26th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr SPEAKER (Hon. W. J. Aston) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Labour and National Service. I refer to young men who are called up for national service and who just before or just after entering camp are rejected on medical or other grounds that should have been detected at the first examination, i ask the Minister: Does his Department or any other department in such circumstances accept any responsibility for any inconvenience or financial loss that these young men may suffer? Are they entitled to compensation for any loss of wages or other losses or costs that they would not have otherwise incurred? If so, does the compensation extend to any costs or losses incurred by a man who was farming his own property or who was engaged in share farming?
– My Department does consult very closely with the Army doctors at every possible step to eliminate differences between prior medical examinations and those that follow in the Army. But of course people have different conditions even a few weeks after the first examination and doctors like other people, including members of the Parliament, have differing opinions. This does pose a difficult problem. However, procedures have been improved and we have ironed out most of the difficulties. We recognise quite freely that this is very inconvenient particularly for those who have small businesses or farms and who make arrangements on the assumption that they will be in the Army for 2 years and are then frustrated by subsequent medical examinations. Of course, we cover travel expenses and similar expenses, but circumstances vary very widely. Fortunately there are very few seriously affected. We have not, I regret to say, evolved any scheme for compensating these people, but we do everything we can to ease their passage, particularly when they are employees.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Trade and Industry. Will the devaluation of the New Zealand currency, combined with the advent of roll-on roll-off refrigerated ships on the AustraliaNew Zealand run, put Australian vegetable growers and processors at a disadvantage not contemplated at the time that the relevant sections oi the New Zealand-Australia Free Trade Agreement were negotiated? If so, can the Minister say what action is proposed to safeguard our domestic industry?
– J. can only say that there is as yet certainly no evidence of immediate threat or of damage to these industries. The pea and bean industries expressed concern about the position that would arise in 1969. We have studied the position quite carefully and we see no reason at present to expect that these industries will be endangered. But if, contrary to the results of these studies, it should turn out that arising from devaluation or for any other reason the Australian industry were endangered, the New Zealand-Australia Free Trade Agreement provides that adequate safeguards can be introduced to prevent damage to existing industries. Neither the Australian Government nor the New Zealand Government intends to apply these safeguards lightly. But there is written into the Agreement the specific contemplated circumstances in which the Government of either country could take action to protect its own industry if it were grievously endangered by competition arising from the New Zealand- Australia Free Trade Agreement.
– I ask the Minister for Trade and Industry a question about sugar. Why has the Minister until last week continuously praised the Japanese Government to the degree of stating that the expansion of the sugar industry was made possible only by the Japanese Trade Agreement when, as we now know on his own admission, the arrangements made with Japan were highly unsatisfactory because of the complete absence of a satisfactory price agreement? Is not the Minister aware that his attack, or his alleged attack, on the Japanese Government, although perhaps pleasing to the motor car industry, could do grave harm to successful negotiation at the forthcoming International Sugar Agreement Conference because Japan is a most important and in fact a key participant?
– Repeatedly, day after day, members of the Labor Party, in the course of asking questions on this general subject matter of trade with Japan, put into my mouth words which I have never used. They use words such as ‘attack the Japanese Government’ or, as today, ‘praise the Japanese Government’. On no occasion have I done this. I have on all occasions stated the objective facts. I have done this day after day in this House. I do so today, in the case of sugar, as I said yesterday the truth of the matter is that Japan buys more sugar from us than any other country. Japan buys from us in the same circumstances as every other country in the world buys sugar except the United Kingdom and I think two other countries with whom we have preferential tariffs. These countries arc New Zealand and Canada.
– And the United States?
– The United States of America buys sugar under her special arrangements which are not peculiar to Australia. The special arrangements under which the United States buys sugar are mostly with Latin American republics and Australia. But Japan gives us neither favoured treatment nor unfavourable treatment by comparison with the other countries, not being British Commonweal’^ countries or the United States, to which we sell sugar. Japan, unlike these other countries, imposes an extraordinarily high succession of duties. It imposes a surcharge, a customs duty, an excise duty on refined sugar and finally a purchase tax or whatever the particular description is.
As 1 have pointed out to successive Japanese senior political figures, the result is thai the lower we price our sugar the more money immediately passes into the Japanese treasury. No matter how low the price is for our sugar, the- Japanese consumer does not benefit from it. He still pays a high price for his sugar; This is not an attack on Japan. It is a recounting in this House of what I have said within the offices of successive Japanese Prime Ministers and of what I said, without the same detail, at the last sugar conference in Geneva. Next week I leave on the next attempt to achieve an international sugar agreement in Geneva. There I hope - and I trust that the Labor Party will at least hope as earnestly as I do - that we will, through a fair international sugar agreement, reach a basis on which those who sell sugar as Australia does can be assured that the price will not fall below an agreed minimum and on which those who buy sugar can be protected against what happened 3 or 4 years ago when there was an incredibly high price of more than £100 a ton. This is our concept of a fair international sugar agreement. It is the policy objective of (his Government to try to achieve it.
– I direct a question to the Prime Minister and refer to a statement made by the Deputy President of the Adelaide Chamber of Commerce in Hobart last week. He is reported to have said that the Federal and State Governments had not paid debts to some members in South Australia on lime and that a survey showed that $li-m had been outstanding for more than a year. I have been given to understand that $lm of this is owed by the Federal Government. Can the Prime Minister inform me whether this statement is true and, if so, will he take steps to see that in future such payments are made promptly?
– I cannot inform the honourable member whether the complaints are, in fact, accurate or whether they are not because there is no record of any complaints having been made to the Commonwealth Government, so we do not have that information. We have had no complaints of this kind - specific complaints - made to the Commonwealth Government abou* delay in payments from any State but should such specific complaints be made then I would, of course, be ready to investigate them at once.
– I preface a question to the Postmaster-General by stating that to the best of my knowledge the exterior of the Sydney General Post Office has not been cleaned for the past 20 years and that the accumulation of the dust, grime, smog and smoke of those years now hangs in thick layers over the whole of the building. I ask whether any consideration has been given to the steam cleaning of the building. If not, will the Postmaster-General issue immediate instructions for the work to be performed so that the General Post Office in the major city of the Commonwealth, and one which is used by tens of thousands of overseas, interstate and country visitors, will cease to create an eyesore? Will he also ensure that no damage is done to the clock and tower while the. cleaning is being performed? 1 point out that at present the tower is clean and the clock has a clean face.
– 1 appreciate the comments of the honourable member in relation to the Sydney General Post Office clock, because I believe he was instrumental in having the clock replaced some years after the last war concluded. In reply to his question about the cleaning of the Post Office, I point out that some years ago it was necessary to have repairs made to the stonework and at that time a cleaning process was contemplated as well. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation was consulted and it informed the Department of Works that if any chemicals were used on the stonework considerable damage could result. At that time steam cleaning was not available. I understand that to steam clean the building would, in fact, cost approximately $60,000. When cleaning work was contemplated several years ago the finances of the Post Office did not justify the expenditure. However, there is great doubt whether the natural appearance of the stone could be restored. So, instead of having a Post Office that is a little dirty we might have something that is quite unnatural in appearance, having regard to the stone used in its construction. I cannot guarantee that I will give instructions for any steam cleaning in the near future, but it will have my attention from time to time.
– I address a question to the Minister for Trade and Industry. I remind him that in a statement after question time last Wednesday the Leader of the Opposition denied that any money had been received by the Labor Party from Mr
Maxwell Newton for electioneering purposes. I remind him further that on an Australian Broadcasting Commission radio programme the following day the same Mr Newton said: ‘I have contributed to Liberal and Labor Party candidates over recent years.’ I ask the Minister: Does he know of any connection between Newton’s constant attacks on the Government’s tariff policy and Newton’s contributions to Labor Party funds?
– I cannot answer the latter part of the honourable member’s question, but I have a vivid recollection of the Leader of the Opposition quite heatedly denying that Mr Maxwell Newton had ever contributed to Labor Party funds. The Leader of the Opposition invited me to say outside this place that Mr Newton had contributed to Labor Party election expenses. I think that was the term I used and that could be taken as referring to a contribution in cash or in kind. My information was that Mr Newton had written Labor Party material and that he had paid for the printing of Labor Party material for Mr Menadue, the former private secretary to the Leader of the Opposition who opposed my colleague the honourable member for Hume, who is an Australian Country Party member, ft is no part of my intention to go outside to make that statement. I am a parliamentarian and what I have to say on political matters I will say within the Parliament. The Leader of the Opposition is a parliamentarian and is also a lawyer. [ have no doubt that I correctly interpreted this challenge to me to say outside something which would justify his taking a judicial process as a means of making this subject matter, which was so unpalatable to him and the Labor Party, sub judice. This would deny the Parliament the opportunity to hear a discussion on it. I repeat that T am a parliamentarian and that I will say what I have to say within the Parliament. Those who can refute my statements or who wish to challenge them can say what they want to say within the Parliament. The truth of the matter is that, rightly or wrongly, within a few hours of the Leader of the Opposition challenging me to prove that Mr Newton had contributed to Labor Party expenses, Mr Newton, who is recurringly, beyond understanding, an invited guest of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, was on the air at 8 o’clock next morning when he said: ‘Yes, true, I have contributed both to the Liberal Party funds and the Labor Party funds.’ The Leader of the Opposition can talk his way out of that as best he can.
– My question is directed to the Minister for the Army. I refer him to his statement in this House on 14th March after he had given misleading information on the Vietnam torture allegations. The honourable gentleman will recall that he said: ‘Why, this was so when some information Was in the hands of my advisers is an internal matter which I shall resolve with the officers concerned.’ What has the Minister done to resolve this situation and to ensure that there is a flow of accurate information from his advisers to him and, in turn, from him to the Parliament and the public?
– When the statement to which the honourable gentleman refers was made in this House I made it very clear that this was a matter which [ regarded as internal in the sense of pertaining to my Department. An I intend to do at this time is to assure the honourable gentleman that action has been taken, that it is continuing, and that I regard such action as within my province and not a matter which I should parade before this House.
– I would like to ask a question of the Minister for the Army. In view of current suggestions arising from recent elections in Papua and New Guinea that the Territory may be heading more quickly towards independence, can the Minister tell me how many locally enlisted or indigenous Pacific islanders have attained officer rank? What are the current recruiting trends in the Pacific Islands Regiment?
– I appreciate the honourable gentleman’s interest in this matter. Honourable members can be assured that the Army recognises its continuing responsibility to train locally enlisted Pacific islanders to officer status. The trend is towards recruiting an increasing number of soldiers of high education. Emphasis is also given to recruiting soldiers of high officer potential and also to the recruitment of apprentices. As to the specific question asked by the honourable gentleman, I can assure him that at this time some six locally enlisted Pacific islanders have attained officer rank and an additional five are currently in training at the Officer Cadet School at Portsea.
– I ask the Prime Minister a question without notice. I ask: If he has received from Mr Maxwell Newton the letter which that gentleman has stated that he wrote to the Prime Minister offering to disclose the nature and sources of his income, has the right honourable gentleman accepted Mr Newton’s offer to disclose the nature and sources of his income? If he has not accepted the offer does this mean that he does not accept the allegations of the Deputy Prime Minister that Mr Newton is a paid secret agent of the Japanese Government?
- Mr Speaker. I think it is perfectly obvious, and would be obvious to any member of this House, that if an individual was a paid secret agent he would not be prepared to say so, or he would not be a paid secret agent any more. I think that that is all I wish to say on the matter.
– I direct my question to the Postmaster-General. 1 ask him to return the concession granted to Tasmania because of its geographical situation and permit all first-class mail to go to Melbourne by air irrespective of size.
– For a number of years Tasmania has had a special concession in the transfer of mail between Melbourne and Tasmania. This resulted particularly from the inadequate and infrequent shipping services. In the last few years there has been a daily service for 6 days of the week. We believe that Tasmania should not be dealt with differently from the other States. I remind the honourable gentleman and honourable members that surface mail to Perth from the eastern States is carried on 5 days of the week. Therefore, comparably, Tasmania is at no disadvantage in the new arrangements.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Immigration. Does he know that twenty Asian seamen were flown to Port Hedland yesterday to man a suction dredge, the ‘Seven Seas’? Does he know that earlier twenty-five Australian seamen were paid off the ‘Seven Seas’? Is he aware that there is adequate Australian labour available to man the dredges at Port Hedland? Will he take action to stop indentured labour being brought into Australia, particularly when Australian labour is available?
– 1 am not aware in specific terms that twenty seamen arrived at Port Hedland yesterday. I am aware, on the other hand, that there have been long and continuing discussions between officers of my Department and officers of the Department of Labour and National Service in relation to the admission of specialist technicians from Japan for work in the Port Hedland area. The purpose of these discussions is to ensure that there will be access by contractors there to specialist staff that they need. One of the things that the two Departments have in mind is that such specialists should be brought to Australia only when there are no local persons available to do the job, and that when specialist technicians are brought to this country, their employers shall be required to have them train Australian replacements. The period for which permission to remain in Australia is given varies according to circumstances. In these matters, there is constant co-operation between the employers, the Department of Labour and National Service and the Department of Immigration. I think that the national interest is served by having access in this way to these specialist operators, and that they have made a great contribution to our progress up to the present. I believe that in the future they will continue to make such a contribution. I assure the honourable member for Stirling that at all times I and my colleague, the Minister for Labour and National Service, will be prepared to consider any specific point that he may have in mind.
– Will the Minister inquire into this matter?
– Yes, if the honourable member will bring the particulars to me.
– My question, which is directed to the PostmasterGeneral, is supplementary to that asked yesterday by the honourable member for Dalley. In view of the fact that the Australian Broadcasting Commission is a public utility financed in the main by the imposition of radio and television licence fees, does the Minister agree with the contention that at this point of time the Commission is one of the most undeservingly protected institutions in the country? Stating my abhorrence of the suggestion that the Commission should come under the control of any political party by virtue of that party’s forming the government of the day, 1 ask secondly: In view of the ABC’s apparent inability to produce a programme
– Order! The honourable member will ask his question.
– -In view of its apparent inability to produce a programme worthy of international screening, will the Minister consider the establishment of an all party committee to find out the reasons why the Commission allowed such a programme as the recent international one to be screened, or, alternatively, will he seek an assurance from the Chairman that our nation will never again be subjected to such humiliation?
– I think that there can be no virtue in the proposal for the appointment of a parliamentary committee to consider the programme that was telecast last Friday night. I have had discussions with the Chairman and the General Manager of the Australian Broadcasting Commission and they have informed me that certain action has been taken in relation to the production of the programme. I have a reasonable assurance that this kind of programme is not likely to happen again. It is to be assumed that there will not be another first telecast between Australia and Japan; so it cannot happen a second time in similar circumstances.
– 1 ask the Minister for Trade and Industry: Does he still believe that Mr Maxwell Newton is a paid secret agent of the Japanese Government? Has he ever expressed this view outside the House? If not. is he now prepared to express it outside the House? The right honourable gentleman will appreciate that I am asking not what Mr Newton may have said about the Liberal or Labor Parties or any candidates, none of which was under privilege, but whether the right honourable gentleman will say, without privilege, what he himself has said under privilege about Mr Newton.
– I thank the honourable member tor the question. The answer, of course, is quite simple. Mr Newton has never announced that he is a paid agent of the Japanese, but his contract with the Japanese Government agency has been published in two great daily newspapers. Under that contract he was paid $2,000 a year as a retainer, and he was required to render certain services, loosely described as advice on the tariff. He was also required to furnish regularly to the Japanese Government agency a copy of his scurrilous weekly publication ‘Incentive’. This publication, of course, is the main carrier of his diatribe against me and the Country Party. Il is also the main vehicle for his attacks on the Australian tariff system. So the publication of the contract itself is evidence of the fact-
– So you are going to say it outside now, are you?
-Order! I have already warned the honourable member for Yarra for interjecting during question time.
– Mr Newton has enjoyed this remuneration, which is only a basic retainer, for a year without ever revealing the fact that when he sold his publications to the business houses of Australia, and when he sold to ‘he business men of Australia a system of private letters denouncing the tariff, amongst other things, he was a paid agent of the Japanese Government and that therefore anything he wrote was to be interpreted against the background of his being such a paid agent. The contract which has been published, and published authentically, provides that Mr Newton shall perform certain other unspecified services when called upon, and that he shall be paid appropriately further unspecified amounts for those services. The House and the community at large can judge whether Mr Newton is a paid agent who has been deceiving the Australian public, and deceiving the people from whom he has been receiving a lucrative income, having undertaken to furnish them with objective assessments of the facts and objective opinions, whereas in fact his negotiation of the contract 1 have referred to means that he is unable to make an objective assessment of the facts or arrive at objective opinions.
Perhaps I can assist the Leader of the Opposition, who is quite inquisitive about Mr Maxwell Newton, to get a further glimpse of Mr Newton’s activities. Most honourable members will bc aware thai last year a booklet called ‘The Great Hoax’ was published. This booklet attacked the Australian dairying industry, lt was provided free to every member of Parliament and it was printed in great numbers. The background of the publication of ‘Iiic Great Hoax’ is this: It was an attack on the Australian dairying industry authorised b> some company or institution described as Australian Commodity Research. This organisation was registered in Canberra and I invite any honourable member who is interested fo discover who is behind Australian Commodity Research. This booklet, which was printed and distributed in lens of thousands, included a leaflet which bore a picture of Mr Russell, the only man who has admitted that he is a member of the Basic Industries Group. But the really interesting aspect of it is that this publication was produced and, I believe, written by Mr Maxwell Newton. He, I believe, wrote this and other propaganda against the dairying industry and against the Australian tariff. But the production of ‘The Great Hoax’ was partly paid for by a cheque payable to Maxwell Newton Pty Ltd, and Maxwell Newton told the Press gallery here thai he has never had any connection with the Basic Industries Group. The cheque, which was for S20.000. was drawn on the Newtown branch of the Australia and New Zealand Bank Ltd by Marrickville Holdings Ltd and signed by Mr R. C. Crebbin. Mr Maxwell Newton endorsed this cheque for $20,000 on the back with his own signature, and that was part payment for The Great Hoax’.
– I preface my question to the Prime Minister by reminding him of the telegram which he forwarded to the Victorian Premier on 21st March last, in which he said that the Federal Government was prepared to add another Sim to the special revenue assistance fund. This, of course, is over and above the figure of $11 ni already agreed upon. Can the right honourable gentleman inform the House whether the extra grant will be used for a specific purpose, the subsidising of fodder, and so help retain valuable breeding stock in Victoria?
– 1 understood that the Premier of Victoria had himself publicly announced, after we had indicated that we were making this money available, that it would be added to what he had himself proposed to use as a subsidy for wheat and oats, if 1 remember rightly, and that our grant makes it possible for the subsidy to be greater than it otherwise could have been. Therefore it does contribute to the saving of breeding stock.
– 1 desire to ask the Prime Minister a question. Has any reply been received from the Governments of the United Kingdom or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to representations made by the Government of the Commonwealth seeking their good offices as co-chai:mar of the Geneva powers to mediate in Vietnam?
– 1 have had a report from our High Commissioner in London as to his discussions with Mr Stewart, the Foreign Minister of (he United Kingdom. I have no indications yet of a reply from any oilier source.
– ls the Minister for Social Services aware that widely differing and arbitrary policies of municipal bodies in collecting rates from pensioners imposes inequitable burdens on various groups of home owning pensioners, often within the same local area? Is he further aware that as age increases many of these persons become physically and mentally incapable of managing their own affairs or of contemplating sale of or removal from their homes - thereby frequently arriving at a pathetic and helpless state of undercaredfor old age? I ask the Minister whether he will consider the special problems of such home owning pensioners and consider steps whereby their problems can be alleviated.
– Yes, I am a* are of these things. I am aware that the remission of rates is a matter which in New South Wales, and I think in other States also, is in the hands of local government and is not on a uniform basis. Therefore, the kind of inequity to which th: honour able member refers does occur, lt is. 1 think, desirable that those pensioners and aged persons who would prefer to live in (heir own homes should be assisted to do so. This is one of the problems which will be considered by the committee which the Prime Minister has indicated will be set up and which is referred to in the GovernorGeneral’s Speech. Of course, I cannot at this moment commit myself as to what the decision will be.
– My question to the Minister for Social Services relates to compulsory X-rays for tuberculosis and I acknowledge the success of the campaign. I refer to persons who are not already in receipt of a TB allowance but who, following a compulsory X-ray, are required to attend clinics for further tests. Are they entitled to any compensation for loss of wages during the time they attend for the tests? If not, will the Minister consider the payment of compensation in cases where the person involved is not eligible for wages while attending for tests?
– I will consider the matter raised by the honourable gentleman and will let him have an answer as soon as possible.
– 1 ask a question of the Minister representing the Minister for Housing. Will the Minister amend the regulations governing the payment of homes savings grants so that a grant may be paid in respect of homes costing more than the present upper limit of $15,000? Does the Minister know that many young couples who have to pay up to $6,000 for a block of land feel that they are being penalised because they build a home of comparable standard on their land, so raising the general standard of housing, but becoming ineligible for a grant?
– The honourable member will be aware that the upper limit of the cost of a house in respect of which a grant may be made has only recently been increased to $15,000. At whatever point this upper limit is fixed there will always be a few people whose houses cost just a little more. Whether the upper limit was $17,000, $18,000, $19,000 or $2C,000, you would always have this marginal difference. The grant is intended purposely to help those whose financial circumstances are not highly favourable. With costs and prices shifting, this matter has been looked at from time to time, f will convey the honourable member’s question to the Minister in another place for her further consideration.
– 1 ask the Prime Minister a question in his capacity as Acting Treasurer. Is it proper for a bank to supply to any person, more particularly a Minister, details of a private banking transaction such as those disclosed a few minutes ago by the Minister for Trade and Industry? If this is permissible under existing legislation, will the Government take action to protect the privacy of Australian citizens?
– I am not conversant with the legislation governing the operations of private banks or trading banks. I will seek to be conversant or to get somebody to look up what the legislation says and I will let the honourable member have a copy of it.
– 1 claim to have been misrepresented and seek to make a personal explanation.
-Order! May I suggest to the right honourable gentleman that he make an explanation after question time.
– Will the Minister for Social Services continue the policy of his predecessors of establishing decentralised regional offices of his Department at appropriate centres throughout Australia? Will he carefully investigate the desirability of establishing a full-time regional office at Swan Hill, Victoria?
– The answer to the first part of the question is yes. The answer to the second part also is yes, without commitment.
– I ask the Minister for Health a question supplementary to that asked by the honourable member for Wimmera. Is the Minister aware that 2,000 meat workers were dismissed in Victoria owing to the partial breaking of the drought? Is he aware of the necessity to rebuild the badly depleted sheep stocks of Victoria? Has he any information on the suggestion made by the Victorian Branch of the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union that one million breeding ewes should be imported from New Zealand to rebuild Victoria’s sheep stocks? Are there any restrictions on the importation into Victoria of sheep from New Zealand?
– I am not aware of the circumstances described by the honourable gentleman but, subject to correction, I think there are restrictions on the importation of sheep into Victoria from New Zealand. I will ascertain full details and let the honourable gentleman know.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Social Services. Has he seen reports alleging that the Australian birthrate has increased appreciably over recent quarters? Are these reports correct? Without in any way trying to suggest the line of the Minister’s answer, can he indicate how in fact these reports are substantially in error and furthermore, in his capacity as Minister for Social Services, will he state his approach to the problem?
– I recognise the interest of the honourable member for Lilley in this matter - both his theoretical interest and his practical application. In the brave old days when I sat on the back bench not far from the honourable member, I ventured the view that the Australian birthrate was declining. I said that this process would be masked temporarily by the age structure of the population, which had caused an unusual number of marriages partly related to the baby boom that followed the end of the last war. That is the view I then expressed and in this changed situation I now find myself of exactly the same opinion. The crude birthrate is not necessarily the best indication of the long term trends of fertility in the Australian population. The general experience has been that most births take place in the first few years of marriage and that therefore if one relates this to the number of marriages one will find that fertility continues to fall, not at the same rate as it was recently but still continuing to fall. This is masked by the age structure of the population. Of much more importance is the rate of natural increase, which is the difference between births and deaths. The deaths in the population have risen by reason again of the changing age structure and will predictably rise further as more of our people grow old. The rate of natural increase, which in recent years has been stable at about 1.4%, has fallen in the last few years from 1.44 in 1961 to 1.04, a fall of nearly 30% in the rate of natural increase of the population. These are the facts. Anybody considering the appropriate social policies for the Australian Government should have regard to these facts. I am not at this moment endeavouring to foreshadow any policy. I believe only that the House and the nation should take notice of the basic facts.
– I have been misrepresented and I ask for the opportunity to correct the misrepresentation. The honourable member for Brisbane (Mr Cross) a few minutes ago asked the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) - I do not purport to quote him with precision but 1 give the substance of his question - whether it was an infringement of some banking regulation for a bank to reveal to a third person information about the bank account of a client. He suggested that an answer that I had given to a question revealed that this had been done. He clearly intended to imply that I had by some means improperly secured information from a bank. I want to say now and finally that I have had no contact, direct or indirect or through any other person, with any bank. The knowledge that I have, which was the basis of the information that I gave to the House, came to me from a completely authentic source and I do not propose at this stage to reveal the source. But I have been given sufficient of the facts to indicate that a cheque was drawn on the account of Marrickville Holdings Ltd at the Newtown branch of the Australia and New Zealand Bank. This cheque was signed by Mr Crebbin who is the managing director of Marrickville Holdings Ltd, the margarine company which spends so much money attacking and trying to destroy the Australian dairy industry.
-Order! I think the right honourable gentleman is going beyond the bounds of a personal explanation.
– This cheque was drawn in favour of Mr Maxwell Newton who endorsed it-
– Mr Speaker, I rise to a point of order. It might be worth while if honourable members opposite referred to the Standing Orders occasionally. Standing Order 66 states:
A member who has spoken to a question may again be heard, to explain himself in regard to some material part of his speech which has been misquoted or misunderstood, but shall not introduce any new matter, or interrupt . . .
-Order! There is no substance in the point of order. The attention of the Minister for Trade and Industry was drawn to that matter.
– For the information of honourable members I present the following paper:
Report of the National Radiation Advisory Committee on biological aspects of fallout in Australia from French nuclear weapons explosions in the Pacific, June-July 1967.
Honourable members will observe that tire NRAC, after considering the data on radiation doses to the whole body and to the thyroid, concludes that fallout over
Australia from both series of French nuclear weapons tests in the Pacific is of no significance as a hazard to the health of the Australian population.
– by leave - Mr Speaker, I wish to make a further statement to the House concerning the helicopter accident which occurred on 22nd March on the Barracouta rig in Bass Strait. In my earlier statement to the House I indicated that attention was focused on the two principal considerations of damage to the tail rotor assembly and the fact that persons were on the helipad while operations were in progress. I undertook to inform the House as soon as possible of conclusions reached in these regards. The investigation of this accident is still far from complete but sufficient facts have now been determined to permit reconstruction of the probable sequence of events immediately prior to and during the accident and to establish the nature of the failure in the tail rotor assembly.
I can now confirm that a failure of the tail rotor assembly occurred just as the helicopter was touching down. Contrary to several reports this failure did not occur because of contact between the tail rotor and any part of the helipad. In fact there was no action on the part of the pilot which would have contributed to the failure nor was there any further flight action which he could have reasonably taken to significantly influence the further events of the accident once failure of the tail rotor had deprived him of directional guidance while in the landing attitude.
The investigation has established that the tail rotor failure started from cracking of the skin and spar structure which forms the tip of the tail rotor pylon and in which is mounted the tail rotor gear box and the tail rotor itself, lt is evident that this crack opened in flight and that under the high loadings imposed by a landing it progressed to the point of virtual complete separation of the cap of the pylon and this led to disengagement of the section of the drive shaft immediately forward of the tail rotor Bear box.
Inquiries which we have made in North America, with the RAAF and of the manufacturer, indicate that this is the first occasion on which cracking of the pylon has led to an accident in this type of helicopter. Nevertheless it will be evident that we must determine the cause of the cracking and whether visual inspections should have detected the cracks prior to their development to the point of causing an accident The investigation is now concentrating on these aspects and particularly on the serviceability of the tail rotor assembly as the most probable cause of failure of the pylon would be the existence of an out of balance condition in the tail rotor. I can assure honourable members that this action is progressing as quickly as possible and that parties concerned with the future operations of this type of helicopter are being kept adequately informed. Since the aircraft involved in this accident was the only civil aircraft of its type in Australia, it has not been necessary to prescribe any precautionary action for civil helicopters in this country. However a close liaison has been maintained with the RAAF and as a result of the investigation the RAAF has required appropriate inspection of the Iroquois, the military version of the helicopter. I am given to understand that no cracks have been found at least in those Iroquois currently in Australia.
On the question of persons being on the helipad during operations it is quite clear that for normal operations it would not be expected that any person would be permitted onto the helipad while a helicopter was landing or taking off. However, it cannot be overlooked that this exercise in public relations was designed to permit journalists and photographers to see a drilling rig in operation and the operation of the helicopter is an essential part of the whole picture which would be difficult to witness from positions other than on the landing platform. Evidence clearly indicates that all of the people concerned were in one corner and very close to the edge of the helipad and in that position there would have been little risk in relation to a normal landing. However, as events transpired, the landing was not normal and a tragedy ensued. The Director-General of Civil Aviation has therefore drawn the attention of helicopter operators to the need to have helicopter pads clear of persons during operations.
I have indicated to honourable members that there is still considerable ground to be covered in the investigation of this accident but there is cause for some satisfaction in that we have been able to establish at this relatively early stage the nature of the mechanical failure which occurred and which was the direct cause of the accident. I thought it appropriate that honourable members should be advised of this development. When the accident inquiry is concluded 1 will ask for leave to make a final statement to the House.
– by leave - First. 1 thank the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr Swartz) for his courtesy in advising me some 2 hours ago that he intended making a statement this afternoon. A week ago 1 criticised him for failing to extend that courtesy to the Opposition. 1 still regret that the Minister has not made any proposal whereby there would be a public inquiry similar to the inquiries held in respect of the Winton disaster and the Botany Bay disaster. I feel that in cases such as these, where loss ot life is involved, an inquiry should be conducted by an impartial authority to determine whether there has been negligence by anyone. The matter should not be left to the Department of Civil Aviation. Whilst I have the greatest of respect for the Department of Civil Aviation, I feel that this is a matter which should be aired publicly so that all the facts can be brought out. As I said on a previous occasion, we are not happy with some of the evidence which was brought out in the public inquiry into the air disaster near Winton. I do not know whether we will find a similar state of affairs in this case, but we should bear in mind that there have been a number of accidents with helicopters in recent years. 1 refer the Minister again to the accident involving a Bell helicopter in Sydney on. I think, 1 1th December 1966. I remind him of - the helicopter operated by the New South Wales Department of Main Roads which as a result of an accident came down on a golf links in Sydney just recently. Now there is this case. I feel that there is a need for a public inquiry, particularly when loss of life occurs.
As far as I can see no great amount of evidence is available to tell us what caused the accident in which an Australian Broadcasting Commission reporter and a photographer lost their lives in 1966, but why should we nol have a public inquiry into the cause of the most recent accident on 22nd March 1968? I should like to draw to the Minister’s attention that part of his statement in which he said
Since the aircraft in this accident was the only civil aircraft of its type in Australia it has not been necessary to prescribe any precautionary action for civil helicopters in this country.
What difference does this make? Surely when a helicopter or an aircraft of any kind is brought into this country the Department of Civil Aviation should examine what precautionary moves the pilot or passengers should be required to make in the event of the aircraft developing some type of mechanical trouble.
– That is done, but it has no relation to this accident.
– Why should there not be precautions laid down for an event such as this? I merely bring that point to the Minister’s attention. We should ask also why all these people were on the landing pad. Let us be factual about this. Every form of industry insists on some safety regulations. In industry a person is not allowed to stand under a heavy load.
– Mr Speaker, I rise to order. Would you clear up a point for me, Sir? If the- Minister for Civil Aviation has announced that there is to be a full inquiry and a report will be presented to the Parliament, is the honourable gentleman in order in pursuing this line of argument in connection with matter which is the subject of an inquiry to be undertaken?
-Order! The House has given the honourable member leave to make a statement and his remarks have been pertinent to the statement made by the Minister.
