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Wednesday, 3 April 1968


Mr TURNER (Bradfield) - Although I believe that much of what the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) said was true - but by no means all of it - I should like at the very outset to disassociate myself from the whole tone of his speech on this matter. To me it was cold, calm, clever and a deliberate political calculation to make as much political capital out of it, and to take as much political advantage from it as he possibly could. His speech was suave, arrogant and insulting. It showed no feeling, 1 thought, for the naval service, whose men go into it not for money or for gain but in order to serve. They are men of courage. They accept discipline and they accept hardships. They are men whom one might say are idealists. I should imagine that mostly they have a haunting sense of responsibility in circumstances where their ships or their ships' companies may be endangered. I felt that there was a complete absence of understanding on the part of the Leader of the Opposition of the human aspects of the subject matter of this debate. So while, as I say, I believe that much of what he said was true, I totally disassociate myself from the general attitude that he displayed.

There is one other preliminary matter that I should like to clear away. It is this: Those who have spoken in this debate - not all, of course - appeared to be like the Hapsburgs who were said to have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. This debate has gone along almost on the same footing as the last debate and as if there had been no royal commission in the interval and as if nothing had been learned from it. There was no need, of course, for the second Royal Commission. If Cabban's statement had been properly investigated as it should have been, and if injustices had been rectified following upon such an investigation, there would have been no need for the second Royal Commission at all. But the Navy and the Government decided that they would not investigate the statement.

This is the third 'Voyager' debate. The first debate was on the report of the first Royal Commission which was presided over by Mr Justice Spicer; the second debate was on the Cabban statement - a debate initiated, not technically but in fact, by the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess); and the third debate now in process is on the report of the second or Burbury Royal Commission. The issues in the two earlier debates were somewhat different from the present; or, rather, they remained unresolved. Most of us, I hope, believe that this ought to be the last debate and the last royal commission on this matter.

What are the matters that call for consideration on this occasion? I suggest that there are two. First of all, what does the second Royal Commission disclose about the 'Voyager' disaster that was not previously known? One might suppose from many of the speeches that have been made that it has not revealed anything fresh at all. Secondly, what action should be taken by the Government and what attitude should be adopted by the Parliament in the light of these fresh disclosures? As to the first - that is, what was not previously known - the second Royal Commission after exhaustive examination has concluded, first, that Captain Stevens was not fit to be in command of 'Voyager' on the night of the disaster. This vitiated, in the opinion of the Commissioners, the conclusion of the first Royal Commission that a degree of blame attached to Captain Robertson. They concluded, therefore, that the finding against Captain Robertson ought to be varied accordingly. Indeed, the Government has accepted this recommendation. In other words, this injustice has been recognised and rectified. Secondly, they concluded that the Naval Board did not know, under the existing methods of reporting and through the dereliction of duty on the pari of certain medical officers, about Captain Stevens's unfitness to command the destroyer at that time. Thirdly, they concluded that counsel assisting the first Royal Commission did not improperly withhold Cabban's evidence but acted in accordance with professional judgment.

This clears the air in certain important respects if the conclusions of the second Royal Commission are accepted. Should they be accepted? All of us understand that the findings of a royal commission presided over by men skilled in sifting evidence and who have had the advantage of hearing the evidence and of seeing the witnesses should not.be lightly cast aside. The conclusions, therefore, are worthy of the highest respect. But, of course, even royal commissions can err, as. indeed, we should note from the fact that Mr Justice Spicers Royal Commission erred according to the second Royal Commission. Both were not right and therefore it is possible for a royal commission - whichever it was - to err. In other words, the decision of a royal commission is not the voice of God. But in any event, supposing we accept the findings of fact, we are still left with matters of judgment. What, for example, is intoxication? What is drunkenness? These things are infinitely variable as, I imagine, all of us here know.

