On 17 October 2019, I sent to Prime Minister Scott Morrison a full briefing concerning the apparent deliberate campaign by the Australian War Memorial since 2012 to diminish the importance of Kokoda to Australians and to smear Australia's Kokoda heroes as lesser fighters than the Japanese they defeated in bloody fighting on a part of Papua that we know as the Kokoda Track. In 1942 Papua was still part of the Commonwealth of Australia. Ownership of Papua was transferred by Britain to Australia in 1902 and became part of the Commonwealth of Australia with the passing of the Papua Act 1905 (C'wealth). Papua remained a part of the Commonwealth of Australia until it received independence in 1975. The capital of Papua in 1942 was Port Moresby and its capture by Japanese troops crossing the Kokoda Track (Operation MO) was a strategic priority that was intended to anchor the total isolation of Australia from the United States in 1942 (Japan’s Operation FS). Those Australian heroes who fought, bled, and died on the Kokoda Track were defending Australia against a Japanese invasion of land that was still part of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1942. Kokoda should be of great importance to all Australians because the Japanese invasion of Papua on 21 July 1942 was the first invasion of the Commonwealth of Australia since Federation.
The prime minister has not bothered to reply to my briefing. That briefing to the prime minister was fully supported by sound historical evidence, and if he had bothered to read it, he should have been convinced that the the appalling treatment of Kokoda in the book "Kokoda beyond the Legend" (see below) was contradicted by readily available historical facts in the official Australian and Japanese histories of the Kokoda fighting in 1942.
Since 2012, the Australian War Memorial has been publishing material, finally incorporated in a book with the insulting title "Kokoda beyond the Legend"*, that falsely diminishes the strategic importance of Kokoda to Australia in 1942 in two chapters and falsely suggests that our understanding of the magnificent Kokoda achievement is ridden with myths. Not content with this false distortion of history, the Australian War Memorial book "Kokoda beyond the Legend"(see below) falsely presents Kokoda as not being part of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1942, and thereby, falsely denies Australian heroes, including Bruce Kingsbury VC and John French VC, the honour of dying on Australian soil in defence of land that was still part of Australia in 1942. In a third chapter of this appalling publication "Kokoda beyond the Legend", Australia's Kokoda heroes are falsely smeared as lesser fighters than the Japanese they defeated on the Kokoda Track. * Kokoda is historical fact not legend.
My repeated public exposures between 2012 and 2019 of these appalling false treatments of Kokoda history have produced no challenges from the director of the Australian War Memorial Brendan Nelson, the Memorial Council, or any of the historians whose demeaning treatments of Kokoda and Australia's Kokoda heroes have been publicly shown by me to be false. It should follow as a matter of common sense that those connected with the publication of "Kokoda beyond the Legend" fear that a public challenge directed to me would produce exposure of the massive inadequacy of their knowledge of the Kokoda fighting in 1942.
On 17 October 2019, I sent to Prime Minister Scott Morrison a full briefing concerning the apparent deliberate campaign by the Australian War Memorial since 2012 to diminish the importance of Kokoda to Australians and to smear Australia's Kokoda heroes as lesser fighters than the Japanese they defeated in bloody fighting on the Kokoda Track. Those Australian heroes fought, bled, and died on what was sovereign Australian soil in 1942, also known as the Kokoda Track, to repel a Japanese invasion of land that was still part of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1942. Kokoda should be of great importance to all Australians because the Japanese invasion of Papua on 21 July 1942 was the first invasion of the Commonwealth of Australia since Federation. The prime minister has not bothered to reply to my briefing which was fully supported by sound historical evidence. If he had bothered to read it, he should have been convinced that the appalling treatment of Kokoda in the book "Kokoda beyond the Legend" was contradicted by readily available historical facts in the official Australian and Japanese histories of the Kokoda fighting in 1942.
Thinking about what I perceived to be disturbing aspects of the character of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and especially the lack of empathy with the fallen heroes of Kokoda, I was also compelled to think about Scott Morrison’s initial refusal to support awarding a posthumous Victoria Cross to young sailor Edward "Teddy" Sheean who sacrificed himself in 1942 to defend his shipmates as the torpedoed HMAS Armidale was sinking and under fire from Japanese aircraft. I restate that I am not for one moment suggesting that Scott Morrison has a narcissistic personality problem, but I am troubled by the fact that many narcissists resent heroism displayed by others because their selfish obsesson with themselves would prevent them sacrificing their own lives as "Teddy" Sheean did for his shipmates. I believe that the time has come for Scott Morrison to satisfy Australians that his appearances of selfish entitlement to take a holiday in Hawaii when his country was burning and his appearance of lacking empathy with Australia's terrible sacrifices in war are characteristics of a small number of politicians and without more disturbing causes.
In 2013, the Defence Honours and Awards Tribunal rejected the award of a Victoria Cross posthumously to Teddy Sheean. That tribunal was chaired by a lawyer with experience in copyright law, and several members of the tribunal had no military experience, although one had experience in human resources (formerly known as personnel management) for what that may be worth when assessing military heroism. The three female members of the tribunal brought to the consideration of Teddy Sheean’s sacrifice of his life their experience as civilian lawyers and a psychologist. We are surely entitled to ask whether any of these people would even contemplate giving their life deliberately to save another person who was not a very close family member. My long experience in the criminal law and formal study of criminology have taught me that many people feel resentment when confronted with extraordinary heroism in the face of death because they recognise in themselves a likelihood of cowardice if faced with a similar threat to their own lives. We cannot ignore this common human failing when we address the extraordinary heroism of Teddy Sheaan.
