Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 3 April 1968

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I compliment the last speaker, the honourable member for Evans (Dr Mackay), on an excellent contribution to the debate. I agree with most of what he said. I cannot, however, agree with his statement that all of the Ministers spoke truthfully and gave the facts as they were able to dredge them up. I do not believe that this is so. I believe that a lot of the truth was suppressed from the Ministers and that the Ministers completed the job by suppressing much of what they had from the Parliament.

We on this side of the Parliament regret very much the circumstance that has made this debate necessary. I speak for every member of the Opposition when I say that our hearts go out to the widow and family of the late Captains Stevens. They have gone through a terrible ordeal. Although it is a long time since the terrible tragedy occurred, we must feel for them in this moment. When the incident is debated in the Parliament and when it is mentioned in the Press it must bring back to these poor unfortunate people a feeling of great sadness and loss. We equally feel for the families of the other eighty-two officers and ratings who lost their lives as a consequence of this terrible accident at sea that night. We regret that it has been necessary to have two Royal Commissions in order to discover the facts. However, we place on record the important fact that the second Royal Commission would not have been necessary had the Government not carried out its operation cover up, as one of the Government supporters so aptly described it. It was because the Naval Board had attempted to cover up the facts that we were forced to put the unfortunate relatives of the eighty-two people killed that night through this terrible ordeal again. It has been a hurtful experience for all of us to have to take part in this debate, but unfortunately there are occasions when this kind of exercise has to be completed. A coronial inquiry is just as sorrowful and causes just as many heartaches as this debate does to the dependents of those who were killed that night. But it has to go on because we must always discover the truth, and these inquiries are the only way in which we can discover what has happened. If we can discover what happened, only then do we know how to prevent it from occurring again.

I agree completely with my Presbyterian friend, the honourable member for Evans, when he said: 'Let us drop this legal talk.' I do not reflect upon the honourable member for Warringah (Mr St John). I was really struck with this thought as a result of the modern Edmund Burke of Australia, the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen) who is the one, more than any other honourable member, to whom I say: Let us drop this legal talk.' Let us drop it and get down to common sense facts and talk about the incident in a language that the ordinary citizen of this country can understand. What are the facts? I interviewed Lieutenant-Commander Cabban for a long time. I interviewed him on several occasions. I am firmly convinced that he is a man of integrity, honour and impeccable truthfulness. He is a clean living man and has very great and deep morals. This was the man who, knowing in advance what was before him, had the courage to do this very thing. He was not some simpleton who entered into and embarked upon this exercise not knowing the consequences.

He said to me: 'I know I will be vilified, denigrated, condemned and ridiculed because of the stand I am taking. I go into this thing with my eyes wide open, knowing that it will take years off my life. But I do it because I have the burning belief that something wrong occurred that night, that so far this terrible wrong has not been exposed, and that unless it is exposed it could happen again.'

Whilst I do not like talking about the late Captain Stevens because he is not here to defend himself, neither are the other eighty-one officers and ratings who went down with him here to defend themselves, and they have as much right to be protected. Their lives were as sweet and as dear to them as was the life of the person responsible for their death. We have no right at all to say that this one man is more important than the other eighty-one officers and ratings whose lives were lost as a consequence of Stevens's unfit condition that night. Whether he was unfit as a consequence of a duodenal ulcer or through over drinking is completely beside the point. The Royal Commission has found that he was unfit that night to be in charge of that vessel. That is the important thing.

The Minister for the Navy (Mr Kelly) has not come into the debate yet. I compliment him for showing more judgment than his predecessors did in keeping out of the matter as long as he could. But being Minister for the Navy he will reluctantly have to enter into it before the night is out. I am pleased to notice, if I am not mistaken, that he wrote his own speech, which I do not think his predecessors did, and he may come out of it a little bit better than they did. I think that if he keeps that up while he is Minister for the Navy he will probably remain Minister for a lot longer than his predecessors did.

As soon as this gallant, brave and courageous Cabban decided to enter the fray we heard in this place rumoured aspersions cast upon his reputation and character. I heard them and he heard them. Everybody heard them. They were circulated among members on the Government side, in particular, in order to try to deter them from supporting the efforts of the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess), the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) and the honourable member for Warringah. I salute them.

There has been a lot of saluting done in this debate. I salute the honourable member for Warringah, the honourable member for La Trobe, the honourable member for Bradfield and others who have supported them because it took almost as much courage for those men to oppose their Government as it did for LieutenantCommander Cabban to oppose the Navy.

In this debate we have seen examples of the old school tie tradition; of boys of the old brigade sticking together. A case in point was the speech of the honourable member for Batman (Mr Benson). These people do not care a damn what happens to the ratings and the underlings. All they worry about is cringing before, and crawling after the brass hats of the Navy. It has always been the same. These people could not care two hoots what happens to the ratings as long as the establishment is preserved. This is all .they worry about.