– Thank you. Mr Speaker. As you have reminded the honourable member, everything to which- I have referred so far has been dealt with in the Minister’s statement or is - related to its subject matter. 1 was complaining that people were allowed to occupy a landing pad at a time when a helicopter was coming in to land. In industry, people are not permitted to stand under or adjacent to heavy loads, not because the loads fall regularly but because there is always a risk that whatever is being lifted may fall. Daily we pick up a newspaper and find that the jib of a crane has collapsed or a heavy load has fallen causing injury or damage. When this accident occurred on the Barracouta oil rig people were occupying a position on the landing pad where they should not have been in any circumstances. Whether they were there in the interests of public relations, whether they were there to take photographs and whether this was the only place from which they could take photographs is completely irrelevant. They should not have been permitted on the landing pad at that time, no matter what may have been their reasons for being there. They should have been kept away from this position for the very reason that caused this accident.
People are kept away from dangerous areas because there is always a possibility that something may happen. If something does happen the place should be completely clear so that nobody is injured and only a minimum amount of damage and a minimum loss of life result. On 22nd March 1968 we saw a clear example of the Department of Civil Aviation regulations not being observed. I am not concerned with the reasons why they were not observed. The fact of the matter which is quite clear from the Minister’s statement is that DCA regulations were not observed and people were permitted to occupy a position on a landing pad where, according to the regulations they should not have been.
I think sufficient has already been stated by the Minister, in his earlier statement and in his statement today, to warrant a full public inquiry - not a DCA inquiry - presided over by a member of the judiciary who can decide whether the evidence which is brought forward is factual and who can report on what happened. I think this is necessary. When accidents occur in Royal Australian Air Force aircraft inquiries are held but no one ever knows the reason for the accident. In this instance we are dealing with a civil aircraft and members of the public are involved. The defence of our country does not arise. There may be some justification for holding RAAF inquiries in camera where the defence of the nation is involved, but this is a civil matter involving the average citizen. There is no question of defence or RAAF or DCA secrets being revealed. Therefore, a full public inquiry presided over by a judge should be ordered by the Minister so that everyone will have an opportunity to present evidence and so that everyone will know the judge’s findings.
Debate resumed from 2 April (vide page 702), on the following paper presented by Mr Gorton:
Statement by Lieutenant-Commander Cabban and matters incidental thereto - Report of Royal Commissioners - and on the motion by Mr Snedden:
That the House take note of the paper.
Upon which Mr Barnard had moved by way of amendment:
That the following words be added to the motion: ‘but deplores the efforts of Ministers to stifle debate on Lieutenant-Commander Cabban’s statement and to suppress documents substantially corroborating it’.
– In the time allotted to me this afternoon I want to cover in the main something that was said by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) when he singled out those whom he thought had been proved culpable in the report of Royal Commissioners on the statement by Lieutenant-Commander Cabban. He mentioned my name, among others, and, as I recall his words, he said: ‘The honourable member for Perth, as the then Minister, abetted the injustice done to Captain Robertson’. I shall comment on that later. Before proceeding further to comment on the speeches which were made last night, I should like to read a passage to the House. It states:
Here we have three Supreme Court judges of great experience, of unquestioned ability and of untarnished character, who have heard every word of the evidence, seen every witness and every document, and listened to tape recordings to which the right honourable gentleman has never listened. Having had all this material before them, they have made a . . . report - a calm, cold, logical, judicial report, in which they find the facts without hesitation. In the result, they are treated with hysterical abuse and their findings are submitted to examination by an audience which, I very respectfully submit, has no material before it on which & could dare to disagree with those findings.
These are not my words; they are taken from the Hansard of 28th October 1954. They were spoken by the then Prime Minister when he was replying to the then Leader of the Opposition, Dr Evatt. Dr Evatt was then opening the debate on the royal commission which was held into the Petrov affair. But that quotation seemed to me to have some connection with the matter before us today because there is no doubt that the Leader of the Opposition did indulge in some abuse. I believe that he uttered words that he will regret for the rest of his days. There are three occasions that I can remember which he will regret. One was his famous statement about witless men; the second was the water incident in this House, and the third was his reference last night to the Secretary of the Department of the Navy.
I think that most honourable members here, whatever else they felt about the findings of the Royal Commission, whatever else they felt about the rights or wrongs of Commander Cabban, whatever they felt about Captain Robertson, and whatever they felt about anyone else involved in this business, could not help but have a feeling of disgust that the Leader of the Opposition saw fit to attack a member of the Public Service of this country. There is a long standing rule in Parliament that members, who are open game to each other, know that they have behind them, a Public Service which is dedicated to the service of whatever party is in power. Responsibility in Parliament remains with Ministers and not with heads of departments. I think I should ‘draw the attention of the House to a statement that Mr Burt, counsel assisting the Royal Commission, made in his closing address. He said:
I think I am bound to say that as far as I personally am concerned, as counsel assisting the Commission, the Navy has at all times, both nerving officers and civilians, extended the utmost cooperation in the running of the Commission. 1 think that ought to be said because, firstly, it is a fact, but secondly, if this co-operation had not been forthcoming the Commission and its running would have been a very difficult thing to have done.
Associated with those remarks could I make the same submission, applying it more particularly to serving naval personnel who were called as witnesses. We in this country live under a system of government that is very different from the American system but which is similar to thai which has been developed under the British parliamentary institution. There is not a change of the top echelon of the Public Service with a change of government in Australia. The people in the top bracket of the Public Service do not depend for their positions upon the grace and favour of whatever government is in power. If the Leader of the Opposition likes to look back over the career of Mr Landau he will find, as he obviously knows, that Mr Landau did not come into the realms of the Public Service in the last 15 or 16 years but that he has a wonderful record of service. He served under two Labor prime ministers, the late Mr J. B. Chifley and the late Mr John Curtin, both of whom commended him for his services. So I say that whatever our differences of opinion - and there are differences of opinion on this side of the House just as there are on the other side of the House - it ill becomes the Leader of the Opposition to do what he did last night.
The Leader of the Opposition said: ‘In fact it would seem that practically the whole fleet knew about Captain Stevens’. This argument is destroyed when one reads the findings of the second Royal Commission. If it were a fact that the whole fleet knew that what Cabban said was in substance correct then obviously one man who would have known it was Captain Robertson. Surely we have read enough in the report to know that the Commission in the main discounted most of these statements. But the further one goes towards accepting what the Leader of the Opposition said the further Captain Robertson is involved. That is why I discount entirely that statement that the Leader of the Opposition made in respect to thi matter.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, I thought, destroyed most of his own argument. In connection with the triple brandy incident and Steward Hyland he said that he discounted the evidence given before the second Commission because of a time lapse of some 3 years. Then he said that Hyland’s evidence at the first Commission was given when the events were fresh in his mind. But that argument cannot be used in respect of one witness and then discounted in respect of every other witness. For instance, Cabban’s statement was not made when things were fresh in his memory. Some of the things were brought back to his memory 3 or 4 years later. If honourable members read the transcript they will see that he had second thoughts about some things. It is easy to try to destroy a case, but at least some consistency of argument should be retained.
In the debate on this matter in May 1967 I quoted the words of the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess). This appears at page 2243 of Hansard. The honourable member said: ‘The main thing is to be able, when everything is over, to look in the mirror and look yourself in the eye’. And now al great expense to the taxpayers of Australia we have a second inquiry. I do not know the cost involved. lt may have been $250,000 or $500,000. This factor does not enter my argument at all. But I believe that all the people whom 1 mentioned in that previous speech as being able to look themselves in the eye when they looked in the mirror can still do that after this second inquiry. 1 wonder whether some of the other people involved can still do this. I am not so certain, for instance, that the honourable member for Warringah (Mr St John) can do it.
– He will manage the honourable member later on.
– Yes, I realise that. 1 know that he is now advocating doubling his salary. I would have thought that was rather unnecessary.
– He is worth twice as much as the honourable member, too.
– I think it would be very handy if people in this House like the honourable member for Hindmarsh were subjected to a slight bit of a truth drug before entering. At least it would cut his interjections and his speeches by half. In that same debate I stated that no matter how much debate, charge and counter charge and proof or lack of proof there was, nothing would alter the fact that eighty-two men died. I said that no debate would turn back the clock. That is axiomatic.
The second point I wish to make is that Captain Robertson, of his own volition, resigned from the Navy. No-one did more than I and the Naval Board to attempt to dissuade him from that course. His appointment to a shore station was not a demotion; it was due to the exigencies of the Service - something that every ex-serviceman and serviceman in the country will understand. Whatever course is followed, nothing can happen in respect to that matter.
The third matter I wish to discuss relates to something else that will not be changed, and that is the attitude of the honourable member for La Trobe and some of those who support him. I believe that events will bear out what I said on the previous occasion. I think it is regrettable that many members of this House will have formed their opinion of this second Commission from the precis of the report that appeared in the various daily newspapers. Many will not have read the report at all, although they have been given the opportunity to do so. There is some excuse for the general public because it has not been given the opportunity to read the report. That same general public gained its impression from headlines which concerned, in the main, Captain Stevens, following speeches in this House during the debate in May. But the same newspapers have not given the same amount of publicity to the complete refutation of most of the charges against that officer. Only a thorough study of the report will do that.
The central figure after the second Royal Commission was Captain Robertson. The headlines following this report highlighted Captain Robertson and not the fact that, in the main, the Cabban statement which brought about the Commission was a gross exaggeration. The seamanship and sobriety of Captain Stevens were the same at the end of this Commission as they were before - not questionable any more than they would have been in respect to some ordinary citizen. I quote from page 139 of the report which was tabled in this House and which was distributed to honourable members: lt must, in justice to the late Captain Stevens, bc clearly understood by the Australian public thai our investigation has established beyond doubt that any suggestion that his faculties or judgment were in any way impaired by alcohol at the time of the collision is positively excluded.
Looking back at the newspapers of 3 or 4 years ago it is interesting to note a leading article that appeared in the Sydney ‘Daily Mirror’ of 22nd August 1964, which some honourable members will remember was the period when the first report was tabled in this House. Referring to the Commission it stated: ‘It blames the dead for the collision and expresses some curiously mild criticism of the “Melbourne’s” personnel’. I suppose honourable members would agree that this curiously mild criticism that the newspaper saw fit to mention that time later became this miscarriage of justice in the eyes of some members of this House that has resulted in the present situation. Some honourable members will recall that my colleague, the honourable member for Higinbotham (Mr Chipp), who was then Minister for the Navy, and who, incidentally, made what I think was a tremendously worthwhile contribution to the debate last night, gave the House some facts about Captain Robertson in the debate that took place last May. Those facts are recorded at page 2162 of Hansard of 16th May 1967. I repeat only one observation from the speech made on that occasion by the honourable member for Higinbotham. He said:
Captain Robertson did not resign . . . because of the Royal Commission. He resigned because of his posting. . . .
I mention this fact, Mr Deputy Speaker, to show that the Naval Board of 1964 was motivated by rational naval considerations in not returning Captain Robertson to his ship - not by senseless malevolence, or by a quite unnecessary ‘search for a scapegoat’, as the catch phrase was. The fact that the inquiries into the ‘Voyager’ disaster have been held in civil courts has created confusion in the public mind, which is thereby led to think in terms of ‘guilt and innocence’ instead of in terms of the same kind of human error that from time to time brings down an airliner, with heavy loss of life. Phrases like ‘punishing the innocent’ have been heard in relation to Captain Robertson’s appointment to a shore post. Such comments show a misunderstanding of the duty of the Naval Board. This duty was to appoint to be captain of the flagship the officer who was, in its opinion, best suited at that time to be in command. Who are we to say that that opinion was wrong? The man who was Chief of the Naval Staff in 1964 has been in his watery grave for 3 years, and I believe that 1 have to say all this in fairness to his memory and his reputation.
Another subject of misunderstanding was the post to which Captain Robertson was appointed, namely, the command of HMAS ‘Watson’. This was widely represented as demotion, but it was a captain’s post, at the same rank and with the same pay as the post in command of Melbourne’. It was demotion only in the sense that the seagoing jobs are always the most sought after in the Navy and enjoy the highest prestige. In a small navy like the Royal Australian Navy, the officers must divide their time between shore and ship postings. For example, the last Chief of the Naval Staff, who retired last evening hecause his sixtieth birthday is today, went from the post of Flag Officer Commanding the Australian Fleet to what may be regarded, I suppose, as the mundane job of Fourth Naval Member of the Naval Board. There was an occasion, on the other hand, when Captain Oldham went from command of ‘Watson’ to become Rear-Admiral Oldham in the post of Flag Officer in Charge of Eastern Area. All these matters should be taken into consideration when one is looking al the findings of the Royal Commission. What of the careers of Bate and Kelly, the two men who were coupled with Captain Robertson in this residual criticism? Both were promoted in the normal way. I believe - and I have said so - that if Captain Robertson had not resigned, he would today have been in the stream of appointments for admirals.
The circumstances of Captain Robertson’s resignation are yet another subject of misunderstanding; so is the question of his pension. He resigned in the full knowledge that he was outside the rules for a pension and that the Navy could not do anything for htm in that respect. The pension rules incidentally, are not the Navy’s rules; they are common to all three Services and are administered by the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Board. One of the strictest rules of that Board, for obvious reasons, as honourable members will realise if they reflect, is that an officer who declines to serve in the post to which he is ‘appointed cannot just resign and expect a pension. I know that at the time when, as Minister, I was Chairman of the Naval Board, the uniformed members of the Board very much wished that Captain Robertson could have been granted a pension in view of his long and distinguished service and his extremely bad luck. But this was prevented by the rules. Ever since that time, we have heard from various retired and serving officers views about what they have described as unjust and unwarranted treatment.
Two things must be considered when one deals with the first Royal Commission. First, there is the matter of the pension or an ex gratia payment for Captain Robertson. Secondly, there is his appointment in the Navy. There has been a lot of supposition in relation to the inquiries of both Royal Commissions. I propose to indulge in a little supposition, therefore. Let us suppose that the Spicer inquiry had not been held and that the Burbury Royal Commission had been held instead and had reached the same conclusion as has now been reached by the second Royal Commission. Captain Robertson would still have been posted to Watson’. Let us assume that a purely naval inquiry and no Royal Commissions had been held. Captain Robertson would still have been posted to ‘Watson”. So, however one looks at the matter, one comes back to the conclusion that his posting to ‘Watson’ was in accordance with the exigencies of the Service and not, as has been stated, this great victimisation of a captain in the Royal Australian Navy. Captain Robertson resigned over a matter of principle. As the previous. Minister told the House, the Captain resigned because of his posting. It has always been accepted that a serviceman accepts the posting that the Service decides he shall have, as most of us who have been in the Services realise. I do not quarrel with the theory, as set out at page 178 of the report of the second Royal Commission, about the mistake on board ‘Voyager* in relation to her position. Like all theories, it can be accepted, because there is so much supposition. [Extension of time granted.] I thank the House for its courtesy. I hope that I shall not take longer than a minute or two more. I do not quarrel with the theory concerning the mistake on board Voyager’ about her position relative to Melbourne’. For a long time, I have believed that this was probably the correct theory about what caused the collision. Because of the complete lack of evidence from anyone on the bridge of ‘Voyager’, it is very difficult to quarrel with this theory. What 1 strongly dispute, however, is that in accepting this theory, one must at the same time accept the theory that Captain Stevens was incompetent to command the destroyer at that time on that night - that at the psychological moment of the turn something happened to him and made him a different person from what he was just before. Evidence from survivors was to the effect that Captain Stevens was acting normally before the collision. If the cause of the collision, as stated on pages 178 and 179 of the report, was a mistake as to the position of ‘Voyager’ relative to that of Melbourne’, then this is a mistake that could have been made by the most physically fit and mentally alert Captain. It was a human error, and humans do not necessarily have to be unfit to make errors.
Let me sum up by saying that conclusions reached by suppositions have been replaced by other conclusions which have been arrived at by other suppositions, mainly because no-one survived from the bridge of ‘Voyager’. I have looked through the evidence as thoroughly as I could, but I have been able to find no evidence of any experts in the field of navigation. It appears that no experts in this field were called as witnesses in this inquiry, although of course the navigational aspects were pretty well covered in the first inquiry. I believe, having followed the progress of two royal commissions investigating what happened in the Royal Australian Navy on this night in February 1964, that the time has come to introduce machinery for carrying out in relation to the Royal Australian Navy the type of inquiry that is conducted when a marine disaster occurs involving merchant vessels. We could perhaps have a judge appointed, preferably one with some experience in these matters, assisted by assessors. The inquiry could be held in public, as my friends on the other side demand. I do believe that one thing we should have learned from these two royal commissions is that the present system is not a fit and proper one to operate in respect of one of our own Services. Immediate consideration should be given by the Government to the suggestion I have just made.
Debate (on motion by Mr Benson) adjourned.
– I move:
Customs Tariff Proposals No. 9, which I have just tabled, relate to proposed amendments to the Customs Tariff 1.966-1967. The amendments, which will operate from tomorrow morning, incorporate changes consequent on the adoption by the Government of three reports by the Tariff Board on:
Earthmoving, excavating and materials handling machinery and equipment;
Wooden articles; and
Pneumatic tyre valves and parts.
In its report on earthmoving, excavating and materials handling machinery and equipment the Tariff Board found that the industry is making a worthwhile contribution to economic development and should be accorded continued assistance.
On a range of equipment, duties of 35% general and 20% or 25% preferential are proposed. This represents a reduction in the general rates on non-crawler cranes, scrapers, scoops, road rollers and road graders, and parts for excavating machines. Increased duties of 35% general and 25% preferential, however, on dump trucks and heavy-duty trucks of 10 tons or more were recommended by the Board. It will be necessary to carry out international negotiations before the higher duties can be brought into effect. The negotiations will be concluded without avoidable delay. On fork-lift trucks, alternative rates of$1, 000 each general and $1,000 each less71/2% preferential are proposed if these rates produce a higher duty than the present ad valorem rates of 221/2% general and 15% preferential. Rates of 45% or 50% general and 30% or 35% preferential are proposed on other equipment including crawler cranes, dredgers, excavators, loaders and un loaders. It is proposed that the Tariff Board review this sector of the industry in 3 years’ time.
The Tariff Board’s report on wooden articles shows that in the main the industry consists of a number of comparatively small firms. It provides a market for substantial quantities of local timbers and employs over 1,000 persons, many in decentralised areas. The Board considered that the industry was worthy of continued assistance. The Board recommended rates of 30% general and 20% preferential on a wide range of wooden articles in which the materials used and manufacturing processes were similar. It also recommended rates of 45% general and 35% preferential for a further range of articles which generally have a substantially higher labour content, resulting in a higher level of disadvantage against imports. A separate rate of duty of 20% general and preferential, is proposed to assist the entry of a new manufacturer of spring rollers for blinds. It will be necessary to negotiate a release from a General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade commitment before this particular recommendation can be brought into effect.
In its report on pneumatic tyre valves and parts, the Tariff Board considered the local industry to be efficient and with moderate assistance should make a worthwhile contribution to the economy. These proposals provide that the present duties on tyre valves - 71/2% to 10% general and free preferential - be increased to 30% general and 20% preferential.
Other amendments in these proposals are of departmental origin and are drafting changes which do not affect levels of tariff protection.
In the case of firearms, a prohibitive duty of $60 per firearm is being removed against unproofed arms as control of unsafe firearms is now to be dealt with under the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations.
The Proposals include a number of new tariff preferences for less-developed countries which were foreshadowed by the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr McEwen) at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development recently held in New Delhi. Imports at the new preferential rates will be subject to quota limitation as is the case with the existing preferences. The new preferential quotas will bring the total of such quotas to around $26m a year. It is proposed that allocations against the new quotas will commence from 1st July 1968.
Details of the tariff changes are contained in the Summaries of Tariff Changes being circulated to honourable members.
I commend the proposals to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Clyde Cameron) adjourned.
Reports on Items
-I present the following reports by the Tariff Board on the following subjects:
Pneumatic tyre valves and parts.
Earthmoving, excavating and materials handling machinery and equipment.
Severally ordered to be printed.
Debate resumed (vide page 723).
– Yesterday the Chief of the Naval Staff retired. I wish him well, because he left the Navy with a very distinguished record. To take his place another distinguished naval officer is now installed as Chief of the Naval Staff, and I wish him well also. When debate took place on the first Royal Commission - known as the Spicer Commission - I think it is fair to say that two matters were dealt with. One referred to the navigation of the two ships and the other referred to certain safely features of both ships. I, together with other honourable members in this House, was very critical at that time, but I am pleased to say that the Navy soon righted its wrongs and became, as it always has been, a very efficient service. As a member of the Australian Labor Party’s defence committee, I went down to Flinders Naval Depot and had a look at some of the new things that had been introduced. I know that everyone with me at that time was greatly impressed. I think it is to the Navy’s great credit that it moved very quickly and got its affairs in order.
The other matter dealt with in the previous debate, as I have said, was the navigational side of the collision between the two ships, which was the responsibility, in the main, of the two commanding officers. I shall have something to say about that matter later. But if honourable members read my speech in the first debate, which is reported, in part, at pages 1085 and 1086 of Hansard of 15th September 1964,I think they will find it is fair to say that my leanings were then towards the findings of Mr Justice Spicer. I go along with that view now. Before the Parliament was prorogued I had a notice of motion on the notice paper, and having read the new findings of the Burbury Commission, I have no intention of altering what I intended to move then. So, Mr Deputy Speaker, I move as an amendment to the amendment proposed by the honourable member for Bass (Mr Barnard):
That all words after ‘but’ be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: ‘places on record the confidence which it has in the Chief of the Naval Staff, the Naval Board, the Flag Officers, Officers, and the men and women of the Royal Australian Navy and the way in which the Navy operates and is administered’.
– Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak later.
– The second Royal Commission concerning the loss of the ‘Voyager’ arose from the Cabban statement. This was a piece of exaggeration and distortion made by a strange individual who saw himself, in the words of the Commission, as ‘the central figure in a dramatic situation’. The
Commission described him as ‘an unreliable witness, particularly as to matters involving any exercise of judgment or interpretation of a situation’. Cabban built a structure of imagination on misinterpreted facts. Again in the words of the Commission, his statement was an imprecise, disconnected account of his impressions of some features of the Far East operational cruise of the Voyager’ in 1963.
The House should never forget the origin of this statement. It was dictated carelessly into a tape recorder at the request of Captain Robertson for Admiral Hickling, a retired Royal Navy officer who was writing a book and who was building up an emotional case for Captain Robertson. The book, when it was published, was full of inaccuracies. Admiral Hickling, according to his own statement, when he was captain of a cruiser sank the destroyer ‘Imogen’ in a collision. He has himself recorded in another book that he sank an Indian naval ship by gunfire. It is said that he is writing another book. Let us hope that it will be more accurate than his last. Those are rather harsh words, but I object to a retired naval officer coming to this country and making capital out of the misfortune of an accident which has taken place here.
I said that we are debating in this House Cabban’s statement. I hope to show the House that it was not Cabban’s statement; it was a statement by somebody else. I refer the House to page 20 of the Report of Royal Commissioners on the Statement of Lieutenant-Commander Cabban and Matters Incidental Thereto, and particularly to the letter which Admiral Hickling wrote to Lieutenant-Commander Cabban. I have not time to read all of it, but I will read part of it in context. Admiral Hickling said:
Robbie said he was going to talk to you on his return to Sydney on the matter. 1 would like, if you would be so kind as to give to me your account of Stevens, your trip to Japan, your opinions and experience during the time you served in ‘Voyager’ John Ro, bless him, is far too much of a gentleman to impugn a brother officer.
I want to dwell on that sentence. Robertson was too much of a gentleman to impugn a brother officer, namely, Captain Stevens, but Cabban was not too much of a gentleman, and this is what the report says. At page 22 the report continues:
Cabban said he signed the document only because Captain Robertson asked him to and he didn’t see any cause to question his judgment.
It is not Captain Robertson’s judgment that we are debating; it is Cabban’s judgment. Further on, the report says that Cabban said:
I signed it because I was asked to sign it. I think I can fairly say that my attitude then was still that of a Lieutenant-Commander being asked by a Captain to do something for an Admiral. I did not query it.
Cabban did not query it. He said further:
I had been asked by Mr Jess if 1 would assist in representing evidence that might cause the Prime Minister to review the finding of the Royal Commission and I said that I would ask Captain Robertson if he wanted this, and if he did I would be prepared to see either the Prime Minister or Cabinet, I was not prepared to be associated wilh a public inquiry into the matter, and subsequently Captain Robertson said that he agreed with this, and that in essence was the beginning of my agreement to allow this to be sent to the Prime Minister.
Further on, referring to Cabban, the report states:
He said (page 564) that he did not formulate in his own mind precisely how he thought it could help Captain Robertson but was prepared to accept the word of people more experienced than himself in these areas.
What are we debating in this House? Are we debating the Cabban report or a combined report which was prepared by Captain Robertson and Vice-Admiral Hickling? This is what we have to understand. Here are these people coming to a young officer and saying: ‘You do this. We want you to do it because Captain Robertson will not impugn his brother officer.’ 1 think that was a dreadful thing for a captain to say. If he was not prepared to go ahead with the matter, it should have died there. They should not have got Lieutenant-Commander Cabban to go ahead and say what he did. It is now said that they were not his words and that he did not want the matter to go that far.
It is estimated that this Commission has cost the taxpayers some $750,000. The Spicer Commission found that the ‘Voyager’ was at fault. I go along with that finding. It did not find Captain Robertson responsible. It did offer some minor criticism of his actions, or rather of his failure to act. It was criticism which was, in my opinion, fully justified by the facts and supported by well-known principles of admiralty law. If honourable members are interested in the law on these matters I would recommend that they read Marsden’s ‘Collisions at Sea’ which is very authoritative on these questions, lt cites many cases illustrating that the stand-on ship also has responsibilities to do its best to avoid collision. In this case something went wrong. We are not in a position to debate what went wrong. I do not want to draw out this matter. It is over, but a collision took place-
– And 82 men died.
– As my friend from Hunter says, 82 mcn died. I am very sorry for the parents and relatives of those men for the suffering that has been occasioned to them. The more we talk about this matter the worse it is for them. This is why 1 did not want the second inquiry to be held. Because Captain Robertson, the navigator and the officer of the watch were criticised by Mr Justice Spicer - in my opinion, in law, correctly - we had the second Royal Commission. I think that was wrong. At one time ‘Melbourne’ and Voyager’ were on parallel courses. They were both steering a course of 020 degrees. 1 want to put this as plainly as I can and in simple language. If the two ships were steaming one behind the other, although steering the same course, they would not be parallel, but once they are not in line ahead they become parallel whether they are one ahead of the other on the bow, one abeam of the other or on the other’s quarter.
The Navy, through the Naval Board and the Chiefs of Staff, has been very particular to lay down instructions as to what ships must do when manoeuvring. When Voyager’ altered course to port after going to starboard, once she got out of that parallel plane and started pointing towards the. other ship, it became the responsibility of the other ship, as it always is and as it must1 always remain, to look after itself. In this case when the ship altered, course from a course of 020 degrees to a bearing of approximately 270 degrees a collision took place. The Navy, through the Naval Board, says quite plainly that the stand-on ship also must take such action as will best aid in averting collision. But the instructions go further than that. The instructions contained on page 2704 of ‘Regulations and
Instructions for the Royal Australian Navy’ state, in reference to a ship under tactical command:
The officer in Tactical Command is responsible for the safe conduct of the fleet, squadron, ships or ship present with him and acting in concert under his orders. Subordinate commanders are similarly responsible for the ships under their immediate orders.
The Officer in Tactical Command -
The captain of ‘Melbourne’ in this case - is to he particularly attentive to observing that the ship which carries his flag, broad pennant or pennant and all the ships under his orders, preserve correctly their station in whatever formation the fleet may be. When any evolution is being performed he is to be attentive to the manner in which the ships under his orders carry it out, always correcting immediately every apparent want of activity and exertion and every mistake or appearance of neglect . . .
The ball is thrown back to the ship in tactical command, and rightly so. She must take evasive action. But this did not happen on this occasion, and the collision took place.
I do not have time to go further into the technicalities of ships manoeuvring at sea. I was greatly distressed to hear the statements made in this House by people who 1 thought would have been kinder and would not have been so harsh in their remarks about a man who was not here to speak for himself. Captain Stevens had a very distinguished record. He was at sea at thu age of 18 years when the Second World War broke out. Shortly after that he was in the Mediterranean on what was known as the milk run from Alexandria to Tobruk. He was eligible for membership of the Rats of Tobruk Association. His confidential reports, read to the House by the late Mr Harold Holt, show that he was a man of outstanding character and high ability. He is mourned with pride by his family, whose sufferings throughout the two Commissions can only be imagined. The cruel words which have been spoken about him in this House by people who should have known belter have been corrected by the Royal Commission. I hope that the honourable member for Warringah (Mr St John) will participate in the debate and apologise publicly for what he has said. If he feels that he cannot do this, he should leave the House. The honourable member told the House that Cabban was a man whom he had come to know and respect. The honourable member went out of his way to back Cabban’s judgment.
The honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner), who usually delivers a thoughtful and well prepared address when speaking in the House, was more outspoken on this matter than was the honourable member for Warringah, although the honourable member for Bradfield did not say as much as his colleague said. What the honourable member did say can be tempered only by an immediate public apology. If the honourable member feels that he cannot do this he also should leave the House. Speaking in the debate on 16th May last year the honourable member said:
We have heard from other speakers that Captain Stevens was not intoxicated. So 1 hope that the honourable member for Bradfield will remedy the injustice of his remarks, because they are not to his credit.
– I wish the honourable member would read Dr Birrell’s statement.
– I am not worried about that. I have read from the report, and that is what matters. The effect of Sir John Spicer’s report was that the real cause of the collision remained a mystery. The Burbury Commission decided what happened. Personally I prefer Sir John Spicer’s report. With all respect to the Commissioners in the second inquiry, it seems fair criticism to say that they accepted Captain Robertson’s views without calling additional evidence, as was done in the Spicer inquiry. The second inquiry resulted from Captain Robertson’s obstinate refusal to accept a minor criticism expressed about him by the Spicer Commission - criticism which, in my opinion, was fully justified in fact and in law. If every disciplined naval officer is to insist on resigning when any hard words are spoken about him, what will become of the naval service? Suppose a sailor goes before his captain and his captain says: You are being transferred’, or: ‘You are to do some other duties’. What will happen to any Service if the sailor is to reply: ‘If you do that I will resign’? [Extension of time granted.] I thank the House. Captain Dovers was held responsible by a court martial after the loss of a whaler from
HMAS ‘Sydney’. He accepted the decision without question, as a naval officer should. The finding of the court martial was set aside by the Naval Board, but he was not reinstated and sent back to ‘Sydney’. He is now a rear-admiral.
Captain Robertson also would have attained this rank if he had observed naval tradition and had done as he was told. If he had, this whole wretched inquiry would not have taken place. I have nothing against Captain Robertson. Far from it. When the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess) complained that Captain Robertson was not receiving a pension from the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund, I was one of the few honourable members who rose in this House and supported him. I thought that was the main cause of concern to Captain Robertson. I said he should have received a pension and I thought the Government was pretty lousy in not giving it to him. I knew that he was not entitled to a pension, but, as has been said here, this is a matter for the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund. After his long and distinguished service with the Royal Australian Navy, I thought the telescope could have been put to the other eye and he could have been given a pension.
But this was not his main worry. He wanted to have righted what he thought was a wrong that had been done to him. He thought that Mr Justice Spicer had no right to criticise him and say, as international law says, that when ships are in sight of each other they should give a sound signal. He did not believe in that at all, and that is why the second Royal Commission was held. The Royal Commission was brought about largely because of the book ‘One Minute of Time’, which was written by RearAdmiral Hickling. He is writing another book and we may as well get the facts straight now. The book ‘One Minute of Time’ was not factual. Admiral Hickling has had tactical command on many occasions. If he likes to think back, he will recall one occasion when he was in my company, but he can do his own research. He knows very well what the duties are of the captain of a ship in tactical command. But will he put this in his next book?
