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Tuesday, 2 April 1968


Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) (Leader of the Opposition) - On 22nd August last, the late Prime Minister said in this place:

There will be ample opportunity to discuss all aspects when we have the report of the Royal Commissioners before us and debate on it can then ensue.

The House now has the opportunity to accept the late Prime Minister's offer. It has the duty to do so. I trust that this debate and comments outside about it will not be marred by accusations about harming the morale of the Navy. If this Parliament is to do its duty, its members will not be frightened off from a searching debate on this report. The device of synthetic patriotism has been used too much. It has been used to condone and continue failure in Vietnam, lt has been used to condone breaches of the Geneva Conventions and our own Geneva Conventions Act. It has been used to inhibit free debates on the loss of the 'Voyager'. If it had been used successfully in the Liberal Party room and in this House last May, if the members for La Trobe (Mr Jess) and Warringah (Mr St John) had not called the Government's bluff, there would never have been a second inquiry into the 'Voyager' disaster. We would have been no nearer the truth about its cause. We would have been in no better position to take remedial measures to prevent other disasters from the same cause. We would have perpetuated injustices and imposed stigmas on three naval officers, the rumours about Captain Stevens would have been multiplied to grotesque proportions and the morale of the Navy would have been destroyed in an atmosphere of scandal and deceit. Last May the Parliament forced the Government to do its duty. The honourable member for La Trobe on 10th May gave notice of a motion and in another place Senator Wright gave notice of a similar motion. After that the matter could no longer be stifled. The Parliament tonight will not be deterred by this Government from doing its duty.

Shortly after the publication of the Royal Commission's report, two rear-admirals took it upon themselves to warn us off. RearAdmiral Crabb, Flag Officer Commanding the Fleet, said that the Navy had 'absorbed and taken enough kicking around', and Rear-Admiral Peek, the Second Naval Member, said the Navy had 'suffered over the last 6 months from press headlines and a lot of stupid questions from legal people at the Royal Commission'. This was reminiscent of the remarks by the present Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) in a debate in the Senate when he was just one of the series of failed Navy Ministers, that - and I quote him - 'the only thing in this whole affair for which I will accept blame' was the appointment as counsel assisting the first Voyager' Royal Commission of Mr Smyth QC who had - and I quote him again - improperly damaged the Navy throughout the whole course of the inquiry'.


Mr Gorton - Hear, hear!


Mr WHITLAM - The right honourable gentleman is not repentant. The transcript of proceedings and the report of the Royal Commission raise some plain questions which require plain answers. Was Captain Stevens unfit to retain command of the Voyager'? Did the Naval Board know of his unfitness? Should it have known? Did responsible officers of the Navy know of the condition which made him unfit to retain command? Was Lieutenant-Commander Cabban corroborated? Did corroboration exist for all or any of his statements at the time of the parliamentary debate last May? If so, was it known to the Department of the Navy? Was it known to the Naval Board? Was it known to Ministers? Did the Naval Board mislead Ministers? Did Ministers mislead the Parliament? Did Ministers or officers of the Department of the Navy or the members of the Naval Board try to suppress relevant information which should have been made available to this Parliament?

First, then, was Captain Stevens unfit to retain command of the 'Voyager'? The central finding of the Commission is that - the late Captain Stevens was unfit to retain command of 'Voyager' because his physical condition did not conform to the very high standard of physical fitness (with its concomitant mental alertness) required of a captain holding that command.

This appears at page 224 of the report. The significance of this remarkable finding has been partly obscured because so much of the debate in the House, the proceedings of the Commission and the contents of its report turned on the question whether Captain Stevens was unfit because of drink. It has to be emphasised that this is a farreaching finding. It has far-reaching implications. The Commission finds, in effect, that for over a year, from January 1963 to 10th February 1964, the night of the disaster, the captain of one of the four destroyers Australia possessed at that time, in a fleet of only five ships above the. frigate class, was physically unfit to hold his command. This seems to me an infinitely more serious finding than if the Commission had found, for instance, that drink had contributed directly to the disaster. That would have been tragic and horrible indeed, but the responsibility and blame would have been Captain Stevens' alone. But in the light of the Commission's finding, we are confronted with the fact that for as much as a year an unfit captain was allowed to remain in command. The system designed to prevent this happening clearly broke down. Whether Captain Stevens was alone responsible for this by hiding his disability, or whether other officers were culpable in assisting him to hide it, the fact remains that the system failed.

