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Wednesday, 27 July 1904

Mr WATSON (Bland) (Treasurer) .I deprecate the action of the right honorable member for Swan in putting an ex parte statement of this, case before the public, and then asking for the production of the papers. The proper course to follow was to ask for the papers before making any statement about the case. So far as the Government is concerned, the ' Minister of Defence went into the papers very carefully, and I also have gone into the case. I have taken heed of the minute of the late Minister of Defence upon the matter, and I . say that, so far as the papers show, Major Lenehan has been most unjustly treated. He has been treated unjustly as much by his own Government as by the Imperial authorities in South Africa.

Sir John Forrest - What injustice did we do to him ?

Mr WATSON - I consider that the right honorable member - perhaps -with the best intentions in the world - did Major Lenehan a very grave injustice. The circumstances surrounding his case were these-: He was in charge of the Bushveldt Carbineers at the time that the shooting of the Boers took place-

Sir John Forrest - At the time some murders were committed.

Mr WATSON - For which Morant, Handcock, and others were found guilty. It is admitted that Major Lenehan was in charge of the regiment, but he was some fifty or sixty miles away from the spot where the outrages occurred. He was not in any way responsible for them. It was never insinuated that he was responsible for them. That was never insinuated in the slightest degree.

Sir John Forrest - He heard of them.

Mr WATSON - He was placed on his trial at the time that Morant and others were convicted by court-martial, not as being responsible in any way for the outrages, but foi having failed to report to his superior officer in connexion with them. He stated that he had reported verbally to his immediate superior, but that officer had, in the meantime, been sent to India, and, therefore was not able to substantiate Major Lenehan's statement to the courtmartial. Here is the point to which I wish to direct the attention of the House in this connexion. The charge which I have just mentioned was the only one against Major Lenehan, namely, that of failing to report.

Sir John Forrest - Failing to report these murders.

Mr WATSON - Failing; to report the circumstances under which these Boers were shot, so far as his knowledge went. Now, under the King's Regulations, there are three grades of punishment, according to the seriousness of the offence committed. First, an officer can be cashiered ; or, secondly, he can be severely reprimanded ; or, thirdly, he can be reprimanded. Reprimanding is the lightest sentence that can be inflicted upon an officer. On going into the case thoroughly, the courtmartial, which was composed wholly of Imperial officers of high standing in the service - determined to inflict upon Major Lenehan the lightest sentence they could inflict. He was presented before them and reprimanded. But immediately afterwards, for some reason which only the authorities - other than those constituting the court martial - could explain to the public, Major Lenehan was placed under arrest, and deported from South Africa. I say that that was a most unjust and un-British thing to do. It rested with the military authorities to justify their treatment of an Australian officer in that manner. The right honorable member for Swan states that Major Lenehan allowed his case to lie without taking any action. That is absolutely incorrect. The right honorable member made the same statement to imf some time ago. I had taken an interest in the case, in conjunction with the honorable member for North Sydney. About eighteen months ago, before I went to New Zealand, the right honorable member made a similar statement to me, but I was informed later that it was not correct. The right honorable member could not have been made aware of the fact that Major Lenehan, immediately he reached Australia, or within a few weeks of his arrival in Sydney, appearing to think that the proper persons to support him in his trouble were his own Government, made a complaint and asked for an inquiry into the whole of the circumstances. It seems to me that that was a proper thing for him to do,

Sir John Forrest - How could there be an inquiry in Australia as to what had taken place in South Africa?

Mr WATSON - The General Officer Commanding had recommended that Major Lenehan be discharged from the Australian Forces, and surely if a man's own Government goes back upon him il is pf little use for him to turn to the Imperial authorities. If his own superiors and employers are not prepared to investigate the matter and to ascertain whether or not he was treated justly, he cannot hope for much from others. He asked for an inquiry to be made as to whether or not he was entitled to retain his commission. Major Lenehan, in fact, took the only course that was open to him, in asking for an inquiry at the hands of his superior officers.

Sir John Forrest - How could there be an inquiry here as to what took place in South Africa?

Mr WATSON - Steps could have been taken to ascertain whether the statements made as to injustice done to one of our officers in South Africa were well founded.

Sir John Forrest - Did we not take steps ?

Mr WATSON - For . a considerable time the right honorable member opposite took no steps. Coming to the steps that were taken more recently, I may say that when I was asked to look into the case I had a great deal of prejudice with regard to it. Naturally I thought,, from newspaper reports, as did many other people, that Major Lenehan had had something to do with the shooting of the Boers. The impression conveyed to most people outside was that he was in some way concerned in it. But when I looked into the papers for myself, and made inquiries, I found that such was not the fact. That brings me to the remark that the last Government did eventually communicate with the War Office with reference to the case.

Sir John Forrest - There were several communications.

Mr WATSON - I take it that they had to .make several efforts before they could get a reply. The Government asked the War Office whether there was anything against Major Lenehan other than what was decided upon by the court martial, the evidence given before which was available. The War Office took some time to reply to that question, but eventually they sent the answer that there was nothing more against Major Lenehan than had been before the court martial.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The London Times represented that to be a mere nothing.

Mr WATSON - Quite so. Yet that appears to be the idea of justice of the right honorable member opposite - that a man, having been brought up on a particular charge, and having been found guilty of it with extenuating circumstances, and having been given the lightest possible penalty which the Court could inflict, the right honorable member would afterwards brand him with infamy.

Sir John Forrest - The Prime Minister ought to be ashamed of himself for saving so.

Mr WATSON - Why did the right honorable member-

Sir John Forrest - I rise to a point of order. Is the Prime Minister justified in saying that I want to brand a man with infamy ?

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