Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 18 August 1921

Senator PEARCE (Western AustralianMinister for Defence) (Minister for Defence) .- Thiscase is by no means a new one to. me, and before I deal, with, its merits may X . say . that I shall .ha-ve to speak, somewhat. in1 a collective capacity as the Minister representing the Minister for the Navy (Mr.. Laird Smith) as it is, not a- defence matter in so far: as- that Department is.-' concerned. I shall also- have to speak as' the Minister representing the Treasurer (Sir -Joseph. Cook) in. the matter of ., a war 'gratuity, the payments' of which are" controlled by the Treasurer and not bythe Minister for Defence. The first letter quoted by Senator- Gardiner- is, one-, issued,. I understand, by the officer- in command at Garden Island.- He had' no authority to grant a commission to any, one; nor does his letter purport so to do. The .letter indicates was- intended to use Strasburg's services, and that he -would receive - the appointment of lieutenant. Defence and. the Navy were at that time - in 19.14- 15. - under the control of one Minister, and'-when-. Strasburg was. engaged the De-1 partment waa under- my administration. Later the Departments were separated, andi Strasburg's claim for a war gratuity, has been dealt with, since- then! Each- De- partment has to determine the eligibility of the members of the Forces who served under it. Therefore, it was not a question which I had any authority to determine. In- 1915 Captain' Strasburg made certain claims which came before me, and T referred them to Colonel" Holmes, who was administering what. was-< then German New Guinea. A number of" reports were received from officers who had dealings with Captain Strasburg, and these, together with the Administrator's remarks; were sent to Melbourne. On receipt of these reports I referred his claim, together with the report, to the Naval Board, and I have 'here the recommendation, of that body. The following is a copy of the minute by the-First Naval Member, which was forwarded for the Minister's information : -

Captain Strasburg claims on various grounds for pilotage. The pilotage includes services; other than its literal meanings-certain coal-' ing,- launching, and painting -. of ship, and capture of ships through his instrumentality* I understand that it was. due to his guidance that, the captured vessels Samoa,- Star, Mathupi and Sente were,found and. .secured. Colonel. Holmes) had. expressed, his, -inability to- estimate the value of Captain . Strasburg's services, .as he is not, a naval officer. The Naval Department have, assessed the value of the technical service of pilotage. according to 'Naval Regulations. Colonel .Holmes still expresses himself /Unable to 1 estimate the worth of , the remaining services, though it does not appear to me to be a .question of great difficulty by the officer engaging a person for 'certain duties :to :state the .worth of that duty. I am not r able to . judge how far Captain . Strasburg's knowledge, information, and guidance contributed to those captures - certainly not so well as Colonel Holmes, who was at Rabaul .and"en- gaged his .services. If Captain Strasburg's assistance andi knowledge placed us in possession of these vessels, and they are now -our property, he has carried out a service worth at least f 100, and .to this should be added a few pounds for length of time he has remained here waiting for his money.

On that I approved of the payment of if 125 in full :and final .settlement of all claims. Colonel Holmes, as honorable "senators are 'aware, died on active service in France. I have here the reports of the various persons to whom. this matter , was from time to time referred.

Senator Keating - Was the recommendation that of Mr. Macandie, or .that of the First Naval Member?

Senator PEARCE - It was the recommendation of the First .Naval Member sent forward by Mr. Macandie. The history of the case subsequently may be briefly . stated as follows: - Senator Gardiner first raised the question of the PaY.ment of war gratuity to Captain Strasburg in the Senate, and at the time pointed out that the Director of Navy Accounts had disallowed the payment of gratuity on the grounds that he was not a member of the Commonwealth Naval Forces. Senator Gardiner quoted extracts from several documents and publications at the time to prove that Captain Strasburg had been granted .an appointment in the Naval Forces. .The Central War Gratuity Board thereupon gave consideration to the eligibility of Captain Strasburg for gratuity, and ruled .as under : -

The Central War Gratuity .Board has considered this case .and decided .that Captain Strasburg is mot eligible for gratuity. The file relative to the case indicated an apparent intention to 'grant Captain Strasburg a commission, but this is not an appointment, .and the Naval Board, .therefore, did -not appoint him. He was, .therefore, not a member of .the Forces, and .is not entitled under the Act to war gratuity.