For example, I think in the eighteenth century there was a definition of drunkenness to the effect that a man was not drunk so long as the two legs that carried him in were able to carry him out again. This is a fairly liberal definition of drunkenness. But all I am saying is that, though the greatest respect should be paid to the decision of a royal commission, when it comes to matters of judgment of this kind then men of the world should be able to make their own judgment. lt is a matter for rejoicing - a matter for great rejoicing - that Captain Stevens has been cleared, at least, of the gross stigma of drunkenness, however we may define that term. Secondly. Captain Robertson has been vindicated. 1 have no time to go into matters that have been raised here, except very briefly. Of course, the reason why Captain Robertson resigned was nol only that he was given a shore posting but that this followed upon the criticisms of him in Mr Justice Spicer's report, lt was a combination of these two circumstances. It was not just, as the honourable member for Perth (Mr Chaney) has been saying, because he was given a shore posting; it whs because he was given a shore posting following upon the animadversion of the Spicer Royal Commission. The Navy, of course, has never been under attack in the course of this debate. I say that with the qualification that some of the leading figures in the Navy have been and are rightly under attack. It is a matter for rejoicing, thirdly, that prompt action has been taken regarding pecuniary compensation to Captain Robertson: and. fourthly, that the defect iii the system of medical reporting in the Navy has received attention. We should rejoice about these things and not deplore the report of the second Royal Commission or that the second Royal Commission carried out its investigation. This should not be deplored. Good things have come from it. One would think from listening to some honourable members that it was all to the bad.

However, other aspects of the affair arc less happy. They relate to the campaign of calumny, denigration and vilification; the campaign to malign, traduce and slander my honourable friend, the honourable member for La Trobe, and LieutenantCommander Cabban who is not here to defend himself but who may find defenders. Secondly, it is an unhappy aspect of the affair that the Navy and the Government have carried out operation 'cover up' in respect of the whole affair. Here I am not, like the honourable member for Batman (Mr Benson), a member of the old boys' club; I believe that there are higher loyalties.

First, I salute the honourable member for La Trobe for his concern for justice for a man whom he believed to be innocent and who was so found by the second Royal Commission. Tha greatest tribute I have heard paid to him was paid by a member of this Parliament. I happened to be sitting next to him in the dining room when this member said to the honourable member for La Trobe: 'If I were the victim of injustice and had but one friend left in the world I would hope that it might be you'. Secondly, I salute him for his unconcern for his own career. He is a young man with every qualification for advancement in an environment where, hitherto at least, conformity has been the easiest path to promotion. He has never been one of the cherubim - those who continually do cry 'Holy, holy, holy" to whatever the Government says. I salute him for his disdain for abuse and deliberate misrepresentation, both open and behind his back; for his persistence over 3 or 4 years, with successive Prime Ministers, Attorneys-General and Ministers for the Navy; for his sacrifice of ease and the constant anxiety that must have beset him and, indeed, his family while he has been pursuing justice. I salute him for his restraint in the Party interest. Before bringing this matter to the bar of public opinion he did everything possible to induce the Government to act. But it would not. Finally I salute him for his courage - his sheer, unbeatable courage - and for his final tri: mph, for so it is.

Secondly I salute, because few others in th s place have, Lieutenant-Commander Cabban. Here I reiterate the same points I have made in respect of the honourable member for La Trobe: His concern for justice, his unconcern for his own career, his disdain for abuse, his persistence over the years and his sacrifice of ease. The House need not accept my word on this; I shall quote the report of the second Royal Commission at page 140 and following pages. The Commissioners in giving the character of Lieutenant-Commander Cabban said:

He set high standards of efficiency and discipline for himself and expected others to conform to them.

Later the Commission said:

It was ... his apotheosis of the office of Captain which we think caused the Captain's behaviour at his birthday dinner to have the profound impact on his mind which it undoubtedly did. . . . After this incident his judgment on subsequent incidents . . . became coloured by his impression of the events of the birthday dinner.

The Commission said also:

We are satisfied that ... the evidence he gave as to his-

That is, the captain's- drinking habits and his judgment of the situation, as he saw it, from time to time was not vitiated by any ill will towards the Captain.