Next I ask: Did the Naval Board know of his unfitness? Should it have known? The Commission make it particularly plain, as did the members of the Naval Board, that if Captain Stevens' actual condition had been officially known, he would have been removed from his command. Many did in fact know it and more suspected it. During the hearings, witness after witness referred to Captain Stevens' ulcer condition. In fact, if one accepts the non-contested evidentiary material transferred to the ' file marked Exhibit 60 (A), it would seem that practically the whole fleet knew of it. It will be seen that those who were most anxious to rebut suggestions of excessive drinking were the most eager to emphasise Stevens' ulcer condition. The Commission was charged to inquire and report 'whether any of the Naval medical officers or other officers serving in the Navy failed to report knowledge of any of the Cabban allegations'. It examined the position of three medical officers and five other officers. The Commission points out that Navy rules provide for medical reports entered on a form known as 209Z to be sent on Monday of each week by the fastest certified mail to the. Medical Director-General of the Department of the Navy in Melbourne. At page 165 of its report the Commission said:

The purpose of form 209Z is to provide a record of every occasion on which a medical officer examines a member of the fleet and a new form is made out for each attendance, whether it is for the same complaint or not.

The Medical Director-General, Surgeon Rear-Admiral Coplans, stated that 'if an officer complained to the medical officer of pains in the stomach and vomiting and was prescribed medicine that should be so recorded.' This appears at 1 page 1081 of the transcript. The report says that if a 209Z form had been sent to Melbourne, Captain Stevens should have been removed from his command.

Then, did responsible officers of the Navy know of the condition which made him unfit to command? The Commissioners are, to say the least, extremely sympathetic to officers who fail to perform their duty, who break the rules. Of Surgeon Commander McNeill, the Fleet medical officer, the Commissioners say at page 166 of their report:

His close friendship with Captain Stevens placed him in an awkward position where by doing his duty he may have detrimentally affected his friend's career. . . . The hard fact remains that McNeill did not do what- his position as Fleet medical officer obliged him to do.

Of Surgeon Lieutenant Tiller, the Voyager's' medical officer, the Commission finds that: 'At least as early as 12th February 1963 he had become aware of the captain's long history of trouble ... he knew of regular supplies of amphojel going to the captain's cabin and he must have had this knowledge prior to 23rd March 1963', and, in reference to incidents in Tokyo in June, they say: 'We have no doubt that Tiller should have completed 209Z forms'. This appears at page 1 68 of the report. The

Commission then goes on to say - at page 169: 'What may well have motivated Tiller, however, is understandable enough. He had been consulted on what he considered to be a confidential basis by a naval officer of senior rank about the captain of bis own ship and he was a new boy in the service'. Of Captain Willis, it records that he knew Captain Stevens had a 'fairly sensitive stomach' and that he had told Stevens that 'he would have to take great care of himself otherwise he was likely to have a recurrence of his ulcer', but finds that 'having regard to the knowledge then possessed by Captain Willis and his own position in relation to Captain Stevens, we find that he did not fail in any duty reposed in him'. This is quoted from page 172 of the report.

Of Captain Dollard, Australian Services Attache in Tokyo in 1963, the Commission says: 'Captain Dollard says that he had a discussion with Captain Willis concerning Stevens. Captain Dollard had known for some time of the ulcer history of Captain Stevens. In speaking of his view of the condition of Captain Stevens, he said "It was quite apparent to me. ... I believed his ulcer was troubling him. ... I think having the drinks also reacted badly on him . . . with something troubling him like this he was unwise to be drinking at all".' The Commission at page 174 says that Captain Dollard spoke only of an ulcer condition in the layman's sense and did not believe that Stevens had an actual recurrence or reactivation of a duodenal ulcer in the strict medical sense. Of Stevens himself, the Commission says:

It is understandable that Captain Stevens was anxious that neither the Naval Medical DirectorGeneral nor the Naval Board should be informed of his periodic recurrences of stomach disorder. But as a captain in the Royal Australian Navy with the grave responsibility of the safety of his ship, officers and crew, the late Captain Stevens cannot altogether escape moral censure for failing to disclose what he must have known was a recurring condition of some seriousness'.