I point out that .the only appeal from .the Central War Gratuity Board is to. the Treasurer,, and not to me.

The Secretary, for Defence, in a minute dated 16th November, 1920, -sought information from the Adjutant-General as to whether it was proper for the Department to employ Captain Strasburg in a civilian capacity -on military operations of the nature referred to; and, further,- if it was improper to do this whether it would not be -equitable to now appoint Captain Strasburg to the Forces for- the duration of his employment in order to -make him . eligible to benefit under the War Gratuity Act. The Adjutant-General pointed out that Captain Strasburg was employed for Naval service, and not military, and, therefore, the question is one for decision by the Navy Department, but no objection could be seen why a person should not have been employed in a civilian capacity for navigation work during the war. A similar query to that addressed to the AdjutantGeneral was on 24th December, 1920, forwarded to the Navy Department, which Department replied on 10th February, 1921, to the effect that the Naval Board, after full consideration of all the circumstances attending the case, -are unable to concur in the proposal to appoint Captain Strasburg to the Naval Forces for the period Ot his employment, as such action would create a very undesirable precedent, which other persons would seize upon. Captain Strasburg was not "the only person employed in- the -same locality in a civilian capacity for pilotage and other such work. Moreover, under the Naval Defence Act, Captain Strasburg, feeing an alien, is ineligible to be granted a commission in the Commonwealth Naval Forces. On the. 26th November, 1920, Senator Gardiner again brought this matter before the House, and spoke at length

On the subject. I then replied that it would appear that .the Navy Department ;are taking up fie attitude that, technically speaking, .Captain Strasburg is not entitled to a war gratuity, and if such was the case- representations would be made to the Minister for the Navy to consider whether he could -see his- way on the- facts. I .said that I did not propose to pass any "judgment on them,, to recommend Parliament to vote. a sum of .money to Captain

Strasburg for the services he had rendered if he was not entitled, technically speaking, to the war gratuity. That I have done; but so far no decision has been arrived at. Captain Strasburg had issued a writ against the Commonwealth Government claiming £12,000 for services rendered, &c. The plaintiff solicitor suggested, without prejudice, that the action be settled by the payment of £2;000 in full settlement of all claims due. The Commonwealth legal authorities considered that Captain Strasburg had no legal claim against the Commonwealth, and, stated that it was a matter for Departmental consideration whether or not it would be preferable to settle the matter by paying. Captain Strasburg the sum of £105, being the difference between the amount of his claim made immediately the services were rendered, viz., £285 - that is the claim with which I dealt in the earlier stages of the case - and the total of the payments made to him, viz., £180, because the £125, of which I approved, was subsequently increased by £55. The Navy Department took the view that the matter involved was the assessment of the services of Captain Strasburg to the Administrator at Rabaul, and remarked that Captain Strasburg rendered very useful service to the Administrator, and his local knowledge apparently proved of much value in a number of ways, apart from his actual duties as a pilot in uncharted waters. It was, therefore, recommended that the amount of £105 be paid. The offer of £105 in full final settlement was made to Captain Strasburg's solicitors, who submitted a counter proposal for settlement as under: -

To accept the amount of £105 offered, if consideration is given to application for war gratuity, and if his right to takeup and develop the island lands over which he held certainrights from the then German Government is not dealt with in the settlement.

To this the reply was given that the suggested payment of £105 was in full and final settlement of all claims for compensation which the plaintiff then had, or thereafter might have, including war gratuityand interests in lands, and that the amount of £105 must be accepted or unconditionally rejected. A further letter was then received accepting the offer of £105 on these terms, conditional on the Crown paying plaintiff's costs assessed at £21, but on acceptance of this offer being notified to the solicitors, the plaintiff refused, to agree, and again put forward his request that settlement should exclude claims, if any, to war gratuity and prize money. Settlement on these lines was eventually agreed upon, viz., payment of £105 and £21 costs, but not to prejudice claims (if any) to war gratuity and prize money.

