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Thursday, 12 August 1926

Senator ELLIOTT (Victoria) *- I appeal to the Minister to disregard entirely the report of the royal commissioner, and to appoint a gentleman of standing, like Sir Arthur Robinson, who recently inquired into affairs at Nauru, and is accustomed to . weigh evidence and to form judgments, to make a proper investigation into the administration of Norfolk Island. There is ample evidence that the Administrator did all in his power to increase the production of the island. I understand that, for the first time in its history, a substantial shipment of bananas was shipped from Norfolk Island to New South Wales during his term as Administrator. That shipment was due entirely to the energy and enthusiasm of the Administrator, who introduced plants from other .places and was responsible for the planting of a large area with bananas.

Senator H Hays - How long was he there t

Senator ELLIOTT - About two years. I have already read to the Senate such of the commissioner's conclusions as are favorable to Colonel Leane. Let us now consider the conclusions against him. In doing so, we should have regard .to the manner in which the evidence was obtained. The commissioner in his report states -

Tt is, however, most unfortunate that the temperament of the present Administrator is not in harmony with the social and general atmosphere of this isolated community. The evidence reveals that his tendency throughout has been to usurp the powers vested in him for the protection of the .people, and disregard the need of encouraging sympathetic understanding and co-operation.

I cannot understand that. If powers were invested in the Administrator by law, how could he usurp them ? They were his by right. The commissioner's statement is a contradiction of terms, showing that he does not even understand the English language, in its ordinary acceptance, let alone possess any legal or other qualifications for a royal commissioner. Moreover, the very success of Colonel Leane shows that the conclusion that he did not encourage a sympathetic understanding and co-operation is absolutely wrong. Unless he was able to work sympathetically with the people, and get their assistance, he could not have accomplished the work which, admittedly, he did accomplish during his term of office. Later in the report, we find - .

Although in the earlier period of his regime he recognized the delicate position in which an Administrator is placed in hearing the differences of the islanders before they are seated in evidence before him by litigants, it is manifest that in the exercise of his judicial functions his conduct was distinctly combatant and quite inconsistent with the principles of justice. Apart from the strictly judicial duties of his office, it is regrettable that he acted upon uncorroborated statements derogatory to the inhabitants, statements which simple inquiry would have made clear to him were without bases in fact.

Colonel Leane was not responsible for that state of affairs. As Administrator he was also Crown Prosecutor, as well as Chief Justice on the island - a most extraordinary and unprecedented state of affairs, contrary to all ideas of British justice, from Magna Charta downwards. One complaint concerned an act of petty larceny. A basket was taken from some place in the vicinity of the Administrator's house. The Administrator directed the constable to take proceedings against the person on whom suspicion rested. Later, the Administrator had to hear the evidence and pronounce judgment, although in his investigation as Crown Prosecutor it is possible that he formed biased opinions, and believed the suspect to be guilty. He was thus, in . effect, in the position of being a judge in his own cause, which is contrary to one of the most important provisions of Magna Charta.

The Administrator protested against being placed in that position, and eventually a justice of the peace was ap pointed. In the meantime he was told by the Crown Law officers to carry on. Yet the commissioner condemned him for doing so. When the justice of the peace was appointed, a Gilbertian situation was created. In the letter informing the Administrator of the appointment of the justice of the peace, he was told that so long as the Administrator remained on the Island, the justice of the peace was forbidden to adjudicate in the court. It is difficult to understand why the justice of the peace was appointed. Again the commissioner stated -

Although officers possessing the qualifications and other requirements specified by the Administrator were appointed as vacancies occurred, the sworn statements indicate that his actions disturbed, if not destroyed, that esprit de corps so essential to the satisfactory administration of this remote Territory of the Commonwealth.