Let us look at Appendix 5 to the Spicer report. This was prepared by Captain Robertson. The rule says: ‘If the bearing does not appreciably change, risk of collision shall be deemed to exist’. This is rammed into everyone’s head. Yet for nearly three minutes on the night in question the bearing was constant and the collision took place. I know both of the officers concerned and 1 know that this is the last thing that they or anybody else wanted. But 1 make these points because I know that Admiral Hickling would be the first to demand that proper action be taken. Mr Justice Spicer set out relevant evidence at page 21 of his report. On the basis of the answers he received from Captain Robertson, the navigating officer and Sub-Lieutenant Bate he had no option but to say: ‘You did not carry out the right drill’. That is the only way I can read it and I leave the matter there. The accident happened, and this has nothing whatever to do with the Naval Board. It was an error of judgment made by one or two men. ‘Melbourne’ was the stand on ship and ‘Voyager’ was the give way ship. The accident happened and ‘Voyager’ was found to be responsible. I go along with that finding and F go along with the statement made by Mr Justice Spicer that Melbourne’ could have done two or three things.
What will happen to the Royal Australian Navy now? Does the Naval Board issue orders saying: ‘You must carry’ out the instructions contained in the international rules of the road. You must carry out our orders.’? If it does, will that be taken as a slight to the Royal Commissioners because they have said that there is no need to do this, although the instructions say that the officer of the watch shall always keep the vessel adjacent to him in sight and so on? I have no time to quote all the instructions. They must prevail. The instructions that were issued before the collision in instructions and regulations for the Royal Australian Navy must never be altered simply because of the report of the Burbury Commission.
– I rise to reply to some of the statements made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam). At the commencement of his speech last night he said:
If this Parliament is to do its duty, its members will not be frightened off from a searching debate on this report. The device of synthetic patriotism has been used too much. It has been used to condone and continue failure in Vietnam.
I understand that not more than 600 individuals have served as members of this House since Federation. 1 would say that, of those. 600 men, not one has degraded and denigrated the House as much as the Leader of the Opposition has. He has in this House performed three of the most dastardly actions that could have been performed by an honourable member. On two separate occasions he used the most vile and filthy four letter word a man can utter to refer to the Attorney-General of the time. The water throwing incident is still fresh in our memories. Had he done this in the Supreme Court, he would have been expelled or disqualified from practice at the bar for a rninimum of five years. Had he done this at the South Sydney Rugby League Club, he would have been expelled for life. Yet we allow this man to come into the House and talk about credibility. What credibility has a man who will act as the Leader of the Opposition did in this most honourable House?
I take umbrage when this man speaks about synthetic patriotism. It was Dr Johnson who said that the outward parade of patriotism was the act of a coward. What has this man. this honourable gentleman, the Leader of the Opposition, done for his country? I would like to read from an article by Arnaud de Borchgrave which appeared in ‘Newsweek’. It states:
For China - and its veteran leaders of the Long March - Vietnam is the crucial test of Mao’s theories. It is also China’s big chance to wreck America’s entire position in Asia. If we hold our ground and Communist expansion is blocked - as it was in Malaya - the Chinese will have suffered another major foreign-policy setback. The dogmas will be shattered once and for all and we may at last look forward to change in Peking.
If we give in, what incentive will there be for China to change? We would probably have to start all over again 2 or 3 years hence, perhaps in Thailand, which is neither a better time nor a better place.
Now we see the Leader of the Opposition parading as the great strategist - he brought the American President to his knees. What has he done to our enemy? Have we ever heard him say anything about our wonderful men who are fighting in Vietnam? Do we ever hear him extolling the great job they are doing?
– Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise to a point of order. It is probably the point that you were about to make yourself. The subject matter that the honourable member for Mitchell is now discussing has nothing to do with the debate before the House. 1 take it we are still debating the “Voyager’ inquiry, but one would not know that from listening to the honourable member. 1 suggest that he is clearly out of order.
-Order! There is no substance in the point of order. However, I ask the honourable member for Mitchell to keep to the subject before the House.
– Thank you, Sir, but I draw your attention to the fact that the Leader of the Opposition mentioned this matter and 1 am replying to him. 1 want to speak in regard to the honourable gentleman. When the ‘Voyager’ matter was before the House last year the Leader of the Opposition did not have the courage or the fortitude to get up and debate it. He allowed the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) to say in a very patronising way that the Opposition would support the appointment of another Royal Commission. At the time this matter was first debated 1 said in the House that the appointment of a royal commission was nauseating to me. So it is at this stage. The outcome of that debate was the appointment of the first Royal Commission. That should never have happened. There should have been an independent naval inquiry. We should have flown in an admiral from the Royal Navy and an admiral from the Royal Canadian Navy to conduct the inquiry. If this had been done we would have had first class evidence and we would not have had to go through all the ceremony and paraphernalia that is associated with a royal commission. The men concerned would have been on the job within a week. The boys who were involved in the accident would have given their evidence as sailors and servicemen to sailors and servicemen. We would have had the truth. Instead we have had the long drawn out first Royal Commission. It appears to me that royal commissions need to have some sort of scapegoat.
In his speech today the honourable member for Batman (Mr Benson) >aid that the first Royal Commission indicated that Captain Robertson could have sounded or given three blasts of the whistle but it would not have made any difference to the unfortunate happening. In this unfortunate set of circumstances the two men acted most honourably. A point that h.is been omitted from this debate is that LieutenantCommander Cabban was not going to thrust himself upon the Commission, and had no desire to do so, until it came out in evidence that Captain Stevens had been served by his steward with a triple brandy. The point is that Cabban had served with Captain Stevens and knew that Captain Stevens would not imbibe or take alcohol at sea. So, it can be seen that LieutenantCommander Cabban was activated by the highest motives in going to his former Captain’s support to give evidence that he had never known the Captain to take alcohol at sea. Lieutenant-Commander Cabban’s statements necessitated the appointment of a second Royal Commission. To Captain Robertson’s everlasting credit he would not allow the notes of the evidence given to Mr Smyth, Q.C. to be used against his brother officer. If LieutenantCommander Cabban did come along and volunteer this evidence, it was not at the behest or the request of Captain Robertson. I cannot understand the attitude of the honourable member for Batman, nor can I understand why the Opposition did not second my amendment when the matter was before this House previously.
In the amendment I proposed that Captain Robertson be reinstated with seniority as from the date of his retirement. If this was not acceptable then I proposed that the Government should make an ex-gratia payment to him under the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund provisions. Most of the Opposition came to me and lauded my amendment but not one had the fortitude to second it. I asked them why. They said it was because they were sitting on the fence and wanted to see how the wind blew. My friend, the honourable member for Batman, had the opportunity as well. We know that the Government could not make this payment from the Fund, but it could have brought in special legislation for the purpose. If this had been done, we would have saved the country about $700,000. But, of course, we have to remember that eighty-two men had lost their lives. What did it matter if the inquiry cost $700,000 provided that we get the truth? But we had no possible way of getting at the truth through the second Royal Commission.
I ask honourable members as men of the world to consider the facts of the second royal commission. How could evidence given 2 to 3 years after the event be factual? The men involved were in the main young men. In the time between tho sinking of the ‘Voyager’ and the second royal commission they had had a few drinks, they had talked it over with their mates and parents, they had spoken about it with their officers. How could the evidence they gave in the second Royal Commission, while no doubt genuine, be positive evidence? Nothing wc have seen in regard to the second Royal Commission has proved anything that the first royal commission did not find, other than that perhaps Captain Robertson should not have been castigated to the extent he was. Unfortunately, all this happened because of the emotional stress at the time. I, for one, hope that we will not see another royal commission appointed. Wc want to devise some better way of finding out the truth. I strongly protest against the appointment of royal commissions to inquire into matters affecting the Services. There must be something radically wrong if we cannot get a better system.
I am pleased that Captain Robertson has been recompensed. He retired, according to his own statements, because of his love for the Navy and because he thought that the example he was setting would encourage young men to carry on the traditions of the Navy. It was a most unsatisfactory turn of events which brought about the appointment of the second royal commission. I am deeply saddened that the Government, in the first instance, did not accept my amendment and that, in the second instance, the honourable member for Batman or a member of the Opposition did not second my amendment.
– Although I believe that much of what the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) said was true - but by no means all of it - I should like at the very outset to disassociate myself from the whole tone of his speech on this matter. To me it was cold, calm, clever and a deliberate political calculation to make as much political capital out of it, and to take as much political advantage from it as he possibly could. His speech was suave, arrogant and insulting. It showed no feeling, 1 thought, for the naval service, whose men go into it not for money or for gain but in order to serve. They are men of courage. They accept discipline and they accept hardships. They are men whom one might say are idealists. I should imagine that mostly they have a haunting sense of responsibility in circumstances where their ships or their ships’ companies may be endangered. I felt that there was a complete absence of understanding on the part of the Leader of the Opposition of the human aspects of the subject matter of this debate. So while, as I say, I believe that much of what he said was true, I totally disassociate myself from the general attitude that he displayed.
There is one other preliminary matter that I should like to clear away. It is this: Those who have spoken in this debate - not all, of course - appeared to be like the Hapsburgs who were said to have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. This debate has gone along almost on the same footing as the last debate and as if there had been no royal commission in the interval and as if nothing had been learned from it. There was no need, of course, for the second Royal Commission. If Cabban’s statement had been properly investigated as it should have been, and if injustices had been rectified following upon such an investigation, there would have been no need for the second Royal Commission at all. But the Navy and the Government decided that they would not investigate the statement.
This is the third ‘Voyager’ debate. The first debate was on the report of the first Royal Commission which was presided over by Mr Justice Spicer; the second debate was on the Cabban statement - a debate initiated, not technically but in fact, by the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess); and the third debate now in process is on the report of the second or Burbury Royal Commission. The issues in the two earlier debates were somewhat different from the present; or, rather, they remained unresolved. Most of us, I hope, believe that this ought to be the last debate and the last royal commission on this matter.
What are the matters that call for consideration on this occasion? I suggest that there are two. First of all, what does the second Royal Commission disclose about the ‘Voyager’ disaster that was not previously known? One might suppose from many of the speeches that have been made that it has not revealed anything fresh at all. Secondly, what action should be taken by the Government and what attitude should be adopted by the Parliament in the light of these fresh disclosures? As to the first - that is, what was not previously known - the second Royal Commission after exhaustive examination has concluded, first, that Captain Stevens was not fit to be in command of ‘Voyager’ on the night of the disaster. This vitiated, in the opinion of the Commissioners, the conclusion of the first Royal Commission that a degree of blame attached to Captain Robertson. They concluded, therefore, that the finding against Captain Robertson ought to be varied accordingly. Indeed, the Government has accepted this recommendation. In other words, this injustice has been recognised and rectified. Secondly, they concluded that the Naval Board did not know, under the existing methods of reporting and through the dereliction of duty on the pari of certain medical officers, about Captain Stevens’s unfitness to command the destroyer at that time. Thirdly, they concluded that counsel assisting the first Royal Commission did not improperly withhold Cabban’s evidence but acted in accordance with professional judgment.
This clears the air in certain important respects if the conclusions of the second Royal Commission are accepted. Should they be accepted? All of us understand that the findings of a royal commission presided over by men skilled in sifting evidence and who have had the advantage of hearing the evidence and of seeing the witnesses should not.be lightly cast aside. The conclusions, therefore, are worthy of the highest respect. But, of course, even royal commissions can err, as. indeed, we should note from the fact that Mr Justice Spicers Royal Commission erred according to the second Royal Commission. Both were not right and therefore it is possible for a royal commission - whichever it was - to err. In other words, the decision of a royal commission is not the voice of God. But in any event, supposing we accept the findings of fact, we are still left with matters of judgment. What, for example, is intoxication? What is drunkenness? These things are infinitely variable as, I imagine, all of us here know.
For example, I think in the eighteenth century there was a definition of drunkenness to the effect that a man was not drunk so long as the two legs that carried him in were able to carry him out again. This is a fairly liberal definition of drunkenness. But all I am saying is that, though the greatest respect should be paid to the decision of a royal commission, when it comes to matters of judgment of this kind then men of the world should be able to make their own judgment. lt is a matter for rejoicing - a matter for great rejoicing - that Captain Stevens has been cleared, at least, of the gross stigma of drunkenness, however we may define that term. Secondly. Captain Robertson has been vindicated. 1 have no time to go into matters that have been raised here, except very briefly. Of course, the reason why Captain Robertson resigned was nol only that he was given a shore posting but that this followed upon the criticisms of him in Mr Justice Spicer’s report, lt was a combination of these two circumstances. It was not just, as the honourable member for Perth (Mr Chaney) has been saying, because he was given a shore posting; it whs because he was given a shore posting following upon the animadversion of the Spicer Royal Commission. The Navy, of course, has never been under attack in the course of this debate. I say that with the qualification that some of the leading figures in the Navy have been and are rightly under attack. It is a matter for rejoicing, thirdly, that prompt action has been taken regarding pecuniary compensation to Captain Robertson: and. fourthly, that the defect iii the system of medical reporting in the Navy has received attention. We should rejoice about these things and not deplore the report of the second Royal Commission or that the second Royal Commission carried out its investigation. This should not be deplored. Good things have come from it. One would think from listening to some honourable members that it was all to the bad.
However, other aspects of the affair arc less happy. They relate to the campaign of calumny, denigration and vilification; the campaign to malign, traduce and slander my honourable friend, the honourable member for La Trobe, and LieutenantCommander Cabban who is not here to defend himself but who may find defenders. Secondly, it is an unhappy aspect of the affair that the Navy and the Government have carried out operation ‘cover up’ in respect of the whole affair. Here I am not, like the honourable member for Batman (Mr Benson), a member of the old boys’ club; I believe that there are higher loyalties.
First, I salute the honourable member for La Trobe for his concern for justice for a man whom he believed to be innocent and who was so found by the second Royal Commission. Tha greatest tribute I have heard paid to him was paid by a member of this Parliament. I happened to be sitting next to him in the dining room when this member said to the honourable member for La Trobe: ‘If I were the victim of injustice and had but one friend left in the world I would hope that it might be you’. Secondly, I salute him for his unconcern for his own career. He is a young man with every qualification for advancement in an environment where, hitherto at least, conformity has been the easiest path to promotion. He has never been one of the cherubim - those who continually do cry ‘Holy, holy, holy” to whatever the Government says. I salute him for his disdain for abuse and deliberate misrepresentation, both open and behind his back; for his persistence over 3 or 4 years, with successive Prime Ministers, Attorneys-General and Ministers for the Navy; for his sacrifice of ease and the constant anxiety that must have beset him and, indeed, his family while he has been pursuing justice. I salute him for his restraint in the Party interest. Before bringing this matter to the bar of public opinion he did everything possible to induce the Government to act. But it would not. Finally I salute him for his courage - his sheer, unbeatable courage - and for his final tri: mph, for so it is.
Secondly I salute, because few others in th s place have, Lieutenant-Commander Cabban. Here I reiterate the same points I have made in respect of the honourable member for La Trobe: His concern for justice, his unconcern for his own career, his disdain for abuse, his persistence over the years and his sacrifice of ease. The House need not accept my word on this; I shall quote the report of the second Royal Commission at page 140 and following pages. The Commissioners in giving the character of Lieutenant-Commander Cabban said:
He set high standards of efficiency and discipline for himself and expected others to conform to them.
Later the Commission said:
It was … his apotheosis of the office of Captain which we think caused the Captain’s behaviour at his birthday dinner to have the profound impact on his mind which it undoubtedly did. . . . After this incident his judgment on subsequent incidents . . . became coloured by his impression of the events of the birthday dinner.
The Commission said also:
We are satisfied that … the evidence he gave as to his-
That is, the captain’s- drinking habits and his judgment of the situation, as he saw it, from time to time was not vitiated by any ill will towards the Captain.
This is the idea which has been purveyed around this place ever since the matter was raised. The report continues:
We reject any suggestion that … he was motivated by a ‘grudge’ against … the Navy.
This suggestion has also been put about this place. The report goes on:
There can be no doubt . . . that by May 1963 Cabban was deeply and genuinely concerned about Captain Stevens’ condition … he was genuinely concerned as to what he should do. He was lorn between his loyalty to his Captain and loyalty to the Navy generally.
When ‘Voyager’ reached Sydney Captain Stevens began chinking again … the fact that he began drinking again at all gave Cabban cause for renewed anxiety. . . .
Then came the catastrophe of the night of February 10, 1964. This, of course, had a tremendous impact on Cabban. But he steadfastly maintained that … his Captain . . . never drank at sea. … He still did not think so even when he heard that Hyland said he had served the Captain with a ‘triple brandy’ on the night of the disaster.
I do not know why the Royal Commission says this. It continues:
Although his tendency to dramatise situations, we think, did not lead him consciously to make false statements, we formed the clear opinion that some of the statements made in the ‘Cabban Statement’ . . . were not the product of his actual recollection, but … of his reconstruction.
Finally the Commission said:
Notwithstanding . . . that we do not believe that Cabban at any point of his evidence deliberately lied to us or deliberately invented incidents which did not take place, we had (in the light of the foregoing considerations) insufficient confidence in his reliability as a witness to accept his evidence on most matters unless it was satisfactorily corroborated. Having said that, it is fair to reiterate that much of his evidence as to specific incidents was in the event satisfactorily corroborated.
This is the man who has been denigrated in this House. I salute him as an honourable man who spoke the truth as he saw it and for his collaboration with the honourable member for La Trobe. But for him justice would not have been done.
Finally, in the few minutes left to me, I come to operation ‘cover up’ by the Navy and the Ministers. I do not want to go into these things in detail because I have only 3 minutes left, but these matters have to be dealt with. I believe that the advice of Admiral McNicoll to the Minister was wrong. I believe that he never did anything to verify what Cabban had said and that when he advised the Minister that there was nothing in it this was a grave dereliction of duty. He had before him statements which were made by a man whom he knew to be an honourable man, but he did not investigate them. He advised the Minister that there was nothing in it, without any real investigation. I believe that the LandauTiller incident in which Mr Landau claimed that he had informed the Minister - to use Mr Landua’s own words, ‘broadly’, ‘in broad terms’ and ‘the general purport to the Minister’ - was unworthy and wrong, and I believe that between the Department, the Navy and the Minister this House was misled. It was told that there was no corroboration when in fact it was known that there was corroboration of Cabban’s evidence.
In conclusion - for I cannot hope for the indulgence of the House for an extension of time having regard to what I am saying - I merely add that this is an example of a case where petty loyalties, the loyalties of the officers’ mess, the loyalties of the old boys’ club, have prevailed over and outweighed the higher calls of duty. It was simply that. The Government required that the Navy should be an efficient Service; but it was not an efficient Service. For example, I can quote the action or inaction of
Surgeon-Commander McNeill. The Navy passes it off as egomania on the part of Cabban - an honourable man. Because he was not a member of the old boys’ club he was said to be suffering from egomania. The Government had an overriding responsibility in the matter. It was responsible for ascertaining the truth and applying the truth to the situation. Regardless of what the Chief of the Naval Staff might say, and what the Permanent Head of the Department of the Navy might say, in the end it was the Government’s overriding responsibility. The Government did not rise to that responsibility but sought to cover up the whole affair.
This was entirely a matter springing from the reactions and the fears of little men. We need bigger men in the Navy and bigger men in the Government. This is what the situation requires. This is the lesson of the whole affair. There is a need for better leadership. Perhaps we shall have this. I hope we do.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
Motion (by Mr Clyde Cameron) agreed to:
That the honourable member for Bradfield be granted an extension of time.
– I thank the House but I have no wish to accept any extra time.
– Most of the important facts relating to this motion have already been traversed in the course of the debate last night and this afternoon. What I wish to do in particular at the beginning is to join with those who have expressed congratulations to the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess), the honourable member for Warringah (Mr St John) and the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) for the part that they played in helping to bring about the appointment of the second Royal Commission. I feel in particular that, as the honourable member for Bradfield has stated, special honour should be bestowed upon the honourable member for La Trobe, who showed great courage, great tenacity and great pertinacity over a period of 3 years or so because he believed that there had been a miscarriage of justice, and being the man he is, he would not let up until he felt that justice had been done or that steps had been taken to see that justice was done. A tribute is due to my colleague and friend the honourable member for Warringah, who, in his maiden speech, which was a brilliant speech, dealt with the situation as he saw it. I pay a tribute also to my friend the honourable member for Bradfield who has made his contribution this afternoon. I believe this has been a firm and resolute stand on the part of three very courageous parliamentarians. It has been a notable exercise in parliamentary democracy whichever way one looks at it.
I join also in paying a tribute to Lieutenant-Commander Cabban for his statement. I am glad that the honourable member for Bradfield brought out the particular points that he did with regard to the comments of the second Royal Commission on Lieutenant-Commander Cabban’s credibility, for the most part, as a witness. In particular I think it should be underlined that there would not have been a second Royal Commission had not Lieutenant-Commander Cabban been most anxious that justice be done. He felt that something had not come out in the first Royal Commission that should have come out in evidence and, following discussion with my three colleagues whom I have mentioned, the matter was brought up- in Parliament, as honourable members will recall, and the Government then, agreed to appoint the second Royal Commission. I want also to commend the Government for being big enough and fair enough to see things the way it did. I quote a very brief extract from a very lengthy statement made on the night of 17th May 1967 by the then Prime Minister, the late Mr Holt:
I do not ask the House to judge these events tonight. I believe that not only is the dead man Stevens in a sense on trial in this Parliament in this debate, together with others to whom I have referred and over whom a cloud has been cast, but also the Parliament itself is on trial as an institution. We are expected by the people of this country to behave with a sense of responsibility and a spirit of fairness in relation to this issue.
Two days later the then Prime Minister, in a further Statement regarding the appointment of a second Royal Commission, stressed that the purpose of the Government was ‘to see that the truth emerges and that justice is done’. I therefore again say that I commend the then Government, the Holt
Government as it was at that time, for its decision to appoint the second Royal Commission in order to pursue the purpose that the Prime Minister then expressed.
Much water has flowed under the bridge since that statement and the second royal commission has completed its task. I think it would be agreed that the truth has emerged as a result of the holding of the second Royal Commission, .or perhaps should I say that the truth has emerged and has been ascertained as far as it can possibly be ascertained, having regard to the fact that Captain Stevens and certain other key people involved in the tragic loss are no longer with us. What many of us have been concerned about is that not only should justice be done but that it should be seen to be done in accordance with the findings of the second Royal Commission. It is at this point that I would like to add a few further comments. At page 208 of the Report the commissioners set out their reasons for finding that Sir John Spicer’s criticism of Captain Robertson was not justified and that the whole responsibility for the disaster lay with the ‘Voyager’. Likewise, on pages 210 and 211 of the Report the commissioners found that criticism of two of Captain Robertson’s officers, namely the Navigating Officer, Acting Commander Kelly and the Officer of the Watch, Acting Sub-Lieutenant Bate, was not justified either.
It is well known that Captain Robertson, having been relieved of his command of the ‘Melbourne’, resigned from the Navy on a matter of principle. rather than accept a shore-based job. The honourable member for Bradfield has strongly .emphasised this point so I need not underline it any further. Captain Robertson claimed- quite rightly as it now appears - that certain findings of the first Royal Commission and his transfer to a shore job were unjustified. As a result, Captain Robertson resigned and lost his full pension rights. In addition, he abandoned a senior position in the Navy with prospects of promotion to flag rank and possibly ultimately to the top position of Chief of the Naval Staff. In a television interview early last month Captain Robertson is reported to have said: ‘It is not for me to expect compensation. I did what I thought was right at the time.’ Speaking of the findings of the second Royal Commission, Captain Robertson is reported further as having said:
I think the right answer has been achieved now. The important thing is not to pin the blame on someone, but to find out what happened, why it happened and see appropriate steps are taken to avoid it happening again - even retraining if necessary.
I submit, Sir, that these are fine and gallant words, stated by a fine and gallant ex-naval officer, as he is now. It is clear that Captain Robertson was badly wronged. But he was not complaining. As a matter of principle, because he felt that it was what he should do, he did what he did. I happen to know one or two persons in my electorate who served in the Navy during World War II and who know Captain Robertson and knew Captain Stevens and other key people in this whole matter very well indeed. I am quite sure that what I am saying is based on fact.
In a statement dated 13th March of this year, the present Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) announced to the House that after careful consideration the Government had decided to pay Captain Robertson the sum pf $60,000 ‘as an act of grace’. This was referred to by the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) in the speech that he delivered to the House last night. I should like a letter to have been sent to Captain Robertson, perhaps by the Prime Minister, but at least by the present Minister for the Navy (Mr Kelly). I should like him to have received a personal letter in addition to the official letter that, apparently, was sent by the Department of the Navy when the sum of $60,000 was forwarded as an act of grace. The record states that that official letter was acknowledged in suitable and, indeed, very generous terms by Captain Robertson. Having read earlier of an estimate that the loss of salary for extra years of service and of pension rights would represent for Captain Robertson a total financial loss of more than $100,000, some people, including myself, have wondered whether, in all the circumstances, $60,000 is fair and just compensation to him for all that he has forgone, present and future.
Another extremely important consideration, Mr Speaker, is the serious loss to Australia and the Navy of Captain Robertson’s services as a very senior and experienced officer. Here we have a thoroughly trained, highly skilled, senior naval officer, very popular, extremely efficient and almost certainly destined for flag rank. He is now out of the Service altogether because of what appears to have been unjustified criticism by the first Royal Commission, followed by certain action on the part of the Naval Board. I realise that some practical difficulties may be presented by certain promotions that, I understand, have taken place since the date of Captain Robertson’s resignation, but since the findings of the second Royal Commission were made known, I have believed that it would be in the interests of the Navy and of the country if Captain Robertson were offered full reinstatement in a suitable command with an assurance that he would suffer no loss of seniority or pension rights and that he should be able to enjoy every prospect of promotion in accordance with his training and capabilities. I repeat that I realise that there may be practical difficulties in the way of this, but I ask the Minister for the Navy to make some comments in this debate on the points that I have just mentioned. I know that representations proposing such an offer were made to the Cabinet, and I have no doubt that all possible consideration has been given to them. If such an offer had been made and had been accepted by Captain Robertson, the Navy and the country would have regained a first rate officer on whose training a lot of money was spent over many years. I believe that the complete reinstatement of Captain Robertson, had it been feasible and had it been acceptable to him, would have been approved by the Navy generally and certainly by the people of Australia, who, above all else, like to see fair play. I understand that the two officers under Captain Robertson’s command in Melbourne’ whom I mentioned earlier have already been promoted. The Treasurer assured the House of this last night and I for one was delighted to hear that it was so.
Like many others, Sir, I trust that the Naval Board will consider very carefully the suggestion by the second Royal Commission that the policy under which heavy social obligations are imposed on naval officers visiting foreign ports be reviewed. It is clear, from the evidence given before the second Royal Commission, that in the opinion of the Commissioners such a review is desirable. In view of all the tragic circumstances of the disaster, which caused the loss of so many lives, the naval doctors who failed to report that the late Captain Stevens had a serious ulcer condition have been criticised by the Commission also. I hesitate to interpose my own opinion, but I say that had the medical officers done their duty properly, Captain Stevens would almost certainly have been relieved of his command in ‘Voyager’ at some earlier time. It is quite possible that if the naval doctors had acted as it is suggested they should have acted, the whole tragic chapter that we have lived through would have been averted.
- Mr Speaker, if in my contribution to this debate there is some significant repetition of word or of reference, may I make it clear that on my own I prepared my notes some days ago after a careful study of the report of the second Royal Commission and that I have not been closeted with any others who have participated in this debate; and therefore none of my words have been stolen and none of my views have been copied from others. I ask for a balanced attitude in this debate and I suggest that such an attitude is essential. Last evening, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) lost his balance and, using extreme terms in criticism of a public servant, earned a reputation which, I believe, will stay with him for the rest of his career. The Opposition will use every devious means to turn this debate to its own advantage for party political purposes. I am aware of that, but my awareness of it should not mean that I must clothe my words with so much care as to cause my convictions and the point of my remarks to be lost. It should be apparent to all that the conscientiously held views of many in this House must be recognised although they are divergent and are based on divergent aspects of the report. We can have divergent views and we can hold them conscientiously. I believe that the House must learn to respect those who conscientiously hold divergent views. Those of us who are involved must extend respect and I trust receive the same sort of respect from others. After all, the wording of the report supports widely opposing views that have been expressed in this debate. Some of my colleagues whose views are different from mine can quote from the report and believe that it supports their views. I have read the report and I believe that I am entitled to use portions of it to substantiate the views that I put. The broad brush should not be used in this House to suggest that Press headlines have developed our convictions without any intense study of this report. I think that most, if not all, of us who are participating in the debate have literally spent hours grappling with our consciences, endeavouring to evaluate what others have written, taking the transcript of evidence and trying to see where it may lead us.
The Parliament is indebted to a number of people for this report and for the action taken by the Government on the report. Let me declare quite openly and emphatically that the reason for my participation in the debate at this stage, after having refrained from participating in earlier discussions, is to ensure that my own thanks, and, I trust, the thanks of the Parliament, are recorded in the proper manner, and that some individuals and some basic principles are not overlooked.
For one reason or another quite a crosssection of the Australian public was not keen that this second look at the ‘Voyager’ disaster should be taken. There are those in this House who were of a like mind. Sorrow and distress, doubts and fears, pride in and concern for the Royal Australian Navy, and other legitimate stirrings of the conscience, could have motivated such an attitude. AH of these feelings we must respect. On the other hand, there were those who believed that the search for truth and justice must always be supreme, and whilst I am a member of this Parliament it is the search for truth and justice that will, I trust, dictate my outlook.
The layman picks up a report of this kind, running to some 229 pages, and is at somewhat of a disadvantage without legal training because this deals with evidence given in public. It is a complex and well written report but I for one wish that those who compiled it had numbered every paragraph and had given us back references from findings. In going through it, when I came upon a finding and wanted to check on it I took up to half an hour going through the bulk of the report. One wonders why it was not made a little easier for the purposes of reference. However, the Commissioners appointed by the Government performed a long, laborious and most responsible task. They have produced a report which is in parts A to K, and in a moment I want to deal briefly with part I and, later, part J. Honourable members are required to exercise a responsible judgment on this kind of report. Some would suggest that we must simply take it and swallow it, but this I will not accept. Whether equipped with legal training or not 1 believe that each one of us is responsible to the people we represent to evaluate the findings, to satisfy ourselves that no undue emphasis has found a place in those findings and that the findings fairly reflect the evidence. To do this 1 believe we have to put the matter into simple perspective. So I want to take a moment or two to run through the sequence of events.
Shock and genuine distress were registered by the whole of the Australian nation when news of the ‘Voyager’ disaster was flashed to the public on 11th February 1964. As bit by bit the story of the previous night unfolded, this event was referred to as an incredible happening. Now with a greater measure of hindsight and with further evidence available many would feel that only incredible factors could have brought about such a tragedy. This gives us licence to form our views, because we are talking of the incredible. Precious lives were lost in the disaster and a prompt decision was taken to appoint a royal commission. Here I join forces with my honourable friend from Mitchell (Mr Irwin) because in retrospect there would be many who would hold the opinion that a complex technical matter such as this should preferably have been the subject of a Naval Board Court of Inquiry as a first step, with a royal commission appointed later to give close attention to any disturbing features of the report of that Court of Inquiry.
– It would not have been needed.
– That may be the honourable member’s view. The House will recall the developing doubts amongst members of the public as the first Royal Commission proceeded. Then with the eventual release of the report concern was expressed generally because of the criticism of the captain of ‘Melbourne’. We remember the resignation on principle of Captain Robertson and later the publication of
Admiral Hickling’s book ‘One Minute of Time’. We remember the increasingly strong and persistent representations of my colleague, the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess) to have the findings of the Royal Commission reviewed. Suitable reference has been made to the honourable member’s persistence and courage.
With the decision by LieutenantCommander Cabban to sign and make available his statement - which had previously been a confidential statement - because of the injustice he believed had been done to Captain Robertson, a new dimension was introduced into the whole affair. After prolonged negotiations and commendable persistence the decision was taken to debate the Cabban statement. No member of this House needs any reminder from me of the claims and counter-claims that were made in that debate, the personalities that entered into it and the bitterness of the occasion. Let it be remembered, and, 1 trust, imperishably recorded, that what the Parliament was that day seeking was the truth. Was the first Royal Commission deficient? Was any essential information or evidence withheld? Had anything been covered up? As we searched for the truth, as we tried to determine the correct action to be taken, too often the question arose: Is the full story being presented to the House? It became evident to many that only a second Royal Commission could clear this matter, perhaps once and for all.
