House debates

Thursday, 14 May 2020


Sheean, Mr Edward (Teddy), COVID-19

4:50 pm

Photo of Brian MitchellBrian Mitchell (Lyons, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Tasmanians learned yesterday with great shock that the government had decided not to posthumously award Teddy Sheean a Victoria Cross. It is no great surprise after the years, but what made yesterday's announcement grievous for Tasmanians was that a tribunal had recommended to the government that the posthumous award be awarded. The government has, for its own reasons, decided not to grant this award.

Tasmanians are united on this. This cuts across all political divides—Labor, Liberal and Independent, Tasmanians are united: Teddy Sheean deserves this award. His story is well known. I am sure most here will be familiar with it—18 years old, lying down on the deck of the HMAS Armidale, shooting at Japanese planes whilst they're strafing his colleagues in the water. He is credited with saving 49 lives and he got a mention in dispatches. There has been a 30-year campaign for him to get a VC. It has gone through a number of different processes. It has failed at every turn. Hearings were held in Hobart and, in July last year, the Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal recommended to the government that the posthumous Victoria Cross be awarded.

So it is with great disappointment, anger and outrage that we learn that the government has decided not to award it. All I can say is: please reconsider. This award is well deserved by any contemporary standards or standards of the day. I can't imagine why at the time it was decided that he was not deserving of this award, but Teddy Sheean is deserving of this award. I really do hope that the government reconsiders its decision and awards it.

As we've heard many times over this week, Australians have, by staying further apart, come closer together in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. We have checked in on neighbours and friends, we have picked up the phone and we've cooked and delivered meals for those doing it tough. Home baking has become a cottage industry. We have found new ways to work within our homes. 'Zooming' has become part of the language. All this change has taken just weeks.

In this place, the opposition have worked constructively with the government on key issues and sought not to impede measures. We have not agreed with all the government has done and is doing and we have made our views clear, but we have not allowed a pursuit of the perfect to be an enemy of the good. As a result of this coming together by staying apart, we seem to have avoided the worst of the health predictions, a scenario that is very different to nations that did not act quickly or decisively enough.

We owe our deepest thanks to workers who have come to be known as 'essential workers'. They weren't known as essential workers before the pandemic. These essential workers are health professionals, aged-care workers, disability workers, cleaners, teachers, shop assistants, truck drivers, public transport workers, police and emergency service workers. It is also important to note the essential contributions of the armies of volunteers at neighbourhood houses and charities who have put together, with appropriate social distancing, relief packages of food and clothing. Many of those accessing this relief would never have dreamed just a few short weeks ago that they would ever need it.

The change in circumstance for so many Australians has been as swift as it has been brutal. Indeed, the economic impacts of this pandemic will be with us for years to come. I do echo the sentiments of the Labor leader, who said earlier this week we must act now to ensure we come out of this crisis better than we went into it.

The Prime Minister wants us to snap back to the way things were before COVID-19, but, for too many, that means a return to insecure work and low wages. If we want to build a bridge to better times, let's build it not on the sand and the mud of insecure work, low wages and casualisation but on the strong foundations of secure work, fair wages and conditions, top quality education and skills training, and a first-class public health system that doesn't need to scrounge and beg for essential supplies. Let's not snap back to an economy that was slowing down, to record household debt and to two million Australians looking for work or more work. Let's not snap back to a damaged environment and a public discourse that derides scientific expertise. Our challenge must be to recover from this pandemic stronger and better than we were before—not to snap back to what we were before but to build a stronger and better economy and society.