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Friday, 4 June 1915

Mr McGRATH (Ballarat) .- I am very sorry indeed that the Assistant Minister has introduced the Rabaul charges into the discussion, to-day, because we were promised a full inquiry into the allegations that have been made, and the honorable gentleman is prejudging that inquiry.

Mr Jensen - I have quoted the statements of the men in prison.

Mr McGRATH -Those statements should be made, not before this Committee, but before any Board or Select Committee appointed to inquire into these matters. We are waiting for the report of that inquiry, but in a discussion regarding the finding of the Board which inquired into the charges against Colonel Lee, the Minister has introduced a number of declarations regarding certain statements made by the honorable member for Bourke last week in connexion with the offences at Rabaul. I repeat that I regret that the Minister has introduced those questions at this stage, because he is to some extent prejudging the inquiry that has been promised.

Mr Jensen - The honorable member for Bourke introduced the matter by mentioning Campbell's case to-day.

Mr McGRATH - Campbell's case is apart altogether from the others. We are concerned with two inquiries. One is to ascertain what has become of the original confession alleged" to. have been made by Campbell, and which the Assistant Minister admits cannot be found. He was quite right in dealing with that portion of the speech of the honorable member for Bourke, but honorable members understood that the main charges in regard to what took place at Rabaul were being inquired into by the AttorneyGeneral. To-day, however, the Minister, is giving a partial statement.

Mr Jensen - The Attorney-General is only inquiring into the manner in which the military inquiries were conducted.

Mr McGRATH - It is about time the House took a stand, and insisted on an inquiry.

Mr Joseph Cook - In what way?

Mr McGRATH - We should have an inquiry by the members of this House into these charges.

Mr Joseph Cook - If it came to a vote you would be absent, as you were last night.

Mr McGRATH - I did not know a vote was to be taken. The Acting Prime Minister told me that it would not be taken.

Mr Tudor - I told you that the motion was going to be withdrawn.

Mr McGRATH - And I acted on that belief.

Mr Tudor - I did not break faith with you.

Mr McGRATH - I quite agree. We should certainly have a full inquiry. We have not been blaming the Government for not expediting the inquiry, fully understanding that the Attorney-General and the Prime Minister were in Adelaide.

Mr Jensen - The Attorney-General is only inquiring into all the evidence and the way the court was constituted, to see whether the court carried out the inquiry in a proper manner.

Mr McGRATH - I understood that the Attorney-General was inquiring into the statements made by the honorable member for Bourke. We all understood that that was going to be done.

Mr Brennan - I thought it was a preliminary inquiry to see what steps should be taken.

Mr Jensen - No, it was an inquiry to see if the court, recently held in Sydney, was a proper tribunal, and carried out its functions properly; and whether it refused to admit evidence which it should have accepted.

Mr McGRATH - If that is so, we are no further forward.

Mr Jensen - The Attorney-General will then advise the Government what to do. ,

Mr McGRATH - We understood that the Attorney-General was making preliminary inquiries to ascertain what form of inquiry should take place.

Mr Tudor - No such thing.

Mr McGRATH - Then I have been under a misapprehension.

Mr Jensen - He is to ascertain if the inquiry was a proper one, and if justice was done.

Mr McGRATH - I regret that the whole question has had to be brought up, especially in view of some of the statements made by the Assistant Minister today. I hope, for the sake of the honour of the officers and soldiers of Australia, that those statements are true. What is going to be. done with Private Campbell? The Minister has produced a sworn declaration that Campbell made a confession ; surely the confession itself ought to be produced. We were told that it- was forwarded to Colonel Holmes. If so, Colonel Holmes ought to be able to produce it. We ought to know why the confession was not produced at the court martial. Private Campbell was found guilty of making a false statement. It was assumed that he had made a confession, although the confession was never produced. Although the Assistant Minister could find time to defend Colonel Lee, he uttered not a syllable in defence of Private Campbell, who stands condemned to-day for having uttered a falsehood and then confessed, although there is no evidence- to show that he did so.

Mr Jensen - I resent that. I would defend any private in the Army as well as a colonel.

Mr McGRATH - The honorable member can resent it in a proper way by speaking afterwards. He has no right to interrupt my speech.

Mr Jensen - One would think from what the honorable member said that I was here only to protect officers, and not privates.

Mr McGRATH - I wish to show the unfairness of what took place last night. The Assistant Minister of Defence last night tried to defend Colonel Lee. Let me remind him that the honorable member for Bourke distinctly said, as the Hansard report shows, that Colonel Lee was acquitted of the charges against him. Notwithstanding the remarks of the honorable member for Hunter, the honorable member for Bourke was perfectly fair, because he said that the Court of Inquiry acquitted Colonel Lee.

Mr Jensen - He also said the whole business was smothered up by social influence.

Mr McGRATH - What he did say was that Inspector Brodie, who was the prosecutor at the Board of Inquiry into the charges against Colonel Lee, stated that there had not been a fair trial, and that he could not understand why Colonel Lee was not found guilty. Inspector Brodie asked for a criminal prosecution, and staked his reputation that, if a criminal prosecution was instituted, or if they could have a trial at which witnesses had to give sworn evidence, Colonel Lee would be found guilty. The honorable member for Bourke quoted Brodie's words; that is all he said, and I cannot understand why he should be now accused of being unfair to Colonel Lee. No one on this side wants to be unfair to a man simply because he is an officer, but I agree with the honorable member for Bourke that Colonel Lee should never have accepted a position on the court martial. He is the last man who should have gone on it.

Mr Jensen - If Colonel Lee was not fit to occupy that position, he was not fit to be in the Military Forces at all.

Mr McGRATH - Other very strong charges were made by the honorable member for Bourke, particularly against Lieutenant Ravenscroft, especially in regard to his career in England. No answer has been made to those charges. All that the Assistant Minister did yesterday was to quote a little more fully from the report from which the honorable member for Bourke had already quoted. Nobody listening to the honorable member for Bourke could for a moment believe that he had said that the Board of Inquiry had- found Colonel Lee guilty. He distinctly said that he was found not guilty, and proceeded to quote the request of the prosecuting officer for a further trial with evidence on oath.

Mr Jensen - He said the whole thing was smothered up, and according to that finding it was not smothered up.

Mr McGRATH - The least the Minister says about smothering up the better. This matter has nothing to do with the present Government. It occurred in 1904, and there are very strong reports current that the charges were .smothered up by social influence. The man who knew all about the case asked that it be submitted to the Crown Law authorities, and further action taken. I guarantee that if Colonel Lee had been a private, further action would have been taken.

Mr Jensen - Nonsense ! Thousands of cases are submitted to the Crown Law authorities, and no further action taken.

Mr McGRATH - I will guarantee that, where the prosecutor practically stakes his reputation that he will get a conviction if he can secure an ordinary trial, with evidence taken on oath, there are not many cases of the kind which ar. not gone on with.

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