I refer to page 175.

One wonders whether a Commission would simply find 'moral censure' for, say, an airline pilot who had hidden a heart condition because discovery would wreck his career. If Captain Stevens had disclosed his condition, his naval career would not have ended. According to Naval Board evidence, he would have been posted to shore duty for 12 months, kept under observation, and, if be had recovered, been in line for a sea posting again. He chose to hide a condition which the Commission says rendered him unfit to command the Voyager', not because discovery would have ruined him, ended his career or cut off his livelihood, but because he preferred a sea command. And for the same reason he was helped to hide the facts by a number of officers who preferred to break the clearest regulations rather than jeopardise not his career but his command. Were these officers the only ones who had any knowledge of Captain Stevens' condition?

The Commission identifies ten specific separate occasions between 1st February and 10th June on which Captain Stevens was ill - ten times in 4 months. He was confined to his cabin on at least five occasions for periods from 1 to 3 days and for a period totalling in all at least 8 days. The Commission says: 'His unwise and undisciplined drinking of alcohol contributed to his condition of health'. I quote from page 129 of the report This is the picture of a very sick man. As all this sickness occurred during a 4 months' cruise, it would have been pretty well known to a great number of the ship's company and particularly the officers. Now the fact is that a great many senior officers in Australia knew that, and on his own admission the man who knew it best of all was none other than the Medical Director-General of the Navy, Surgeon Rear-Admiral Coplans. During the debate last year, the late Prime Minister quoted a letter which Rear-Admiral Coplans had sent the Minister for the Navy. In it he said:

I knew Captain Stevens both professionally and socially. I have stayed with Captain and Mrs Stevens in their own home, and both were visitors to my house. I have never, at any time, seen Captain Stevens under the influence of alcohol. Indeed, he was so meticulous in observing his dietary restrictions that it became somewhat of a joke that when offered a drink he would invariably ask for a glass of milk. . . .

I do not believe that Captain Stevens, with his history of dyspepsia and peptic ulceration, would knowingly suffer the pain, and risk the possible complications, of aggravation by over-indulgence in alcohol.

The Medical Director-General therefore knew very well the medical history of Captain Stevens. Presumably he knew, as a medical man, the likelihood of a reactivation of Captain Stevens' ulcer.

Apparently he did not consider it any part of his responsibility, either as the Medical Director-General or as Captain Stevens' great friend, to pay any special attention to Stevens' health while he was in command of 'Voyager'. After all, the Medical Director-General is a very busy and important man and we had at that time no fewer than four destroyers with captains.

My next question is: Was Cabban corroborated? It must not be obscured that the findings of the Commission amount to a very substantial vindication for LieutenantCommander Cabban. Again because of preoccupation with the question of drink, there is a danger that this may be overlooked. Nor should it be forgotten that nowhere in his statement did LieutenantCommander Cabban make the claim that Captain Stevens was a chronic alcoholic or a chronic drunkard. The Commission is at great pains to refute a claim never made directly by Cabban. The term was used not by Cabban but by the honourable member for Warringah (Mr St John). The general tenor of the Cabban statement is that Captain Stevens may have been unfit to command by reason of his drinking habits. The Commission finds that he was unfit to command by reason of his ulcer condition aggravated by his 'unwise and undisciplined drinking'. It would appear that symptoms which were the manifestation of his unfitness to command were to some extent misinterpreted by Cabban as symptoms of drinking.

In the light of its basic vindication of Cabban, I find it very difficult to understand why the Commission should have taken such great pains to denigrate Cabban. I should say there that I refer to the two members of the Commission who prepared this report. I exempt from this stricture Mr Justice Lucas. We can be grateful that this commissioner considered the evidence and was able to sit until the conclusion of the evidence. The Commission - the two survivors - declares Cabban 'an unreliable witness', and yet says that 'in many instances indeed he emerged as an entirely reliable witness on detailed objective facts'. Actually, the overwhelming majority of statements of fact contained in the Cabban statement were proved correct. Nobody who gave evidence before this Commission required corroboration less.


