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Tuesday, 2 April 1968

Mr JESS (La Trobe) - This is the third time that I have spoken in a debate on the 'Voyager'-'Melbourne' collision, and 1 hope to God it is the last time. I have listened to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam), to the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) and to the former Minister for the Navy (Mr Chipp), and a kind heart who sits near me suggested that I should be kind and should not say things that I otherwise would not say. 1 can say only that when I heard the Government's case any possibility of that was shattered. I refer to the remarks of the former Minister for the Navy (Mr Chipp), particularly his reference to Lieutenant-Commander Cabban. He stated that anybody who supported Cabban had not read the Commissioners' report. I would suggest to him that anybody who made such a statement as he did had not read the transcript in detail. When he talks of the people who have been harmed and who have suffered he, and others who support him, should contemplate how that suffering could have been spared if those in authority in this country had listened, had investigated and had not been just plain stubborn and arrogant.

No matter what the Commissioners have said in their report I retain the right to disagree with their decisions. If honourable members read through the small print in the report - not the findings - they will see many matters that should cause us concern. Studying the list of witnesses and the persons under examination is rather like reading the cast of a play. The main principals in this case are the Government, the Naval Board, Lieutenant-Commander Cabban, Captain Robertson, the late Captain Stevens, Mr Smyth, Q.C., Sir John Spicer and Sir William Morrow. Perhaps we should look closely at each of the principals, but I intend to take only some of the main stars of this epic.

Let me say of Captain Robertson, and this I hope will be the last word I say on him, that it is interesting to read a letter which was sent to the late Prime Minister, Mr Harold Holt, about Captain Robertson. It contained the following:

Captain Robertson had the alternative of talcing the safe and easy way of accepting both the appointment to HMAS 'Watson' and the tacit assumption of an unspoken verdict of some share of blame, or of taking the only other course open to him and resigning. lt may be, and no doubt has been, argued that (o accept the appointment was the commonsense course, for who would throw away security and a considerable pension entitlement to maintain a principle or to assert innocence. Here again we believe that Captain Robertson was the product of his training, as his training since boyhood had been that of a naval officer of whom are expected the highest standards of integrity and a willingness to make, if necessary, any sacrifice to do what must be done and not count the cost.

I hope there are some naval officers at this moment who can say that they see their role in this very light. Let me now spend a little time on the Naval Board. The Commissioners say that the Naval Board knew nothing about the assertions that were being made. I know directors of companies in the capital cities at this very moment who have been told that ignorance of what goes on is not an excuse if an offence is committed, and that in fact it is their duty to know what is going on. From my experience in the Army and from what I know otherwise of the Army, if a commanding officer gave the excuse that he did not know what was going on, he would go for the long jump fairly quickly.

Let me now come to some of the individuals. First I want to say a few words about Admiral McNicoll. I have been involved with this matter for 3 years or more and I can say that there is much that has not come out, much that has not yet been said. In all the time during which I have put these matters, first to Sir Robert Menzies in 1964 and early in 1965, then to Mr Harold Holt and to former Ministers for the Navy, not one of those persons has seen fit to interview Lieutenant-Commander Cabban. If one reads the exhibits which are now available to us in the Library one finds that the only persons who were ever asked to answer my question as to why Lieutenant-Commander Cabban was not called were Mr Landau, the Secretary of the Navy and the First Naval Member. I have asked repeatedly why it is that the Navy is asked to investigate why a witness was not called in a royal commisison. It seems to me that this is beyond the responsibilities of the First Naval Member and Secretary of the Navy. However, let us move on to what some of the individuals have said. Exhibit 151 was a document headed 'Some Aspects of "Voyager " Debate'. This was referred to by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam). In this document Admiral McNicoll made an attack on Lieutenant-Commander Cabban. He said, amongst other things:

But the 'high moral character', 'idealism' and awareness', all of which are mentioned by Dr Mackay, probably add up to what might be less charitably described as a self-righteous egomania.