It was feared by some that the executive was of the mind that no further inquiry was justified. Many private members thought otherwise, and be it to the eternal credit of our late Prime Minister, Mr Holt, that he made up his mind that the request for a new judicial inquiry should be met. So I come to the third stage of this short summary. We had the appointment of the second Royal Commission, with its clear-cut and relevant terms of reference and its team of highly qualified Commissioners and counsel. It engaged itself in a meticulous probing of the evidence, old and new. It undertook an examination - not undesirable - of Service people. Some have said that this should not be done, but I think that in cases of tragedy it is most desirable that Service people should be brought to express their views and give their evidence. I believe that this applies also to public servants. In any case I am of the opinion that this was necessary as the search for the truth proceeded.
As others have said, and as I say again, the Cabban statement was dissected probably more thoroughly than any other document in out memory has ever been dissected. Time does not permit me to comment on the fluctuation of public opinion during that long inquiry. But at last the Commissioners’ report was available, and the review was evidently justified. I will proceed to show why I say this. The criticism of Captain Robertson by the earlier Royal Commission was expunged, and the Government promptly approved of an ex gratia payment of $60,000 to Captain Robertson. Now the Parliament has the report of the Royal Commission in its hands and it has a responsibility to use that report for the benefit of the Royal Australian Navy and probably also of our other Services, with, I trust, a prayer that what has been done will remove the possibility of a similar tragedy occurring in the future.
We must note these aspects of the report: The Commissioners in part I offered some general observations and comments before they proceeded to their findings in section J. They said that a rigid medical examination with complete disclosure of mode of life, symptoms and other matters should be required of a captain or other responsible sea-going officer who has suffered from a duodenal ulcer, before he is permitted to resume sea-going duty. I, in common with others, hope that this finding will have a place in future thinking and application. The Commissioners went on to say that such an examination should be the responsibility of a senior medical officer with a specialist knowledge of the disease. They referred, too, to the necessity for a special medical form so that detail could be correctly recorded. One other suggestion that I think ought to be noted is that the Naval Board should give consideration to some modification of the heavy social obligations imposed oh naval officers visiting ports on an operational cruise.
Turning to the findings, we see that the Cabban statement and the character and credit of Lieutenant-Commander Cabban appear first. I believe that the concluding words of the report relative to these headings on pages 222-3 are worthy of emphasis. Indeed, I suggest that if they are not borne in mind it would be extremely easy to fall into an injustice respecting this officer. The report states:
We were therefore for the most part not prepared to act on his evidence unless it was corroborated. We add that neither the ‘Cabban Statement’ nor his evidence was coloured by any dishonest motive or by any malice towards the late Captain Stevens.
In the findings we are not given a clear measurement of what is corroborated evidence and what is not. It is a pity that we cannot grapple with a percentage. Would it not have been possible for some indication to have been given as to what is corroborated evidence, because there are some who would virtually lead the House to believe that nothing was corroborated? For the critic who would rubbish LieutenantCommander Cabban, this point and others should be remembered, particularly as the Commissioners state explicitly that his statement and evidence were free of dishonest motive and malice..
The drinking habits of the late Captain Stevens attracted these words from the Commissioners:
The late Captain Stevens was not ‘ a drunkard or an alcoholic. Nor did he periodically become intoxicated when ‘Voyager’ was in port.
I ask myself: Why were the words periodically’ and ‘intoxicated’ chosen for this finding? When I searched the evidence I found that they appeared to be offered upon the analysis of the evidence on pages ‘ 128-9, where moderate or mild or slight intoxication is the assessment in respect of instances which the report claims LieutenantCommander Cabban was in error in magnifying. Perhaps some people will not agree fully with the judgment which prompted this particular choice of words - moderate, mild, slight, periodically and intoxicated.
The finding in respect of Captain Stevens’ health is constructed upon the occasions of illness, as tabulated on pages 129-30 and the related evidence. Significant indeed are the words of the finding:
But the conclusion is inescapable that his unwise drinking habits … did contribute to the reactivation of his duodenal ulcer.
If time permitted I should like to comment on other points of the finding, but as time does not permit me to do so I shall refer to one question in respect of fitness to retain command of the ‘Voyager’, which is answered by the finding on page 224. The Commissioners said: the conclusion is inescapable that (answering the question as at 31 December 1963) the late Captain Stevens was then unfit to retain command of ‘Voyager’, because his physical condition did not conform to the very high standard of physical fitness . . . required of a Captain holding that command.
What is the undeniable result of this second inquiry when these and other findings are so presented? I suggest to the House that the following points are undeniable: Firstly, a serious injustice to Captain Robertson and others has been corrected. Secondly, deficiencies in checking on the physical fitness of sea-going officers has been revealed. Thirdly, two medical officers have been found lacking in their duty. Fourthly, social pressures upon a captain whilst in port during an operational cruise might well be modified, as has been suggested. So I believe that the second Royal Commission was justified. The parliamentary system has again demonstrated that the wishes of the majority must prevail and that truth must always predominate in our search for justice.
But as I conclude with words of appreciation again to the late Prime Minister, the honourable member for La Trobe and those who supported him, to the Commissioners and to the counsel, let me point out that these desirable results would never have come about had it not been for a man who under deep conviction signed a statement of what he believed earnestly at the time to be true and relevant information. That man, as we now know, was none other than Lieutenant-Commander Cabban. I ask: Did he do it for payment? Was he prompted by self-aggrandisement? Did he do it for any unworthy motive? Did he seek publicity? If we turn to the report we will find the answers to all those questions. Indeed, the Commissioners themselves have emphasised that Lieutenant-Commander Cabban acted without malice and unworthy motive. So he will be remembered, I trust, for his courage in the face of vilification, of intense pressure, of searching, probing questions upon a statement which was never prepared originally with the precision which one usually applies to an evidentiary document. There was another witness who had his .original statement, destroyed and replaced with another. I believe that Cabban was a man who, wanting to sleep at night with a clear conscience, thought first of an injustice to another man in particular and chose deliberately - cost what it may - to speak what he believed to be the truth. This Parliament and the people we represent should be grateful to LieutenantCommander Cabban and should never discount the basic principles which were inherent in this particular inquiry and report.
- Mr Speaker, when I last spoke on this subject on 16th May 1967 1 deprecated the fact that we were compelled at that stage to debate the facts as we knew them without the opportunity to have them tested by the time honoured methods of a judicial inquiry for which we then asked. We have now had the judicial inquiry, and it has demonstrated, as one might expect, that those of us who called for the inquiry were not entirely right, but neither were we entirely wrong. With respect to those who asked for it, I make no apology for having said what I believed to be true, and what needed to be said. The evidence df my- constituent, Lieutenant-Commander Cabban, now turns out to have been highly relevant and, in major respects, amply corroborated.
There can now be no doubt that the inquiry was justified. I believe that the Government is to be congratulated on the action which ‘it has taken consequent on the findings, both as regards the payment of compensation to Captain Robertson who is, may I boast, another of my constituents, and as regards the directions it has given relating to the future medical examination of senior officers and the consumption of liquor at sea. But it would not be proper for me to leave the matter there. Now at last the possible or indeed the probable cause of this great disaster has been ascertained, and the lessons must be learned.
First, I should mention two things which happened last night which demand a response from me, and I must indeed respond to them. We heard last night at the end of the debate a speech from the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess). I say advisedly that it was a glorious speech, for what is more glorious than a man speaking freely in. this Parliament in defence of what he believes to be right? It was the speech of a man telling the truth as he saw it with passionate intensity. It was the voice of truth, which can never be stilled or silenced. I cannot but identify myself with the honourable member and the substance of what he had to say. The Parliament and the people of Australia are much indebted to him. His family connection with Captain Robertson, which first set him in motion, has long since been transcended by a wider and nobler cause - that of truth and justice itself. It was that cause which inspired him when he spoke to us at a late hour last night.
But there is a second matter, and that is the amendment moved by the honourable member for Bass (Mr Barnard) to the effect that the House:
Deplores the efforts of Ministers to stifle debate on Lieutenant-Commander Cabban’s statement and to suppress documents substantially corroborating it. 1 feel that 1 am too close to the matter and the people involved to view it with impartiality or the appearance of impartiality which is to be desired in anyone passing judgment, for that is what it really is, on such a grave matter which others will decide for themselves, for the documents in the case all are matters of public record. 1 therefore propose to abstain from voting on the amendment.
The initial issue to be resolved by the Commissioners was the truth of the Cabban statement. There is no need for me to repeat what the Commissioners found on this score. If it means that the true picture as now revealed is different from the picture first painted by Cabban - honestly, in good faith, without malice, but in some respects mistakenly, as the Commissioners have found - and if the true picture of Captain Stevens allows us to view him in a more kindly light than heretofore, let us all rejoice in that result.
There is no need for me to traverse the unhappy pattern of Captain Stevens’s life in 1963 for it is carefully set out in the report. But the question which so exercised the Commissioners - whether Captain Stevens’s symptoms, his pattern of life and conduct, were caused by an ulcer or alcohol or both - was really something of a false dilemma. The all-important thing is that these things showed, even to a layman, clear unfitness for command, from whatever cause or causes they sprang.
With all respect to the learned Commissioners, I suggest that if either of them were travelling by aircraft and had become aware that the history of the pilot during the previous year was similar to that of Captain Stevens in 1963, he could not reach the ground fast enough to complain to the airline which had the temerity to employ such a man. The unfortunate copilot, if compelled to fly with such a man, certainly would have felt himself to be, if I may coin a phrase, the central figure in a dramatic situation. Is a lesser standard of fitness to be expected of the captain of a ship at sea engaged in manoeuvres? The close and detailed examination of the evidence by the Commissioners and its careful interpretation were no doubt necessary, but from the time when this pattern became clear there could really have been no doubt that a finding pf unfitness from whatever cause, must follow. Captain Stevens’ unfitness was patent, and would have been obvious at least to anyone closely acquainted with his history during 1963. By the same token, if a man with that history were to be involved in an otherwise inexplicable collision we should not need to possess great perspicacity or any knowledge of the law or medicine to guess that his unfitness might well have been the cause.
I do not canvass the interpretation placed on the facts by the Commission. But it is fair to Cabban to say that the interpretation which he placed on them is very much that which any layman, unaware of Captain Stevens’s medical condition, probably would have attributed to them. Indeed, that interpretation did not go nearly as far as that which was accepted by Dr J. H. W. Birrell and others with whom he consulted. The opinion of Dr Birrell and his colleagues was given in evidence before the Commission but received no mention in the report of the Commissioners, who apparently preferred to accept the contrary evidence of Sir William Morrow, the physician whom Captain Stevens had consulted as a patient shortly before his death, without assigning any reasons for their preference.
Even if Cabban had known all of the facts and the interpretation thus accepted by the Commissioners, it would have been serious enough in all conscience. The emphasis laid by the Commissioners on the three occasions only while ‘Voyager’ was in port when Captain Stevens snowed objective signs of being under the influence of alcohol may serve to obscure the even more pertinent observation that on their own findings Captain Stevens was, on my count, at’ least seven times in one year, including the three, occasions I have mentioned, unfit for duty, sometimes for days at a time, and on each occasion wholly or partly as a result of alcohol. This is surely not the normal conduct of a commanding officer. One is amazed that the Commissioners appear to have been able, to view it so benignly.
The Commissioners tell us that the highest standard of fitness is required for command of a naval vessel. It goes without saying that any failure to measure up to this standard would necessarily carry with it the risk of disaster in the course of naval manoeuvres. Nobody would have realised this better than Cabban. As described by the Commissioners, we see a picture, of a man ‘enthusiastic and dedicated’, a thoroughly competent and efficient Executive Officer’; a man ‘intensely loyal to his Captain - or rather to his Captain as he thought he should be’; a man bearing no malice of any kind towards his captain but a ‘near perfectionist to whom any departure by his captain or fellow naval officers from the rigid standards of propriety he set for himself was abhorrent and inexcusable’. Such a man might at times be difficult to live with it is true, but there can be no doubt that he was in a great tradition. Any navy which had many like him would be fortunate.
Is it to be wondered at that, conscious as he was of the very real dangers presented by the Captain’s unfitness for command, from whatever cause it arose, Cabban should have been, as the Commissioners put it, ‘deeply and genuinely concerned about Captain Stevens’s condition’ and as to what he should do - ‘torn’ as the Commissioners say ‘between conflicting loyalties’ to his Captain on the one hand and to the Navy itself and the men who put their trust in him on the other? In these circumstances I find it difficult to understand why the Commissioners should speak again and again of Cabban’s ‘tendency to dramatise himself - to see himself as ‘the central character in a dramatic situation’ - as if this were to be attributed to some histrionic quirk in his character without rational connection with the situation in which he found himself.
From the point of view of Cabban, judging the facts as he knew them, looking anxiously to the future - or, indeed, from the point of view of the Commissioners, looking with hindsight, in the light of all that is now known, into the past - to me the answer is the same: This man did not merely sec himself as the central character in a dramatic situation. He was at the centre of a dramatic situation - a situation fraught with danger to hundreds of men. No responsible, intelligent and sensitive man - and Cabban was all of those things - could have failed to feel his position keenly. That a man in th:s situation could make errors of judgment, could over-act his part’, as the Commissioners put it, or, unconsciously, ‘exaggerate his lines’, we can readily understand. But to speak of his actions critically or slightingly, or to suggest that to cast himself in this dramatic role was ‘a complete flight from reality’, is so completely at variance with the inference I would draw from the Commissioners’ findings that 1 must, with all respect, entirely reject such a suggestion.
Sitting suspended from 5.58 to 8 p.m.
– At the suspension of the sitting T was saying that I rejected completely the description by the Commissioners of Cabhan casting himself in a dramatic role, as they put it, as ‘a complete flight from reality’. 1 should like to pause for a moment to consider this man Cabban as a human being. It was the late Prime Minister who in his speech on 17th May 1967 sa;d: i have no wish to make a-.y sort of personal attack upon Lieutenant-Commander Cabban. i believe him to be a conscientious man wilh a sense of public duty which he has demonstrated with some courage by the way in which he “las brought these matters forward.
The words were as generous as they were apt. The telling of the truth often requires great moral courage. If it hurts, as it often does, it will frequently trigger off what learned counsel assisting the Commission described as a defence mechanism. The man who tries to tell the truth will find himself denigrated in every possible way, subjected to personal attacks, accused of malicious motives, mental instability, selfrighteous egomania, deliberate lying and fabrication or whatever else appears to present itself as a weapon against him. All these things have happened to Cabban. And perhaps hardest to take is the lack of real appreciation even from those who should be most grateful. Throughout all this Peter Cabban, with the support of his loyal wife, has conducted himself with dignity and courage. His great loyalty to his captain throughout has been amply demonstrated by the evidence and found as a fact by the Commissioners. Thanks to him the names of three innocent men have now been cleared. But even more importantly, we now know the possible - perhaps one might even say the probable - cause of this disaster. Without his evidence none of this would have been achieved. So 1 too. salute Peter Cabban.
Let me pass on to congratulate the Commissioners on their ‘drama in three acts’. It seems that many of us have a hidden taste for dramatics, but the Commissioners wrote better than they knew. Despite their sincere attempts to depict it as a kind of Walter Mitty, it has about it an authentic air of tragedy. Despite some inevitable misconceptions and misinterpretations of the facts by Cabban at the time, it probably represents, the substantial truth of the matter. I for one, having read the report, can never be convinced that Cabban’s fears were groundless or that the disaster was wholly unconnected with the unfitness for command of which Cabban had become aware, even if in the view of the Commissioners he was partially mistaken as to the cause of it. Nor were the Commissioners themselves prepared to find that the disaster was wholly unconnected with that unfitness.
Without being able to say with certainty that the disaster flowed from the captain’s proved unfitness for command, they did reach the following conclusions, in what I believe to be the most important passage in the report, namely:
Certain persons are named: be now determined; but that there were some circumstances peculiar to Captain Stevens and certain physical conditions–
These are listed: which, along with the capacity of all persons for human error, could, in our opinion, account for such an error.
Read in the light of what went before, the circumstances peculiar to Captain Stevens’ referred to in the passage I have just read from the report as being one of the possible causes of the fatal mistake made on the bridge of ‘Voyager’ can only be read as a euphemism for “Captain Stevens’s unfitness for command”. That is what they were saying was one of the possible causes.
The Commissioners make it clear, firstly, that in their view any suggestion that Captain Stevens was in any way adversely affected by liquor on that night must be completely scouted and secondly that Captain Stevens’ mistaken belief may indeed have been caused or contributed to by other factors. Indeed the Commissioners say that they are really ‘unable to say what was the true cause of the error made on the bridge of ‘Voyager’ on the evening of 10th February 1964’. Later they say:
We are unable to identify with complete confidence by whom the error was made although we think it probable that it was made by Captain Stevens.
The point I make, however, is that quite clearly the Commissioners admitted at least the possibility, to say no more, that Captain Stevens’ unfitness was indeed a causeof the cause of the mistaken belief that ‘Melbourne’ was on the port side. This led to that fatal turn which was the cause and the sole cause of the collision.
In sum, Captain Stevens’ unfitness was in the view of the Commissioners quite possibly a cause or the cause of the collision. This is abundantly clear from what they say. It is this which effectively transforms the Commissioners’ Walter Mitty comedy into tragedy. In this and in other respects the Commissioners show a logical inconsistency, a failure to realise fully the significance of their own primary findings or to work out their full consequences in other parts of their report. I have taken the time to stress this matter for I believe that, crucial as it is, it is nowhere stated in the report in these simple terms. It is there but it is not stated in simple terms. And this despite the express recognition by the Commissioners that the present inquiry came into being ‘because of the assertion ot the possibility that the collision was caused or contributed to by the unfitness of Captain Stevens to command’. This assertion has not been rebutted; it has indeed been confirmed by the report, and this will be revealed upon a scrutiny of it. Indeed the Commissioners have recognised that they were justified in varying the findings of Sir John Spicer only because they found that Captain Stevens was unfit and were prepared to accept at least a possibility that his unfitness was causally connected with the disaster.
Important consequences follow; for it means that in the view of the Commissioners, if Captain Stevens, unfit as he was, had not continued in command of ‘Voyager’ on the night of 10th February 1964, the disaster might well have been avoided. I go further. It means that if Captain Stevens had not concealed his illness in the manner found by the Commissioners, by the falsification of documents and otherwise, or if the two named medical officers had not failed in their duty to report Captain Stevens’ condition, in any of these events again the disaster might well have been avoided. The Commissioners tell us that if the Naval Board had known the facts as now established as at 31st December 1963 the Board ‘would not have regarded Captain Stevens as fit to continue in sea command of a destroyer’ and implicitly would then have relieved him of his command.
Hence I say advisedly that, even accepting the primary findings of fact as given to us by the Commissioners, the responsibility of each of these men for this wrongful conduct - that is, Captain Stevens and the medical officers - is grave indeed. Othello bade those who were to survive him: Nothing extenuate, nor set down aught in malice’. The advice is good. We must not set down aught in malice, nor have we the right to pass over or unduly to extenuate that which should properly be condemned. The whole object of the first and second inquiries will be utterly defeated unless lessons are taken sternly to heart by all officers and men of our armed Services. Their loyalty to their comrades or fellow officers or the desire to advance their own careers, natural and even laudable as those things are in themselves, must always take second place to their loyalty to the Service and the nation. Particularly when lives may be imperilled by the failure to perform [heir duty, let ‘Voyager’ remind them to perform it. When the public interest requires them to tell the truth, even if it may reflect adversely on others dead or alive, let Voyager’ remind them to tell it. Lest we forget.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I may have to ask for the indulgence of the House for only a few minutes if my time expires before I finish, and I hope 1 may have it. I must confess that I have felt at times when reading the report that the Commissioners were a little too tolerant of human weaknesses, a trifle too benign in their attitude towards matters such as those I have mentioned. They might well have passed sone strictures, for example, upon the many witnesses who attempted to conceal the truth about Captain Stevens, thus delaying and obstructing the course of justice, instead of findings this and so much else so completely ‘understandable’. The omission of these things from the report will not excuse us from our obligation to express them, if we feel it :o be warranted. [Extension of time granted.] I thank the House. Mr Deputy Speaker, we have had in the last weeks the spectacle of an admiral telling us that the ghost of Voyager’ would be, to use his words, laid in Parliament during this debate. He spoke too soon. Let me say that the ghost is not laid. The ghost of ‘Voyager’, like some guardian angel, will continue to haunt every ship, every aircraft, every military formation of the Australian services if and whenever any officer or man is tempted to conceal facts; vital to their security, or fails to take the action necessary to remedy a situation.
Let us from these tragic events draw sustenance for the future. Let us remember honesty and courage where these were displayed, as they often were, in this long drawn out drama in many acts. Let us rejoice in the final triumph of truth for it has been said:
Truth lies within a little and a certain compass, but error is immense.
Great is Truth, and mighty above all things.
Great is Truth, and it prevails.
Above all things Truth beareth away the victory.
– My learned friend, the honourable member for Warringah (Mr St’ John) has read a long speech to the House, a speech which I venture, to suggest was prepared with meticulous care and read with great care. I indulge myself in the luxury of saying that it is a great pity on reflection that his first’ speech on this matter was not prepared with the same degree of meticulousness. I do not want to read my speech; it is not my habit to read speeches to this House. But I shall read something in a moment on the question of Royal Commissions before I get’ involved in the heat of the argument of this very sad matter. Before I do that, may 1 say it has struck me as being remarkable that those who pressed with such urgency and clarity of argument for this second Royal Commission have now shown themselves, when the report of the second Royal Commission has been presented, to be its most trenchant critics. Rather curious is it not? It is curious to argue in favour of something ‘being done and when a judicial inquiry has been conducted, then to turn round and assail it. I say to my learned and honourable friend from Warringah without any heat that he has done this.
I have the greatest of doubts as to whether the system of Royal Commissions with judges sitting on them can be used in future in these circumstances. The Royal Commission is a very old instrument of inquiry. As far as our people are concerned it goes back to the early Anglo-Saxon days. It is probably one of the oldest systems in the world. It goes back to Doomsday. Commissions were sent out to find what was going on and to report back with their findings. Over the years judges have been sitting on Royal Commissions and reporting on them. But I hope this House, whatever view any of us may take on this matter, will ponder a while and consider the wisdom of appointing judges to Royal Commissions involved in the fury and fierceness of political conflict.
Having said that I would like to read to the House what a former Chief Justice of Victoria had to say on this matter some 40 years ago. The extract I am about to read is reasonably long and I. hope the House will be kind enough to listen to me when I read it.
– Have it incorporated in Hansard.
– I am not talking about tripe. I am talking about great principles. If the honourable member has not sense enough to identify that distinction there is no power on earth that can help him, though I strongly suspect no power on earth could help him. The letter I have referred to is dated 14th August 1923. It states:
After full consideration I have decided that 1 cannot accede to the request of the Government to invite one of my colleagues to act as a Royal Commissioner to inquire into the charges made in connection with the Warrnambool breakwater. I have come to this conclusion after consultation with, and with the full concurrence of, all the Judges of the Supreme Court. As this decision involves a refusal to comply with the expressed desire of the Government, I think it is necessary that I should state fully the reasons which compel me to take this course. The duty of His Majesty’s Judges is to hear and determine issues of fact and of law arising between the King and a subject, or between subject and subject presented in a form enabling judgment to be passed upon them, and when passed to be enforced by process of law. There begins and ends the function of the Judiciary. It is mainly due to the fact that, in modern times at least, the Judges in all British communities have, except in rare cases, confined themselves to this function, that they have attained, and still retain, the confidence of the people. Parliament, supported by a wise public opinion, has jealously guarded the Bench from the danger of being drawn into the region of political controversy. Nor is this salutary tradition confined to matters of an actual or direct political character, but it extends to informal inquiries, which, though presenting on their face some features of a judicial character, result in no enforceable judgment, but only in findings of fact which are not conclusive and expressions of opinion which are likely to become the subject of political debate.
The remainder of the letter is not relevant to this point. The letter is signed by the then Chief Justice, Sir William H. Irvine.
We have had two Royal Commissions into the ‘Voyager’ disaster. The first was presided over by a person known to a great number of people in this Parliament and, I would say unhesitatingly, respected by every person who had anything to do with him. But his findings have been attacked and to the extent, being a Federal Judge, his integrity, implicitly, even though not explicitly, has been attacked. We have had a second Royal Commission and the same thing has occurred. His Honour Mr Justice Lucas of the Supreme Court of Queensland was a member of the second Royal Commission. He was ill and was unable to join in the report but he heard the evidence. But the other two Commissioners have been attacked. Leaving aside with great respect the judges as individuals, 1 ask honourable members, if I can presume to do so: What is to be the end result of appointing judges of the Supreme Court of some States because other States will not allow judges to sit on Royal Commissions? What is to be the result? We are exercising, as it were, some corrosive influence upon the stature and upon the integrity of their Honours. I hope that we have at last seen the end of this sort of inquiry.
I now turn to one of the most extraordinary features of this debate. The Australian Labor Party has failed to join in this debate. I think I am the sixth or seventh speaker from the Government side, without any punctuation by a Labor spokesman. The honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) is sitting in his place sopping wet with self-righteousness and probably looking forward to the prospect of joining the debate. But 1 wonder why he has not spoken before. 1 should have thought he would have had ample opportunity to make up what passes for his mind. He has sal there scribbling away in his best style of Egyptian hieroglyphics. I suppose that the view of the Labor Party has been: ‘Government supporters over there are cutting each other to bits and lacerating their feelings.’ Opposition members have enjoyed this. That is intelligible even to me, but it is a sad thing nevertheless, because members on this side of the House with strong feelings and convictions, and with the opportunity of presenting those feelings to the House, have spoken. I wonder whether my friends opposite could find themselves in the comparable situation of being able to disagree with their colleagues. I disagree with some of my friends, including the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess) whose motto is ‘courage above all things’. I am able to differ with my honourable friend for Bradfield (Mr Turner).
– We will talk when the Minister for Trade and Industry talks.
-Order! The honourable member for Lang will cease interjecting.
– The cackling of peewees does not irritate me at all, Mr Deputy Speaker. 1 suppose my metaphor is a little mixed but I hope members opposite have all got the message. We get no pleasure out of this debate. I repeat something I said a long time ago. I doubt very much indeed whether there would have been the anxiety to have this second Royal Commission if Captain Robertson had received some form of superannuation. I do not want to be vulgar about this, but I think that is the view and I am confirmed in that view at least by the expressed view of my honourable and gallant friend, the honourable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes), who in May 1967 said that whatever injustice could be done in this matter had been done but justice could be done without reopening the ‘Voyager’ inquiry. That was his view and it was my view, and I hold it still. We have gone through, and the country has gone through, the heartache of this second Royal Commission which found its origin in a statement prepared by LieutenantCommander Peter Cabban. This was the statement upon which the Leader of the Opposition rested for his argument last evening. I listened to him with the courtesy that I believe in giving to him, disguising my innermost thoughts. I extrapolated from his argument two principal points. I state them. First, he thundered in the best elocutionary style:
Nor should it be forgotten that nowhere in his statement did Lieutenant-Commander Cabban make the claim that Captain Stevens was a chronic alcoholic or a chronic drunkard.
There is no ambiguity about that, is there? The Leader of the Opposition said that from nowhere in Cabban’s statement could such a conclusion be drawn. I am a little puzzled by all of this, particularly after reading Cabban’s statement. I should have thought that saving the use of the words chronic drunkard’, the irresistible conclusion is that in Cabban’s view the late Captain Stevens was a chronic drunkard.
I ask honourable members to listen while I read paragraph 13 of his statement. It reads:
During the period in the Far East the situation became more than trying, it was quite desperate, as he drank for very long periods in harbour until he became violently ill and then would spend days in bed being treated by the doctor and his steward until he was fit to again start drinking.
I was interested to read that statement. How would honourable members opposite, or the Leader of the Opposition, or my honourable and learned friend from Warringah like this to be said about >them? What sort of conclusion would they draw from that statement? It is also interesting to note that the counsel who appeared for LieutenantCommander Cabban expressed similar views. He took the Commission to paragraph 13 of the statement and said:
This seems to be a good time to jump to paragraph 13. Again this does not allege drunkenness although it has been suggested.
With very great respect to my honourable and learned friend from Parkes (Mr Hughes) and my honourable and learned friend the Attorney-General (Mr Bowen), I say that the legal fraternity in New South Wales is losing its capacity for fluent understanding. Here was counsel appearing for Cabban. Here was the Leader of the Opposition, a Q.C. I do not know the nature of my honourable friend’s practice but on the effort he put up last night I suspect that he would not be able to maintain the upkeep of a collection of mice in a deserted garage. Here were three silks, all of the one opinion. Really and truly, I ask my friends opposite - and this is not a matter for laughter - how would they feel if such a statement were made about them? This is the crunch. A man is ill and rests up and then comes back and it is suggested that he is ready to start drinking again. That was the first argument of the Leader of the Opposition last evening. I take the view that if a person can be blown out on one argument, his other arguments can be forgotten.
The Leader of the Opposition has been blown out on this simply because there is not a person in Australia with two wits to rub together - and that would except some of my friends opposite - who could draw any other conclusion than that what was said in paragraph 13 of the Cabban statement meant that Captain Stevens was a chronic drunkard. This, indeed, was the view expressed with great force by my honourable and learned friend from Warringah during the first debate on the Voyager’ disaster. I turn from this to what I have been driven to identify as being the second argument. I am flattering the Leader of the Opposition in picking out two weaknesses. He said:
Actually, the overwhelming majority of statements of fact contained in the Cabban statement were proved correct.
I do not know about that. This was not a finding of the Commission at all. Some of my friends opposite have said: ‘Cabban started off with no malice in his make up. He was well intentioned and he took the view that if he could put together a form of words he could compel the Government to establish another Royal Commission.’ This is the case, but when it came to the findings of the Commission he was not supported in the essential sense. So if injustice has been corrected on this occasion it has been corrected not out of any well meaning intention on the part of Cabban; it has been corrected through accident. If, for example, there had not been raised in this statement such a compelling charge that warranted investigation this second Royal Commission would never have been set up. This is the case. But it has been by sheer chance - not through LieutenantCommander Cabban - that any injustice has been corrected.
Let me say this to my learned and honourable friend from Warringah and others who support him in this matter-
– Why not give him a lecture in law?
– I do not know what the honourable member said, but I see many like him in the police courts and they probably finish up meeting a justified fate. There are a number of romantic do-gooders. Are we now to take the view that if a person puts together a statement, so long as there is no malice and so long as he is well intentioned, the country is to be put to the expense and agony of an inquiry of this nature? I submit that this is a very unwelcome sort of argument. I submit also that my friends opposite should reflect on that very fact. If in the future they are sitting in Government and some person puts together a form of words making the most outrageous charges, will they then say: ‘We will have an inquiry. Never mind the expense and never mind the hurt’?
The last thing I want to say about the Commission is this: I think it is a great pity that this Commission - and here I find myself in company with some of the critics of the Commission -re-heard Captain Robertson on navigational aspects of the inquiry but did not re-hear all the others. An appellate court which decides to hear a matter de novo hears all the evidence; it does not hear the evidence of one witness and then look at the transcript of the previous case for the remainder of the evidence. This would not be fair. If it happened in an ordinary civil action it would be held to be a denial of natural justice.
This is, I hope, the end of the matter. lt has been a great hurt to many people, not the least of them ‘ being the Stevens family. Honourable members will recall the words:
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ Moves on: nor al) thy Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.
That is the case in this instance. A lot of hurt has been given and there has been a lot of anxiety. I hope that the Parliament and the country will come to this realisation and extend to those who have been hurt their sympathy and their sense of understanding.
– In the intervening years since the tragic disaster which took place on 10th January 1964 we have had this inquired into by two Royal Commissions and now this is the third of three parliamentary debates. 1 must agree with the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen) that the grief and the sorrow which is inevitably associated with the loss of life which occurred has, in the result, been kept fresh and even been compounded by this succession of events. I believe that it is the hope of most honourable members in this House that this last report and this debate will finally lay the matter to rest. One feature of the report which is brought out on page 227 is that we still do not know the precise cause of the error made on the Voyager’. It now seems clear that we shall never know. The documents which may have explained it are at the bottom of the sea and the men who might have told us have perished. But several important matters have been cleared up by this last inquiry.
The Commission has found, first, that Captain Stevens was unfit to retain command of ‘Voyager’ as at 31st December 1963 because his physical condition did not conform to the very high standards of physical fitness required of a captain holding that command; second, that the Naval Board did not know of any of the allegations in the Cabban statement or of any unfitness of Captain Stevens to retain command of Voyager’, and there was nothing that came to their knowledge which ought to have put them on inquiry; third, that counsel assisting the first ‘Voyager’ Commission did not in any way improperly withhold evidence from that Commission; and fourth, that Captain Robertson, Acting Commander Kelly and Acting Sub-Lieutenant Bate must be exonerated from the criticisms made in the report of the first Commission.
