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Wednesday, 27 July 1904

Mr CROUCH (Corio) - A statement has been made this afternoon in regard to the Lenehan case upon which I think further action should be taken. The Prime Minister has informed us that he has seen in the papers relating to the case a letter which was received by the General Officer Commanding from some gentleman in England, whose name is attached, and that that letter contains certain rumours of misconduct on the part of Major Lenehan. If that is so, and Major-General Hutton acted upon these rumours-

Mr Watson - I do not say that MajorGeneral Hutton acted on them.

Mr CROUCH - It seems to me atrocious, and equivalent to stabbing a man in the back, to prevent him from getting fair play by adopting methods of that kind. It is well that we have a civil authority to overlook the military authorities, whose prosecution, or persecution, of Major Lenehan seems to be based on some rumours which are repeated in a private letter. If I have stated the facts correctly, the matter should not be allowed to rest here.

An Honorable Member. - What is the date of the letter?

Mr CROUCH - The only knowledge that I have with regard to the letter is that conveyed in the statement of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has promised that he will afford an opportunity to honorable members to inspect the papers. Whatever may be the date of the letter, it opens up the very large question of the possibility of any man in the Defence Department being made the subject of letters, written to the General Officer Commanding, which contain no real evidence, and which should not be regarded seriously. It is not fair that a man's reputation should be ruined by some person writing behind his back to the

General Officer Commanding, and possibly creating wrong impressions which he can have no chance of dispelling. It was announced three weeks ago that the Government intended to reinstate Major Lenehan, and I should like to ask why action has not yet been taken in that direction ? It was further stated that the General Officer Commanding was so much opposed to the proposed reinstatement that he would not draw up the order, and that it would be necessary to pass an Order in Council providing for the appointment. I should like to know how long the Ministry propose to wait before they do justice to Major Lenehan. Are we to wait until the Council of Defence has been formed ? The Ministry have decided that Major Lenehan has been unjustly dealt with, and that he shall be reinstated, and yet they are staying their hands, apparently because objection has been raised by the military authorities.

Mr Watson - Major Lenehan will be reinstated in his previous position as major at the next meeting of the Executive Council.

Mr CROUCH - I am very glad to hear it, and I trust that there are no other cases in which the military authorities are refusing to do justice to those who have been harshly dealt with.

Mr Watson - Major Lenehan made an application for an inquiry in April, 1902. The right honorable member for Swan must have forgotten that.

Sir John Forrest - Was that the first application ?

Mr Watson - Yes; he only returned from South Africa a month or two previously.

Sir John Forrest - That is the onlyapplication of which I know. There have been scarcely any letters since.

Mr Watson - There have been plenty of letters from his friends, asking that his request should be complied with.

Sir John Forrest - From his friends ; but not from himself.

Mr Watson - He was a military officer, and could not send letters direct to the Minister.

Sir John Forrest - He could write to the General Officer Commanding.

Mr Watson - He did so, and received very little sympathy.

Mr CROUCH - I wish to point out that it is almost impossible to obtain reliable in formation from the Defence Department. Latterly I have adopted the course of asking questions in this House, rather than writing, and I still find myself in a difficulty. On four different occasions information supplied in response to questions asked in this House by me has subsequently been found to be incorrect. Some time ago, I thought that the Defence Department were paying too much attention to the recommendations of the Colonial Defence Committee, particularly in regard to our volunteer forces. This outside body, sitting in London, made a recommendation that our Volunteer Forces should be disbanded. I asked the Prime Minister a question on the subject, and I was informed that no such recommendation had been received. Later on, however, I pointed to a recommendation which appeared in a printed paper that had been laid on the table of the House. The Prime Minister then said -

It is regretted that, when replying to the previous question of the honorable and learned member, a later recommendation by the Colonial Defence Committee on this subject was inadvertently overlooked. The report containing the recommendation in question was made a parliamentary paper, being presented to the House of Representatives on the 19th September, 1901.

I wish honorable members to notice that, because a recommendation was made in September, 1901,' the Defence authorities did not consider it necessary or proper to give information regarding it, or apparently to search its records since that date. Yesterday I asked a question with regard to colours and other honours received in connexion with the late South African war. The Prime Minister gave an answer for which I do not hold him responsible, because I understand that the replies are simply placed in his hands by the Defence Department.

Mr Watson - The answers accorded with my general memory as to what was contained in the papers I had seen previously.

Mr CROUCH - I asked whether it was a fact that the General Officer Commanding had recommended that these honours, save in the case of the Light Horse, should go to New South Wales corps only, and I received a reply in the negative.

Mr Watson - I do not think that the honorable and learned member said, " Save in the case of the Light Horse."

Mr CROUCH - Oh, yes; undoubtedly I did. I find, by reference to the last report of the General Officer Commanding, that the only two honours recommended which are not to go to the

Australian Light Horse are to be conferred upon the Royal Australian Artillery of New South Wales, and the Australian Army Medical Corps, also in that State. That is a matter in which we might fairly expect to be supplied with correct information. On the 20th inst., I aske'd the Prime Minister a question as to the number of volunteers in each of the States, and I was told that the strength of the Volunteer Corps in Western Australia on the 1st March, 1902, was 2,220. According to a paper which was presented to this House on 18th July, 1901, there were absolutely no volunteers in Western Australia, all the forces being described as partially paid, and no alteration has since been made. I do not know how the discrepancy can be accounted for, except on the supposition that inaccurate information has again been supplied. I find that the Minister of Defence, in criticising the report of the General Officer Commanding, ' stated that the General Officer Commanding - makes the complaint that he was not informed about any agreement that was made between the ammunition factory at Footscray and the Department, and recommends that 10,000,000 rounds of ammunition for the forthcoming year should be purchased. He does not make that complaint for the first time. He has been told distinctly that there is no agreement, that there has been no arrangement, and that no effort has been made by the permanent head of the civil branch of the Department to block any one of his recommendations in that respect. On the contrary, we provide on our Estimates for 1,000,000 rounds more than he recommended, 11,000,000 rounds. I cannot understand what the real grievance is, or what reason there is for many of the statements which appear in this report.

Apparently the Minister himself complains that the General Officer Commanding has made incorrect statements in his report. He said that the General Officer Commanding had been told that there was no agreement, and that' no effort had been made to set aside his report. The matters to which I have directed attention may appear to some honorable members to be trivial. It may not matter very much whether there are 2,000 or 200 volunteers in Western Australia, but it is important that we should be supplied with correct information, and that information officially supplied should be reliable. I trust that the Prime Minister will ask his colleague, the Minister of Defence, to inquire into this matter with a view to insure that the information given to us shall be thoroughly trustworthy, and such as will afford us a sound basis for future action.

Mr. HENRYWILLIS (Robertson).The question of the reinstatement of Major Lenehan appears to be regarded by some honorable members as a matter of very little consequence. I suppose that most of us were greatly shocked when we heard of the crime which was committed in South Africa by members of the Bushveldt Carbineers, for which two Australians were shot, and another was sentenced to imprisonment for life. In connexion with that case, Major Lenehan appeared on the scene after the crime had been committed, and held an inquiry, but neglected to report the matter to his superior officer. This very serious neglect of duty has been designated by the late Minister of Defence as merely a technical offence.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It was so serious that the court martial merely reprimanded him.

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