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Wednesday, 27 July 1904

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN (EdenMonaro) - I have listened with a good deal of interest to the statements which have been made regarding this case ; and I was very pleased with the resume of it given by the Prime Minister. The case is one into which, as Minister of Defence, I went very deeply, not only because a big principle was at stake, since any false step might have involved a conflict between the Imperial War Office and the military authorities here, but because a man's prospects were in danger. Major Lenehan's profession was everything to him. I think that he cannot be blamed for not having pushed forward an inquiry. He asked foi steps to be taken to reinstate him, and the Prime Minister of the day sent to South Africa for full information in regard to his case. Major Lenehan, I understand, waited until that information should be received before asking the Government to take further steps. When I took office, there was in existence a large pile of papers relating to the case, and the present Prime Minister, together with the honorable member for North Sydney, interviewed me upon it, putting the matter before me from their stand-point, and making representations in black' and white. I have always held that in these matters no notice can be taken of inferences, rumours, and statements in private letters which cannot be adduced as evidence, and if possible refuted by the individual concerned. Consequently, I refused to take notice of such information; but, having gone thoroughly into the whole matter. I came to the conclusion that Lenehan had not been well used. I do not remember that any one besides the gentlemen whom I had named saw me on his behalf. I was quite free from prejudice or bias in dealing with the case, because I did not know Major Lenehan, nor should I .know him now if he were to enter the chamber. The representation of the honorable member for North Sydney made a strong impression upon me, because he admitted that at first he was prejudiced against Major Lenehan. I think that a great number of people have been prejudiced against him, because of the belief that something was done in South Africa which has not reflected much credit, on Australia, and in some dim, vague way we have associated Major Lenehan and others with the occurrence. However, there was nothing in the papers sent from South Africa - and they were very full - which associated Major Lenehan with the incident to which I refer. What caused a great deal of doubt in my mind in regard to Major Lenehan's innocence, and probably prevented the right honorable member .for Swan from coming to any decision on the case, was that it seemed strange that an Australian officer should be so harshly treated for so trifling an offence. The charge upon which Major Lenehan was convicted was what might be called a technical one. . His fault was a failure to report.

Sir John Forrest - There were two charges.

Mr Watson - Yes, but he was acquitted on one. He should not be loaded with it.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - The charge of failing to report would be a serious one if the officer concerned had not attempted to show that he had reported. The case was inquired into on the spot by men whose only object could have been to see that justice was done, and, after a careful examination, they gave Major. Lenehan the lightest sentence that they could impose. But, immediately afterwards, he was bundled into prison on board ship, and sent back to Australia. His horses were left behind, and his back pay is still due to him. Any one who investigated his case would naturally think that Major Lenehan must have committed some other misconduct to justify such treatment ; but when the War Office was asked if any other charges had been proved against him, nothing further of a condemnatory character was alleged. Under these circumstances, no other course was open to me than to attempt to clear Major Lenehan's character, and I accordingly wrote a minute on the subject a few days before I left office. No doubt it would have been better policy to leave the case to my successor, because it was likely to cause trouble ; but I have always held that there are other things besides political expediency, and as Major Lenehan had been waiting for a long time to obtain justice, I felt bound to do what I could to reestablish his position. Therefore," I wrote a minute, and left it for my successor to act upon if he . chose, and to take the responsibility of his position by deciding whether Major Lenehan should be reinstated. In my opinion, Major Lenehan should be given every assistance to prosecute a claim for compensation for the loss of his horses, and for the recovery of his back pay. I think that an inquiry should be made into all the circumstances of the case, so that the shadow still hanging over the officer may be entirely dispelled. My action was not taken until I had consulted my predecessors, who, I knew, were fully seized of the facts. But having gone further into the whole matter, with an open mind, I came to the conclusion that Major Lenehan had been hardly treated. His reinstatement is a step for which the present Government must, of course, take the full responsibility, and I am glad that they are ready to make themselves responsible for some of their actions in regard to military administration. But I regret that there seems to be a growing tendency to deal with military matters in Parliament. I have to-day been giving evidence before a Select Committee which is inquiring into the case of another military officer, and I have been summoned to attend before another Committee which is pursuing a similar investigation. I do not blame the Government entirely for the appointment of these Committees; but I to-day protested against military matters of detail being dealt with by Committees. If this kind of thing continues, the Defence Department will be practically administered by Members of Parliament. However, the matter is one for the Government.

Mr Watson - The appointment of a Committee is a matter for one or other of the Houses of Parliament. The Government cannot put an end to a Committee's inquiry.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - The Committee before which I gave evidence to-day is that dealing with the case of Major J. W. M. Carroll. When in office I was pressed to agree to the appointment of either a Committee or a Royal Commission to deal with that case; but I declined to do so, and when informed that there was an inclination on the part of some honorable members to press for a Committee, 1 stated that I would resist the application, and would ask my colleague in the Senate to do the same. I do not desire to say anything in disparagement of my successor, nor do I altogether blame him for what has occurred ; but I do not think it is wise to introduce matters of military detail in Parliament. If we do, we shall have to increase the administrative staff of the Defence Department. Moreover, it is rarely that good results are obtained from the investigations of Select Committees. It has been my experience in the Parliament of New South Wales that the member who moves for the appointment of a Select Committee, and is generally made its chairman, is most often either well disposed to the person regarding whose case an inquiry is asked for, or has been pressed by the friends of that person to move for a Committee; and, consequently) the finding of the Committee is not of much value.

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