Mr McMahon - Will the honourable gentleman repeat that?


Mr WHITLAM - The Commission further finds that the general purport of his statement - Captain Stevens' unfitness to command - was true.


Mr McMahon - Will the honourable gentleman repeat his earlier remark?


Mr WHITLAM - The Treasurer is lucky that he was not called to give evidence before the Commission.

The Commission devotes three pages of the report to what it describes as a histrionic metaphor about Cabban's vision of himself. In a thoroughly distasteful manner it seizes on a remark that he made about a 'Caine mutiny type situation' to pillory Cabban. It criticises him for seeing himself as the instrument of achieving justice for Captain Robertson whom he believed to have been unfairly treated. The fact is that Cabban was the instrument of justice for Captain Robertson. Captain Robertson had been unfairly treated. If it had not been for the Cabban statement, justice would never have been done to Captain Robertson. If Cabban did in fact see himself in the role ascribed to him by the Commission, then he was right, for that is precisely the role he has filled. This Parliament and this nation is deeply in Cabban's debt. He acted impeccably throughout; he proved his intense loyalty to the Navy; he was inhibited by that loyalty and at all times acted with complete propriety. He did not publish his statement; he tried to work through the Naval Board; through two Prime Ministers and through members of this Parliament to set an injustice right. He has succeeded. All credit to him and to those to whom he spoke and who were convinced by him.


Dr Mackay - You did not speak up. You had all the facts on the affair.


Mr WHITLAM - And you were silenced.


Dr Mackay - I was not.


Mr WHITLAM - I will come later to the honourable, gallant and reverend gentleman. The first question asked about the Voyager' after the first inquiry concluded was by me. I repeated it and I got a different answer from the late Prime Minister from the one that I got from the then Minister for the Navy. Discrediting Cabban was an essential part of the Government's attempt and the Naval Board's determination to cover up the whole affair and to refuse a further inquiry. It is disappointing indeed that the Commission, which in essence has thoroughly vindicated him, should have seen fit itself to co-operate or to participate in this cowardly effort.

Did corroboration exist for all or any of his statements at the time of the debate? There was plenty of corroboration for Cabban, and the Government had the means of knowing that there was corroboration before the debate last May. The AttorneyGeneral should or could have known it, yet he said on 16 May:

In fact no new evidence whatever bearing on these findings of the Commission has been brought forward . . . indeed from information in my possession the correctness of the author's account of a number of incidents referred to in the statement is denied by the very man who according to the author is in a position to corroborate it.

The then Minister for the Navy should or could have known that there was corroboration, yet he said on 16 May:

On the one hand we have this unsupported, uncorroborated, unsworn statement containing serious allegations and naming specific incidents. On the other hand we have before us direct refutations of these allegations by the people concerned and named in the statement.

The Treasurer should or could have known it. But he said on 17 May:

In the paper presented by Lieutenant Commander Cabban, which was uncorroborated, he stated that he would rely on the corroboration of another naval officer. That officer has in fact denied the accuracy of the statement and he was not prepared to give evidence in support of LieutenantCommander Cabban.

All three Ministers whose words I have recalled well knew or ought to have known that their statements were false. By 16th and 17th May there was in fact ample corroboration for Lieutenant-Commander Cabban's allegations. For some weeks before the debate Mr Landau, the Secretary of the Navy and as such a member of the Naval Board, had been checking on the allegations. The two key officers in this exercise were Lieutenant-Commander Griffith, whom Cabban named 'as being able to substantiate the main facts outlined' and Dr Tiller, medical officer of the 'Voyager' during her Far East cruise.

Griffith made a witnessed statement in Canberra on 15th May. In one part of it he stated: my understanding is that Captain Stevens had a reputation of being a heavy rather than a moderate drinker. I know of no occasion on which I have seen him intoxicated subject to the qualification that on the night of the mess dinner the Captain was obviously unwell but whether this was due to alcohol 1 cannot say.

In another part he said: 1 have, however, seen him early in the mornings when his facial appearance was consistent with heavy drinking the night before but this was only a general impression and should not be treated as anything else.

