Australian Vice Admiral Welcomes Tribunal’s Report on Past Acts of Naval and Military Gallantry
Today the recommendations of the Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal Inquiry into unresolved recognition for past acts of Naval and Military gallantry and valour were accepted by the Government. I welcome the Tribunal’s report and the Government’s response.
As many of you know, eleven former members of the RAN were considered as part of the Inquiry. There were extensive submissions and testimony given to the Tribunal over many months. I gave several hours of testimony last year, as did a number of key serving and former Naval officers who are also Naval historians.
The Tribunal recommended, and the Government accepted, that none of the thirteen men considered (eleven Navy and two Army) should be awarded any retrospective gallantry awards. I support this position – without the full knowledge of all the factors in play at the time, it is impossible to make a rational and dispassionate decision regarding individual acts of gallantry when we are so far removed from the events of the day, while still maintaining the integrity of the Honours and Awards process.
The fact that no member of the RAN has received a Victoria Cross does not mean there has not been extraordinary gallantry in the past – there has – we all know that. The eleven officers and sailors considered in this Inquiry are all heroes to us and they always will be. We already honour many of them in various ways such as through ship names, names of Divisions at Recruit School and building names – we will continue to honour them.
The Government has accepted the recommendation that the actions of HMAS Yarra (II) on 5 February and 4 March 1942 warrant the award of a unit citation for gallantry. This is currently being processed through the Governor-General. I welcome this significant development as it reflects the actions of a brave ship and a courageous ship’s company.
The third recommendation that was accepted is that we continue to honour Sheean, Waller, Rankin, Yarra and Perth through the practice of naming ships in their honour. This does not mean there will always be ships in commission bearing those names, but it does mean they will be actively considered in future naming deliberations.
The Tribunal has had a very difficult task and has thoroughly considered these issues. They are the independent umpire and the whistle has blown. Their recommendations will not please everybody, in particular the families of these men will be disappointed. That is entirely understandable, however when viewed dispassionately I believe the recommendations of the tribunal are fair and reasonable.
We will continue to remember these eleven officers and sailors as heroes in Navy’s history because they surely are that. They strove, as should we, to fight and win at sea.