It is important to observe that whilst the Commissioners held that they were entitled to review Mr Justice Spicer’s findings, since he assumed on the evidence before him that Captain Stevens was fit, they did not hold that Captain Stevens’ ulcer, which they held rendered him unfit to retain command, was in fact active on the night of the collision. What they did was to proceed to consider the navigational evidence which was before Mr Justice Spicer and to arrive at different conclusions as to his findings on that navigational evidence, and particularly as to the course of ‘Voyager’ immediately before the collision. It was this finding which led them to hold that Captain Robertson and the other officers should be exonerated. Finally, they rejected the allegations of drunkenness and bad seamanship alleged in the Cabban statement and, in so doing, they specifically rejected the suggestion which was made during the last debate that Captain Stevens was affected by alcohol on the night of the collision. This last finding, in which they rejected the Cabban allegations, is important for this debate, particularly because the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) has based his attack upon the Government, on individual Ministers, on the Naval Board and on the Commissioners themselves on the assertion’ that the Commission has. to use his words, ‘in essence thoroughly vindicated’ Cabban.
I suggest that we should examine this remarkable statement. A reading of pages 222 and 223 of this report will establish that the Commission regarded Cabban as ‘an unreliable witness’ and positively rejected the allegations of drunkenness and bad seamanship which were made in his statement. It has been said - I have heard it said in this House - that the allegations were not of drunkenness. The Commissioners made it quite clear that any reasonable man reading that statement must conclude that it was an allegation of drunkenness. It was so treated in the last debate in this House and no-one had any doubt that that is what the allegation was. I have no desire to hurt Lieutenant-Commander Cabban or to challenge the honesty of his motives in the course which he took, but when we come into this place we do not leave reality or commonsense outside. In justice to the people who have been attacked by the Leader of the Opposition I should at least direct attention to the actual findings of the Commissioners on this point. At page 222 they say:
Cabban’s espousal of Captain Robertson’s cause and his tendency to dramatise situations were factors which go to explain but not to justify his inclusion in the ‘Cabban Statement’ of incautious sweeping generalisations about Captain Stevens’ drinking habits and of highly coloured accounts of certain incidents.
Is this a thorough vindication of Cabban? Is it any vindication at all? At page 222 they say:
The ‘Cabban Statement’ on its face suggests that Captain Stevens was frequently intoxicated whenever ‘Voyager’ was in port. Cabban himself in his sworn evidence before us disavowed any intention to suggest that this was the fact and conceded that in some respects the ‘Cabban Statement’ gave a false impression. In fact he only asserted in his evidence that Captain Stevens was intoxicated on two or three isolated occasions throughout the whole Far Eastern cruise.
I ask those honourable members who have read the Cabban statement: Is this a thorough vindication of the allegations in the statement? Of course it is not. The Commissioners continue at page 222:
Our assessment of Cabban is that although he did not deliberately fabricate evidence and his evidence as to the objective facts of many specific incidents was amply corroborated he was in retrospect led to reconstruct some events which occurred during the operational cruise in 1963 to fit in with a general impression he had formed of a pattern of behaviour of Captain Stevens.
This impression led him to put a wrong construction on some incidents and to jump too readily to conclusions. A number of instances demonstrate a marked tendency to see himself as the central figure in a dramatic situation. This sense of the dramatic was a contributing factor which coloured his judgment. We therefore regard him in many instances as an unreliable witness, particularly as to matters involving any exercise of judgment or interpretation of a situation - not because he did not tell the truth as he saw it, but because his vision of the truth was obscured by unreliability of judgment. We were therefore for the most part not prepared to act on his evidence unless it was corroborated. We add that neither the Cabban Statement’ nor his evidence was coloured by any dishonest motive or by any malice towards the late Captain Stevens.
Is that a thorough vindication of the allegations in his statement? They continue at page 223:
The late Captain Stevens was not a drunkard nor an alcoholic.
In other words, they are stating the negative of the allegations as they understand them:
Nor did he periodically become intoxicated when Voyager’ was in port. Neither Cabban nor anyone else suggests that Captain Stevens ever drank when ‘Voyager’ was at sea.
The exhaustive investigation in this Inquiry into his drinking habits over a period from January 1963 to December 1963 has disclosed no acceptable evidence of gross intoxication at any time and only establishes moderate intoxication on one occasion (at the wardroom dinner given in honour of Captain Stevens’s birthday on 23rd March 1963) and mild intoxication on two other occasions (one in April and another in May).
The Commissioners then refer to a summary that appears in more detail in the body of the report. By what strange twist or turn of the mind can one say that this report is a thorough vindication of the allegations in the statement. We do not leave our common sense outside when we come in here.
In the body of the report the Commissioners considered the allegations of Cabban one by one, marshalled all the evidence in relation to each one and made a finding on each one. What I have referred to is only the summary. It was after this exhaustive analysis that they rejected his allegations. I say advisedly that the Leader of the Opposition is indulging in fantasy in suggesting that the report thoroughly vindicated Cabban. And yet th.s was t.ie whole basis of his attack. He asks us to agree that this Parliament and this nation is deeply in Cabban’s debt. He says that if it had not been for the Cabban statement justice would never have been done lo Captain Robertson.
I agree that but for the unfounded allegations of drunkenness and bad seamanship made by Cabban and so strongly pressed by some members in this House, there would not have been a second Royal Commission; there would not have been a clearing of Captain Stevens from the charges made in the statement, and there would not have been a clearing of Captain Robertson from the criticism which had been levelled against him. But this cannot obscure the fundamental and important fact that Cabban’s basic allegations were in fact decisively rejected. No doubt the Leader of the Opposition has indulged in somewhat extravagant praise of LieutenantCommander Cabban and has persisted in his assertion that the report, in essence, thoroughly vindicates Cabban because he realises that unless he makes good that assertion the entire basis for his attack must fail.
The lengths to which the Leader of the Opposition was prepared to press his attack were quite extraordinary. On the assertion, which he maintains in the teeth of the Commission’s findings, that the allegations were substantially true and supported by ample corroborative evidence at the time of the last debate, he attacks three Prime Ministers, three Ministers, the Chief of the Naval Staff, the Permanent Head of the Department of the Navy and finally the Commissioners themselves.
– He went one better than Dr Evatt.
– I do not know whether he thinks that there is a vast conspiracy between all these people. This is the stage that is reached when wild allegations are made. He says he finds it difficult to understand ‘why the Commission should have taken such pains to denigrate Cabban’. Later he says:
Discrediting Cabban was an essential part of the Government’s attempt and the Naval Board’s determination to cover up the whole affair and to refuse a further inquiry. It is disappointing indeed that the Commission, which in essence has thoroughly vindicated him, should have seen fit itself to co-operate or participate in this cowardly effort.
It is against highly distinguished judges that he makes this charge. These are shocking statements by the Leader of the Opposition. What he is saying is that there was a deliberate attempt by the Government and the Naval Board to denigrate Cabban, whom he says is making truthful allegations, and to cover the matter up. He suggests that the Commissioners - who were all men, as I have said and I repeat, of the highest professional standing - were knowingly co-operating and participating in what he describes as a cowardly effort to discredit this man. But the whole foundation for this wild and improper charge is that the Cabban allegations were true. I have already pointed out that this is not so. The basic allegations were firmly rejected. The criticism by the Leader of the Opposition is left without foundation.
The Government accepts the findings of the Commission - all the findings. I am surprised at the extent to which individual members of this House have been prepared to reject the clear findings of the Commission regarding those allegations. This no doubt can be excused in some instances as being due to the fact that they have continued to hold preconceived views in spite of all the detailed evidence before the Commission which supports its findings about the Cabban allegations to the full. The findings of the Commission rejecting the truth of these allegations of drunkenness and bad seamanship actually vindicate the stand which the Government, the Minister and the Naval Board took, rejecting the claim for an inquiry on the only ground on which it was ever sought. I suggest that the Government acted quite properly in opposing an inquiry on the basis that the allegations were not accepted as true. It is the additional features which emerged at the inquiry and which were never the basis of the claim made in this House that have caused some good to flow from the inquiry.
I come now to some remarks which tha Leader of the Opposition made regarding myself. He quoted some words which I had used in the course of my speech in this House during the previous debate. I repeat them:
Indeed, from information in my possession, the correctness of the author’s account of a number of incidents referred to in the statement is denied by the very man who according to tho author is in a position to corroborate it.
The author, of course, was Cabban and the witness that he said would corroborate him was Lieutenant-Commander Griffith. At this point in my speech I was discussing whether, being the first speaker in the debate, I should table the statement which contained these dreadful allegations. It had never been made public up to that time and ultimately was not made public until the first day of the hearing of evidence before the Commissioners. I was stating the reasons why I did not propose to table the statement. I was not prepared to vouch for the correctness of the allegations, and in addition Lieutenant-Commander Griffith, who according to Cabban was in a position to corroborate him, had lived on the ship with him and with the Captain, and was an eye witness, in fact denied the correctness of Cabban’s account of a number of incidents referred to in the statement. I said that, and what I said was true. In fact, I think I was rather gentle in my statement of the effect of Lieutenant-Commander Griffith’s denials. The fact is that Lieutenant-Commander Griffith in his statement repelled the two principal features of the Cabban statement, namely, about bad ship handling and drunkenness. It is true that he recalled a number of incidents to which Cabban referred. In this sense he may be said to have confirmed that those particular incidents occurred, but even his account of them differed from that of Cabban and he interpreted them differently. In particular he denied throughout bad ship handling or drunkenness. What I said was that Cabban’s account of a number of incidents was denied.
The Leader of the Opposition, in support of his suggestion that the Griffith statement substantially corroborated Cabban’s allegations, relied on a statement made by Mr Justice Lucas at a time when counsel for Cabban was cross-examining Mr Landau, the Secretary to the Department of the Navy. Counsel asked Mr Landau whether he agreed that the Griffith statement contained substantial corroboration for Cabban. That is to say, it was put to the witness in the box: ‘Do you think there is corroboration in this statement?’ Mr Justice Lucas interposed to stop this line of questioning. He did so on the ground that the only question about the meaning of the document was whether the document on its face bore this interpretation and it could not depend on what witnesses said about it. I quote from the transcript what Mr Justice Lucas actually said:
I do not want by any means to stop you but surely this is a matter of comment? Surely it must appear from the statement, as a matter of inference, that it contains substantial- corroboration. I do not see that Mr Landau’s opinion on the matter affects it.
What His Honour was saying was not that it did appear from the statement but, in effect, that if Mr Hiatt wished to make that contention and establish it, it would have to appear from the statement and not from the witness. On whether it did so appear from the statement, Mr Justice Lucas himself expressed no view. It is quite wrong for the Leader of the Opposition to use that intervention in cross-examination to support his claim that there is corroboration. In fact, he omitted one statement by the Chairman as to whether the statement of Lieutenant-Commander Griffith constituted corroboration. This statement supports precisely the view that I had taken in the debate. Sir Stanley Burbury made his comments at the conclusion of LieutenantCommander Griffith’s evidence. In the witness box, Griffith gave evidence broadly similar to what he had said in his. statement of 15th May 1967, which has been referred to. [Extension of time granted.] I thank the House, Mr Deputy Speaker. This statement by Sir Stanley Burbury occurred at the end of Griffith’s evidence, which had been broadly similar to his statement of 15th May 1967. Naturally, on some incidents of the cruise he had supported Cabban, but not on the crucial issues. It was the practice before this Royal Commission, when a witness finished his evidence - that is, evidence led from him by counsel assisting the Commission - for counsel for Cabban to go first in cross-examining him and for counsel for the relatives of Captain Stevens to go last. On this occasion, immediately Griffith finished his evidence counsel for Cabban leapt to his feet and asked that he be allowed to go last. These were the words he used:
We do not regard this witness as being anything but hostile to the position for which we contend.
In effect, he said: ‘The order must be altered for this witness. He does not corroborate Cabban.’ And that is what happened. It is clear that Cabban’s own counsel did not consider that Griffith corroborated Cabban, and after some argument the Chairman acceded to bis request. Dealing with the contention of counsel for the relatives of Captain Stevens that he should still be allowed to cross-examine last, the Chairman said this about the Griffith statement:
We have taken the course with witnesses who will broadly have been called with a view to corroborating the Cabban allegations to leave you-
Counsel for the relatives of Captain Stevens - to last, because obviously you ought to be left till last but this witness hardly falls into that category, 1 should have thought.
That was the view of the Chairman of the Commission. It could hardly be said that Griffith fell into the category of witnesses who corroborated Cabban. The effect of Griffith’s statement was to negate the Cabban allegations. It is wrong to suggest, as the Leader of the Opposition has sought to do, that Griffith substantially corroborated Cabban. The significant feature of Griffith’s statement is not only that it denied important features of the allegations -contained in the Cabban statement but also that it failed to provide corroboration on important aspects of those allegations.
There is one other aspect to which the Leader of the Opposition has referred - a statement by Dr Tiller, which was destroyed. That matter has already been dealt with by the honourable member for Higinbotham (Mr Chipp). The Royal Commission has found that there was no improper motive in the destruction of the written comments. Dr Tiller had clearly indicated his dissatisfaction with bis original comments and had expressed his desire to give further consideration to the matter and to furnish fresh and expanded comments. It is difficult to understand how the Minister for the Navy could properly have disclosed the original comments when the author had declined to agree to their publication and had expressed his desire to withdraw them and substitute more accurate comments in lieu of those which he wished to correct. It is all very well for the people to say here that the Cabban allegations are still correct in the face of what the Commissioners have said. I suggest that the stand taken by the Government has been vindicated, notwithstanding the fact that other incidental benefits have in fact flowed from the Royal
Commission. These allegations were rejected by the Commission. In closing, Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to say that I reject entirely the charge that in any way I misled this House or suppressed any material information. I reject entirely the similar charge levelled against my ministerial colleagues. I suggest that the whole speech made by the Leader of the Opposition must bring his own credibility gravely into question in this House.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise with a great’ deal of reluctance, because it is my feeling that in many ways this matter has been brought to what could well be a conclusion. The Attorney-General (Mr Bowen) has just said that he hoped this would be the requiem -the end of the matter, after three long debates and two Royal Commissions. I share that . hope in many ways. The public, I think, have long since lost genuine interest in the long drawn out1 Royal Commission and its findings. But there are many questions which, unhappily, will never be answered. Last night, we listened to a tirade from the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam). He made a most unfortunate speech. It did little to add to the dignity with which the proceedings of the Royal Commission and the actions of the Commissioners, in their endeavours to arrive at reasonable conclusions, were clothed. In debating, the Leader of the Opposition made some points which were rhetorical and some which need answering, but there were many points which could not be answered and never will be answered. The Prime Minister (Mr Gorton), who has come into this House from another place and taken up a task not of his own making, followed the Leader of the Opposition in the debate. I am certain that everyone who heard the Prime Minister will agree that he played a very wise and very capable innings. He stuck to his line. He stuck to his acceptance of the findings of the Royal Commission. He pointed out, to the satisfaction of most people, I am sure, the answer to a great number of the charges raised by the Leader of the Opposition. I am sure that the honourable gentleman’s attack on the Prime Minister in his former role as Minister for the Navy served only to illustrate the fallacy of much of his own attitude on a personal level. No-one looking at the history of the Prime Minister in that role could imagine that he could be guilty of a charge that he was a failed Minister for the Navy.
The Leader of the Opposition referred to a series of incidents which had occurred, and which have been brought’ to the public notice, in the lifetime of the Royal Australian Navy. It is our Navy that he was talking about. I. wondered at the time what large industrial undertaking in Australia could not point to a series of similar incidents at the industrial level. Any of the great enterprises of this nation and any of the. navies of the world must expect events of such a kind to take place. The men of the Navy follow a dangerous occupation. They are not in moth balls. They are preparing for bitter conflict. When accidents like the ‘Voyager’ disaster take place, they should not be the subject of cheap gibes that they have occurred because the Chief of the Naval Staff, the Minister for the Navy or the Prime Minister is incompetent. This is a ridiculous line of argument for the Leader of the Opposition to adopt.
The second Royal Commission has righted some of the injustices which, I believe, were done earlier to the captain of the ‘Melbourne’ and his subordinate officers. The righting of these injustices is all to the good. But one or two things still remain to be considered. Because I am personally involved, I believe that I must direct attention to them. I do so in what I hope is an attitude of complete reasonableness, in full appreciation of the fact that there are others who disagree with me and to whom I would ascribe complete integrity, as I shall point out as I proceed.
I feel that the basis on which the second Royal Commission was founded, and the atmosphere in which it was brought into being, meant that at the very beginning there was set up a species of straw man. Let me explain what I mean. We were told by the Prime Minister - and rightly so, and I completely accept what he said - that when Dr Tiller was asked certain questions in certain circumstances he made certain replies. But as these replies and statements were confidential, and were given as between people in the Service giving background information, perhaps off the cuff, he was allowed to retract and submit another form of statement that would stand up to his own sworn testimony before a
Royal Commission. To me there is something unsatisfactory about this, having in mind that the statement of Peter Cabban was obtained in similar circumstances, dictated off the cuff, without recourse to notes or diaries. I wonder how many of us, confronted with a tape recorder and asked to give our impressions of a series of incidents that occurred some years before, could recount, in the fashion of this strange document, that series of incidents in such a way that the account would stand up to even a small fraction of the amount of examination to which this statement was subjected. I would have been more satisfied had Lieutenant-Commander Cabban been warned that the statement had passed out of the confidential category and had become something to be examined judicially in a court, and had he been given the opportunity to submit another version in the same way as Dr Tiller was allowed to do. However, I make that point in passing.
In my estimation it was a tragedy that the second Royal Commission became necessary. I have been referred to by the Leader of the Opposition, and also in the Royal Commission itself, as having been the author of certain documents that were received by the late Prime Minister. I intend, therefore, to point out to the House the nature of those letters. They were, I understand, sent by the Prime Minister to the Navy and by mischance, or a series of mischances, they later came to be used in the Royal Commission. This I accept completely, but I would like to let the House know in substance what was in those letters. On 4th May 1967, which was a week or more before the debate commenced, I wrote to the Prime Minister and said this:
From brief inquiries I have made of personal friends who have served with the late captain of the ‘Voyager’, I have little doubt that he was a man with grave problems relating to alcohol. I have never conferred with John Jess on this matter, but pursued my own line because of my former connection with the Navy, and because I could not explain certain things which happened on that night without coming to the conclusion that the ‘Voyager’ had been commanded to take a course at the fatal moment by a man incapable of normal judgement. My independent inquiries led me to the same conclusion, that her captain was impaired in his performance in some way.
Sir, I would immensely deplore any raising of this matter in public or in the House, and will urge John Jess not to do so. But this does not mean that I do not equally strongly urge you to consider thai leading figures in the Navy are covering up, from no doubt good as well as from personal motives, the fact that this man was appointed to command one of H.M.A. Ships when he was known to have a problem with drinking to excess. Young men died from that dereliction of duty, if this was. as I am firmly led to believe, reasonably common knowledge in the Navy. Need I say more in urging that we drop all the legal talk of whether or not proof of his condition on the night in question can be obtained, and look closely at the fact of whether there is substance for my statement. The inquiry of course should be secret and not through Service channels to serving officers alone.
I hope this will serve to convey my deep feeling of distress and responsibility in this matter.
On the following weekend the honourable member for Warringah (Mr St John) told me he had an opportunity to interview Cabban and he asked me, because I had been in the naval service, whether I would like to join him. I did so. I believe that on that occasion we subjected LieutenantCommander Cabban to a very thorough verbal examination, indeed. After that interview 1 went home and made a short note summarising my opinion of the man. This is what 1 wrote down:
Cabban spoke with the complete assurance of truthfulness, with completely normal hesitation over names, dates and places, often quite naturally filled out as other parts of the story brought recollection. He has a few points of over-emphasis, but remarkably few for someone who has been through his experiences. It is a great tribute to his training. His flimsies are enough to destroy any suggestion of disgruntlement or disloyalty. Some of his most telling evidence was drawn out in the course of questioning.
Afterwards the honourable member for Warringah and I compiled a long letter setting out the substance of what we had discovered in this discussion with Cabban. On 8th May we wrote to the late Prime Minister, and we said:
Further to my letter to you last week, I have now had the opportunity to investigate further this matter and to consider it in conjunction with Mr St John, with whom I have had long conversations over the weekend. This letter represents the result of our investigation and consideration of the matter to date - necessarily incomplete, but as we believe, not easily brushed aside even at this stage.
St John arranged to see Cabban. He had not met Cabban previously although the latter also turned out to be a constituent. St John invited me to be present at his interview with Cabban. St John and I saw him together for about two hours and St John continued speaking with him for about another hour on Sunday afternoon.
Cabban is a man who won high praise foi his service in the Navy. He produced his ‘flimsies’, in which it is notable that his loyalty is emphasised again and again. In a document produced he was described as a man of ‘high moral character’. He himself says that he has ‘never stopped being an idealist’, and we are inclined to believe that this is right. He is perhaps one of those ‘awkward’ people of whom there are all too few in am- profession who will insist upon advocating the unpopular view (‘no drink at sea’) even if other people don’t like it, provided they believe it to be right; and of the type which will insist upon speaking the truth even if it is not comfortable to hear. Bui his conduct certainly does not appear to have been that of a man with a grudge against the Navy or personal antipathy towards Stevens.
We feel that Cabban’s conduct was consistent. The account he gives is detailed and circumstantial. He has the utmost confidence that it will be supported by persons no longer in the service whose names have been supplied to us. We And it incredible that he could be consciously lying.
There is nothing in his record or his demeanour tj indicate that this is so and we fear that it would take more than written denials by serving officers to persuade us that either is the case.
But, as we say, to suggest that Cabban is lying or suffering from delusions, that we cannot accept, on the information at present available to us. Indeed, there are other circumstances to suggest that some people did not wish 10 have this evidence adduced at all.
Important consequences may follow it one comes to accept Cabban’s allegations. Very probably, indeed almost certainly, officers senior to Stevens would have known of Stevens’ alcoholism. If so, they could be blamed for not having taken steps to remove him from his command and it is clear enough that they might have an interest, quite apart from their loyalty to the Navy, in concealing the truth of this matter.
We are writing this letter in the desire to warn you, with great respect, of the possible danger in acting or speaking in this matter on the safe assumption that Cabban is lying or suffering from a delusion. Wc do not believe that this matter should be re-opened for further public enquiry, but we do feci, nonetheless, that the matter should be further investigated, for it has important implications for the Government, the Navy and perhaps our national security.
We believe that any injustice to Captain Robertson, although not unimportant, is of minor importance compared with the broader issues which we have mentioned.
Sir, I submit that we were acting properly in the support of our Prime Minister and our Government in putting in the hands of the Prime Minister the evidence as we saw it at the time, and I believe that we acted properly by sending the information to him confidentially. The fact that it later became non-confidential was not our. fault, and I accept that it was a matter of complete mischance. Nevertheless this letter was referred to during the Royal Commission by Admiral McNicoll in, I believe, the most unhappy way. The tentativeness of the way in which we said such things as ‘On the evidence at present available to us’ and ‘our investigations though necessarily incomplete’ and other statements was dealt with by Admiral McNicoll in the witness box in this way:
It is baffling that Dr Mackay and his associates are prepared to accept the unsworn testimony of a man who failed to make the grade in the Navy against the word of serving officers however senior.
He took out of context completely the things that we had quoted from his flimsies, such as ‘the man is of high moral character’. He ascribed that to my -own judgment and later simply said that I had described Cabban as being awkward, without going on to refer to the kind of awkwardness that I have already indicated in this letter.
I do not mention these matters simply to dredge up something in the way of acrimony, because what took place, as I have accepted, happened through a series of mischances. But reiterating, as I do, in my role as a member of Parliament, a layman and a juryman, if you wish, in this situation, I want to say that 1 am unhappy about certain matters which I feel have emerged from the Royal Commission, particularly concerning the treatment of Cabban. What kind of hope could any of us have had under the circumstances in producing a document - 3 years after something happened and speaking off the cuff into a tape recorder - that would have stood up to the kind of scrutiny to which the Cabban statement has been subjected? Cabban thought that he was providing a confidential statement as background to something said by another officer. I share that position because I, too, wrote a confidential document which later proved to be non-confidential.
I conclude by saying that I hope the Government will act strenuously on many of the matters which have emerged as a result of this Commission. The consumption of alcohol at sea, particularly by watchkeeping officers, has no place in a modern destroyer, particularly when we consider the speed and capabilities of modern destroyers in contact with the fleet. It has no more place in a ship at sea in our Navy than it has in a civil airliner where, as we all know, the flying crew is not allowed to indulge for 24 hours before going on duty. My last word is to congratulate Cabban on his fortitude, integrity and devotion to duty as he saw it. I accept completely as to what was said by the Ministers who have spoken in this debate and in the earlier debate that they spoke with integrity. They presented the truth as they had dredged it, sifted it and examined it. They believed, and still believe, .that they were presenting the truth to the nation. I accept this and at the same time I accept no less for the fundamental motives of LieutenantCommander Cabban.
– I compliment the last speaker, the honourable member for Evans (Dr Mackay), on an excellent contribution to the debate. I agree with most of what he said. I cannot, however, agree with his statement that all of the Ministers spoke truthfully and gave the facts as they were able to dredge them up. I do not believe that this is so. I believe that a lot of the truth was suppressed from the Ministers and that the Ministers completed the job by suppressing much of what they had from the Parliament.
We on this side of the Parliament regret very much the circumstance that has made this debate necessary. I speak for every member of the Opposition when I say that our hearts go out to the widow and family of the late Captains Stevens. They have gone through a terrible ordeal. Although it is a long time since the terrible tragedy occurred, we must feel for them in this moment. When the incident is debated in the Parliament and when it is mentioned in the Press it must bring back to these poor unfortunate people a feeling of great sadness and loss. We equally feel for the families of the other eighty-two officers and ratings who lost their lives as a consequence of this terrible accident at sea that night. We regret that it has been necessary to have two Royal Commissions in order to discover the facts. However, we place on record the important fact that the second Royal Commission would not have been necessary had the Government not carried out its operation cover up, as one of the Government supporters so aptly described it. It was because the Naval Board had attempted to cover up the facts that we were forced to put the unfortunate relatives of the eighty-two people killed that night through this terrible ordeal again. It has been a hurtful experience for all of us to have to take part in this debate, but unfortunately there are occasions when this kind of exercise has to be completed. A coronial inquiry is just as sorrowful and causes just as many heartaches as this debate does to the dependents of those who were killed that night. But it has to go on because we must always discover the truth, and these inquiries are the only way in which we can discover what has happened. If we can discover what happened, only then do we know how to prevent it from occurring again.
I agree completely with my Presbyterian friend, the honourable member for Evans, when he said: ‘Let us drop this legal talk.’ I do not reflect upon the honourable member for Warringah (Mr St John). I was really struck with this thought as a result of the modern Edmund Burke of Australia, the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen) who is the one, more than any other honourable member, to whom I say: Let us drop this legal talk.’ Let us drop it and get down to common sense facts and talk about the incident in a language that the ordinary citizen of this country can understand. What are the facts? I interviewed Lieutenant-Commander Cabban for a long time. I interviewed him on several occasions. I am firmly convinced that he is a man of integrity, honour and impeccable truthfulness. He is a clean living man and has very great and deep morals. This was the man who, knowing in advance what was before him, had the courage to do this very thing. He was not some simpleton who entered into and embarked upon this exercise not knowing the consequences.
He said to me: ‘I know I will be vilified, denigrated, condemned and ridiculed because of the stand I am taking. I go into this thing with my eyes wide open, knowing that it will take years off my life. But I do it because I have the burning belief that something wrong occurred that night, that so far this terrible wrong has not been exposed, and that unless it is exposed it could happen again.’
Whilst I do not like talking about the late Captain Stevens because he is not here to defend himself, neither are the other eighty-one officers and ratings who went down with him here to defend themselves, and they have as much right to be protected. Their lives were as sweet and as dear to them as was the life of the person responsible for their death. We have no right at all to say that this one man is more important than the other eighty-one officers and ratings whose lives were lost as a consequence of Stevens’s unfit condition that night. Whether he was unfit as a consequence of a duodenal ulcer or through over drinking is completely beside the point. The Royal Commission has found that he was unfit that night to be in charge of that vessel. That is the important thing.
The Minister for the Navy (Mr Kelly) has not come into the debate yet. I compliment him for showing more judgment than his predecessors did in keeping out of the matter as long as he could. But being Minister for the Navy he will reluctantly have to enter into it before the night is out. I am pleased to notice, if I am not mistaken, that he wrote his own speech, which I do not think his predecessors did, and he may come out of it a little bit better than they did. I think that if he keeps that up while he is Minister for the Navy he will probably remain Minister for a lot longer than his predecessors did.
As soon as this gallant, brave and courageous Cabban decided to enter the fray we heard in this place rumoured aspersions cast upon his reputation and character. I heard them and he heard them. Everybody heard them. They were circulated among members on the Government side, in particular, in order to try to deter them from supporting the efforts of the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess), the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) and the honourable member for Warringah. I salute them.
There has been a lot of saluting done in this debate. I salute the honourable member for Warringah, the honourable member for La Trobe, the honourable member for Bradfield and others who have supported them because it took almost as much courage for those men to oppose their Government as it did for LieutenantCommander Cabban to oppose the Navy.
In this debate we have seen examples of the old school tie tradition; of boys of the old brigade sticking together. A case in point was the speech of the honourable member for Batman (Mr Benson). These people do not care a damn what happens to the ratings and the underlings. All they worry about is cringing before, and crawling after the brass hats of the Navy. It has always been the same. These people could not care two hoots what happens to the ratings as long as the establishment is preserved. This is all .they worry about.
I want once again to be my normal self - to be quite dispassionate and objective about this matter. I want to make my contribution free from undertones of party political bias. There is no doubt thai the boys of the old brigade - the McNicolls and men like the honourable member for Batman - are a law unto themselves. They are a coterie of selfish individuals who believe that they are the Navy; they believe that the brass hats could run the Navy without any help from the ratings and lieutenants and other people in the Navy. Of course, they are wrong. We know that the honourable member for Batman is nowhere near admiral class but he likes to think that he is. We know that he even arranges for the telephonists in this building to page him as Captain Benson.
There is no doubt that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) was completely correct when he attacked the Secretary of the Department of the Navy. I do not derive much pleasure from attacking public servants, especially those who are compelled, by virtue of their position, to sit in this chamber unable to answer. But it is well known that the Secretary of the Navy withheld vital information from his Minister. It is well known that he had to re-enter the witness box to explain something that took a little explaining. The time is fast coming when we will have to take stock of the Commonwealth Public Service Act so as to deal with civil servants. We will have to take stock of the legislation governing the Services. If public servants and officers of the various armed Services are to be free to mislead their Ministers and to suppress information from them, causing them embarrassment - sometimes forcing them to resign - the appropriate legislation will have to be altered so that whenever these things occur the officer responsible for a Minister resigning because he has received false information or through not having received information may be dismissed from the Public Service. Such a person should not be able to rely on the permanency of employment which he now enjoys. These public servants are bringing this action upon themselves by the way they withhold information from the Parliament. They should remember that the Parliament is the instrument of the people of Australia. We in this place, not the public servants, are the people who govern this country, although in reality public servants may be justified in .thinking that they govern. Perhaps they do in fact, but this is only because we allow them to do so. We should be prepared to tell them that if a public servant ever again misleads the Parliament, suppresses information or gives untruthful information, he will be dismissed as soon as his guilt is proved.
In this unfortunate incident drink plays an important part. We know that total abstainers will be the first to forgive those who are not able to abstain. Those who are not able to abstain should be the first to forget about those who are likewise afflicted. There is clear evidence that Captain Stevens was addicted heavily to drink. But I would like to comment on the way in which the Royal Commission dismissed evidence which would have supported Cabban’s evidence relative to over indulgence by the late Captain Stevens. During the inquiry special emphasis was placed on the evidence of Sir William Morrow. He said that Captain Stevens took amphojel regularly. I have occasionally imbibed myself, as I suppose you have, Mr Speaker, and no doubt as have other honourable members. I know that the best cure for such a condition is amphojel. I always take it; I can recommend it. If one is sick from over indulgence, amphojel is an excellent cure. Sir William Morrow said that Captain Stevens used to take it regularly. Perhaps he did. Captain Stevens may have had to take amphojel regularly because he was suffering from the complaint for which I occasionally take amphojel. Sir William Morrow said: ‘Alcohol could certainly enhance his duodenal ulcer symptoms and could explain the drowsiness and fatigue that occurred on several occasions.’