Of this statement Mr Justice Lucas was later to say:

Surely it must appear from the statement, as a matter of inference, that it contains substantial corroboration?

Landau gave evidence on 21st August. He swore that during the debate on 16th M'ay an officer of the Attorney-General's Department had handed him a statement by Griffith concerning Cabban's claims, lt was at this juncture that Mr Justice Lucas stated:

Surely it must appear from the statement, as a matter of inference, that it contains substantial corroboration?

On 30th August 1 asked the AttorneyGeneral whether he saw Griffith's statement on 16th May or on subsequent days of the debate. If not, could he say when he first saw it. The 16th May was the date on which the learned gentleman opened the debate. In his reply he stated that he thought he had seen it the day before, which was the 15th, and that it had been prepared by the Solicitor-General. He said that he was aware of what was in it and that the Solicitor-General and he had later compared his own statement in the House and Griffith's statement, and his statement was not only literally true but also true in substance and in spirit.

On 5th September 1 placed on the notice paper a question for the Minister for the Navy asking him when he first saw Lieutenant-Commander Griffith's statement, which was handed to the Secretary of his Department by an officer of the AttorneyGeneral's Department in the House on 16th May? On 19th September the Minister replied:

I was aware of the existence of the statement at the time I spoke in the debate on 16th May and of its general effect but 1 did not in fact see it until afterwards.

Thereupon on 21st September I placed a further question on the notice paper for the Minister and asked whether in view of his answer, which I have just quoted, he would say when and by whom he was acquainted with the general effect of the statement? On 12th October, before the Minister gave me a written reply, senior counsel for the Naval Board felt prompted to make a statement from the bar table at the Commission that Mr Landau had made a mistake and that in fact he had heard about the statement the previous day, 15th May, and had got the statement later. A week later the Minister for the Navy gave me a statement in accord with what the Commission had been more correctly informed in the meantime. And then at last, on 27th October, poor Landau had to traipse back to the witness box and clean up another of his lapses by swearing to what had been said by the Naval Board counsel on his behalf between my asking the question and being given an answer which would be in accordance with the facts. Honourable gentlemen will wonder how much confidence they can have in the administration of the Navy with a creature like this in charge.


Mr Gorton - To whom are you referring?


Mr WHITLAM - Mr Landau. Two Ministers are in disagreement as to the date on which they hear about material and the gist of what was given to them was inaccurate. Does any honourable member believe that the Attorney-General was careful or factual on 16th May in saying that Cabban's account had been denied by Griffith and in reporting on 30th August that what he had said on 16th May was not only literally true but also true in substance and in spirit? Does any honourable member believe that the former Minister for the Navy was careful or factual on 16th May in saying that Cabban's statement was unsupported, uncorroborated and directly refuted. This Minister went further in his deception. He not only failed to refer to Griffith's statement of 15th May but used an earlier statement of 1st May to give a totally false impression of the type of evidence Griffith was prepared to give. He said: 'Statements have been obtained. They have been witnessed but not sworn. Lieutenant-Commander S. Griffith, RAN, Navigation Officer of the 'Voyager' at the time, has said: "I do not consider this to be a true statement." This is the officer whom Cabban suggests would substantiate everything he said '. In fact the quotation used by the Minister was from Griffith's first statement and referred specifically to only one of Cabban's allegations, namely that Griffith had told Mr Smyth, Q.C., at the first inquiry that he would substantiate Cabban. The Minister used a single sentence from Griffith's statement referring to a single specific charge to imply that Griffith had stated that the whole of the Cabban statement was untrue. The Minister misled the House in a negative way by withholding Griffith's subsequent statement. He misled the House in a positive way by using a statement by Griffith utterly out of context.

The history of the Tiller statement is even more intriguing. Dr Tiller was in London and Mr Landau had written on 21st April to Commodore Smythe, the Australian Naval Representative at Australia House, asking him to obtain Tiller's comments. This was done and Tiller's comments were such as to give qualified corroboration to Cabban. He was asked to comment on this statement by Cabban:

During the period in the Far East the situation became more than trying, it was quite desperate and he drank for very long periods in harbour until he became violently ill and then would spend days in bed being treated by a doctor and his steward until he was fit to start drinking again.

