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Wednesday, 27 July 1904

The CHAIRMAN - The right honorable gentleman is not justified in interrupting the speaker.

Mr WATSON - I do not say. that the right honorable member for Swan entertained any malice against Major Lenehan, but I am complaining that he wishes to brand this man as an outcast.

Sir John Forrest - I have not done anything of the sort.

Mr WATSON - The right honorable member said that he ought to be dismissed.

Sir John Forrest - I have never said anything of the sort.

Mr WATSON - Then I must have misunderstood the right honorable member, and I apologise to him. I understood him to say that it was justifiable to call upon Major Lenehan to resign

Sir John Forrest - I never said anything of the sort.

Mr WATSON - I am glad that my first impression was incorrect. So far as Major Lenehan was concerned, there was nothing more against him, according to the reply received by the Australian authorities from the War Office, than was before the court-martial, by which he was punished with the lightest possible sentence. That is at least sufficient to show that nothing further should have been done by this Government against Major Lenehan. What does a reprimand mean? Is it not a fact - I have been so informed, and I believe it to be a fact - that quite a number of officers holding important commands in South Africa were at different times reprimanded - I do not say for exactly the same offence that Major Lenehan was guilty of - by the Courts of Military Inquiry, and were allowed to continue in their commands in the Imperial Service. Perhaps in some cases an error of judgment had been committed, and they were reprimanded, and nothing further occurred. I do not pretend to explain the action - which seems to me inexplicable - of the British, authorities, other than those comprising the court martial, in taking subsequent steps against Major Lenehan. It was most extraordinary that, after the court martial had inflicted the lightest, sentence that could possibly be passed, on Major Lenehan, the authorities should subsequently take steps to deport him from the country.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Did not the late Minister deal with the case?

Mr WATSON - I shall speak about that presently. I should like the attention of the honorable member for- Swan, when I point out that up to the period of the court martial, which administered a reprimand to Major Lenehan, there was no man in South Africa who had a better record, or who had proved . himself a better soldier. He had been complimented on many occasions by the officers in command of the various battalions or brigades with which he was associated upon the efficiency of his work, and also upon his enthusiasm.

Sir John Forrest - Is that information contained in the papers?

Mr WATSON - That is evidenced by the fact that Major Lenehan was asked to undertake the formation of the particular corps which he subsequently commanded. When it was proposed to form the corps, a cable was sent to the New South Wales authorities asking the State Government for an extension of his leave and for permission to utilize his services. That did not make it appear that he had behaved badly, either in the cause of the Empire, or as representing Australia during the South African campaign. That alone should, I think, have been sufficient to cause most of us at any rate to suspend our judgment in regard to his case. This matter was inquired into by several Ministers. The right honorable member for Swan, as Minister of Defence, first took it in hand. Whilst he was in charge of the Defence Department, however, I do not think that the matter came to a head.

Sir John Forrest - I took a great deal of trouble - much more than any one else has taken since.

Mr WATSON - Possibly so. In anv case, the reply of the War Office had not been received.

Sir John Forrest - Some replies had been received, but they were not sufficient.

Mr WATSON - After that, the honorable member for Hume also dealt with the case, and subsequently the late Minister of Defence, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, left on record a minute to the following effect : -

On a close investigation the papers, which contain all the information that the Government has been able to procure, fail to disclose any specific charge against Major Lenehan, other than the two charges of culpable neglect to report, tried by court martial, on one of which he was acquitted, and on the other convicted. The sentence passed, namely, a reprimand, appears to bethe lowest that can be inflicted for such an offence.

Major Lenehanwas not tried with respect to any of the rumours referred to in the papers.

That is an aspect of the case which seems to me to call for some comment. There was presented to the Minister, I think most improperly, a letter from an individual in England, who had been in South Africa, regarding some rumours relating to Major Lenehan. This document was a private letter sent to the Major-General Commanding.

Mr Crouch - That was a blackguardlything to do.

