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Tuesday, 2 April 1968


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock (LYNE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Order! The honourable member for Hunter will cease interjecting.


Mr CHIPP - Perhaps the listening public, after hearing that outburst, will be able to judge the honourable member for Hunter for themselves and I do not need to explain to them what he is like. One could possibly excuse the honourable member for Hunter for saying what he did about Mr Landau; he is more to be pitied than blamed. But nobody in this House and nobody, I suggest, on the Labor side of the House could possibly excuse the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) for what he said about Mr Landau. This was one of the most cowardly and contemptible attacks ever made on a public servant or, for. that matter, ever made on anybody by a member of this honourable chamber. It has shamed the chamber, shamed the Australian Labor Party and shamed the Leader of the Opposition. What the Leader of the Opposition did not do was to read from the report of the Royal Commissioners who, after all, were the final arbiters of the standards of behaviour of many people. At page 120 of their report they say:

We think it proper to add that no sinister motive can possibly be attributed to Mr Landau in destroying Dr Tiller's original sketchy comments. It would not be the first time that the author of an ill-considered letter or document has arranged with its recipient to destroy it and substitute another letter or document, lt must be remembered that no Royal Commission was in contemplation at that time and it was an entirely proper action for the Minister to take to obtain the approval of Tiller and others to a wide! publication of their written comments than the] had initially understood would be the case.

That is what the Royal Commissioners said after 85 days of sitting. I do not mind the Leader of the Opposition muddying up the waters for political purposes by making an attack on myself, the AttorneyGeneral (Mr Bowen) or the Treasurer (Mr McMahon). That is why we are here. But when a man who devotes his life to the service of this country and becomes the permanent head of a department, as Mr Landau has done, and who cannot defend himself is subject to an attack such as we have heard tonight, I believe that the attacker is beneath the contempt of this House. In all my human experience - I say this with deep sincerity - I have never met a man of more integrity or more honesty than Mr Landau.

The terms of reference of the Royal Commission required the Commissioners to make two kinds of judgment. Firstly they were asked to bring down findings of fact and secondly they were asked to form opinions on the basis of those facts. 1 should like to remind the House of the exhaustive nature of the inquiry. Evidence was heard by three of Australia's leading judges over a period of 85 sitting days; 142 witnesses were called; 203 exhibits and more than 150 statements were either tendered or studied; 5,933 pages of transcript were taken of the evidence; and I should imagine the total cost of the exercise would be close to $750,000. While it is open and probably desirable for honourable members to challenge or query the opinions of the Commissioners on matters arising from the findings of fact, it would take a man of some courage or perhaps foolishness to challenge the findings of fact, but the Leader of the Opposition did so tonight.

J should like to concentrate my remarks on a list of some of the findings of fact, if for no other reason than to try to compensate by way of inclusion in this parliamentary record the many people who suffered grievously from this inquiry and whose position, notwithstanding the clear and lucid conclusions in the report, is still shadowed by the miasma of the allegations contained in the Cabban document. I refer to the late Captain Stevens, his widow, his children and his distinguished father and mother. I also refer to the fathers and mothers and the wares and loved ones of those who died in the 'Voyager' collision, all of whom were told during the previous parliamentary debate on this matter that their loved ones served under a drunken captain, that this was the reason for the collision and that this was the reason why these men lost their lives. I refer also to the Navy itself, its senior officers, both Service and civil, and the other officers and men whose service has been subjected to an extraordinary depth of inquisition, accusation and inquiry.