Tiller wrote:

I agree with the first part of the statement but disagree with the inference contained in the second part that he was continually drinking.

On Cabban's account of the birthday party in the 'Voyager' mess room at Singapore, Tiller wrote:

I agree with this but disagree with the statement got on his bands and knees and crawled across to the mess table'.

On Cabban's statement relating to the fourth day in Tokyo, he wrote: 'I agree with above' and then proceeded to make several qualifications about the accuracy of some details mentioned by Cabban. These statements were available in Canberra at least the week before the debate.

On 9th May Mr Landau telephoned Dr Tiller in London, pointed out to Tiller that a debate was likely to occur, and asked him if he were prepared to permit his written comments to be made public. Both Dr Tiller and Mr Landau agree that Tiller was unwilling for this to be done but they then disagree substantially about the history of Tiller's first statements. Mr Landau says that he got the 'distinct impression' that Dr Tiller wanted his statement to be destroyed. However, Dr Tiller said in his prepared statement for the Commission:

Later I received a telephone call which I think was from Mr Landau in Canberra. He asked if I would like to withdraw my comments. I agreed and he asked further if I would mind if my comments were destroyed. I also agreed to this as 1 felt that I did not wish to be involved in this matter in any way. I got the feeling at the time that Mr Landau was keen for me to consent to destruction of my answers. It was quite a long conversation.

Mr Landausaid in evidence that his reason for contacting Tiller was that he found his comments 'incomprehensible'. On the face of it, their purport is quite clear. They contain qualified corroboration for Cabban. The question of whether Dr Tiller wished his statements to be quoted in the debate or otherwise made public is irrelevant in this context. What is relevant is that one of the key witnesses had made a statement well in advance of the debate which contained corroboration for Cabban. The Navy Secretary knew it and Ministers must, or to put it at its lowest, should, have known of it.

The whole purport of the May debate as far as Ministers were concerned was to suggest that Cabban, who was an irresponsible, disillusioned and malicious man, had made a number of wild allegations for which, after searching inquiries, absolutely no corroboration could be found, either in fact or in substance. Yet factual and substantial corroboration was in their possession all through the debate. The whole object of the exercise was to kill calls for an inquiry by discrediting Cabban. This was the intention of the Naval Board. The Board saw Cabban as a threat and he had to be discredited. One has only to compare two statements on Cabban made by the Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice-Admiral McNicoll. He wrote a memorandum on 23rd August 1964, when the Cabban threat did not loom very large.

Sir RobertMenzies was clearly determined that there would be no reopening. In 1965 the Board relied on Sir Robert

Menzies to quash calls for a reopening. In 1965 Vice-Admiral McNicoll had this to say about Cabban:

Now a lieutenant-commander, he received in all four 'immediate' recommendations for promotion to commander. It should be noted that many officers fail to achieve selection with as many or more recommends. He was, however, recommended by at least two sound judges who mention, in addition to his professional qualities, his devotion to duty and his high moral standards. His last report which came from Captain Stevens included in the text the record: 'He is above all intensely loyal'. Captain Stevens recommended him for immediate promotion. Lieutenant-Commander Cabban gave no reasons for his resignation which is not unusual.

By May 1967 Cabban had become a very great nuisance - a threat - to the Board. On 15th May 1967 Vice-Admiral McNicoll wrote in a memorandum to Cabinet entitled The Character of Cabban':

I knew him personally only as a very young officer and I found him immature and foolish . . The 'high moral character', 'enthusiasm' and 'awareness' all of which are mentioned by Dr Mackay-

This was in reference to a letter to the late Prime Minister from the honourable member for Evans: probably add up to what might be less charitably described as a self-righteous monomania. It is baffling that Dr Mackay and his associates are prepared to accept the unsworn testimony of a man who failed to make the grade in the Navy against the word of serving officers however senior.