This is the idea which has been purveyed around this place ever since the matter was raised. The report continues:

We reject any suggestion that ... he was motivated by a 'grudge' against ... the Navy.

This suggestion has also been put about this place. The report goes on:

There can be no doubt . . . that by May 1963 Cabban was deeply and genuinely concerned about Captain Stevens' condition ... he was genuinely concerned as to what he should do. He was lorn between his loyalty to his Captain and loyalty to the Navy generally.

When 'Voyager' reached Sydney Captain Stevens began chinking again ... the fact that he began drinking again at all gave Cabban cause for renewed anxiety. . . .

Then came the catastrophe of the night of February 10, 1964. This, of course, had a tremendous impact on Cabban. But he steadfastly maintained that ... his Captain . . . never drank at sea. ... He still did not think so even when he heard that Hyland said he had served the Captain with a 'triple brandy' on the night of the disaster.

I do not know why the Royal Commission says this. It continues:

.   . it was only when he became an ardent convert to Captain Robertson's cause, that he seems to have convinced himself that the disaster may have been associated with his former Captain's drinking habits. . . .

Although his tendency to dramatise situations, we think, did not lead him consciously to make false statements, we formed the clear opinion that some of the statements made in the 'Cabban Statement' . . . were not the product of his actual recollection, but ... of his reconstruction.

Finally the Commission said:

Notwithstanding . . . that we do not believe that Cabban at any point of his evidence deliberately lied to us or deliberately invented incidents which did not take place, we had (in the light of the foregoing considerations) insufficient confidence in his reliability as a witness to accept his evidence on most matters unless it was satisfactorily corroborated. Having said that, it is fair to reiterate that much of his evidence as to specific incidents was in the event satisfactorily corroborated.

This is the man who has been denigrated in this House. I salute him as an honourable man who spoke the truth as he saw it and for his collaboration with the honourable member for La Trobe. But for him justice would not have been done.

Finally, in the few minutes left to me, I come to operation 'cover up' by the Navy and the Ministers. I do not want to go into these things in detail because I have only 3 minutes left, but these matters have to be dealt with. I believe that the advice of Admiral McNicoll to the Minister was wrong. I believe that he never did anything to verify what Cabban had said and that when he advised the Minister that there was nothing in it this was a grave dereliction of duty. He had before him statements which were made by a man whom he knew to be an honourable man, but he did not investigate them. He advised the Minister that there was nothing in it, without any real investigation. I believe that the LandauTiller incident in which Mr Landau claimed that he had informed the Minister - to use Mr Landua's own words, 'broadly', 'in broad terms' and 'the general purport to the Minister' - was unworthy and wrong, and I believe that between the Department, the Navy and the Minister this House was misled. It was told that there was no corroboration when in fact it was known that there was corroboration of Cabban's evidence.

In conclusion - for I cannot hope for the indulgence of the House for an extension of time having regard to what I am saying - I merely add that this is an example of a case where petty loyalties, the loyalties of the officers' mess, the loyalties of the old boys' club, have prevailed over and outweighed the higher calls of duty. It was simply that. The Government required that the Navy should be an efficient Service; but it was not an efficient Service. For example, I can quote the action or inaction of

Surgeon-Commander McNeill. The Navy passes it off as egomania on the part of Cabban - an honourable man. Because he was not a member of the old boys' club he was said to be suffering from egomania. The Government had an overriding responsibility in the matter. It was responsible for ascertaining the truth and applying the truth to the situation. Regardless of what the Chief of the Naval Staff might say, and what the Permanent Head of the Department of the Navy might say, in the end it was the Government's overriding responsibility. The Government did not rise to that responsibility but sought to cover up the whole affair.

This was entirely a matter springing from the reactions and the fears of little men. We need bigger men in the Navy and bigger men in the Government. This is what the situation requires. This is the lesson of the whole affair. There is a need for better leadership. Perhaps we shall have this. I hope we do.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

Motion (by Mr Clyde Cameron) agreed to:

That the honourable member for Bradfield be granted an extension of time.


Mr TURNER - I thank the House but I have no wish to accept any extra time.







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