Aug 10, 2020







SUBJECTS: Teddy Sheean.


PIIA WIRSU, HOST: Anthony Albanese, thank you for joining the program. The Prime Minister said previously that there needs to be compelling new evidence for this recommendation. What is the new information that has resulted in this outcome, as you understand it?


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, I am not sure that there is any new information. There is a change of heart on behalf of the Government, and that is a good thing. The issue of Teddy Sheean was reviewed by the Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal, and it recommended way back in July of last year, unanimously with all the people who looked at it, that Teddy Sheean was eligible to be nominated for a VC because it is hard to think of how there could be a more compelling case than an 18-year-old Tasmanian who bravely, essentially losing his own life, in order to save his comrades who were in the water after the HMAS Armidale had come under attack from Japanese aircraft.


WIRSU: The former Secretary of the Australian Department of Defence, Paul Barratt, has said today that posthumous awards are a bad idea. He pointed to Teddy Sheean being honoured as the only non-officer to have a submarine named after him. Why was the posthumous Victoria Cross warranted beyond the existing recognition of his bravery?


ALBANESE: Because this is a great Australian story and it’s a great Tasmanian story. Here you had circumstances whereby torpedoes hit the side of this ship just off East Timor, the engine room has exploded, the word has gone out to abandon ship. The ship was sinking with the enemy aircraft coming in and shooting at Australians in the water. And here is where Ordinary Seaman, which was his title, Teddy Sheean showed that he was anything but ordinary. He actually was wounded, strapped himself to the gun in order to shoot at the aircraft which were coming in with the cannon. Shot down at least one enemy plane but hit another as well and just showed quite extraordinary bravery. There is actually a painting in the Australian War Memorial that depicts the moment of Teddy strapping himself to the cannon or the gun. And his comrades in the water could see him still shooting as the ship sunk. It is quite an extraordinary story.


WIRSU: How do we know all of this?


ALBANESE: We know this because of the first-hand statements of people who were there. There were 149 aboard the ship that day, 100 of them perished, so 49 hadn’t died. Many of them at the time recalled the sight of Teddy strapped to the gun, still firing right to the very end, quite an extraordinary story. And bear in mind, this brave Australian was 18 years old at the time. I’ve got a 19-year-old son and it’s beyond my comprehension how someone so young could be just so brave. And the generation who essentially put their own lives on the line to defend our country and to make the Australian way of life what it is today, I think, deserve recognition. And Teddy in particular received such strong support from his family. It’s a great victory today. I’ve been in contact regularly over the many months as we’ve supported this campaign with his grandson. But there are many other Northern Tasmanians in particular who have been very much behind this campaign for this recognition.


WIRSU: As you say, Anthony Albanese, it is a generation that fought in the wars. There are numerous instances of extreme bravery. Will this open the door for others seeking similar posthumous recognition for the bravery of their family members in historical conflicts?


ALBANESE: No, I don’t think so.


WIRSU: Why not?


ALBANESE: Well, this is an extraordinary case whereby the story of Teddy Sheean has been passed on. It is quite a famous one, as I said, recognised at the Australian War Memorial, one of the great Australian sacred sites that not only do Australians visit but international visitors to our national capital visit. I’ll be there this Saturday to recognise the 75th anniversary of the ending of conflict.


WIRSU: Let’s talk about this timing then, because it is interesting. There are people who have been raising concerns today around the timing of this announcement but also that this has become about politicians capturing the limelight, not Teddy Sheean’s bravery. Has these become about gaining political points rather than recognising someone’s bravery?


ALBANESE: Well, I think it’s unfortunate that there was political intervention after you had the Tribunal which is independent that should have determined this idea. I don’t see why there was a need to have a review of the review. The reason why you have the Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal is exactly that, is to have that apolitical assessment. But the important thing is, I think today, is the outcome. And it is an important day for us to talk about Teddy Sheean and his bravery. And it is a good thing that this has been recognised, this absolutely selfless courage of a young Tasmanian, a long way from Tasmania, eight decades ago.


WIRSU: It certainly is an incredible story and we will be sharing more of that story with you after five o’clock as well. Anthony Albanese, Leader of Federal Labor Party, joining me on the program this afternoon.