Between 23rd August 1965 and 15th May 1967, Vice-Admiral McNicoll's opinion of Cabban had clearly undergone a revolution. The 'devotion to duty and high moral standards' of 1965 had become 'selfrighteous monomania' by 1967. The real change which had occurred in those 2 years was not in Cabban's character or the Board's assessment of it but in his significance and the Board's assessment of his significance in relation to itself. Vice-Admiral McNicoll succeeded in his purpose. He set Ministers against Cabban. The Treasurer (Mr McMahon) relied in his speech on the comments which Vice-Admiral McNicoll had made in this document on Cabban.


Mr McMahon - Not relied; I quoted him exactly.


Mr WHITLAM - Vice-Admiral McNicoll set Ministers against Cabban. They still are not repentant for having blackguarded this man for having tried to stifle their own rank and file. Vice-Admiral McNicoll silenced the honourable member for Evans.

Even after the Government had accepted the need for the second Commission, the Board still tried to discourage corroboration. What else was . the purpose of the letter dated 26th June 1967 from the Deputy Commonwealth Crown Solicitor to potential witnesses? This letter was drafted by senior counsel for the Navy. The letter in all cases contained the sentence: T might add that I have not been able to obtain corroboration of these allegations from other witnesses already in Australia'. This statement was untrue and improper. The Board already had the statements of Griffiths and Tiller, therefore it was untrue. But even if it had been true, what was the purpose of its insertion? It was clearly meant to discourage witnesses - to signal to them that if they corroborated Cabban they would be alone; that they would be left out on a limb; that they would let the side down; that they would rock the boat.

Lieutenant-Commander Ian Holmes told counsel assisting the Commission:

I was surprised. Reading the next two pages of extracts from Cabban's report, I felt I had knowledge, be it hearsay or my own observations, of quite a deal of the material contained in the letter and I was surprised to hear no corroboration of any of the allegations had been forthcoming at the time this letter was written to me.

Holmes himself went on in evidence very similar to that of Cabban's to give an account of the mess room birthday party.

The Government even used the forms and facilities of this Parliament to deny and discourage corroboration. On 17th May the Minister for the Navy presented statements obtained from relevant officers and on the following day the House ordered them to be printed. They are Parliamentary Paper No. 50 of last year. The statements were carefully chosen. Those that would corroborate Cabban were excluded. For instance, five statements are used from Captain Willis of the 'Vampire'. They all refute Cabban. But two statements by Willis which would tend to corroborate Cabban are excluded. They are not contained in the main file containing all the statements sought before the May debate. They are in a completely different file, now in Exhibit 81 of the Commission's proceedings. The Secretary for the Navy could give no reasons how the two corroborating statements had become separated from the rest. He was given ample opportunity, over pages of interrogation. I spare honourable members the tergiversations and prevarications of this departmental head on that occasion. The best he could do was to say that he 'must have overlooked it'. Landau has the Nelson touch. He turned a blind eye.

The whole story can be summed up in this way. Everything which would go to Cabban'^ credit was suppressed, and everything which went to his discredit was publicised. This characterises the whole conduct of the debate by Ministers and the whole conduct of the Board, both before and during the second Royal Commission. There was deception. The Government made the Parliament party to this deception.

We are now in a position to answer the questions I posed at the beginning of my speech. Was Captain Stevens unfit to retain command of the 'Voyager'? The Commission says that he was. Did the Naval Board know of his unfitness? We know at least that the chief medical officer of the Navy was aware of it. Should the Board have known? In the light of Stevens' known past history and his conduct while in command of the 'Voyager', it is plain that there was a gross malfunctioning of the system of check and control of naval commanders. Did responsible officers of the Navy know of the condition which made him unfit to retain command? There is evidence that many more officers beyond those criticised in the report were in fact aware of it. Was Lieutenant-Commander Cabban corroborated? Amply. Did corroboration exist for all or any of his statements at the time of the parliamentary debate last May? A great deal of corroboration was available.


Mr McMahon - None.


Mr WHITLAM - Does the Treasurer still say that?


Mr McMahon - Yes. I will read out to you the report of the Commission.


Mr WHITLAM - If so, was that corroboration known to the Navy Department? It was, because the Navy Department had obtained it. Was it known to the Naval Board? The Minister and the Secretary for the Navy, a member of the Naval Board, at the very least knew of it. Was it known to Ministers? Apart from the

Minister for the Navy, it was known to the Attorney-General, the then Prime Minister and the Treasurer.

