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Thursday, 22 April 1915

Mr ANSTEY (Bourke) .- I move -

That it be an instruction to the Government to order the immediate release of the soldiers, Thomas Wilson, William Penny, J. R. McDonald, R. Hunter, and C. J. Clogg, now undergoing sentences of three to live years' penal servitude imposed upon them by the military court martial at Rabaul.

Of the five men named in the motion, four, prior to going to Rabaul, were of unimpeachable character; the fifth had been dealt with under the First Offenders Act, but he had seen service in South Africa, and had been wounded there. These five men went to a Chinese opium den in Rabaul, a gambling den, and a brothel, which should have been suppressed the moment the British took charge, and raided the premises. For this they were sentenced by court martial to penal servitude for periods of from three to five years. Since their incarceration they have asked that they may be liberated and permitted to go to the front, but the military authorities say that men guilty of the offence which they committed cannot be permitted to go to the front: Their wives, friends, and relatives have approached the military authorities, asking that at least justice should not be one-eyed, and that punishment should be meted out without distinction of class or rank to all who have been guilty of similar offences. It is a wellknown and admitted fact that in Rabaul rapine, plunder, and looting were not the privilege of the rank and file, but the perquisites of the officers of the expedition, although these have strenuously denied the facts, and sought to cover up their proceedings.When an inquiry has been sought and evidence has been produced, and the looted property brought forward, the whole force of authority has been used to cloak the facts from the public gaze. When the authorities are presented with admissions of guilt by the officers, and when stolen property is put before them, they still continue to inquire. Some of the officers have said, ' Put me before a court martial, and I shall make an exposure of the whole business." Those who were supposed to conduct the official inquiry, and who, for month after month, have been endeavouring to cloak up matters, have had absolute testimony put before them, and have refused to act upon it. Ship after ship left Rabaul, their manifests being absolute testimony to the looting that had taken place. This loot was the property of the officers. They alone were given the privilege of looting. No common soldier participated in the looting in any way. The most the men did was to touch a Chinaman, and to take a bottle of wine. The officers, on the other hand, looted silverplate, women's under-linen, feathers, and other property, including everything on which they could lay their hands. For three months the authorities have tried to cloak these facts. Now we are told that there is to be an inquiry, although an inquiry was supposed to be going on all the time. It needed only twenty-four hours for the court martialling and condemnation of the men named in my motion. The sentences would have been outrageous had they been imposed by an ordinary Court, but they are still more so when imposed by a court martial, constituted of officers who have been guilty of offences beside which those of the men sink into insignificance - officers who, on unquestionable evidence, have been charged with attempted rape and wholesale looting. It is these officers who have had the audacity to condemn the rank and file to long years of penal servitude. These are not mere assertions on my part. They are admitted facts - facts in the hands of the military authorities. And yet the mili tary authorities refuse to do anything. I assert that the tribunal that condemned these men was a tainted court, an unfair court, an improper court, and that the only course open to the Government is to release these men or to suspend their sentences until a proper tribunal shall have inquired into the whole matter. This, I take it, is the duty of the Government. We must have something more than a mere pretence. Let the Government release these men - suspend their sentences - until the whole case has been inquired into by a properly constituted Court presided over by a Judge, and free from the trammels of official militarism, which seeks to cloak over its own offences. We must have a Court that will distribute justice to the highest and the lowest. It is not merely a private soldier who is concerned. We have Colonel Holmes, his son, his son-in-law, and a whole tribe of relations whom Colonel Holmes took up to Rabaul, and who observed no discipline, but indulged in wholesale peculations. I have no more to say. I desire this motion to go to a division, and I demand in the name of justice that these men shall be liberated.

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