I read the 2013 report as an experienced senior Crown prosecutor, former regular army officer who served with the Australian Army in Vietnam in 1968 and experienced during the massive communist Tet Offensive the sound of M109 155mm howitzers firing every ten minutes over my tent at 1st Australian Task Force base at Nui Dat, co-author of a book on forensic science including ballistics (1985), and graduate military historian (University of Queensland).
I was not impressed with the quality of the 2013 tribunal’s report in regard to Teddy Sheean, although Scott Morrison clung to it as authoritative when he and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds rejected a second inquiry by the Defence Honours and Awards Tribunal in 2019 which unanimously recommended a posthumous award of a Victoria Cross to Teddy Sheean. Under political pressure, Scott Morrison did a backflip worthy of Jim Hacker in the BBC political sitcom “Yes, Prime Minister” and announced on 10 June 2020 that he had "commissioned an expert panel" to provide advice as to whether the 2019 review by the tribunal "had any significant new evidence … compelling enough to support a recommendation by the Government that Sheean's Mention in Despatches be replaced by a Victoria Cross". Mr Morrison said “the panel (would) be chaired by former minister for defence and former director of the Australia War Memorial Dr Brendan Nelson AO, with former solicitor-general David Bennett AC QC, former secretary of the department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Dr Peter Shergold AC, and senior curator and historian at the NSW Anzac Memorial, Brad Manera.”
The appointment of Brendan Nelson to chair this so-called “expert panel” will surprise those Australians who are aware that Nelson permitted publication of the book “Kokoda beyond the Legend” in 2017 which falsely claimed in two chapters that Kokoda was not part of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1942, thereby effectively denying our dead Kokoda heroes, including Bruce Kingsbury VC and John French VC, the honour of fighting, bleeding, and dying to defend soil that was still part of Australia in 1942. Not content with that easily proven falsehood, this appalling Australian War Memorial publication falsely smeared Australian defenders of the Kokoda Track in another chapter as lesser fighters than the Japanese whom they defeated and drove back to their beachheads. Scott Morrison was fully acquainted by me in 2019 with this totally unjustified denigration of Kokoda and the Australians who fought, bled, and died on Australian soil during the Kokoda fighting (see above) and the prime minister did not even bother to reply to me.
The other three members of the so-called “expert panel” appear to have academic, legal, and business experience, but I am not aware of any military experience that they may possess. In other words, it appears to me that this so-called “expert panel” is not really equipped to assess the level of heroism displayed by Teddy Sheean when he sacrificed his life to save his shipmates. I believe that appointment of this “expert panel” is nothing more than a cynical sham intended to disguise Scott Morrison’s real intention of allowing no award of a posthumous Victoria Cross to Teddy Sheean; and I believe that this appearance of sham is strengthened upon examination of the virtually insurmountable hurdles that Morrison has placed in front of the “expert panel” recommending an award, namely, when he said:
“…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."
Let me try to help Scott Morrison’s so-called “expert panel” by mentioning an aspect of the findings of the 2013 inquiry which I view as utterly ridiculous. This ridiculous aspect of the 2013 report was the failure of the tribunal members to appreciate and treat as relevant the uncontradicted fact that Sheean’s 20mm Oerlikon gun was observed by eyewitness shipmates to continue firing, albeit briefly, and produce upward spurts of seawater even after the gun sank below the water. It follows that Sheean was still firing at the attacking Japanese aircraft as he was drowning. He did not abandon the Oerlikon gun and swim to the surface. He died still fighting to save his shipmates. Obviously, no member of the 2013 tribunal was able to appreciate this very cogent fact, and it should be treated as vital evidence that was ignored in 2013.
I believe that it is clear that Scott Morrison is a prime minister who cares nothing for the gallant sacrifices of Australian in war, and I feel that his mean-spirited failure to defend the honour of Australia’s Kokoda heroes against false denigration and to acknowledge appropriately the extraordinary heroism of Teddy Sheean deserves a wider audience. I will be sending my views on these important aspects of Australia’s military history to the Opposition Leader the Honourable Anthony Albanese MP and to some members of Australian and State parliaments with military backgrounds.
"TEDDY" SHEEAN IS FINALLY AWARDED A POSTHUMOUS VICTORIA CROSS DESPITE OPPOSION FROM PRIME MINISTER MORRISON AND DEFENCE MINISTER LINDA REYNOLDS
Despite the apparent purpose of the terms of reference of the "expert panel" appointed by Scott Morrison being to override the recommendation by a Defence Honours and Awards Tribunal in 2019 to award a posthumous Victoria Cross to "Teddy" Sheean, the "expert panel" overrode the primie minister's clear purpose and recommended the award of a posthumous Victoria Cross to "Teddy" Sheean. This leaves Prime MInister Morrison and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds with egg on their faces for opposing a very clearly deserved award. Her Majesty the Queen of Australia approved the award to "Teddy" Sheean on 12 August 2020.