I mentioned the enormous amount of evidence thatw as given and studied during the conduct of the Commission. Because of the sheer limitations of space, the Press and other public media did not report the proceedings fully or give a complete summary of the 231 pages of the report of the Commission. The report was not covered completely by the Press or read and absorbed by the public generally. Because of the protracted nature of the proceedings, many people ceased reading the daily reports of the Commission while it was sitting. It is fair to say that on the presentation of the report the predominant headline was: 'Captain Robertson cleared'. This, I believe, is the overwhelming conclusion, a telescoped precis though it may be, left in people's minds. It is a perfectly accurate and true statement that this Royal Commission believed that any blame attached to Captain Robertson, Commander Kelly and Sub-Lieutenant Bate by the first Royal Commission should be removed. But this Commission was obliged to do much more than inquire into the blameworthiness or otherwise of Captain Robertson and his fellow officers, though it certainly did this. It was charged with the responsibility of inquiring into the truthfulness or otherwise of allegations contained in a document that resulted from a tape recording made by Lieutenant-Commander Cabban, a tape recording that was made to give background material concerning his late captain to a man who was preparing to write a book about the 'Voyager' tragedy. This document contained allegations of consistent drunkenness, compulsive drinking, revolting social behaviour and bad and reckless seamanship by the dead man, the late Captain Stevens.

I have been deeply concerned that many well meaning people who have not availed themselves of the opportunity to read the report in full have reached a conclusion by some process of dubious deduction that, because Robertson was cleared, the allegations of Cabban are therefore correct. If this impression is left on anyone, I say in deep sincerity that the grievious wound already inflicted on the many people I have mentioned will not only be re-opened but its pain and agony will be compounded and exacerbated. For the sake of the record then, I shall try to relate the Commissioners' findings of fact to the Cabban allegations against Captain Stevens. With some reluctance I will repeat some of the extracts of the Cabban allegations. I do so for only one reason and that is to put them beside the actual words of the Commissioners in their findings.

Cabban related several incidents, implying faulty or reckless seamanship on the part of his late captain. In general terms the Commissioners had this to say at page 33: . . a reader of the 'Cabban Statement' (unassisted by any explanation from the author) would no doubt think that the purpose of recounting at least some of the navigational incidents was to suggest incompetent, if not reckless, seamanship on the part of Captain Stevens ... At the hearing before us Cabban asserted the truth of his statements about Captain Stevens' ship handling and about the several navigational incidents but disavowed any intention to suggest thereby that Captain Stevens was an incompetent or inefficient ship handler.

From the mouth of the so-called accuser himself is a denial that he ever meant to convey to anybody that Captain Stevens was an incompetent ship handler. Referring to the allegations about drinking habits contained in the document, the Commissioners had this to say at page 35:

A reader of the 'Cabban Statement' would unquestionably get a picture of Captain Stevens as a chronic drunkard during the periods the ship was in harbour in the Far East, at Sydney after her return and for a short period at Williamstown. The picture of Captain Stevens painted by the document when read through from beginning to end is that of a man who continually drank himself sick whenever 'Voyager' was in harbour, stopped drinking only when he was incapable of drinking more, and who started drinking again as soon as he was lit enough to do so.

Indeed, the Commissioners were not alone in commenting on the document in this way. A member of this Parliament is reported to have said at page 2174 of Hansard of 16th May 1967:

I refer to the administration ot justice, pure and unsullied, and the assurance that this kind of thing, the command of an Australian ship by a man who was intoxicated, can never happen again.

Another honourable member is reported at page 2171 of Hansard of the same date to have said simply:

This man was a chronic drunkard.

In fairness to that honourable member he made a personal explanation the following day.

I now turn to the findings of fact of the Commissioners and quote directly from their report. Lieutenant-Commander Cabban, in speaking about his late captain, said at paragraph 13 of his allegations:

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

The Commissioners said at page 72 of their report:

In the sense in which we have said this Paragraph must be interpreted the statement is untrue, ft is not merely that the evidence does not support it. The evidence positively establishes that it was not the fact.

At paragraph 20 of his statement Lieutenant-Commander Cabban said:

Following the return to Sydney Captain Stevens arrived on board every morning that I was there at approximately 0800 very heavily under the influence of alcohol. ... He was wakened by his steward at 1600, he commenced drinking again and carried on ashore as soon as he had sufficient to get going.

At page 113 of the report the Commissioners state:

.   . so far as paragraph 20 gave a picture of the Captain for most of the week in Sydney being drunk and incapable day by day, it was simply not true, and gave a false impression of the Captain's behaviour during that week.

At page 115 of the report the Commissioners state:

.   . establishes to our complete satisfaction that any suggestion that Captain Stevens was continuously drunk, or, indeed, drunk on any occasion during this period in Sydney, can have no foundation.