Did the Naval Board mislead Ministers? Vice-Admiral McNicoll at least gave Ministers a totally misleading and unfair picture of the character of Cabban completely contradicting the character he had drawn two years previously. Did Ministers mislead the Parliament? The Ministers who knew that corroboration for Cabban existed at the time of the debate and who spoke on the debate did mislead this House, and must have known they were misleading it.

Did Ministers or officers of the Navy Department or the members of the Naval Board try to suppress relevant information which should have been made available to this Parliament? They suppressed it during the debate; they suppressed it in a Blue Paper published under the authority of this Parliament; and they continued to try to suppress it by writing discouraging letters to potential witnesses.

The second Royal Commission makes two recommendations for the reform of the Navy. One deals with the social obligations of naval officers during operational cruises, and the other aims at a more stringent form of medical check-ups for officers. As a result of the first Royal Commission, eight steps were taken to tighten up efficiency in the administration of the Navy. Thus, out of this disaster ten reforms have been made necessary in the administration of the Navy. During the period leading up to the Voyager' disaster there was a serious decline in the efficiency, morale and performance of the Royal Australian Navy. The present Prime Minister was Minister for the Navy for that period. He held the office for the record term from 1958 to the end of 1963. In September 1960 HMAS 'Anzac' holed HMAS 'Tobruk' during gunnery exercises. On 11th September 1960 two sailors died when the ammunition carrier HMAS 'Woomera' exploded 20 miles off Sydney while dumping obsolete ammunition. In May 1963 the frigate HMAS 'Queenborough' and the British submarine 'Tabard' collided off Jervis Bay. In October 1963 five young naval officers from HMAS 'Sydney' lost their lives when a whaleboat tried to sail round Hook and Hayman Islands off the Queensland coast. In January 1964 HMAS

Supply' almost sank stern first off Garden Island. And in February 1964 'Voyager' and 'Melbourne' collided. The Prime Minister left the Navy Ministry in December 1963. It is perhaps significant that since February 1964 there have been no major mishaps in the Navy - whatever misfortunes may have occurred to the Ministers who held the portfolio.

The tragedy of the 'Voyager' has left a trail of tarnished reputations behind. The list of blameworthy men is long. The present Prime Minister cannot escape responsibility for the state of the Navy during his period of administration. He has inherited a dossier of the Hansard and Commission references to the matters on which I have reflected on his colleagues. Sir Robert Menzies needlessly censured Captain Robertson in terms far harsher than any used by Sir John Spicer. Sir Robert Menzies almost expressed regret that there was not sufficient evidence to place Captain Robertson on trial by court martial. For a year he quashed demands for a reopening of the inquiry and justice for Captain Robertson. It has cost the people tens of thousands of dollars - in fact, $60,000 - to rectify that particular injustice.

The honourable member for Perth (Mr Chaney), as Minister, abetted the injustice done to Captain Robertson. The honourable member for Higinbotham (Mr Chipp), as Minister, misled the House. The AttorneyGeneral misled the House. The Treasurer misled the House. The Secretary for the Navy inadequately fulfilled his responsibilities in the collection and distribution to Cabinet of relevant information. The Chief of the Naval Staff grossly distorted his knowledge of the character of LieutenantCommander Cabban in order to quash furthur inquiry. The Medical DirectorGeneral of the Navy failed to pursue his knowledge of Captain Stevens' true condition. Naval officers failed to perform their duty in notifying the Board of Captain Stevens' unfitness. The Naval Board attempted to discourage witnesses.

In all this sorry story, out of all this terrible tragedy, only one thing emerged for which this nation can be proud. And it is a great thing. In all the days and days of evidence given to two Royal Commissions, in all the days and days of debate in this

House, in all the allegations and counterallegations, charges and counter-charges, there has never been any suggestion that on that night off Jervis Bay the men' on the ships failed to fulfil their duty. In countless cases they fulfilled it heroically and nobly. It is this, despite all the maladministrations, all the operations of the old-boy network, all the lies, all the vindictiveness. all the attempts to conceal and evade, which gives us a Navy of which we can still be proud.







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