That may be Admiral McNicoll's idea; it is not mine. On page 2 of that same document, in paragraphs 3, 4 and 5 Admiral McNicoll spoke of the triple brandy, which now, to my surprise, Their Honours say may never even have existed, so that the poor steward is now a liar. Even though nobody has proved that the triple brandy did not exist the evidence of the steward is treated as being beneath contempt. In paragraph 4 of this document Admiral McNicoll said:

This would certainly be a stiff brandy, although not more than many a sober and respected citizen might drink after a formal dinner. . . .

The only difference in this case was that the ship was manoeuvring in close proximity to another, and in darkness, and as the Attorney-General (Mr Bowen) himself said when he led the debate last year, this was at all times a dangerous manoeuvre. However, Admiral McNicoll tells us that the triple brandy is simply a drink that any man might take in a Melbourne club.

Then we come to the evidence of Admiral McNicoll at page 3889 of the transcript. This is what he said:

MR HIATT; You first saw what we call the Cabban statement in August 1965?


And never at any time since then have you sought to see Cabban to question him on the statement? - Never.

To see what, if any, of it was true so that the Navy might put its house in order? - We have become so accustomed to the document that one forgets what a cruel and pitiless document it is. One knows it is not the production of a wicked man, but it seems a purposeless document. And insofar as the Navy putting its house in order, the first tiling, and the step which is lacking, is to convince anyone to whom this document is shown that it is a true document

I hope that, now that the Commissioners have shown that there was a certain amount of truth in it, Admiral McNicoll may revise his views. Exhibit 85 was a report on Captain Duncan Stevens signed by Admiral McNicoll and dated 23rd August 1965. In the third last paragraph he said: I agreed to Mr Osborne's request - - Mr Osborne was the solicitor for the Stevens interest - to speak for Captain Stevens' character and competence, though 1 asked not to be pressed, as 1 could not describe him as m any way outstanding.

We should keep in mind what Admiral McNicoll said before the first Royal Commission and then before the second Royal Commission. I will just read to the House what the first Commissioner said in his report on page 3, referring to Captain Stevens:

A perusal of his 'flimsies' indicates a long, satisfactory and indeed distinguished service in the various capacities in which he served from time to time-

This is a fair indication of the kinds of flimsies' that are written: the last of which was from Admiral McNicoll re service in 'Voyager' from January 1963 to January 1964: 'has conducted himself to my entire satisfaction. A keen and enthusiastic captain of HMAS "Voyager"'.

If Admiral McNicoll had not allowed himself to be pressed by Mr Osborne, and if Admiral McNicoll had told the full story that this man could not in his opinion be described as in any way outstanding, we might not have had to take the step of appointing a second Royal Commission.

The next person about whom I wish to say something is Mr Smyth. I cannot understand - and the Commissioners have not helped me in any way to understand - why certain matters were not brought out. Mr Smyth knew that there was evidence that a triple brandy had been served. He also knew that three bodies had been recovered from the water. He knew that there was an executive officer who had told him certain things - whether they were true or not - about the drinking habits of the Captain. He also knew that on 'Voyager' that night there had been an alcohol ration, even though such a ration was against the orders of the Naval Board at that time. I understand that since then the orders have been amended by the addition of the words during night flying'. But at that time this represented a contravention. These were four matters that he knew about. Whether the suggestions were right or wrong was not for him or for Cabban or anybody else to say, but the fact is that he never thought to introduce them and test them. This I find quite astounding.

Then I come to a letter which the Leader of the Opposition read. It concerns Lieutenant Tiller's statements, and I am concerned as to who was responsible for having the original statements of Lieutenant Tiller destroyed. The Commisioner's report said that no criticism of Mr Landau can be made. Let me say that I do not agree with the words used by the Leader of the Opposition on this aspect of the matter. I found them objectionable and I thought the honourable member was quite wrong in using them. But let roe refer tq this letter and particularly in the context of the destruction of documents. Exhibit 81 is a letter dated 11th May 1967 from Mr Landau to Commodore Smythe, the Australian naval representative in London. It concerned the obtaining of evidence from Lieutenant Tiller. The third last paragraph read:

It is probable that there may be approaches to both Captain Willis and Surgeon-Lieutenant Tiller from other quarters on these matters. (I understand that Mr Jess MP will be visiting London next month.)