We must not forget that Captain Stevens dined with Admiral McNicoll in January 1963. I would be surprised if they did not also wine together on that night. I venture to say that because of his wining and dining with the gentleman who, unfortunately, is the subject of this exercise, Admiral McNicoll knew perfectly well about his condition - both his ulcer, if he had one, and his drinking habits. I will deal in a minute with the matter of Captain Stevens’s ulcer. Captain Stevens had been off liquor for a long time. Who knows, this fateful night when the Captain drank with Admiral McNicoll may have been the night on which the Captain ended his abstention.
The evidence shows that when Captain Stevens saw Sir William Morrow he gave the physician the impression that he drank too much on shore having regard to the condition of his stomach. Dr Day did a liver function test on Captain Stevens at the request of Sir William Morrow. I would like to ask anybody with any medical knowledge why Sir William Morrow wo aid order Captain Stevens to have a liver function test. Was it to discover whether be was suffering from cirrhosis of the liver or some other disease caused by an excess of alcohol? What else was he looking for? The obvious reason for ordering a liver function test is to ascertain whether the liver has been damaged by too much alcohol. But the remarkable thing about all this is that the two most sensitive alcohol tests that should be taken in conjunction with a liver function test were either not taken or the results were suppressed. This is the evidence. It appears in the secret documents which honourable members may peruse in the Parliamentary Library. If honourable members pass through two or three little doors they will come to a room in which they will see all the secret exhibits which so far have been withheld from the Press and everybody else except members of Parliament.
Speaking of Captain Stevens, Sir William Morrow said that apart from some horseplay, which amounted to crossing the wardroom on his hands and knees, he was able to walk to one side of the wardroom. What a remarkable feat for a man with an ulcer - to walk from one side of the wardroom to the other. I congratulate the man; he must have been in rare condition. I suggest that evidence discloses that Captain Stevens found difficulty in doing this because he was well and truly under the influence of alcohol that night. In his evidence Sir William Morrow said that Captain Stevens s face was alight with pleasure and that his manner was very buoyant. I know something other than ulcers which will make a person’s face alight with pleasure and his manner very buoyant. The evidence is that on the occasion of the birthday party, when the person presiding made a speech about Captain Stevens, who was the guest of honour, Captain Stevens did not stand up and he mumbled a reply that could not be understood. Then the profound observation is made that some alcohol appears to have been taken as a consequence of the evening’s meal, but ‘I am convinced that this condition was mainly due to the ulcer’. What is the condition? He could not stand up and was able only to mumble a reply.
Nothing has been said about Dr Birrell’s report. It is hidden away in this little room about which I spoke and I suggest that honourable members go there and see it for themselves. This is what Dr Birrell had to say in Exhibit No. 183:
I consider this man to be suffering from alcoholism, there being no reasonable alternative.
He then refers to the definition of alcoholism. It was given by Piper and he says that he accepts Piper’s definition, which is:
Drinking in amounts sufficient to interfere with the drinkers health or social functioning.
A decision as to whether Captain Stevens was suffering from alcoholism depends on the meaning of the word ‘alcoholism’. Does it mean a chronic state in which the man cannot drag one leg after the other for 24 hours a day for 6 months on end? Or does it mean, as Piper says, drinking in amounts sufficient to interfere with the drinker’s health or social functioning?
The significant aspect of the ulcer, which was supposed to be in evidence long before 1959, is that when the X-ray was taken in Sydney in 1959, according to Dr Birrell, it showed not only that there was no ulcer but also that there was no scarring. The report goes on to say that no cirrhosis of the liver was evident but adds that only one in every ten alcoholics suffers from cirrhosis of the liver. This man, being only 42 years of age, apparently was in the nine-tenths that did not suffer from cirrhosis.
Dr Birrell referred to the great discovery by Dr Morrow that he had not been drinking to the extent that there had been cerebral damage. He was saying that Captain Stevens had not become a lunatic as a consequence of excessive drinking as there was no cerebral damage. Referring to the misbehaviour in the wardroom, Dr Birrell said that Captain Stevens acted like a 16-year-old boy being drunk and not like an adult non-alcoholic. All this evidence apparently was cast to one side by the Royal Commission. None of it was brought out in the report to show that Cabban was telling the truth when in fact he must have been. [Extension of time granted]
Do not let us forget that Dr Tiller also said at one time that he thought that alcohol was the prime cause of the trouble. Dr -Birrell then says that it is easy to explain why Captain . Stevens’s conduct began to improve at lunch time because by this time his blood had attained the normal alcohol content and finally fatigue would overcome him and cause a sudden collapse. He made another relevant, remark. He said that it is not normal fora man to want brandy in his coffee first thing in the morning; and I do. not think it is. Even the worst of us here has not reached the point of wanting brandy in his coffee in the morning. The doctor said that he thought the pattern displayed in these events was brought about primarily by alcohol misuse. Sir, of course it was.
The Leader of the Opposition has been attacked for allegedly saying that Captain Stevens was a chronic alcoholic. That is not what he said at all. I want to make it clear that what the Leader of the Opposition did was to refer to. a statement made by the honourable member for Warringah.
– Which he should never have made.
– The evidence seems to suggest that there was every justification for it. The Leader of the Opposition, however, said nothing of the kind. He has been attacked for daring to expose the points of weakness of the Government. Attacks have been made upon him by nearly every honourable member on the Government side who has spoken, and I include those who have supported Lieutenant-Commander Cabban. There is no doubt that honourable members opposite recognise the superiority of the Leader of the Opposition over their Prime Minister (Mr Gorton), who was appointed by the senators and by the oncers’ in the Parliament over the old guard who would probably have done a much better job. Honourable members opposite also fear the great clarity of mind of the Leader of the Opposition. They fear his capacity to expose the Government’s duplicity and the Government’s weaknesses. They see the Leader of the Opposition as Australia’s Prime Minister after the next election. They know that their numbers are up and they must do something about it.
I have already proved that it is possible for two Royal Commissions on the same evidence to reach different findings. It would be possible for another commission - I am notsuggesting one, of course; we do not do that - on the evidence of Dr Birrell to come to the conclusion that Captain Stevens was an alcoholic. The two Royal Commissions that we have had already have reached different conclusions on the evidence of the -position of the two ships and they could -reach different conclusions on other matters if the inquiry were held again.
The Government’s credibility is at issue here. And so it ought to be. This is not the first time that this has been so. If we go back far enough over the Government’s record we can show that the credibility of certain Ministers was at issue on such matters as the tapping of telephones. The Prime Minister, the Attorney-General at the time and others assured us that telephones were not being tapped. We later discovered that while they were saying this in the Parliament telephones were, in fact, being tapped and that they were not telling the truth. The Government also misled us over the ‘Voyager’ issue in the very first instance. Three Ministers said here that it was not possible to corroborate the evidence that Lieutenant-Commander Cabban could give. That was not true. Untrue statements were made to the Parliament about the VIP flight. Untrue statements were made to the Parliament about the water torture in Vietnam. I exonerate the Minister for the Army (Mr Lynch) from this, because he was the victim of the situation that I mentioned earlier. Wrong information was given to him or an officer failed to supply to him information which it was that officer’s duty to supply.
That officer should have been dismissed immediately. If the Act does not permit this to be done, it should be altered so that the Minister can sack the officer on the spot and send him back to civilian life. Wrong information has been given to the Parliament about the cost of the Fill aircraft. Time and time again we have been misinformed about these matters. Time and time again we have been misinformed-
Mr SPEAKER (Hon. W. J. Aston)Order! The honourable member is getting a tittle away from the subject that is being debated. I suggest that he come back to the business before the House.
– If I may I want to ask honourable members opposite a question. It has been said in evidence in support of the statement made by Lieutenant-Commander Cabban that Captain Stevens had a triple brandy at sea on the night that the accident happened. Would you say, Mr Speaker, if I may address you directly, that if the hostess of a plane rushed past you with a triple brandy when you were 35,000 feet in the air and said that it was for the captain or the pilot, you would feel very happy about it? Would you not say: There is something in what Clyde Cameron said about a man not having a triple brandy when in charge of an aircraft?’
-Order! I suggest that the honourable member direct that question to someone else.
– Very well, Mr Speaker. The honourable member for Moreton lamented the fact that members of the Opposition had not taken part in the debate. We did not have to. There was a much more bitter and acrimonious debate going on on that side of the House. Hardly any of the honourable members on the Government side agreed with what the Government said. So why did we need to buy in on the debate? We were getting so much valuable information simply by sitting back and listening to Government members, as the honourable member for Moreton said, cutting themselves to ribbons. Of course honourable members opposite have been cutting themselves to ribbons. They have done this with every justification because their Ministers have misled them. The Ministers have tried to fob them off because the ‘old school’ boys have been out to save the establishment. This is one of the few occasions on which the Parliament has triumphed over the establishment. Mr McNicoll, as he now is, and those who follow him may take no comfort from the statement by the honourable member for La Trobe when he issued a warning to ratings and those of junior rank not to attempt to throw over the establishment. I say that this Parliament has proved that the establishment can be overthrown. Let me say to the ratings that they ought to do what Cabban has done. When they see an injustice or when they see the brass hats do something that is not in the best interests of the Service they ought to come to a member of Parliament and claim the privileges that Parliament will give to them by exposing these people. We ought to have an act of Parliament that gives to these people in the armed Services and elsewhere the same protection that we give to trade unionists who ask for the protection of a court controlled ballot. Any person who tries to intimidate directly or indirectly a person who wishes to avail himself of his rights as a citizen or a member of the Services ought to be faced with imprisonment for 12 months. Any senior officer who attempts to suborn or intimidate a witness of junior rank from giving evidence to the Parliament or any other proper authority seeking it in order to rectify a wrong, ought to be treated in the same way and to suffer a penalty of 12 months imprisonment and immediate dismissal as well.
It was amusing, I think to everyone, to see the humorous affectation of the honourable member for Moreton stroking his yellow moustache one moment, putting his fingers on one side of his face at another moment’ and adopting the stance of Pitt the Younger, wilh the verbiage and the wonderful flowery language of Edmund Burke. We saw this great legal giant, pontificating on points of law and telling the former judge, the honourable member for Warringah, where he was wrong on important points of law. He also told the honourable member for Parkes (Mr Hughes), an eminent Queen’s Counsel, and the smiling member for Kooyong (Mr Peacock) what they had yet to learn about the law.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I enter this rather sickening debate largely to support the remarks of the honourable member for Batman (Mr Benson). I remind honourable members that he is the only member of this House who can speak on this particular subject with a knowledge of the facts from practical experience. I am proud to second his amendment confirming the faith that this House has in the integrity and honour of the Navy, the Naval Board, the personnel of the Navy itself and its devoted servants in the Department of the Navy. I said ‘sickening’ because to me this is what it has been. I have listened all day to people with whom we like to get along well. But in a debate like this I find I just cannot understand how they can interpret words in the way they do.
Last night the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) gave a twisted and distorted account of some very normal incidents in the lives of decent people. I reject entirely his completely spurious case based on the statement by Lieutenant-Commander Cabban. He tried to establish the credibility of Cabban to vindicate his vicious attack on the senior Service. But his whole case was completely against the weight of evidence. The Opposition generally has been taking the stand that the second Royal Commission refuted the findings of the first inquiry. That is not so. In regard to the facts which were re-examined, I point out to the House that the second inquiry did not make as thorough an examination as Sir John Spicer did of the vital items. I am referring to the signals, the relative courses of the ships, the practices of seamanship and the rules of the road as applied at sea. The findings of the two inquiries are almost identical. When we come down to it 99% of the findings are very close to agreement.
The report of the second Royal Commission is correctly titled, ‘Report of Royal Commissioners on the Statement of LieutenantCommander Cabban and Matters Incidental Thereto’. So the whole weight of evidence depends on the credibility of Cabban. The Royal Commissioners have destroyed this in page after page of Cabban’s own modifications of the reckless charges contained in his statement.
This fact is not to bc wondered at when we consider the conditions under which he made the statement. I will refer to this later. Before the inquiry Cabban’s statement was accepted as gospel by some credulous people who have no knowledge of the Navy. But anyone with even a nodding acquaintance with Navy practice or who has had some experience of, or dealings with naval people over a period, will know that the incidents described as factual just could not have happened in the way they were described and that only a disordered mind could have dreamt them up.
The honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) took up the cudgels for Captain Robertson on the basis that the Captain had been victimised and that a posting to HMAS ‘Watson’ was a demotion. Of course it was not. But I do not expect the honourable member to understand that. The posting to HMAS ‘Watson’ is a very important one, calling for a high-ranking officer. The post is usually filled by a captain taking a spell of shore leave between sea jobs. My quarrel with the honourable member is that he accepted Cabban’s statement and used most hurtful words about Captain Stevens. These words were perhaps used obliquely. At Hansard page 2174 of 16th May 1967, he is reported to have said:
I believe I am not quoting this out of context. I am trying to be careful not to do so. The honourable member for Warringah (Mr St John) took up the case and supported the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess). He stated his friendship for Captain Robertson and, at page 2167 of Hansard of 1 6th May 1967, is reported to have said:
But I am not concerned with any possible injustice to Robertson. To me this is a side issue. 1 am concerned with much more important matters - the safety of the Navy and the men of the Navy and the safety of this country.
Then he went on to blacken the name of Captain Stevens on the evidence given to him by Cabban in what he described as a 7-hour interview in which he got to know him quite well. Indeed, the honourable member said he went through his whole sad story over and over again and accepted the truth of it. He accepted it blindly. In this House, in the most scurrilous maiden speech
I have ever heard, he deliberately accused Captain Stevens of being ‘perpetually drunk’ - these are his own words - of coming back to his ship every morning at 8 o’clock under the influence of drink, sleeping all day and then starting drinking again in the afternoon. Later in his speech - and this appears at page 2171 of Hansard of 16th May 1967 - he said:
This man was a chronic drunkard.
This was a monstrous charge, deliberately stated and completely uncorroborated - and now refuted. The second Royal Commission rejects it completely in these words:
The late Captain Stevens was not a drunkard nor un alcoholic.
The Commission said that there was: no acceptable evidence of intoxication at any lime.
The honourable member chose to rely on the word of a rejected witness whose story was examined by counsel at the first inquiry -and we have heard some rather peculiar explanations of where and how this statement was brought into the picture - was considered by Mr Justice Spicer and was not called because it was unreliable, uncorroborated and irrevelant.
The findings of the second inquiry - an inquiry brought about entirely by the acceptance by gullible persons of the Cabban report - completely confirmed this estimate of Cabban. The report refers to him in the most damning fashion as having ‘a tendency to dramatise situations’, a factor which might explain but noi justify incautious sweeping generalisations about Captain Stevens’ drinking habits and of highly coloured accounts of certain incidents. Cabban, when he appeared before the Commission, conceded that his report gave a false impression. He said that he did not intend to impute to Captain Stevens any incompetence or recklessness in his ship handling suggestive of unfitness to command’. The Commission said that he was led on by his impression ‘to put a wrong construction on some incidents and to jump too readily to conclusions’. He had a marked tendency to see himself as the central figure in a dramatic situation’. This sense of the dramatic ‘coloured his judgment’. In other words, he had delusions of grandeur which led the Commission to describe him as an ‘unreliable witness’ and to say that ‘his vision of the truth was obscured by unreliability of judgment’. Perhaps one could absolve the honourable member for La Trobe for being taken in. The whole plot was planted on him and he was swayed by sentiment. But there is no excuse for the honourable member for Warringah.
Vice-Admiral Hickling wrote a personal letter to Cabban, lt was a matey type of letter. Vice-Admiral Hickling said, in effect: I am in the RN and you are in the RAN. Drop the A out of RAN and we will be mates together.’ He wrote at the prompting of Captain Robertson saying that he wanted to write a book which would be authoritative and factual. Of course, everybody knows that it was neither. He wrote it for profit - to try to make something out of the misfortunes of the people, who were involved in this accident. He assured Cabban that the information would be treated in complete confidence. Robertson invited Cabban to dinner, following which Cabban made the famous tape recording - on Robertson’s tape recorder. Cabban sat on his bed that evening and dictated from memory, not from notes. He did not even bother to prepare some sort of story beforehand. He did not work from notes. He had no documents or memoranda to refresh his memory. The next day he returned the tape to Robertson who sent it on to Hickling. Cabban does not appear to have checked the recording. At the second inquiry he admitted that he did not try to be exact. As I said, Captain Robertson sent the tape to Vice-Admiral Hickling who had it typed up. He sent the transcript back to Robertson, not to Cabban. We have no guarantee thai the statement has not been edited. Cabban obviously did not check what was in it because he said that he signed the statement at the request of Robertson and he saw no reason to question Robertson’s judgment. In fact he went further and declared that his attitude was that of a lieutenant-commander being asked by his captain to do something for an admiral. This does not say much for the authenticity of the document that he signed. 1 submit that the document should have been rejected completely by the Commissioners for exactly the. same reasons as the evidence of Cabban was not admitted at the first inquiry - because it was unreliable, uncorroborated and irrelevant.
At the insistence of the honourable member for La Trobe this document was brought before us and discussed in great detail. Despite the fact that we had had debates in this House and despite the fact that it had an absolutely minimum amount of support in party room discussions the second inquiry was foisted on us. The honourable member for La Trobe postulated three grounds for re-opening the case. First, whether the Naval Board or the Government acted to suppress evidence; secondly, whether the Naval Board or the Government approved the promotion to captain of someone who was not fit for that rank and allowed him to remain in command of a ship when he was unfit to command; and, thirdly, whether Captain Robertson, Commander Kelly and Lieutenant Bate were unjustly treated. At the first inquiry Sir John Spicer found that no blame attached to Captain Robertson and that the sole responsibility for the accident lay with those on ‘Voyager’.
Without any witnesses to supply information on what actually happened on Voyager’ no-one could say how or why that ship continued beyond a 20 degree course by maintaining 10 degrees port wheel long after the desired position was attained. We should note that the Commissioners at the second inquiry disagreed slightly with the report of the first inquiry. Sir John Spicer, after exhaustively studying the rules of the sea, the requirements laid down for flag officers and other navigation instructions came to the correct conclusion that Captain Robertson could have done more than he did. Naval practice required him to have done more than he did. He should have paid more regard to ‘Voyager’s’ movements than he did when Lieutenant Bate failed to take sufficient care as officer of the watch to protect ‘Melbourne’ from collision. Captain Robertson had an even greater responsibility to protect his own ship. In referring to the course of ‘Voyager’ as seen by him from the bridge of ‘Melbourne’, he said:
She continued to alter slowly to port. As it became apparent to me that she was in fact still altering course towards ‘Melbourne’ I started to have doubts that all was well on ‘Voyager’. She seemed to be altering further than was prudent and as far as I could judge continuing to alter to port. I then came to the conclusion that something was wrong and she had altered too far.
Unfortunately Captain Robertson has proved by other mishaps in his navigation in previous incidents that he is a slow thinker, and he did not take any action. Sir John Spicer made a faint criticism, and I believed it to be so mild that at the time I did not take much notice of it at all. Nonetheless it was a mild criticism which was fully justified. The second inquiry removed even those mild words. I remind honourable members of the following words of Sir John Spicer:
The moment ‘Voyager’ turned to port forward of the beam her action should, it seems to me have created some doubt in Captain Robertson’s mind as to what her intentions were. It seems to me Captain Robertson should have made some inquiry or passed a signal - whether by whistle or otherwise - to ‘Voyager’. Whether action of this kind would have avoided the collision I am unable to say, but I feel that the chances of collision might have been lessened if some such action as I have indicated had been taken.
This action should have been taken. It was required to be taken in accordance with the whole training of this man in his long career in the Navy. He should have known the rules and regulations of behaviour at sea. Because of this mild rebuke we find that the captain, a man who had been trained to accept orders and one who should have accepted the orders of his superior, received a shore posting. He may not have liked that posting which involved no reduction in seniority, salary or anything else, but he should have accepted it. However, in an extraordinary fit of pique, he insisted on resigning. His brother officers at that time begged him not to resign. At that time the whole Navy was completely stirred by the events that were happening. The Naval Board tried hard to persuade him not to resign, to point out the foolishness of his action, and they told him that they had no intention of demoting him.
I find it very difficult to understand just how this fit of pique, which he seems to have been in, had been blown up in his mind to represent a censure of his action because the findings of Sir John Spicer were that no blame was attached to him, and the other matter was a very mild thing. He left the Navy of his own accord and now we find, after the pressures that we have seen over the months, after this long, costly inquiry which has found nothing new and has produced no evidence that anybody with any knowledge of the Navy and understanding of what happened at the first inquiry could not have deduced from it, certain things are to he corrected. Obviously they needed tightening up a little as should happen in any of the Services if a similar thing were to happen. If I may say so, it could very well be that things would need tightening up in this place. But as a result of that pressure we find what I regard as a disgracefully extravagant award of $60,000 being made as recompense. What about all the other men who have not liked what has happened to them? What about all the other men who may have some similar scruples based on much firmer ground and have seen fit to leave the Services? Are they to come back and be recompensed? 1 see that my time is almost due to expire, so in conclusion 1 say that the three honourable members of whom 1 have spoken should first of all apologise to the House for taking up its time on an entirely unreliable statement such as LieutenantCommander Cabban’s; should apologise to the Navy through the Naval Board for the reflections made on it and them, all of which have been proved to be shadows only and of no substance; and above all should make an abject apology to the Stevens family for an unwarranted slur on the character of a fine naval officer with a distinguished record in the service of his country, a record which emerges from this second abortive inquiry completely untarnished.
– What on earth are the honourable members for McMillan (Mr Buchanan) and the AttorneyGeneral (Mr Bowen) trying to do here tonight? What have they been trying to do for the last day or so? What has the Government been attempting to do over the last’ few years7 The honourable member for McMillan, along with his fellow apologists for the Government, the Naval Board-
– I am not apologising for the Government.
– Of course he is, and apologising also for Sir John Spicer. What they are trying to do is to confound the public and the Parliament. I want to bring the Parliament back to some of the real considerations before it tonight, but before I get on to what I say is the logic of the situation I want to remind the House of what the honourable member for Batman (Mr Benson) said some years ago in the original debate. He has become a vigorous defender of the Navy and the Naval Board, but at page 1086 of Hansard of 15th September 1964 he said:
I feel that part of the blame lies with those in much higher places than the Captain, the Navigator and the Officer of the Watch, and these men must not be made scapegoats, for they are the result of bad management and planning. Therefore, the management and the planning must take the blame and the Navy must be rearranged. It is obvious that the Navy is not aware of its shortcomings. Therefore, the Government must set in motion the necessary machinery to reorganise, the Navy. The Navy appears to bc too aloof and unrealistic in these things. It is remote, it is out of station and for its own good must quickly get into line.
At the next page of Hansard he said:
It was wrong to have life jackets in a position in which they were not readily available. Now we are told by the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) that steps are being taken to have life jackets placed in more suitable positions, but 82 men had to lose their lives before such action could be taken. We are told that the life jackets were locked up in a store.
It would be instructive for honourable members to read that very fine speech made by my colleague the honourable member for Batman some 3 or 4 years ago. But we are debating this matter here again tonight. The time has gone for apologising for the Government and for the Services. The Navy, the Army and the Air Force are trusted with the most valuable and precious things that we can bestow upon them - the lives of the young people of Australia. If they have made errors they must be exposed; if they need correction they must be corrected. 1 have nothing but contempt for people who have chosen to take Lieutenant-Commander Cabban and to put him on trial on something which is not an issue before us tonight.
The ‘Voyager’ disaster was a terrible tragedy. It has been examined and re-examined. We find from the original Spicer report on the loss of HMAS ‘Voyager’ that the Commission sat in Sydney on 55 days, heard the sworn testimony of 1 56 witnesses and received in evidence some 207 exhibits. The latter included eight volumes of statements taken from officers and ratings and fourteen volumes of questionaires answered by officers and men of ‘Melbourne’. At the conclusion of the evidence the Commission had the advantage of addresses from counsel extending over 1 1 days. Despite all that, the honourable, learned and knightly gentleman was able to make serious errors in his judgment. I want to remind the House that what the honourable member for McMillan said about Captain Robertson is not correct. I am not arguing for or against Captain Robertson or Captain Stevens, but it is a fact that the report did pass serious judgment upon Captain Robertson at that time, a judgment that I should think a man in his position, in what is a relatively small service, in which people have grown together for a life time, must take seriously. It was not pique that caused Captain Robertson to resign; it was what he considered to be his honour. At page 16 of the report Sir John Spicer said:
If this were so, it appears to me that Captain Robertson should have become aware that Voyager’ was engaged in an unusual manoeuvre when she turned to port forward of ‘Melbourne’s’ beam.
In considering the responsibility of Captain Robertson in this set of circumstances, it is of some importance to bear in mind that he was nol only the Captain of his own vessel. . . .
He had a heavier responsibility at that time. The Commissioner said at page 18: t cannot but feel that some action would have been taken by a more experienced officer in tactical command . . .
That is probably why Captain Robertson resigned from the Service. That is why the sense of injustice developed and why some honourable members of this House had enough persistence and enough skill to persuade - and the late Prime Minister, Mr Harold Holt, had the guts or gumption, or whatever it was, to allow - the Parliament to take the matter up again. For that I think we should pay some tribute to the former Prime Minister again tonight. I want to make it quite clear that I think the legalisms that have been dragged through this debate in trying to refute the analysis made by the Leader of Opposition (Mr Whitlam) are quite irrelevant to the case before us. We have to examine many matters on this issue. We have had two Royal Commissions, but the most depressing feature of the debate is that there are still people in this Parliament who think it is more important to follow the party line, to defend the Government, to deplore the exposure of the Services to the scrutiny of the Parliament than to consider where our duties He here at this hour. It is the position of non-repentance of some Ministers, their failure simply to stand up and say what the honourable member for Batman said 3i years ago, that is the most depressing feature of this debate.
It is reasonable to expect that we on this side of the House would be critical, but it is to the credit of the Parliament that there are some people on the other side of the House who have spoken with a good deal of freedom in this debate. I think it is to the credit of the Parliament, to themselves and to the kind of party apparatus that exists in this country that that has occurred. But nothing becomes the debate so ill as the speech of the Attorney-General. Here we have a man who has established a reputation in the field of law and logic coming into this House tonight not to examine the situation and see what can be done for the Services and for the improvement of matters to which attention has been drawn in this debate but to try to cover up and also to expose LieutenantCommander Cabban as an unreliable witness.
Where does our duty lie? In the first instance it lies to this Parliament on such an important issue. Secondly, it lies to the people, thirdly to the Services and fourthly to the truth. There is no doubt in my mind that high and important people in this country have done everything they could possibly do to confuse and confound the issues. If we read the debates we will see that there has been plenty of evidence of this. There have been some very fine speeches on both sides of the House. Even those with which I disagreed have been pretty well constructed. But there is plenty of evidence that Ministers have concealed salient facts from this Parliament over 3 or 4 years. They have probably concealed them from Cabinet. Evidence may well have been concealed from Ministers. Documents have been destroyed and highly placed public servants have been challenged on their integrity. The whole issue has been confusing.
I think this goes right through the whole structure of the Commission. How did we get a report such as the first report, which was challenged 2 or 3 years later, then re-sifted and thrown out? Why did the Government appoint the type of people that it did to examine such a matter? 1 believe that the important task here tonight is to establish the principles upon which this Parliament will work in instances such as this because we are the continuing trustees of a parliamentary democracy and we are a court of last resort. Any citizen should be able to put his case before us knowing that we will raise it on his behalf.
I agree with the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) that it is important that the ordinary citizen who is in the Services should still have the protection of a right of appeal to his member of Parliament. I believe that we have to establish some system throughout the Public Service, and throughout the armed Services in particular, of constant and continuing parliamentary scrutiny. We all have to get closer to the Services. We all have to see that our colleagues who become Ministers of the Services are not being taken for a ride. I have a good deal of sympathy for some of the Ministers. My friend the Minister for the Navy (Mr Kelly) has recently taken up this portfolio and it would be idle to say that he is to blame for some of the things that have happened. But under the parliamentary system when something ill arises some people will say that the Minister for the Navy is the man responsible.
Who are the people responsible? I think that the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) was Minister for the Navy for some time. The Prime Minister was Minister for the Navy for a record term. The honourable member for Perth (Mr Chaney) and the honourable member for Higinbotham (Mr Chipp) have both been Ministers for the Navy. I suppose that the Prime Minister stands most seriously challenged in his ministerial capacity if the Navy were in a bad state prior to 1963, because he had a record term of office as Minister for the Navy. He was Minister for 6 years and he did not know what was going on. Apparently no-one knew what was going on. It seems, and this is the tragic fact that emerges from this debate, the Ministers do not care much about what was going on. The honourable member for Higinbotham, for whom I have a great deal of respect, said in the debate yesterday: ‘Please leave the Services alone*. We cannot afford to leave the Services alone. They are too important to the defence of the country and to the kind of trusteeship that we bestow on them to be left alone.
What are some of the questions that the Attorney-General did not answer? One would have thought this debate had nothing to do with a ship or with the Navy. Did the ship sink? Of course the ship sank. Whose error was it? It is now pretty apparent that, in principle, the error was that of the Captain of the ‘Voyager’. What was the first reaction of the Government to this? Its first reaction 5 years ago was to cover up. Its reaction to the first report was to try and cover it up and seal it down. That is what is on trial. That is what we are talking about. It does not matter whether Lieutenant-Commander Cabban was a reliable witness or not. 1 think that on the evidence if appears as if he were. I think that he made reasonable assumptions from the evidence that he saw before him.
Was Captain Robertson unjustly treated? It is not apparent that he was. It is said that he was so unjustly treated that he must now receive compensation to the tuns of $60,000. I do not know whether that is a reasonable sum or not. I only know that it is a mighty sum in the Australian context. Like the honourable member for McMillan, I would like to know what recompense was given to the other sufferers. What about the wives and dependants of the other seamen lost? From my examination of the society in which we live and the system upon which recompense is paid to such people I think that most of them will live a life of misery approaching poverty if they have to exist on whatever recompense they receive from the Government. It may be worthwhile for the Parliament to give consideration to that aspect. Of course we place this matter before the House in every repatriation debate. And where are the freedom fighters on the other side on those occasions? They sit solidly behind the Ministry and vote as one man. They never face real issues in this Parliament.
I want to make it quite clear that we on this side of the House are concerned with the truth. There is every indication that Ministers are not being frank and fair with this Parliament over a wide range of issues. Lieutenant-Commander Cabban is not on trial. He has carried out an important duty to the whole system. And it is the system that is on trial. This is the establishment and this is the challenge before us. We all live in an establishment. I am a member of a great political party which has been in existence for 60 or 70 years. We all know how conservative any apparatus of this sort can become. The Parliament is conservative. It is difficult to get standing orders changed even though we all know that they should be changed. The Liberal Party and the Australian Country Party are conservative. The system which we administer in the Services and in the community is conservative. The Public Service is ultra-conservative. The most conservative parts of any social system are the military Services because the old boy network operates.
What is the Australian system? There are 80,000 or 90,000 people in the Services in Australia. We have three principal armed Services colleges but only a handful of Australia’s 12 million people go through them. They stay there for 4 or 5 years and by the time an officer is finishing at the top he has come to know those in the lower classes. By the time an officer is in his forties he is reaching the top of his profession and he is a Captain, Commodore, Colonel or Lieutenant-General, and the fellows down the line have been known to him all along the way. From my observations of the system - and I am looking at this matter as one who lived for 20 years in another conservative public service, the Victorian Education Department - I know it is very difficult to change it from the top. It is very difficult to change it at all. It is terribly difficult for the very senior people to try to straighten out the next senior people. Things may not be too good on HMAS so-and-so when you go there but, after all, how can you really lace that chap when he was in the same class as you at college?
What we really have to do is to remove the isolation of the Services. We have to bring them out in the open. We have to be accustomed to getting around among them. We have to walk the decks along with the admirals and able seamen and we have to protect their rights as citizens. This is the most important thing before the Parliament.
