, no case has been made … Sheean was denied a VC because of manifest injustice”.
He said the knockback in “no way detracts from the service, dedication and sacrifice of Ordinary Seaman Edward ‘Teddy’ Sheean, for which our nation remains eternally grateful”.
In a statement, Tasmanian senator Ms Lambie described Mr Sullivan’s letter as an “extraordinary intervention … and it shows that they’ve been called out”.
“There’s nowhere to hide for the PM anymore. He can’t hide behind Defence, he can’t hide behind the minister [Ms Reynolds], he can’t hide behind the Governor-General or the Queen, he can’t even hide behind the independent Defence Awards Tribunal,” she said.
Senator Lambie said the letter was “proof we’re winning this, and this isn’t going away”.
“All it takes is for the PM to please reconsider and do the right thing.
“Lest we forget.”