Aug 10, 2020







SUBJECTS: Teddy Sheean; Hekmatullah; Australia standing in solidarity with Beirut; Victorian hotel quarantine; aged care.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Labor welcomes the decision to award Teddy Sheean a VC. This is a welcome change of heart from the Government. And it shouldn’t have required a review of the review to come to this determination. It is very clear from everyone who examined the case, and particularly the Defence Honours Awards Appeals Tribunal, which unanimously recommended to the Government that Teddy Sheean was indeed worthy of a VC. A young 18-year old-Tasmanian who put his own life at risk, and indeed cost his life, in order to save the lives of his comrades. This extraordinary bravery is shown at the Australian War Memorial. This young Tasmanian is deserving of the VC, and I welcome the fact that the Government is now supporting that VC. I congratulate Teddy’s family and all of the Tasmanian people in particular who have campaigned so strongly to ensure appropriate recognition for Teddy Sheean’s bravery.


JOURNALIST: So, you obviously have welcomed the Government’s decision to recommend that Teddy Sheean receive the VC. Do you think that this latest review was necessary, as the Prime Minister has said, to preserve the process of awarding VC, or was that just an unnecessary cost?


ALBANESE: Well, there had already been a unanimous recommendation from the independent Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal. It made the recommendation upon examining the evidence. And I don’t believe that a review of the review was necessary in order to provide a reason for Mr Morrison to change his view, that he and the Defence Minister had put so strongly, in opposition to the granting of the VC. This is an issue that we raised in the Parliament repeatedly but, importantly, was the subject of considerable campaign by the people of Tasmania, including Teddy’s family. It is a good thing that justice is being done here. Because for anyone who looked at this case, it was obvious that Teddy Sheean was indeed very much worthy of a VC because Teddy Sheean gave his own life in order to protect the lives of his comrades.


JOURNALIST: We know that Marise Payne and Linda Reynolds have been lobbying against Hekmatullah’s release from a prison in Afghanistan. Do you think there is anything more that the Australian Government can be doing to prevent his release?


ALBANESE: Well, this will be a source of great distress for the families of the victims. And the Australian Government does need to explain what representations it’s made to both the Afghan and the US governments in order to ensure that this man who murdered Australians is not released. This is a critical issue for the families but also for justice. This man should not be released. And Australia needs to make the strongest possible representations to both the Afghan Government and to the United States to ensure that this doesn’t happen.


JOURNALIST: Another question from me on support for Beirut from the Australian Government, are you satisfied with the level of financial support the Government has provided? But also, as someone from Sydney, there are calls for Sydney to show solidarity with Beirut given the large number of Lebanese people who live in Sydney. Do you think that calls for the Opera House to be lit in the flags are warranted?


ALBANESE: I think any gesture of solidarity towards the people of Lebanon at this difficult time is worthy of consideration. The fact is that I’ve spoken to community leaders and they are doing it really tough at the moment. This tragedy which has resulted in such an enormous loss of life, but also substantial numbers injured, and also such damage to an economy that was already really struggling, is worthy of Australian support. Particularly because the port plays such a critical role in terms of the supply of food and essentials. So, the globe needs to step up here to provide that support. I’ve visited the port of Beirut in 2012. It’s right there in the heart of the city. And my sympathy goes out to all the people of Lebanon, but also to Lebanese Australians who will be doing it very tough indeed. And I do want to also express, on behalf of Labor, my condolences to the families of the victims including the two-year-old Australian boy, young Isaac Oehlers.


JOURNALIST: Just on the issue of hotel quarantine in Victoria, Josh Frydenberg says that Victorians deserve answers and that there have been deadly consequences and that Daniel Andrews, and his Government need to provide those answers. Do you agree with that? And what do you make of Federal MPs calling on the state government to answer these questions?


ALBANESE: Well, I think that the Federal Government needs to itself accept that it actually has responsibility for quarantine issues. That’s been the case since 1901. So, the fact of Josh Frydenberg seeking to play politics with this issue, I haven’t sought to make political issues of dealing with the health issues around the coronavirus crisis. And so, it’s up to others to speak for themselves. In the fullness of time, of course, answers will be required for a whole range of issues, including the quarantine issues, the Ruby Princess. But I think, frankly, for Josh Frydenberg to be making these comments at a time where federal officials have been stopped from giving evidence to the Ruby Princess inquiry the New South Wales Government, there’s a gap there in between what they say and what they do.


JOURNALIST: I just wanted to ask a bit about aged care. The aged care watchdog knew that there had been a coronavirus outbreak at St Basils in Melbourne but took four days to inform the Health Department. The Prime Minister said that he was not aware of this until today or last night. Who do you hold responsible for this?


ALBANESE: Look, this is of great concern. And the aged care sector was in trouble prior to this. That’s why a Royal Commission was established. The Federal Government, of course, has responsibility for aged care. These issues, of course, will be examined by the Aged Care Royal Commission. But we need to do much better in ensuring that those Australians who have helped to build this country are treated with dignity and respect and appropriate care in their later years. Thanks very much.