Australia is a civilian community but it has a tremendous military record. Some 600,000 people in Australia have served overseas in the forces and 800,000 have worn uniforms, according to the census report last year. Despite all this, there has been an increasing professionalisation of the Services in the last 20 years which has removed them from our scrutiny and from the ordinary way of life. Life is completely different in the Services. I think it is fair enough to say, as one who has spent’ some time in various discreet ways in the armed Services, that of the three Services the one most removed and most isolated is the Navy. Anyone who takes over the running of the Department of the Navy, as my friend the honourable member for Wakefield has done so recently, will find that he has to shake it up and bring it back into the light of day. There must not be any chance that this trouble will again occur. But trouble has been a continuing feature of the Services. In recent years there has been in each of the Services a dramatic demonstration of some kind of secrecy and obscurity that has put Ministers in a difficult and dangerous parliamentary position. The VIP aircraft controversy was one. instance. What nonsense it was to say that no records exist. Every one of us who has ridden in a Commonwealth car knows that there is a log book - a G2 I think it is called - which shows exactly what mileage the car has done. Anyone who goes to the Commonwealth car pool can find out the exact mileage each car has done, how much it costs, what its petrol consumption has been and so on. What ridiculous nonsense it was to suggest that aeroplanes did not have the same kind of documentation. But, somehow, we all swallowed it. Some honourable members took it up and the Minister, in the end, took the rap. The same kind of thing happened in relation to the Army with the recent torture allegations. The issue was handed to a Minister who was new to the job and he became the mouthpiece of his department. Every one of us must make absolutely sure that we are not caught again. I am not particularly criticising any person for his administration for the time being. There are various honourable members in this House who have sat in high positions as Ministers. This is an experience that a reluctant people seem to deny to honourable members on this side of the chamber for the moment’, however.
The fact is that a parliamentary challenge is before us in this debate. I hope that we shall take it by the throat and make sure that the sort of thing that we are discussing never happens again. I trust that no more shall we see the eternal cover up that we have seen in relation to the ‘Voyager’ disaster, the VIP aircraft controversy and the recent allegations of torture in Vietnam. I hope that such events will not occur again. I hope also that the isolation of the Services will be removed in such a way that we who are responsible to the people of Australia for their management can at least answer fairly and squarely that they are being properly conducted. I am distressed and depressed at the continual legalism of honourable members opposite - not all of them, but those who thought that this was an argument about whether LieutenantCommander Cabban’s evidence was true or false. I have my own belief from my reading of it and from listening to what has been said about it. Like Lieutenant-Commander Cabban, I do not indulge in alcohol; so I am not a very good judge of whether or not people are under the weather. On the evidence, was it a reasonable diagnosis that his captain on various occasions was suffering from over-indulgence in alcohol? I think it probably was. I wish with all my heart that honourable members opposite had grasped this nettle firmly and spoken clearly and firmly in this House so that, while they carry the trusteeship for the Services in Australia, the 90,000 young Australians who are in the forces, as well as their wives, mothers, aunts, cousins and families would know full well that that trusteeship would be discharged with a proper sense of duty. At present, I am convinced that unless this Ministry changes its whole way of looking at things, that will not be the case. The tragedy of the ‘Voyager’ disaster is that the present Ministry is continually unrepentant about its failure to see where its duty lies.
- Mr Speaker, this has been a long debate. The hour is growing late and I shall not be one of those members who hope to obtain an extension of time.
– Hear, hear!
– I am glad to hear that the honourable member is pleased about it. The debate today has had some very distressing features with which I want to deal. First, I want to say that there seems to have been a manifest tendency, both today and yesterday, on both sides of the House - I need not name the honourable members concerned - to consider that this Parliament should set itself up as a sort of court of appeal to review the findings of a Royal Commission. That tendency is altogether deplorable, not because of the immediate context of the tragedy that gave rise to the recent Royal Commission and to this debate, but for a much broader reason: If the Parliament takes it upon itself to be a court of appeal from Royal Commissions, let me say, here and now, knowing something of the way in which judges think, that there will in future be very few Royal Commissions on which judges will consent to serve. This evening the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen) made a reasoned plea in support of the idea that, by and large, judges should not serve on Royal Commissions, for the reason that if the Parliament - this was basically his reason, as I understand his argument - or members of the Parliament were to do, after a Royal Commission, the sort of thing that has been done by some honourable members in this debate, the administration of the law could only be brought into disrepute and disapprobation. For, after all, judges spend most of their lives administering the law. Without being personal in any way, let me say that in my view this has been a bad day for this Parliament. Very much ill informed criticism that has not been founded on considered judgment has been levelled at men of the law. I do not defend them because I am a man of the law.
– Are they untouchable?
– No, they are not; but if they are to be touched, they should not be touched on the basis of ill informed, half baked ideas. This Parliament and other parliaments in Australia would do well to take from this debate the lesson which I say should be taken from it: We are not a court of appeal; we should not try to set ourselves up as one. This is a dangerous tendency and I hope that this is the last occasion on which any parliament in Australia will see this sort of thing practised. This debate began yesterday evening with a great flourish by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam). His basic purpose was to try to establish that the credibility of Ministers, and of my friend, the honourable member for Higinbotham (Mr Chipp), when he was a Minister, was open to question.
All I want to say is that I have listened to nearly every speech in this debate and, if that was .the purpose of the Leader of the Opposition, his efforts not only have failed but also have rebounded on him. In this instance, he has dug for himself, not a little hole in his credibility, but a chasm. He began his attack on the AttorneyGeneral (Mr Bowen), on the honourable member for Higinbotham in his former capacity of Minister for the Navy, on the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) and on other Ministers by seizing on two aspects of the Royal Commissioners’ report and giving them a completely false twist. He asserted, quite contrary to what is to be seen and read in black and white in the report, that the commissioners had vindicated LieutenantCommander Cabban. 1 have no brief either for or against Lieutenant-Commander Cabban. I am one who believes that when competent and trained minds have sifted evidence, it is common sense for people in the community to take their finding as being reasonable and correct. It was a travesty of the truth for the Leader of the Opposition, when he opened the debate last night, to launch his attack on Ministers on the basis of the assertion that Cabban had been vindicated by the commissioners in their report as a witness of truth and reliability. So the attack by the Leader of the Opposition failed at the first hurdle.
The honourable gentleman then went on with another exercise in disregarding the truth - an exercise which this House and the country are becoming all too used to seeing him undertake. He twisted the words pronounced in the course of argument by Mr Justice Lucas, one of the commissioners, in such a way as to suggest that the judge had asserted that one of the statements made by an allegedly corroborating witness did in fact corroborate LieutenantCommander Cabban’s statement. This was most adequately pointed out this evening by the Attorney-General, but I think it is worth repeating. The Leader of the Opposition, given time - he is using his time fast - will destroy himself because of his carelessness about the truth. If one looks at the transcript of the proceedings before the Royal Commission to see where the truth lies, one will see that what the Leader of the Opposition did was to turn a question by one of the judges into an assertion of fact. That is a shabby trick of advocacy which the Leader of the Opposition certainly did not learn at the bar. He has learned it here, because he is, I suppose, driven by political desperation and, faced with all his difficulties, he is reduced to some pretty strange shifts to make political capital.
The other thing that the Leader of the Opposition did in his politically dishonest attack upon Ministers was to assert that the Secretary of the Department of the Navy-
– I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is the honourable member entitled to refer continually to the Leader of the Opposition as making false statements? 1 refer to standing order 303 which deals with a member using objectionable words which he refuses to withdraw. I consider the honourable member’s words relating to the Leader of the Opposition objectionable.
Mr SPEAKER (Hon. W. J. Aston)Order! There is no substance in the point of order. The words being used are quite parliamentary.
– Until now 1 had imagined, Mr Speaker, that 1 would have had to use much stronger language to pierce the insensitive hide of the honourable member tor Hunter (Mr James), but the point apparently is perceived even by him. and it hurts him. The other piece of political chicanery in which the Leader of the Opposition indulged was an outrageous, disgraceful and completely cowardly attack upon the permanent head of the Department of the Navy, a public servant who, as has been pointed out served honourably and with distinction under two Labor Prime Ministers, and who has served continuously over the very long period during which this Government and its political predecessors have been in office. The Leader of the Opposition was prepared to get up in this House - and it was a disgrace that he should have been so prepared - and refer in slighting and insulting terms to Mr Landau.
If the allegation that the Leader of the Opposition chose to make against Mr Landau had been true the situation would have been bad enough, having in mind the intemperate language that he used and the feline ferocity with which he chose his words. But the allegation was not true. In attacking Mr Landau the Leader of the Opposition chose to assert the very reverse of what the Commission had found after hearing the evidence. He chose to assert the very reverse of what two distinguished judges had said about this distinguished public servant after hearing him crossexamined, after hearing his explanation and after hearing evidence that bore upon the issue. If that is the best the Leader of the Opposition can do in seeking to attack the credibility of ministers and others he is a poor failure, and he will remain a poor failure. As I have said, given time - and he is using it fast - this man will destroy himself politically and he will destroy his party, insofar as it is not already in the process of destruction.
Now 1 want to say something about the speech made tonight by the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron). I will not deal with the speech of the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant), because, having listened to all the speeches made from the other side of this House yesterday and today, I say without any equivocation that the honourable member for Wills spoke with moderation, comparatively speaking, and with restraint. It was a credit to him that he did so. 1 shall not attack him but I shall attack the honourable member for Hindmarsh, to whose speech I listened with distress and disgust. I say without any equivocation that he reminds me of a political ghoul wandering around in a graveyard trying to attack the reputations of the dead, Of course the honourable member for Hindmarsh can be very funny. He has a sort of slimy, oleaginous-
– Order! I suggest that the honourable member consider closely the words he is using in this debate.
– Those words characterise the behaviour of the honourable member for Hindmarsh tonight. He conducted an exercise in cheap political cynicism and tried to get laughs from the House-
– On a dead man.
– Over the body not of one dead man but of eighty-two dead men. If that is not an example of disgusting political behaviour I ask the House what is. He asserted by slimy innuendo that the late
Captain Stevens was an alcoholic. Here again we see a leading member of the Opposition, someone who graces or disgraces the front bench, whichever way you regard his conduct, being prepared to flout and disregard the Commission’s findings and to assert, contrary to what the Commission says, that the late Captain Stevens was an alcoholic. Is there not some rule in the Labor Party, or at least amongst those on the front bench of the Opposition, that by and large it is not a bad idea to respect the referee’s ruling? After all, the Royal Commission in this case was the referee of the facts. I say without any hesitation that in the speech of the honourable member for Hindmarsh tonight this House sank to one of its lowest ebbs in a long time, certainly the lowest ebb that I have seen in nearly 5 years in this place. I hope I will not see the like of it again. I say, and I say it advisedly, that the honourable member for Hindmarsh behaved like a political ghoul.
-Order! The honourable member will withdraw that remark.
– I certainly withdraw that remark, Sir, in deference to your ruling.
-The honourable member will withdraw unconditionally.
– I will withdraw it unconditionally.
– 1 raise a point of order. Mr Speaker. Last night in this debate the Leader of the Opposition referred to a member of the Public Service of the Commonwealth of Australia as ‘this creature’. He was not required to withdraw. Without canvassing your ruling, Mr Speaker, it is interesting that the Leader of the Opposition could have used those words and yet be immune from criticism for the use of them.
-Order! There is no foundation for the point of order. First of all, the words the honourable member is now using are being directed at a member of this House. The Leader of the House has referred to words that were used to describe a person outside the precincts of this chamber.
– I have withdrawn the remark.
– What remark did you withdraw?
– I withdraw unreservedly the allegation I made about the honourable member for Hindmarsh being a political ghoul. But I say, if I may use other language which I hope will not be considered unparliamentary, that in attacking the reputation of Captain Stevens in the intemperate way he did tonight, labelling him, contrary to the findings of two judges, an alcoholic, and talking wilh cheap cynicism about cirrhosis of the liver, of which there was no evidence at all, the honourable member for Hindmarsh was just sliding around the Opposition side of the table in the oleaginous slime of his own political insincerity. This honourable member was prepared to do this while probably well knowing that relatives of the deceased man were in this House and listening to his speech. Is that the standard of political decency and integrity on the front bench of the Opposition? Apparently it is. The Leader of the Opposition, whilst he did not get quite as bad last night as the honourable member for Hindmarsh, was careless with the truth. He engaged in personalities. While the Leader of the Opposition did not get quite so low, he went a long way along the path of political indecency.
I want to come back to what I started to say. I do not think that by and large the Australian public will get very much value from this debate, because in this debate far too many honourable members have done what I do not think ought to be done: They have criticised the referee’s ruling on ill-founded grounds. I do not think that Australians, by and large, think that that sort of exercise is either fair or profitable.” It has not been profitable and it has not been fair in this case.
- Mr Speaker, one of the things that I learned early in my life is that if you are going out to get sheep you do not let the dog wear himself out running after rabbits on the way out. I will not run after all the rabbits that have beer put up in this debate, because firstly, there are too many of them; secondly, I do not know which way some of them went, and
I have a vague idea that they did not know, either; and thirdly, I have a suspicion that I could not catch some of them if I tried. The reason for saying this is to indicate that I am not an expert in this field. I have been Minister for the Navy only a short while. I admit that there is a lot about the Navy which I do not know. There is a lot about the two ‘Voyager’ inquiries which I do not know. For instance, I have not read all the transcripts. Each member has his own individual enthusiasms in this place and he concentrates on particular things. Each member, to quote the Arab proverb, thinks his own bug a gazelle. When the first ‘Voyager’ transcripts were pouring in I was poring over Tariff Board reports. On the second occasion I was Minister for Works. So, Mr Speaker, you see before you a self-confessed non-expert. But there are a few things I do know.
One is that in 1964 we appointed the first Commission and we accepted its findings. In 1967, after some hesitation related to our doubts about the quality of the Cabban evidence, we appointed the second Commission and everyone at that stage seemed pleased. As far as I can remember, no-one raised any doubts about the quality of the Commissioners. But now that the report is before us we find that a lot of people are dissatisfied with it - not all of it, but parts of it; a finding here is suspect and a finding there is said to be just plain wrong. In other words, most of the experts have found some particular part of the findings unacceptable. Really, I do not think this is good enough. It is no good appointing umpires and then accepting their decisions, except the ones you do not like. This is particularly so if you have agreed to their appointment in the first place.
So in the closing stages of this debate I, a non-expert, will give the House a synopsis of what the umpires did say. I will not give my opinion because really it would not be regarded as authoritative and probably it would be regarded as biased. 1 will not pick out the findings that I like or do not like. But I will take all the important ones one by one, then I will move on to describe what the Navy has done following the comments in the report. My first comment deals with the withholding of evidence. 1 do not set myself up as an authority, but the second Commission found, on the question of withholding evidence from the first Commission, that the only evidence of matters later appearing in the Cabban statement which was available to the first Commission was not improperly held from that Commission. I refer to page 217 of the report which states:
Counsel assisting the first ‘Voyager’ Commission made an honest and bona fide decision (with the concurrence of Sir John Spicer) that none of this evidence was relevant in the circumstances as then known, and should not be called. The decision was made only upon a proper professional consideration of the relevance of the evidence to the issues in the inquiry, and was not influenced by any other factor or by any other persons. The evidence was not in any way improperly withheld from the Royal Commission.
In this debate there has been a lot of comment about the quality of the Cabban statement and evidence. The Commission, while not in any way criticising Cabban’s motives, said, referring to Cabban:
We therefore regard him in many instances as an unreliable witness, particularly as to matters involving any exercise of judgment or interpretation of a situation - not because, he did not tell the truth as he saw it, but because his vision of the truth was obscured by unreliability of judgment. We .were, therefore, for the most part not prepared to act on his evidence unless it was corroborated.
I know that honourable members have heard all this before, but I think it is worth spelling out crystal clear again. As to the allegations in the Cabban statement concerning the seamanship of Captain Stevens, it is sufficient to note that the Commission, on page 161, found:
There can be no doubt that the late Captain Stevens was a naval Captain of at least average competency, had notable qualities of leadership and succeeded in maintaining high morale on his ship.
The findings on the allegations regarding the drinking habits are also quite definite. Captain Stevens was not a drunkard or an alcoholic. I remind the honourable member for Hindmarsh that this is the decision of people who knew even more about the law than he does. I refer to page 127 of the report of the Commissioners, where they stated:
It is sufficient to say that the evidence enables us to make a clear affirmative finding that at all times other than the few occasions to which we have referred, Captain Stevens conducted himself with complete propriety and sobriety and carried out his manifold duties (both at sea and in harbour) with considerable credit to himself and to the entire satisfaction of those having administrative and operational command over him. He showed high qualities of leadership and the morale of the ship was good.
This is not merely a case where allegations of frequent drunkenness are not proved; not only is there no evidence to support frequent drunkenness, but the evidence positively establishes that this was not the fact.
Now I hope that is the end of that argument.
In view of remarks made in this debate concerning the alleged drinking of brandy on the night of the collision, it should be emphasised that the Commission, on page 228, found:
In fairness to the late Captain Stevens it ought not to be assumed that he had a drink at all on that night. If he did it was not more than 2i oz of brandy an hour and a half before the collision and it can be taken as certain on the whole of the evidence that he was in no way affected by this at the time of the collision.
Although finding that the seamanship and drinking allegations in the Cabban statement were untrue, the Commission, from the mass of evidence disclosed to it during this exhaustive inquiry, did find that Captain Stevens’ health, because of his ulcer condition, was not good enough for him to be in command of the ‘Voyager’. On page 224 the Commission states: the conclusion is inescapable that (answering the question as at 31st December 1963) the late Captain Stevens was then unfit to retain command of ‘Voyager’, because his physical condition did not conform to the very high standard of physical fitness (with its concomitant mental alertness) required of a Captain holding that command.
Accepting the Commission’s findings under term of reference 1, as I do, I turn now to term of, reference 2a - whether the Naval Board knew or ought to have known of Captain Stevens’ unfitness to retain command. On this aspect I can do no better than cite the Commission’s finding. In view of the accusations that have been made in the House today, this point should be hammered home as a proper and effective defence of the Naval Board. The Commission found:
We find that the Naval Board did not know of any of the allegations in the ‘Cabban statement’ or of any unfitness of Captain Stevens to retain command of ‘Voyager’ . . .
Nothing came to the Commission’s knowledge that ought to put it on inquiry. The Commission also investigated whether anybody whose duty it was to report to the Naval Board failed to do so. It found that both the Fleet Medical Officer and the medical officer of ‘Voyager’, neither of whom is currently serving in the Navy, failed in their duty to report on Captain Stevens’ condition at certain times, although extenuating circumstances were mentioned in both cases. The Commission found that other officers concerned, including the Medical Director-General, had no knowledge or insufficient knowledge to cause them to take any official action but it did express the view that while his motives were understandable, ‘the late Captain Stevens cannot altogether escape moral censure for failing to disclose what he must have known was a recurring condition of some seriousness*.
The next matter with which I want to deal is the Commission’s findings on terms of reference 2(b) regarding Captain Robertson’s responsibility. The Commission found:
We are satisfied that the criticism of Captain Robertson made by Sir John Spicer is not justified and that there should, be substituted for this criticism a finding that no blame or criticism attaches to Captain Robertson in relation to his conduct as the Captain in command of ‘Melbourne’ or as tactical operator in command of the joint operations on the night of the collision, the sole responsibility for which lies with ‘Voyager’.
Similarly, the Commission stated that no blame should attach to other officers on the bridge of ‘Melbourne’ on the night of the collision - Acting Commander Kelly and Acting Sub-Lieutenant Bate. The Commission having exonerated Captain Robertson from all blame, the Government has made an ex gratia payment to him of $60,000, as was announced by the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) on 13th March. The two other officers have continued in their normal promotional pattern. I would point out to the honourable member for Ryan (Mr Drury), who raised this matter this afternoon, that Captain Robertson did not ask to be reengaged in the Navy. If he had there would have been considerable practical difficulties, as the Captain himself rather suggested.
I come now to the criticism made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitiam) about the Secretary, of the Department of the Navy, Mr Landau. The Leader of the Opposition has often exposed a fatal flaw in his character: He cannot keep his temper. He throws water when provoked and has an unbridled tongue if he thinks he can get away with it. I think I should give him some fatherly advice. Until he learns to control his temper, his future, his Party, this Parliament and, indeed, Australia will suffer. He is not now a spoilt boy who can be excused such excesses. He is the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition and he should learn to behave as such. I turn to the matter of his criticisms of Mr Landau, not the manner of their delivery. The honourable member for Parkes (Mr. Hughes) and the Attorney-General (Mr Bowen) have dealt with this matter in exemplary fashion. The Leader of the Opposition used selective extracts from the transcript of evidence. He used what suited him and ignored the parts that he did not like. What emerges from this treatment gives a scurrilous and distorted picture. The Commissioner!! - honest and impartial judges - had all of the evidence before them. They said:
We think it proper to add that no sinister motive can possibly be attributed to Mr Landau in destroying Dr Tiller’s original sketchy comments. lt would not be the first time that the author of an ill-considered letter or document has arranged with its recipient to destroy it and substitute another letter or document. It must be remembered that no Royal Commission was in contemplation at that time, and it was an entirely proper action for the Minister to take to obtain the approval of Tiller and others to a wider publication of their written comments than they had initially understood would be the case.
So let us have no more cowardly attacks - in this I bracket the honourable member for Hindmarsh with the Leader of the Opposition - on a man who cannot answer back. Let us have no more derogation of a capable and devoted officer who, in the Commission’s view, acted with complete propriety and who never, to my certain knowledge, took a single step in these matters without the full knowledge and approval of his Minister.
Much has been made by the Leader of the Opposition of the discrepancy between the two memorandums on LieutenantCommander Cabban prepared by ViceAdmiral McNicoll. lt would have been strange if the two had been similar. The first, in 1965, was made up from Cabban’s records up to the time that he left the Navy. It was a collection of views of other people, not those of Admiral McNicoll, and any consideration of the Cabban document was deliberately excluded. On the other hand, the second memorandum was written in May 1967 in the light of the Cabban statement. The picture painted by this statement was that of a chronic alcoholic who was also a bad seaman. This picture, which was rejected by the Royal Commission, obviously threw a new light on the credibility of the author of the statement - hence the difference between the two memorandums by Admiral McNicoll.
In its report the Commission made some observations and comments on a number of matters arising from its inquiry. I shall now refer to these and inform the House of the positive action that has been taken by the Naval Board to correct or improve various administrative procedures. I would like to draw the attention of the honourable member for Dalley (Mr O’Connor), the honourable member for Ryan and the honourable member for Swan (Mr Cleaver) to these points which they raised. Firstly, the Naval Board has readily accepted all of the Commission’s suggestions in relation to the improvement of medical procedures and has given effect to them in appropriate instructions and regulations. Without going into great detail I mention in particular that regulations have been amended to provide that captains of ships and other key officers are to be specially cleared with the Medical Director-General, who may require specialist medical opinion, before posting to major war vessels. In the case of captains of ships the Medical Director-General will in future arrange for a medical examination to be carried out during the period of 3 months prior to taking up command. Annual medical examinations of officers of captain’s rank and above will in future be undertaken by a medical officer of the rank of surgeon captain, or an appropriate civilian consultant physician. In addition, very special procedures and precautions are being introduced for officers who have had an ulcer. The instructions relating to the compilation and forwarding of all medical reports have been revised. Arrangements have been made to ensure that all naval personnel who may be serving overseas will be examined annually.
Secondly, the Naval Board has examined carefully the Commission’s comments on the social obligations imposed on naval officers visiting overseas ports. This obligation is a goodwill obligation rather than a naval one. Honourable members may readily imagine that when authorities in foreign ports have kindly arranged hospitality for a visiting ship they could feel rather slighted if the captain did not attend. That is the difficulty - simply one of ordinary good manners and good relations. However, the Naval Board entirely agrees with the Commission’s point of view and has sent an instruction to all commanding officers drawing attention to the need for adequate rest and relaxation in order to maintain the high standard of mental and physical fitness required of them.
Thirdly, an amendment to naval instructions has been issued to facilitate procedures under which officers and sailors may bring to the notice of higher naval authorities, by-passing their immediate superiors if necessary, complaints and representations on any matters affecting the well being of the service.
Finally, the Commission also considered whether ships of the Royal Australian Navy should be dry and stated: . . there is nothing which has emerged from the Inquiry itself to suggest that KAN ships should be made ‘dry’, or that there should bc any modification of existing disciplinary regulations as to drinking hours or otherwise.
The sale of beer to ships’ companies is permitted under strictly controlled procedures at certain times. Hitherto, the bars of the officers’ messes have been opened at lunch time and in the evening. The Naval Board has had these instructions under review for some time and, prior to the receipt of the report, had decided to amend the existing rules to provide that the bars of the officers’ messes, which include the captain’s quarters, will be closed at sea except when a beer issue to sailors is authorised under the approved conditions; the bars may then be opened for an appropriate period.
Mr Speaker, the collision was a grim disaster and its aftermath has been grim almost beyond relief. The Navy is a fine Service, well led by its administrators - I do not include myself - and well manned by a fine body of officers and sailors. I know I speak for all of them when I say: Let us now rule the book off and let the Navy get on with its job.
-Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr Benson’s amendment) stand part of the proposed amendment.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker- Hon. W. J. Aston)
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Original question, as amended, resolved in the affirmative.
Question so resolved in the negative.
Motion (by Mr Snedden) proposed:
That the House do now adjourn.
– I rise to raise a matter which is causing concern to some of my constituents. It refers to the present manual telephone exchange at Shelford which is at present in the process of being replaced by an automatic unit. This will give about sixty-four subscribers an automatic telephone service. Nine of them, if they accept the terms, will be required to pay about $13,000 for the connection by the Postal Department. If they contract to have the work done or if they do it themselves, they will still be required to meet a charge of some $4,000 for materials. The people I refer to are all soldier settlers. They are all persons who are at present involved in serious financial difficulties because of the drought in Victoria. They have little chance, if any, of meeting the costs of providing themselves with a telephone service on these conditions.
At present these people are serviced by party lines which were connected at their own cost some 10 years ago. I understand that this is the regular practice that the Postmaster-General’s Department has adopted for a number of years. I also understand that other members of this Parliament, including the honourable member for Mallee (Mr Turnbull), last week, the honourable member for Wimmera (Mr King) on several occasions, and senators in another place, have asked the PostmasterGeneral’s Department to change this policy. I ask the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) whether the policy can be reviewed. I understand from reading a speech in another place that the honourable member for Wimmera has had correspondence from the Postmaster-General’s Department indicating that the cost of waiving the charges involved in changing the telephone services for these people to the automatic system would be in the vicinity of $2m a year. On the statistics which have been supplied to us recently by the Department, the capital expenditure on telephone services for the year ending 30th June 1967 was $l71m. In anyone’s language, this is a lot of money. All persons who have received improved telephone services - not new connections - by the changeover to automatic service, subscriber trunk dialling and so on, except a few persons who are unfortunate enough to be situated in locations where they have had to have private lines erected in the past, have had a free changeover to the automatic system. Only a relatively few people, including the soldier settlers I speak of, have had to pay for the changeover. I do not believe that at this time they should really be expected to pay the amounts that are quoted. Some of the soldier settlers have to pay $1,800 to change over to the automatic service. I do not Believe that they should be expected to meet costs of this kind. As I have said, they are soldier settlers and their farms are of about 500 acres. They are not the type of farms which will ever make them rich. The farms are sufficiently remote from large centres of population to require a telephone service. Indeed, telephones are vital to them. 1 believe they are not being treated very well in having to meet such high charges.
If, on the other hand the soldier settlers accept the proposition that they should erect the lines themselves and purchase the materials, on paper they will get their phones more cheaply. I am not a farmer but farmers have informed me that their occupation is a full time job. If this is so and these people, who are not skilled in the type of construction which is necessary to install telephone lines, have to give up their farming work to erect the lines, in all probability the cost to them in time lost from their normal farming duties would be greater than the cost of paying to have them erected.
I ask the Postmaster-General to reconsider the policy which demands that these people pay for telephone services which everyone else in the community receives free of charge. In this case, if the people concerned were fortunate enough to live near a main road where the main cable was situated, they would have their service connected free of charge. Because the cable runs along the main road and does not turu down side roads they have to pay about $1,800. It is as simple as this. If the roads were gazetted differently the cost of telephones to individuals would be different. I think that the charge is inequitable. It is wrong that such high amounts should be charged to people who are not really in a position to pay for a service which is more vital to them than it would be to most people in city areas or to most people in the community. It is part of their business, but it is an uneconomic part of their business if it is going to cost them so much. 1 ask the Postmaster-General to change the policy. This is not a matter of Party politics; it is a matter of simple human justice. Other members who have similar types of exchanges in their electorates might not have encountered this problem yet, but if the policy is not changed they will experience it.
– The principal subject to which I want to refer in this debate relates to a telegram I received today which reads:
Meetings at Werrimull and Meringur of 116 farmers today unanimously decided to press for immediate Commonwealth grant to proceed with piping of water supply in Millewa under Commonwealth plan for water conservation. This is considered a matter of extreme urgency.
The telegram was signed ‘Curtis - Secretary, Millewa, Victorian Wheat and Wool Growers Association’. Mr Campbell Curtis has supplied me with some information on this matter. He has pointed out that it is estimated that the pipelining of the scheme would make available at least an additional 7,000 acre feet of water, for in this country large quantities of water in open channels are lost through seepage and evaporation. He states that it would give adequate stock and domestic water supply to 578,000 acres and would avoid the spending of $400,000 on repairs to the old type system. The repairs would only continue the loss of water that has robbed the district of a secure water supply. The proposed scheme would make possible an additional production valued at over $lm per annum. The Victorian State Government has approved the scheme and has asked the Commonwealth Government to include it in the grants to the States from the $S0m provided in the last Budget for water conservation over a 5 year period. This is a practical proposition and I urge the Government to make available a grant to meet the cost of this scheme which is estimated at $2&m.
I was interested to hear what was said by the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes), particularly as the honourable member for Wimmera (Mr King) and I have raised the matter of telephone charges on many occasions. He obviously has the problem at his door now. He said that a few people would be charged a big sum for the telephone service. That may be the situation in Corio but in the. Wimmera and Mallee electorates large numbers of people are paying and will have to pay big money. I do not want to say more about this subject because I have said sufficient about it recently and the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) has been most courteous in his attention to my advocacy.
– He did not do anything for the honourable member.
– Yes he did. In reply to a question 1 asked in the Parliament yesterday the Postmaster-General said:
I understood that the honourable member had taken this matter up with the Prime Minister and that the right honourable gentleman had indicated that it was under investigation.
That is good enough for me. I was merely asking for co-operation between the PostmasterGeneral and the Prime Minister on this subject. The Postmaster-General cannot be blamed for the high cost involved in converting manual services to the automatic system. It is a matter of policy. No matter what one asks a question about it is always a question of- policy. We want to get the policy changed, because I believe that the policy is out of date. The policy was operative long before people really thought about automatic rural exchanges.
When the honourable member for Corio rose to speak this evening I thought he was going to refer to the matter that was raised by i he honourable member for Lyne (Mr Lucock) last night regarding what the honourable member for Corio said in Hamilton, Victoria, during an election campaign for the Victorian Western Province seat. After all, the honourable member for
Lyne made some pretty strong accusations against the honourable member for Corio. He said that according to an article in the Portland Observer* the honourable member for Corio had said:
In total the Liberal-Country Party Government in Canberra is committed to spending only $50m over a period of 10 years on water conservation throughout Australia.
– He was not far out - only 5 years.
– He was $50m out. Those remarks were made during an election campaign. The honourable member for Corio should realise that whether a member belongs to the Opposition or to the Government when he goes out campaigning he abides by what is a type of gentleman’s agreement to make sure that the figures he quotes are correct. If the honourable member for Corio claims to have been misquoted he should have said so tonight. The Portland Observer’ suggested that the honourable member for Corio said that the man who followed him in a debate relating to water conservation, the honourable member for Lyne, criticised (he Opposition for wanting more for drought relief. Of course, that was completely wrong. I do not want to add fuel to the fire, but the honourable member for Corio should let us know whether he said this and if he did say it surely he will retract it. After all, S50m is a lot of money and even this is only a portion of what will be spent. The election concerned is to take place this Saturday and if the honourable member’s statement might influence some people in their voting then it should be changed.
I hope that my plea for the provision of a water supply scheme in Millewa will receive attention from the Government. It is a practical proposition and it has my full support. I am sure that the Minister for National Development (Mr Fairbairn), who is acquainted with the benefits of pipelining water, will give the scheme his approval.