On arrival at Norfolk Island the Administrator came into conflict with persons who were breaking the ordinance prohibiting the sale of liquor to any person except in accordance with a doctor's certificate. The Administrator found that his chief executive officer had disregarded that ordinance, and that he not only consumed inordinate quantities of liquor himself, so that his office was really a bar, and he himself often under the influence of liquor, but also that in three months he issued permits for the release of no less than 1,500 bottles of whisky without any medical certificate. And this in addition to what the people were able to acquire under the guise of " vinegar." Surely this thing is becoming a farce. Either the ordinance making the island nominally a prohibition area should be repealed or the officers who flout it in that manner should be brought to book. Colonel Leane, reading the ordinance strictly, brought the conduct of this officer under the notice of the Minister and recommended his dismissal. The department did not concur, and it was only after the most insistent representation that Colonel Leaue succeeded in getting his wishes in that respect carried out. Immediately the royal commissioner was appointed to investigate the affairs on the island, this superseded officer made a complaint , that he had been unjustly treated. His case is dealt with by the commissioner on page 50, the commissioner stating -

Mr. ErnestStephenson, ex Registrar of Courts at Norfolk Island, complained that his dismissal from the service of the Administration, following suspension on the 31st July, 1925, for alleged improper conduct was unjust, and submitted that if evidence of improper conduct did exist, it was not sufficiently serious in its character to warrant such drastic action as dismissal. Mr. Stephenson presented his case to the Commission, while the Administrator submitted evidence in support' of his recommendation to his Minister that Mr. Stephenson's services be dispensed with.

Complainant was appointed to the associated offices of Registrar of Courts and Collector of Customs in January, 1913, and served under the direction of three Administrators. Early in 1925, Mr. N. H. Birdsey, ex-Private Secretary to the Administrator, interviewed the right honorable the Minister for Home and Territories, in Melbourne, and produced to him certain letters he received from Mr. Harry Clapp, of Norfolk Island, in which allegations of neglect of duty and the use of intoxicating liquors to excess were made against complainant.

I understand that took place during Colonel Leane's temporary absence in the Northern Territory, so it cannot be said that he was actuated by any improper motives -

At the same interview Mr. Birdsey himself charged Mr. Stephenson with discourtesy to the public, neglect of duty, and violation- of the liquor laws of the island. Mr. Birdsey also alleged that Mr. Stephenson had - " most wrongfully advised the Administrator." Under instructions from the right honorable the Minister for Home and Territories, the Administrator obtained from Mr. Harry Clapp a statutory declaration which, having reference to the extracts from the letters written to Mr. Birdsey, in part reads - . . The statements of misconduct against certain Government officials of Norfolk Island mentioned in the above referred to letters were, in many instances, witnessed by me are correct; in others the statements are what I was informed and at the time of writing them conscientiously believed to be true.

The charges made against him were supplied to Mr. Stephenson in writing. He denied that he had on any occasion taken liquor to excess, or that its use at any time had interfered with the efficient discharge of his public duties. He admitted indiscretion in the use of liquor, and coupled this admission with his promise to - " observe a strict watch " over himself in future.

If that is not a plea of guilty, with an ad miscricordium appeal, I do not know what is -

He denied the truth of the other charges made against him. In his official report of the 8th July, 1925, covering statements ob tained in writing, the Administrator pointed out that such statements were ex parte, and there had been no opportunity for rebuttal or cross-examination. The Administrator recommended Mr. Stephenson's dismissal, and on the 9th October, 1925, this recommendation was given effect to.

Following Mr. Stephenson's complaint to this Commission, 31 witnesses were examined, and the history of the case as disclosed in the departmental papers was reviewed. Your Commissioner finds that Mr. Stephenson, upon various dates during the months of February and March, 1925, did partake of liquor during official hours, but not to excess. Your Commissioner further finds that, on the 18th February, 1925, at an auction sale conducted in the Court House yard, Mr. Stephenson was under the influence of intoxicating liquor. The other charges are not supported by evidence, and appear to have been the outcome of petty vindictiveness. Two Administrators, Mr. Murphy and Lieut.-General Parnell, as well as a number of residents, testified to Mr.Stephenson's good character, his ability as an officer, and his marked courtesy to the public.

The Administrator takes strong exception to the following, appearing in small print : - . . Mr. Stephenson has paid severely for his conduct, very severely indeed, and I say far beyond the merits of the case now disclosed.

Colonel Leane says that the above extract has been divorced from the context and is misleading. The report goes on -

Your Commissioner concurs, and considers that in- view of Mr. Stephenson's long and faithful service and the fact that the misconduct disclosed does not reflect discreditably upon Mr. Stephenson's honesty, the punishment inflicted far exceeds that called for by the gravity of the offence.

The result of the Commissioner's report is that a notorious drunkard and waster is restored to his position, and Colonel Leane dismissed.

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