At paragraph 23 of his statement LieutenantCommander Cabban makes possibly the most disgraceful allegation of all concerning the alleged drinking at Williamstown. In this paragraph he has alleged that he went into the Captain's cabin and saw him 'in the usual condition' with a very vomit-soaked towel under his head, looking dreadful'. At page 125 the Commissioners said:

In answer to the question 'A picture has been painted of the Captain being intoxicated day by day, day in and day out. You saw him from time to lime in harbour, so what do you say about that?' Irvine said, 'Rubbish, Sir'.

The question had been asked of Captain Stevens' cabin hand, Able Seaman Irvine. The Commissioners then went on to say:

This is put in colloquial language but as the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates the implication in the 'Cabban Statement' that this was the fact is completely untrue.

At page 127 of their report, the Commissioners stated:

This is not merely a case where allegations of frequent drunkenness are not proved; not only is there no evidence to support frequent drunkenness, but the evidence positively establishes that this was not the fact.

Also at page 127 the Commissioners state:

It is sufficient to say that the evidence enables us lo make a clear affirmative finding that at all times other than the few occasions to which we have referred, Captain Stevens conducted himself with complete propriety and sobriety and carried out his manifold duties (both at sea and in harbour) with considerable credit to himself and to the entire satisfaction of those having administrative and operational command over him. He showed high qualities of leadership and the morale of the ship was good.

On only three occasions in the whole of his service which had been under microscopic examination was he found to be moderately affected by alcohol. On the first occasion illness was a substantially contributing factor; on the second, he was mildly intoxicated and on the third was slightly intoxicated. Perhaps one of the most devastating tributes to Captain Stevens came from Mr Burt. Q.C., who for 6 months ruthlessly and comprehensively probed every act of this man for the last 13 months of his life. He was addressing a Commission on which sat two distinguished judges, and in the presence of senior counsel and many eminent and well-respected citizens of this country, Mr Burt said:

In this room now, who could have had his life subjected to the microscopic examination that has been directed to Captain Stevens, and come out of it as well.

This perhaps is the most eloquent tribute paid by anybody to the late Captain Stevens. If in the time available to me tonight I have done nothing more than place on the record of this Parliament the truth about Captain Stevens, not only for his sake but for the sake of his wife, children, mother and father and other relatives and of the personnel who served on the 'Voyager' then I would feel my time has not been in vain. Time doj not permit me to discuss in detail the opinions of :he Commissioners concerning the blameworthiness or otherwise of Captain Robertson, Commander Kelly or Sub-Lieutenant Bate. I simply say this: The professional view of the Naval Board concerning the responsibilities of the officer in tactical command, the Fleet Navigation Officer and the officer of the watch, were put clearly before the Royal Commissioners at their request by the counsel for the Naval Board of which I then had the honour to be chairman. I sincerely hope that for the future guidance of Her Majesty's Australian ships, the Naval Board will reaffirm to the Fleet the responsibilities of such officers in Her Majesty's Royal Australian Navy.

The stand taken by the Naval Board and by myself as Minister and the Government concerning the truth of the Cabban allegations I suggest has been completely vindicated notwithstanding the findings of the Commission of unfitness to retain command because of a physical condition which did not meet the abnormally high standards set by the Navy. The Naval Board could not and did not post a man with a severe drinking problem or a reckless seaman to command one of its ships. In conclusion, I say this: Our Navy is presently engaged in a war. Our ships' officers and men are being fired upon in anger. Our clearance divers and pilots are risking their lives daily in Vietnam. None of the armed Services in Australian history - indeed few, if any, armed Services in any country in the world - has ever been subjected to the microscopic examinations of two royal commissions in 4 years. I say, after having served as Minister for the Navy for a short period, that Australia should be proud of its Navy; not only of its ships and equipment which are equal to the world's best, but of the calibre, character and courage of its officers and men. I know I can still speak for those men in saying that as far as this unhappy and tragic matter of the 'Voyager' collision is concerned, after the conclusion of this debate, whenever that might be, in God's name leave them alone, give them a fair go to serve Australia as they have volunteered to do.







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