Dr J. F. CAIRNS (Yarra) f 11 .28]- In the last few weeks the House has witnessed a series of amazing performances by the right honourable the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr McEwen). Three weeks ago I asked the right honourable gentleman whether there were reports that a rapid increase in imports of Japanese cars was taking place and was likely to continue and so endanger the production of four-cylinder cars in Australia. I happen to know that this is a brief statement of the problem that is at present causing a great deal of difficulty to the motor car industry in this country. Obviously it is a question that has been under serious study in the Department of Trade and Industry, in the Tariff Board and in the Treasury for quite a long time. The Minister for Trade and Industry refused to discuss this reasonably. He refused to give me any indication, in answer to my question, as to when he will put before the House some proposal to deal with this very crucial crisis in the motor car industry. Then in reply to a series of other questions, sometimes from me and sometimes from other members of the Opposition, the right honourable gentleman began a fantastic performance of describing, he said, restrictions upon trade imposed by the Japanese Government.
He told us that it was quite impossible for Australia to export even one motor car to Japan but that the Japanese were managing to export 36.000 cars to Australia. He told us of the intricate restrictions upon the export of Australian meat, sugar and wheat to Japan. He made a series of fighting speeches in answer to questions, purely and objectively, he fold us. describing this restrictive trade policy of the Japanese Government. He said he was not making any attacks upon Japan, but I understand that his speeches have been reported in Japanese newspapers as attacks upon the Japanese Government and its policy. I am unable to read Japanese and I have to rely upon information to that effect. If that is or is not so, 1 think it is something that the Minister for Trade and Industry would have to be taking into account because I understand that it has been suggested in Japanese newspapers that this may well endanger trade relations between this country and Japan.
Then on top of this the right honourable gentleman made an even more astonishing performance. As though he were responsible for all of this difficult situation, the Minister for Trade and Industry began to attack a journalist called Maxwell Newton. He said that he was a secret Japanese agent. A secret Japanese agent would be one who was working for the Japanese Government, as would spies, to endanger Australia in the sense that it would be done by espionage, involving offences under the Australian Crimes Act. ‘Secret Japanese agent’ would not be the kind of description that one could apply to a man who was collecting economic information and who was exchanging this with his Japanese employers - a man conducting the ordinary son of public relations or trade relations business that one knows the world is now very much concerned with. The term ‘secret Japanese agent’ - a libel, a slander, actionable, and made under privilege - seems to me to have very little bearing upon the problemsfrom which these accusations arise. Is this man Newton in some significant way responsible for the increase in exports to Australia of Japanese cars? Is this man Newton responsible in some sort of way for the restrictions that the Japanese apply to Australi an meat, sugar and wheat? Has he had some sinister influence in this situation which is not apparent to anyone from outside
Whatistheright honourable gentleman up to? Each time I have asked whether he has sought any advice from the Tariff Board, the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) - if, of course, he can speak to the Treasurer at all - or from the motor car industry about what might be done to meet this very seriout problem that exists in the industry, and whether he would make a statement tothe House, he has completely ignored all these things and has entered into atirade about Japanese trade policy and Newton. What has happened to the right honourable gentleman? Is this in some way the result of his conflict with the Treasurer? He said it was. He said that his reason for saying that he would not serve in a government under the Treasurer. Mr McMahon, was Newton. So this man Newton is a fantastic character. Is it that the Minister for Trade and Industry has become so obsessed by this financial journalist that he is unable to make a statement to the House about what he is going to do about the motor car industry?
What is the Minister going to do about it? I have asked him to seek the advice of the Tariff Board. When he last had the advice of the Tariff Board, he turned it down flat. He rejected what the Tariff Board advised him to do 3 years ago and adopted his own remedy for the position.
The Board had recommended a sliding scale of duties coupled with a certain percentage of Australian content in motor cars assembled in Australia with a view to promoting the situation where eventually a very high proportion - 90% and over - of the motor cars required in Australia could be produced in this country.
The right honourable gentleman rejected that advice from the Tariff Board. The Treasury also opposed the tariffs which were eventually introduced by the Minister. He was against everybody, including the Tariff Board and the Treasury, and went his own way. With what result? We had intervention by this non-interventionist Liberal Government and the introduction of a system that was patchy, that resulted in mis-allocation of resources and that ignored repercussions upon other industries.
I understand that the Volkswagen company invested between $40m and $50m of capital in this country, a country that is very short of capital, and that company has had to go out of production here. I understand, too, that Volkswagen considered itself to be partly responsible for the mistake, but the Minister for Trade and Industry must accept some responsibility for it. It seems to me that unless the importation of Japanese cars is seriously restricted the British Motor Corporation will go out of production in this country before very long. This has been a patchy intervention, a misallocation-
– Is the honourable member advocating that the importation of Japanese cars into Australia should be seriously restricted?
– I. am advocating that we take adequate steps to protect the production of motor cars in Australia so that we may have sound production of six cylinder cars and sound production of four cylinder cars.
– By restricting the importation of Japanese motor cars?
– I think we will have to restrict the importation of some Japanese motor vehicles, yes. I think the Minister for Trade and Industry, and his assistant, the Minister who has just interjected, have a responsibility to answer that question instead of requiring an answer from me. I want to know how the Minister would answer that question. He must not imagine for a moment that he can avoid answering it by requiring an answer from me. I will give him my answer. In fact, I have given it. We stand for the protection of the Australian motor car industry and entering into a sensible arrangement with Japan which will not restrict our exports to Japan and thereby penalise the very people whom the Minister for Trade and Industry is supposed to represent primarily. This, I believe, can be done, without any of the histrionics in which the Minister for Trade and Industry has engaged in this House during recent weeks. We want an opportunity to debate the matter and I challenge the Minister to give us that opportunity.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I wish to talk about some of the disabilities which are suffered by the people in the outlying areas of my own State. No doubt what I have to say has application also to other States. I propose referring to some letters that I received about these matters recently. First, I believe that the responsibility for trying to keep population in the outlying and inland areas of Australia does not rest particularly with me but, as I represent some of these people, I feel that I should give the House some information which might promote a better understanding of the problems and difficulties being suffered by them. It is the responsibility of the people of the Australian nation, and, through them, of the Australian governments to see to it that the conditions under which these people live are such that they are encouraged - at least to the extent that governments can encourage them to stay in these areas and expand their activities there.
I have been told - and I have resented being told - that the people are out there simply because they want to be out there. I suggest that anyone who has travelled out into country districts of recent times will know that the people are not there because they want to be there but because, over a long period, they have established asserts there and they have had to stay there to protect those assets. The least that governments can do is to try to alleviate the conditions under which these people are existing at the moment. Let me quote from a letter that I received from the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) dated 28th March 1968, in relation to the supply of milk to children at the Cheepie State School. This is a service which is provided to schools by the Commonwealth Government and it is a very good service for those who can take advantage of it. But one of the conditions applying to the supply of milk is stated in that letter as follows:
Schools on the outskirts of cities and towns may be supplied with milk from that source provided the freight charge docs not exceed 20c per gallon.
As a result of that restriction the children at Cheepie State School are deprived of a benefit that many other children receive. 1 see no reason why the freight charge should be limited to 20c a gallon, provided it is reasonable. The amount of money saved by this Government because of this provision would be very small indeed. I believe that these children are entitled to milk. An attempt was made to obtain fruit juice foi them but that was not successful. The State Government says that it cannot go beyond the 20c a gallon freight charge. I think this is something that can be looked into.
That is only one of a number of things to which I wish to refer. When I was in Charleville last weekend I was interviewed by the rector of the Church of England and one of his parishioners concerning a hostel. In a moment I will read from a letter that the rector wrote to me. I think it is only right that I should say that this is primarily the responsibility of the State Government, but if the Commonwealth is willing to go to the extent of improving the health of our children through such schemes as the provision of milk then I think it is time we had a look, together with the State governments, to see if we can help with some of the other disabilities that children suffer in remote areas. The letter slated:
For the past 30 years the Charleville and other adjacent districts have been fortunate in having at their disposal a boys’ and girls’ hostel, owned and controlled by the Church, to enable children from the country to attend school in Charleville. It was first available tor primary education and since high schools have been opened during latter years, both primary and secondary school children have used the hosteL
In the early days when costs were not high a boy or girl could obtain board at the hostel for $3.00 per week, but due to rising costs the separate building which housed the boys had to be closed in 196S as many people could not afford to pay the increased fees.
During all the time that there was reasonable prosperity in that area these people did not ask for a single thing. The wool industry has contributed a tremendous amount to the welfare of the Australian people and the development of the nation. These people asked for no help during those years when this matter was being handled by the contribution of the people in the area. The letter continued:
The upward trend in costs continues and the remaining section of the hostel which at the moment houses thirty-one boys and girls, of all denominations, could well close in the same way. In our opinion this would be a calamity and further retard the outlook for the future of this part of the electorate.
You are well aware that years of drought, fall in wool prices and the high cost of living in country districts have caused families to leave the west and move to the cities, so causing a shortage of labour for the pastoral industry.
We should do all that we can to prevent these people from leaving the area. This letter was written by the rector of the Church of England in Charleville and it is signed by himself and two parish wardens. These are responsible people who would not make statements just for the sake of making them. To show the value of this hostel to the people in the area, I shall quote from another letter which I have received. I have said that this matter is the particular responsibility of the State, but I hope that the Commonwealth and the State will be able to get together to give further assistance. I will read this letter to show the benefit that these hostels are to the area. It states:
With further reference to the interview Father Booth and I had with you yesterday regarding All Saints Hostel, I would like to bring the following personal observations before your notice. I am the local Manager of a Woolbroking Company and during the course of business I have the opportunity to come in contact with graziers, contractors and employees within the pastoral industry. Firstly, I would like to point out that a client, non Church of England, whose 12 months working expenses must be kept within a prepared Budget-
This is because of the financial difficulty that this man is in- to cover his Income and Expenditure, recently requested his school fees to be reduced by $800 for the year . . .
This man allowed his woolbroking firm to do this- because be was able to send his child to the Hostel and attend the High School in Charleville.
This meant saving those fees. This illustrates in a graphic way the great advantage that this hostel is and that it is conducted by people of high purpose with the object of assisting people in their area. Here is another instance mentioned in this same letter:
Secondly, a property manager, who receives $220 per month-
Again, this man is on a compulsory budget because of conditions- recently pointed out to me that he was able to give his child a high school education only because of the cheap fees charged by the Hostel, and was able to attend the Charleville State High School.
This was this man’s child. if the Hostel facilities were not available be said he could not afford to send his child away to a boarding school to receive this higher education. lt is not possible for us or for any Government to do all the things we would like in order to assist people in the west. It is not possible to give them the equality which I am sure every reasonable and thinking person would like to see them get. At the same time there are ways and means in which we can at least lessen the inequality under which those people live. I rose tonight to quote these instances and to give information to the House as to how we might be able to help them achieve equality. I want to stress the tremendous importance of the things I have said, particularly regarding the hostel. I pay a great compliment to the people who are running it. This hostel would not now be in operation if it were not for the consideration given by the matron of the hostel to the way it is conducted. The people there do not think they would be able to get anyone else to do this job and charge the same fees if by some chance the matron happened to leave.
There is great willingness by the people in that area to help themselves. I think it is up to this Government, and to governments generally, to try to aid those people who have done so much for the country in the past and who are now looking for some assistance. They do not want more than anybody else. We should lessen to some slight degree the inequality which now exists in the living conditions of these people, particularly in respect of the education of their children. These are schemes which should be encouraged to the full. The Country Women’s Association has done something similar in Dalby. It established a hostel there. However, distances in that area are somewhat shorter. Such things are even more important in far distant places than they are in more closely settled areas. I hope something will be done to show our appreciation of the work being done in this direction. We should give assistance to encourage this sort of thing in areas where living conditions are difficult and where children do not get the opportunities that they have in the cities and the larger towns.
– In view of the lateness of the hour I do not intend to delay the House for very long. As honourable members are well aware it is not my habit to speak to the motion for the adjournment unless I really have good reason. I was prompted to speak tonight because of comments made by the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) when he raised the question of the unfair distribution of costs relating to the establishment of country automatic telephone exchanges in his area. Before T go too deeply into my remarks I want to say at the outset that any comments I make certainly are not directed at the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) or any of his officers.
– The honourable member is now spoiling a good speech.
– I will repeat what I said: My comments are not directed at the PostmasterGeneral or any of his officers. I have nothing but admiration for all those in the Department who handle these matters. We receive from them all the consideration that it is possible for anyone to give us. I compliment the Minister and his staff on that. The honourable member for Corio said that he was very much concerned about, I think, nine subscribers. It is unfortunate that I am not in a similar position. I think that if one were to add two noughts after the nine the number would be nearer the total of subscribers about whom I am greatly concerned.
Tonight, I want to discuss some information that has been given to me only this evening in an answer that I have received from the Postmaster-General to a question on notice. The answer states that 1,600 of all the telephone connections made last financial year were classified as part privately erected, or PPE, lines. It is rather interesting to note that a total of something like 330,000 connections were made last financial year. Allowing for a number of disconnections, that figure does not represent the total gain, of course. The gain is something like 1 14,000. Another interesting point is revealed by these statistics. I find that something like 210,000 of these connections required new lines. All these figures are in hundreds of thousands. The total of 1,600 subscribers for new connections last financial year who unfortunately cannot obtain a fully departmental service, by contrast, may seem pretty small. I agree with the honourable member for Corio, who said, in effect, that this sort of situation represents discrimination against a very small percentage of the people. They are responsible not only for the erection of all or part of their lines but also for the maintenance of their services. As the Minister has indicated, the Department allocates up to $1,056 for each new subscriber. This allocation is based on what are described as units. Those units are not based directly on sums of money, but are adopted so as to make the establishment of new lines easier.
The total cost of installing CAX services is unknown to me and, unfortunately, I cannot ascertain it. However, this fact does not worry me unduly. My concern is for the 1,600 new subscribers last financial year who are relying on PPE lines. No doubt there will be- another 1,600 in a similar situation next financial year. From information that I have gained from various sources, I understand that the upgrading of telephone services in rural areas by bringing them into the CAX classification applies to something like 6,000 services a year. I hope that the House will excuse me for mentioning so many figures. In my view at present, there is definite discrimination against a percentage of telephone subscribers. As I pointed out a few minutes ago, more than 200,000 new services a year require new lines, and approximately 1,600 new subscribers are discriminated against annually. This is very unfair treatment for them.
I said at the outset, Mr Speaker, that I would not take long, and I shall stick to my word. There are something like 300,000 subscribers throughout Australia with manual services, and I concede that it will be many years before all can have automatic services. But I suggest to the PostmasterGeneral that the cost of providing with fully departmental lines the 1,600 new subscribers each year who are discriminated against would be infinitesimal compared with the total annual capital expenditure of the Postmaster-General’s Department. From my observations, I would say that if we were just to double the present allocation of $1,056 the total cost would still be well under $2m a year. I submit that this is a matter to which the Postmaster-General and the Government must give consideration If we adopted a broader attitude and agreed with the principle of increasing the number of units that the Department allocates by 50%, I am sure that in most cases we would not have any worries at all and that most of our problems would be solved. I ask the Postmaster-General to keep these matters foremost in his mind. I believe that an injustice is done to this very small percentage of the people. If I had sufficient time this evening 1 could enlarge on these points. But in view of the late hour I will not do so. I urge the Postmaster-General to look at this matter and to consider whether he can increase the allocation, even if that is done at the expense of some of the more elaborate extensions that the Postmaster-General’s Department is attempting to carry out throughout the Commonwealth.
– 1 wish to join with the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) and other members who represent rural electorates in briefly mentioning this problem while the PostmasterGeneral (Mr Hulme) is in the House. I have come across it on a great number of occasions, as have other members in rural districts. I have written to the PostmasterGeneral and his Department on many occasions. We run up against the same problem and the same policy. We receive every courtesy and service from the officers of the Postmaster-General’s Department. This is not a problem of the Public Service or the Department; rather is it a problem of the policy that has been laid down and enunciated by the Postmaster-General and other members of the Cabinet.
I believe that it is a policy of discrimination against country dwellers. Indeed, it is almost a lottery when the PostmasterGeneral’s Department decides to ‘get rid of the old manual exchanges in an area. The area might have a number of manual exchanges. For instance, in one area in my electorate, where three rural automatic exchanges will come into operation fairly soon, at present there are about nine manual exchanges. I say that it is almost a lottery because the Department decides where the new automatic exchange is to go, and if a person happens to be a member of the farming community living fairly close to that point his new automatic service does not cost him anything; but if he happens to be unlucky in that he lives a fair distance away from where the Department decides to put the new exchange his automatic serivice can cost him many hundreds of dollars or even thousands of dollars. In my opinion this is adding to the disabilities of country life. A much closer examination should be made. An effort should be made to get rid of this discrimination and this added disability for people living in rural electorates.
One fact that should be borne in mind is that most of the people concerned have been subscribers on manual exchanges for many years. In the first place they have erected their own line. In the second place they have maintained their line or met the cost of maintaining it. Some of them say that they are quite happy with the manual exchange. But no-one will go crook about progress. Obviously rural automatic exchanges have great advantages over manual exchanges. The problem is that when progress comes it comes at a cost of many hundreds of dollars or perhaps thousands of dollars to some people in rural communities. In fact I think I asked the PostmasterGeneral to have another look at this situation. I am aware of the plea that has been made about installing these CAXs and RAXs and I know the cost to the community, but the people involved are already suffering a great number of disabilities because of living in country or outback areas. I believe the Commonwealth Government should examine the possibility of lessening the disabilities that are evident in almost every aspect of the life of these people who live in country and outback areas.
– 1 cannot in the 10 minutes I am allowed endeavour to cover this subject adequately. Nevertheless 1 would like to make one or two comments on what honourable members have said. I am not one of those people who believe that we can ever reach a stage at which we can be completely satisfied. Honourable members have offered criticism. In whatever terms their remarks were couched, they represented criticism of my predecessor, who was a member of the Country Party. I remind honourable members that in 1957 or 1958 he initiated the ELSA scheme, and as a result 45% of the trunk line calls which had been charged to country dwellers became local calls. This was a tremendous advantage to many people living in the country areas.
The Postmaster-General’s Department receives a certain amount of capital money year by year. This money is voted by this Parliament and it is distributed by the Post Office having regard to the capital requirements of the community as a whole. When I became Postmaster-General a little over 4 years ago there was a substantial volume of deferred applications for telephone services throughout this country, and there was a great demand in this Parliament that the problem be solved. Other problems, of course, existed at the same time. We have substantially solved the problem of deferred applications. At that time, 4 years ago, there was a constant request, particularly from members representing country electorates, for automatic services. This, of course, was part of the scheme enunciated by Mr Davidson back in 1957 and 1958. When the installation of rural automatic exchanges was considered, naturally the cost became a factor to be considered. So we had to try to overcome the problem of cost. Certainly there is a substantial cost associated with these services, but it must be remembered that those who are in the situation described tonight are those who are paying, generally speaking, the lowest telephone rentals. They are not paying the maximum rental which those who live in the capital cities are paying. They have this advantage. I am not saying that it completely overcomes the disadvantages.
– What about-
– 1 did not interject when the honourable member for Bendigo was making his speech. I suggest he might let rae have the few minutes that are available to me. The people that I am speaking about could, with the old manual exchange, get a telephone service on one wire. This is not possible if an automatic service is required. If you want automatic services you must have suitable equipment between the telephone exchange and your residence, and you must have a metallic circuit with two wires. The honourable member for Wimmera (Mr King) said that we allocated $1,056 in relation to each service. This is the amount which is allocated to each service virtually throughout Australia, so that to this degree the country dweller is in exactly the same situation as the person who lives in a metropolitan area. So there is, at this level, some equality.
I think the honourable member for Mallee (Mr Turnbull) said that he wanted a change in policy. I hear many requests in this Parliament for changes in policy which will require considerably increased expenditure. The honourable member for Mallee shakes his head to indicate that this is not true bat I, as the Minister listening to questions asked day by day, know that there is a very substantial demand by members of Parliament for greatly increased expenditure. Unfortunately none of them indicates to me where to obtain the additional money. I will not attempt to forecast tonight what the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) will reveal when we come to the end of June, but I think some honourable members will get a shock when they realise the deficit which has been occasioned by the expenditures that we have incurred over and above the revenues we have received.
If we are to have a reasonable economy within the postal services we must establish an equitable amount for those who want telephone extensions. Our funds are not unlimited. If honourable members tell me that they prefer the number of deferred applications to increase, that is all right. No doubt if they lived in the country that is what they would prefer, provided of course that it happened in the metropolitan area, but if they lived in the metropolitan area they perhaps would not worry so much about the country. We have an overall responsibility in this matter.
The honourable member for Bendigo mentioned the placing of rural automatic exchanges. He said that some people living near the exchange pay nothing for installation while those some distance from it have to pay a considerable amount. That is just a matter of fortune. It is reasonable to expect that the RAX will be placed where the main centre of population is located, and if a person establishes himself in thai area he will benefit. That is exactly what happens. The RAX is placed by the Department at the point where it will serve the greatest number of people and will be able to meet the demands which the people in the whole area will make upon it.
I do not believe there is any easy solution to this problem. As 1 said at the beginning of my remarks, I do not think we will ever reach the stage where we will be completely satisfied with the result. As I have indicated on more than one occasion, I am quite prepared to have a further investigation and analysis of figures available within the Post Office to see whether it is possible to do more than we are doing at the present time, but I think it is unreasonable for honourable members to suggest that there is something unfair about the system because someone is required to make a personal payment for the use of a telephone. It must be a question of balance. Great advantages have been obtained in the past by reason of concessions that have been made, for example, in relation to rentals. They are in three different categories, and most of the people about whom we are concerned are in the lowest category.
There is another problem. If we do not change over to the automatic system we may find many telephone office keepers moving away or not continuing with the job. Then complaints arise because the Post Office has to install an RAX or find someone else to fill the vacant position, but the self-help which has been part of the telephone system in country areas over many years suddenly disappears into thin air. There are many problems associated with this matter and it is a case of the people helping themselves to a substantial degree in the areas in which they live. They cannot expect the Governnent to do everything.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 12.10 a.m. (Thursday)
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
Are university fees paid by adult students an allowable tax deduction? If not, why not?
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The deductibility of expenditure of this nature is governed by the general deduction provisions of the Income Tax Assessment Act.
Those provisions authorise deductions for expenditure incurred in producing assessable income, but specifically preclude the deduction of outgoings which are of a capital, private or domestic nature.
Decisions of Taxation Boards of Review have established that expenditure incurred by a taxpayer on a course of study undertaken for the purpose of acquiring professional or academic qualifications, or to enable him to engage in any new income-earning occupation, is of a private or capital nature and not deductible for income tax purposes.
However, where a taxpayer incurs expenditure on a course of study undertaken for the purpose of maintaining his knowledge or ability in his existing occupation or employment, the expenditure may qualify for deduction on the grounds that it is incurred in connection with the production of his assessable income and is not of a private or capital nature.
Accordingly, the question whether university fees paid by adult students are an allowable tax deduction is one that needs to be determined on the particular facts of each case.
The question whether, as a special concession, deductions should be allowed in respect of University fees paid by adult students beyond the limits set out above has been considered by the Government on a number of occasions. The case for granting such a concession has, of course, to be weighed against the cases for other new or extended tax concessions in the light of the total scope available at Budget time for granting tax concessions, and I shall arrange for consideration to be given to it again during the preparation of the 1968-69 Budget.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s questions is as follows:
No complaints have been received by the Commonwealth Government Printer from paper manufacturers, paper suppliers or private printers since the adoption by the Commonwealth of international size paper in January 1967.
The only complaints received by the Commonwealth Government Printer have been from State Government Printers who, at the invitation of the Treasury, visited Canberra last October to discuss the change to the new sizes. The complaints of the State Government Printers were that -
limitations of bulk storage space in the States would make it most difficult to carry the new sizes of paper in addition to British traditional sizes.
Paper suppliers appeared to be reluctant to stock international size paper until there is a more widespread demand from the trade for the new sizes.
Machines and equipment installed in State Government Printing Offices are more suitable for processing traditional sizes.
In relation to (a) and (b) the Commonwealth Government Printer has arranged to meet the difficulties of storing or obtaining the new sizes by forwarding supplies of paper in international sizes when required by each State Government Printer to process Commonwealth work. No difficulties have been experienced by the Commonwealth in obtaining its paper requirements from manufacturers in the new sizes. In regard to (c), the plant of the Commonwealth Government Printer is very similar to that used by the State Government Printers. No serious difficulties have been encountered in the Commonwealth Government Printing Office in printing on international size paper.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
The gold holdings of the ‘Group of Ten’ countries, plus South Africa and Australia totalled $US33,853m at the end of 1960. The latest figures available for these countries as a whole show their holdings at$US35,267m at the end of September 1967. 2 and 3. The Governors of the Central Banks of Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States met in Washington in March to examine the operations of the Gold Pool to which they were active contributors. The Gold Pool had operated from 1961 with the objective of keeping the free price of gold within a reasonable range of the official United States price of $US35 per fine ounce. In a communique issued after the meeting, the Governors supported the United States’ policy to continue to buy and sell gold at the existing price of$US35 in transactions with monetary authorities. They decided no longer to supply gold to the free markets and agreed not to sell gold to monetary authorities to replace gold sold in private markets. At a meeting of the Group of Ten on 30 March these countries as well as Japan, Sweden and Canada re-affirmed their determination to co-operate in the maintenance of exchange stability and orderly exchange arrangements in the world based on the present official price of gold. 4. (a) A rise in the world price of gold would increase the value of the gold component of Australia’s reserves. On 28 February 1968 Australia’s holding of gold amounted to $A209m.
asked the Minister repre senting the Minister for Supply, upon notice:
What is the latest information provided by the British Government on its long-term plan for participation in the Woomera projects of the European Launcher Development Organisation?
– The Minister for Supply has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
Firings at Woomera on behalf of ELDO are expected to continue until late 1969 or early 1970. Present indications are that firings will extend into early 1970.
There is to be a meeting of Ministers of the countries which are members of the major European Space Organisations at Bonn in July, 1968. The meeting will review progress against existing programmes. It aims also to take decisions on future programmes which could cover a combination of the further development of launch vehicles and the development of experimental satellites compatible with scientific research and future commercial application purposes. It can be expected that Britain’s future intentions in relation to these programmes will become known at that time.
A statement on the future of ELDO as it affects Australia will be made later in the year when the matter is further advanced.
Agricultural Information Service (Question No. 69)
asked the Minister for
Primary Industry, upon notice:
Will he consider setting up an Australia wide information service, possibly through the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, providing information on agricultural production on a monthly basis on such subjects as production areas, projected harvests, weather conditions, market situations and prospects, etc., both in Australia and for export, where appropriate?
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
A wide range of information on agricultural production, weather conditions and markets is presently being made available on a regular basis by the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics, the Marketing Division of the Department of Primary Industry, the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, the State Departments of Agriculture, the Bureau of Meteorology, the various Statutory Marketing Boards and Industry Organisations. The content and the regularity of the reports by these authorities is constantly being reviewed and where possible extended. Where it is appropriate there is liaison and co-operation between the different Organisations and the reports are as comprehensive as is practicable. It is considered that the present position would not be improved by the setting up of an Australia wide information service possibly through the Bureau of Agricultural Economics.
asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice:
Mow many persons enrolled as electors of the Electoral Division of Leichhardt live within three miles of the coast of Papua?
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
It has not been practicable to identify those cases in which only a comparatively short period elapsed between the date of retirement and 30th June 1967 or to relate increases to the number of units of pension contributed for. These and other factors are significant in making comparisons between individuals and statistical groups.
asked the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice:
What will be the cost of repairing the radio transmitter and mast at Ban Me Thuot, South Vietnam, which was built by the Australian Government under its aid programme and which was damaged during the Communist Tet offensive?
Does the Government intend’ to bear the cost of repairs? If so what will bc the total of Australian expenditure on the project when the repairs are completed?
How does this total compare with the original estimate?
ls it a fact that the former Liberal Member for Lilley, Mr Bruce Wight, persuaded the Government to build the transmitter and mast?
Was the contract for design and construction awarded to Standard Telephones and Cables Pty Ltd, and was Mr Wight at the time an employee of this company?
Were tenders called for the project? II so, how many were received, from whom were they received, and why was the tender from Standard Telephones and Cables accepted?
Is it a fact that the mast was damaged nol once, but twice, by lightning, and that repairs resulted in substantial increases in the cost of the project?
Were faults in design or construction responsible for this damage? If so, did ‘.he contracting company or the Australian taxpayer bear the additional cost?
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
Has he inquired of booksellers and newsagents what percentage of exercise books is sold for use in educational institutions?
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows: 1 and 2. Exercise books and similar stationery are used for a wide range of commercial and private purposes as well as in educational institutions. There is no authoritative information available on the proportion of sales of such stationery for use in educational institutions.
asked the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice:
Have either North or South Vietnam signed the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war and on the conduct of hostilities?
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
On 14th November 1953, the State of Vietnam deposited ite Instrument of Accession, without reservations, to the four Geneva Conventions for the Protection of War Victims, including the Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. The Government of the Republic of Vietnam has publicly confirmed its willingness to observe the Conventions in full.
On 28th June 1957, North Vietnam filed a document of accession to the four Conventions, with reservations.
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice:
Can he say what is the uniform dress of combat troops of
the National Liberation Front; and
the Democratic Republic of Vietnam?
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
There is apparently no common policy, even within Vietcong units on the wearing of a uniform mode of dress. Most Vietcong main force soldiers have a set of grey or green fatigues although the most common form of dress is the black suit of the Vietnamese peasant This suit is easily purchased through civilian sources and makes it difficult for allied forces to identify Vietcong soldiers.
The North Vietnamese soldier is issued with two sets of Khaki uniforms similar in design to US fatigues. Although the recently infiltrated North Vietnamese soldier normally wears this uniform, after a period of time in South Vietnam, lack of resupply forces him to adopt the peasant’s black suit.
asked the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
asked the Minister for External Territories, upon notice:
What is the minimum rate of pay fixed by Ordinance for New Guinea natives employed in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea as plantation workers?
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The cash component of the minimum annual wage fixed by the Native Employment Ordinance for indigenous plantation workers in P.N.G. is $52 for a first year employee rising to $65 for the third and subsequent years of employment. In addition the employer is required to provide food, clothing, etc. to a value of $143. In addition, unless the worker has suitable alternative accommodation, the employer is obliged to accommodate him. The value of accommodation is assessed at $30 making the total minimum wage where accommodation is provided $225 per annum.
In addition, for heavy labour, an allowance of $13.00 a year is payable.
Where an all-cash wage is paid instead of cash and kind the minimum wage actually paid may vary due to food price variations in different regions.
asked the Minister for External Territories, upon notice:
What amount of workers’ compensation is payable to the dependent wife of a New Guinean plantation worker receiving the minimum wage for a plantation worker, on the death of the worker by injury or accident sustained in the course of his employment?
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Under the Papua and New Guinea Workers’ Compensation Ordinance, the amount payable in these circumstances would be $2,322.
Television (Question No. 27)
asked the Postmaster-
General, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
Approximate dates of completion of broadband facilities:
These relate to broadband multi-channel telephone facilities. Television facilities will also be provided for (a) and (b) by the above dates. There is no television provision on the broadband facility (c).
The provision of television to distant areas is unfortunately associated with very real problems of both a technical and economic nature. I can hold out little hope for the provision of service to the areas in question for some considerable time. However, the Australian Broadcasting Control Board is continually examining ways and means of extending the television service and any possibilities of provision of service to distant centres, including those referred to by the honourable member, will receive full consideration.
asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice:
How many partly privately erected telephone lines or services were connected to exchanges of up to 200 capacity in each of the States in the years 1964-65, 1965-66 and 1966-67?
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The Department’s statistics are not recorded in a form which would permit extraction of the particular information sought by the honourable member. However, in 1966-67, a total of 1,600 part privately erected lines was connected to exchanges of all sizes throughout the Commonwealth. This figure represents 3.38% of the net increase in servicesin operation in country areas in 1966-67.
Mail Services (QuestionNo.53)
asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
asked the Minister for Social Services, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
Two. 2.(a) 68 Macquarie Street, Parramatta.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 3 April 1968, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1968/19680403_reps_26_hor58/>.