Mr WATSON - It was most unjust and most unfair. On the strength of that letter, forsooth, Major Lenehan's character was to be judged. I do not suppose that any one of us would, for a moment, justify an action of that kind. In regard to that rumour, there is abundant evidence, from what I can glean, that if it were referred to Major Lenehan, he would be able to get those men who served under him at the time to say whether or not there was any truth in it. It is admitted to be a rumour only. The minute goes on to say : -

He was many miles away from the place where the crimes were committed, which formed the subject of the trial by court martial of Morant, Wilton,' and Handcock; and the very great importance attached to their trial suggests that, if there were anything beyond the two charges against Major Lenehan, he would also have been tried with them.

It would obvibusly be impracticable for this Department to act on rumours as if they were proved facts, which there is nothing in the papers so tangible as to justify me in so regarding them, it being, indeed, officially admitted that there is no proof of facts against Major Lenehan, beyond what appears in the evidence before the court martial.

A perusal of that evidence should satisfy any unprejudiced mind that it contains nothing against" Major Lenehan, beyond the failure to report, for which he was punished, and for which his punishment was completed when the court martial rose after reprimanding him.

If the treatment subsequently meted out to tin's officer, namely, his "arrest, confinement, and deportation, was for the failure to report, then it would seem that he has suffered additional punishment on that account beyond the sentence of the court martial. On the other hand, if this treatment was on account of rumours, as to which possibly there was no evidence, then it is equally contrary to English justice. Whichever view is, therefore, taken, I cannot see my way to sanction the removal of Major Lenehan from the Forces on account of anything that appeared in the evidence before the court martial.

Being thus thrown back upon that evidence, I find that his Judges considered a reprimand sufficient punishment for the offence there disclosed ; and it would be manifestly unjust were I, upon the same evidence, to sanction his removal from his own Forces in respect to what was considered adequate punishment by a mere reprimand by a tribunal of the Forces in which he was then serving.

With regard to Major Lenehan's claims for pay and gratuities, and for compensation, on account of the confiscation of his horses, these are matters which took place during his service in the British Army, and the claims which he puts forward are only referable to that Service.

They constitute, therefore, matters extraneous to the control of this Department, and if Major Lenehan pursues them, his proper course is by petition through the Governor-General to the Imperial Government.

That is the minute of the late Minister of Defence. My honorable colleague, the present Minister, who had known nothing of the circumstances prior to his assuming office, . took the matter up.

Sir John Forrest -He interested himself in the matter before that.

Mr WATSON - I do not think so. ' I was interested, as was also the honorable member for North Sydney; but I never heard of my honorable colleague, the Minister of Defence, having been spoken to or approached in any way prior to his assuming office. The right honorable member suggests that the present Minister of Defence was prejudiced because-

Sir John Forrest - No, I say that he had taken an interest in the matter, and I would appeal to the late Minister of Defence as to whether or not I am right.

Mr Chapman - I have no knowledge of that.

Mr WATSON - I think that the right honorable gentleman is confusing Major Lenehan's case with another, in which the Minister of Defence had taken an interest. The only honorable members who, to my knowledge, took any interest in the matter were myself and the honorable member for North Sydney. It was only after the most complete inquiry possible had been made into the facts that we decided to advance anything in favor of Major Lenehan. I have no objection to lay the papers upon the table.

Sir John Forrest - The Minister would not lay confidential papers on the table?

Mr WATSON - Of course not. Any confidential papers will have to be held back by the Department. Personally, I expressed the view, before I took office, that if justice could be done to Major Lenehan without holding an inquiry, it would be better that that course should be adopted, because if a general inquiry were entered upon, opportunity might be taken to deal 'with a number of matters extraneous, to the particular case. It seemed to me that no good purposewould be served by digging up all the allegations which might be put forward in a time of stress and trouble such as that was. Therefore, I was not anxious that an inquiry should be held, so long as justice could be done to Major Lenehan. If, however, it was impossible to obtain that, I said that everything else must go by the board. My idea was that Major Lenehan must not be allowed to remain under an injustice which would reflect discredit upon the community as a whole.

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