He was quite correct, and I can assure him that Lieutenant Tiller acted according to naval standards. The letter continues:

I think you should inform them accordingly, particularly in view of the possibility of the Parliamentary Committee of inquiry mentioned above.

The last paragraph, I think, is the one which gives me concern. It reads:

I should be glad if you would please destroy this letter, as well as die Cabban statement, as soon as you have finished with it.

The letter is signed 'Yours sincerely, S. Landau, Secretary'. I thought that all naval records were kept. 1 thought that when letters were sent to attaches abroad, records were kept of those letters. Already in this case files for a rather important month and reports from 'Voyager' have seemingly been lost from the Commander of the Fleet, from the Navy Office and from four distinct areas, lt just so happens that the termites have got them. I find this quite extraordinary in view of the Tiller statement, in view of this letter and in view of other factors in this case. 1 ask: How many other papers may have been destroyed when it is inconvenient, whether for Ministers, secretaries of departments or concerning the liberties of individuals?

Let me go further to some of the other suggestions which have been made in this case. It has been suggested that LieutenantCommander Cabban felt that he was espousing a cause and that he was the great white hope. I can assure this House that Lieutenant-Commander Cabban at no time ever wanted this second Royal Commission to take place. He at all times said that he was prepared to speak to anybody in the Ministry or in the Department of the Navy, or to anybody who would listen to him.. It was only when the Ministers of this Government refused or endeavoured to prevent a second Royal Commission coming about that I had to go to LieutenantCommander Cabban. I said to him: 'You are the one on whom this case rests. Are you prepared to take the slander, the libel and what will be thrown at you, and go on?' He hesitated. He said that he was. I agree with somebody else who said that he hoped that there are men in this country who are prepared to stand out against the establishment and who are prepared to make this sacrifice when the establishment or the people in power say: 'This man is too dangerous. Let us roll him early*. This Royal Commission report is headed in part' . . . Royal Commission on the statement of Lieutenant-Commander Cabban . . .'. It was the trial of Cabban more than anybody else. The debate tonight from the Government's side has been reduced in my opinion to the trial of Cabban again.

I will say that he is an honourable man. I do not think that some of those who have made statements tonight could match him for his fearlessness or his courage in this deal. As a member of the Liberal Party, I do not think that it is any good talking about Communism, corruption or collusion in others if we are not prepared to watch that it does not happen in our own area. I am not saying that it did. I am saying that we need to be vigilant. We need to see at times like these that the little man is not victimised. I take now the statements that the judges made about LieutenantCommander Cabban. They said that he was unreliable. 1 regard this statement as one thing and one thing only. It is this: Never let any junior officer, never let any young man or anybody who may think that he can attack those in power believe that he can win - because, indeed, he cannot. 1 wish to conclude by saying this: 1 have the greatest sympathy for everybody concerned in this matter including the former Ministers for the Navy who have lost their portfolios. I never wanted this. The Commission was never necessary. It only needed one person to hear one man and perhaps to check what he had to say and not leave the matter to two men who were concerned and who in fact I think even recommended compensation for the man who was victimised, Captain Robertson. 1 think that this is something that has been tragic. I do not know whether I can say anything that will mean much to the family of the captain of the ship that went down. The only thing I will say is this: Throughout this case, I have felt that Captain Stevens was a man of honour and a man of great courage. Who knows why any man does anything, what his sickness is or what caused it? I have felt all the time that if the Navy was what I thought it was this man would have been the first to say: 'I do not want any other man blamed for a mistake that may have been mine'. I feel that more than anything this is what I would wish to say particularly to the young son of this man: It is not his father who has been attacked. It is not his father who has been under observation. It is the question of justice in this country, what justice means in this country and whether justice is based on fact and whether fair and open inquiries are worth fighting for.

Debate (on motion by Mr Benson) adjourned.

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