Teddy Sheean: PM appoints expert panel to advise on Victoria Cross decision

Jun 10, 2020
This painting of Teddy Sheean's heroic actions is displayed at the Australian War Memorial. Source: Change.org.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison today announced that he has commissioned an expert panel to advise him on whether Tasmanian war hero Teddy Sheean should be posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

Ordinary Seaman Edward ‘Teddy’ Sheean was just 18 years old when he died after the HMAS Armidale was sunk by Japanese bombers in the Timor Sea in 1942. The young serviceman is credited with helping save the lives of 49 crew members after he strapped himself to an anti-aircraft gun and remained on the sinking ship, resulting in his own untimely death.

For years there have been calls to bestow Australia’s top gallantry decoration on Sheean, with the independent Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal recommending earlier this year that Sheean receive a posthumous VC. However the government rejected that recommendation last month.

Now Prime Minister Scott Morrison has appointed an expert panel, which will report back to him by July 31, to advise on the matter. However the prime minister said that compelling new evidence or proof of significant maladministration would need to be presented in order to overturn the decision.

“Ordinary Seaman Edward ‘Teddy’ Sheean was an extraordinary Australian and Australia will remain eternally grateful for his service, dedication and sacrifice,” the PM said in a statement on Wednesday.

“Overturning a decision relating to a Victoria Cross nearly 80 years after Sheean’s heroic actions in 1942 would need compelling reasons. That is why the Government’s view and clear policy is that consideration of the awarding of a retrospective Victoria Cross would only occur in light of compelling new evidence or if there was evidence of significant maladministration.”

The panel will be led by former Minister for Defence and former Director of the Australia War Memorial Brendan Nelson, who will be joined by former Solicitor-General David Bennett, Peter Shergold, formally Australia’s top public servant, and historian Brad Manera.

Last week Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese rallied behind the cause, telling the Today show: “Teddy Sheean, if this isn’t worthy of a VC I don’t know what is.” While Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie previously said that Sheean was “denied a VC because of manifest injustice”.

A Change.org petition has also been set up to lobby for the decision to be reversed and has so far been signed by more than 23,000 people.

“The Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal was established to independently consider honours and awards outside of the Australian Defence Force,” the petition reads. “Its members include lawyers, historian and veterans. It is unacceptable and un-Australian that the government would ignore its own panel of experts and deny a young hero the recognition he deserves.”

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