Captain Strasburg originally applied for war gratuity, but his application was rejected by the Director of Navy Accounts, on the ground that he was not a " member of the Forces " within the meaning of the Act. The case was later referred to the Central War Gratuity Board. . The Central Board's decision was that the applicant was not eligible, not being a " member of the Forces " within the meaning of the Act. The Central Board further states -

The file relative to the case indicated an apparent intention to grant Captain Strasburg a commission, but this is not an appointment, and the Naval Board, therefore, did not appoint him. He was not, therefore, a member of the Forces, and is not entitled under the Act to war gratuity.

Further, he did not receive the full pay of his rank or alleged rank (section 5 (2) of the War Gratuity Act), which would also render him ineligible. The Central War Gratuity Board (prescribed authority) is vested under the War

Gratuity Regulations with power to decide on any appeal lodged by a war gratuity claimant. The Board, before finally rejecting Captain Strasburg's claim, were in possession of the full facts in connexion with his service, and were familiar with all the circumstances as disclosed by the Navy Department's file.

I have in addition only to say that it is clear that Captain Strasburg's original claim was not for anything like the amount for which he afterwards claimed. Inquiries were made at the time when the facts were new and in the minds of the officers who dealt with the matter. The reports were considered by the First Naval Member of the Naval Board, and his recommendation was made and approved. The amount of compensation he recommended was subsequently increased by £50, and later by £7 for some technical reason. Itwas finally accepted by Captain Strasburg's representatives, any suggestion that he was entitled to war gratuity, or any claim in respect of lands, being waived. Therefore, I do not see that he can have any further claim on that score. Whatever claim he may have must be with regard to the payment of war gratuity.

Senator Gardiner - And that is the only claim I am putting forward for him.

Senator PEARCE - Any claim for war gratuity must be based on legal or moral grounds, and clearly it can have no legal basis. « Senator Vardon. - What is his nationality ?

Senator PEARCE - He is a Swede or a Norwegian.

Senator Gardiner - He became naturalized many years ago.

Senator PEARCE - I understand that although a naturalized British subject,' under the Navy regulations he was ineligible for a commission. In his claim he himself assessed the value of his services, and the matter was fully gone into. He received his pay, but put forward a claim for £3S0 as extra payment, and, after it had been given consideration, he accepted payment at the reduced figure. Therefore, what other moral claim can there te? He himself assessed the value of his services when the whole of the circumstances were fresh in his mind, and lie has been paid. I have submitted to the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Laird Smith) the question whether in the light of all the facts he can approve of any further payment.

Senator Elliott - At the time he assessed his services the question of paying war gratuity had not been considered.

Senator PEARCE - No. His claim referred to services in 1915. At that time the question of paying a war gratuity had not been dealt with. It appears to me that his moral claim must rest upon the fact that if he had been entitled to a commission in the Navy he would undoubtedly have been entitled to the payment of a war gratuity. Through a technicality, due to his nationality, he was not appointed, because he was not eligible.

Senator Cox - Do I understand that this man got. £285 ?

Senator PEARCE - The Commonwealth legal authorities stated that it was a matter for departmental consideration whether or not it would be preferable to settle the matter by paying Strasburg £105, being the difference between the amount of his claim made immediately the services were rendered, viz., £285, and the total of the payment made to him, viz., £180. He received exactly the amount that he claimed.

Senator Elliott - By way of pay?

Senator PEARCE - No. In addition to his pay. Of course, when he made his claim he did not know that subsequently a war gratuity would be paid, and the question now is, is he morally entitled to the payment of the war gratuity ? This matter I have referred to the Minister for the Navy.

Suggest corrections