I want once again to be my normal self - to be quite dispassionate and objective about this matter. I want to make my contribution free from undertones of party political bias. There is no doubt thai the boys of the old brigade - the McNicolls and men like the honourable member for Batman - are a law unto themselves. They are a coterie of selfish individuals who believe that they are the Navy; they believe that the brass hats could run the Navy without any help from the ratings and lieutenants and other people in the Navy. Of course, they are wrong. We know that the honourable member for Batman is nowhere near admiral class but he likes to think that he is. We know that he even arranges for the telephonists in this building to page him as Captain Benson.

There is no doubt that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) was completely correct when he attacked the Secretary of the Department of the Navy. I do not derive much pleasure from attacking public servants, especially those who are compelled, by virtue of their position, to sit in this chamber unable to answer. But it is well known that the Secretary of the Navy withheld vital information from his Minister. It is well known that he had to re-enter the witness box to explain something that took a little explaining. The time is fast coming when we will have to take stock of the Commonwealth Public Service Act so as to deal with civil servants. We will have to take stock of the legislation governing the Services. If public servants and officers of the various armed Services are to be free to mislead their Ministers and to suppress information from them, causing them embarrassment - sometimes forcing them to resign - the appropriate legislation will have to be altered so that whenever these things occur the officer responsible for a Minister resigning because he has received false information or through not having received information may be dismissed from the Public Service. Such a person should not be able to rely on the permanency of employment which he now enjoys. These public servants are bringing this action upon themselves by the way they withhold information from the Parliament. They should remember that the Parliament is the instrument of the people of Australia. We in this place, not the public servants, are the people who govern this country, although in reality public servants may be justified in .thinking that they govern. Perhaps they do in fact, but this is only because we allow them to do so. We should be prepared to tell them that if a public servant ever again misleads the Parliament, suppresses information or gives untruthful information, he will be dismissed as soon as his guilt is proved.

In this unfortunate incident drink plays an important part. We know that total abstainers will be the first to forgive those who are not able to abstain. Those who are not able to abstain should be the first to forget about those who are likewise afflicted. There is clear evidence that Captain Stevens was addicted heavily to drink. But I would like to comment on the way in which the Royal Commission dismissed evidence which would have supported Cabban's evidence relative to over indulgence by the late Captain Stevens. During the inquiry special emphasis was placed on the evidence of Sir William Morrow. He said that Captain Stevens took amphojel regularly. I have occasionally imbibed myself, as I suppose you have, Mr Speaker, and no doubt as have other honourable members. I know that the best cure for such a condition is amphojel. I always take it; I can recommend it. If one is sick from over indulgence, amphojel is an excellent cure. Sir William Morrow said that Captain Stevens used to take it regularly. Perhaps he did. Captain Stevens may have had to take amphojel regularly because he was suffering from the complaint for which I occasionally take amphojel. Sir William Morrow said: 'Alcohol could certainly enhance his duodenal ulcer symptoms and could explain the drowsiness and fatigue that occurred on several occasions.'

We must not forget that Captain Stevens dined with Admiral McNicoll in January 1963. I would be surprised if they did not also wine together on that night. I venture to say that because of his wining and dining with the gentleman who, unfortunately, is the subject of this exercise, Admiral McNicoll knew perfectly well about his condition - both his ulcer, if he had one, and his drinking habits. I will deal in a minute with the matter of Captain Stevens's ulcer. Captain Stevens had been off liquor for a long time. Who knows, this fateful night when the Captain drank with Admiral McNicoll may have been the night on which the Captain ended his abstention.

The evidence shows that when Captain Stevens saw Sir William Morrow he gave the physician the impression that he drank too much on shore having regard to the condition of his stomach. Dr Day did a liver function test on Captain Stevens at the request of Sir William Morrow. I would like to ask anybody with any medical knowledge why Sir William Morrow wo aid order Captain Stevens to have a liver function test. Was it to discover whether be was suffering from cirrhosis of the liver or some other disease caused by an excess of alcohol? What else was he looking for? The obvious reason for ordering a liver function test is to ascertain whether the liver has been damaged by too much alcohol. But the remarkable thing about all this is that the two most sensitive alcohol tests that should be taken in conjunction with a liver function test were either not taken or the results were suppressed. This is the evidence. It appears in the secret documents which honourable members may peruse in the Parliamentary Library. If honourable members pass through two or three little doors they will come to a room in which they will see all the secret exhibits which so far have been withheld from the Press and everybody else except members of Parliament.

Speaking of Captain Stevens, Sir William Morrow said that apart from some horseplay, which amounted to crossing the wardroom on his hands and knees, he was able to walk to one side of the wardroom. What a remarkable feat for a man with an ulcer - to walk from one side of the wardroom to the other. I congratulate the man; he must have been in rare condition. I suggest that evidence discloses that Captain Stevens found difficulty in doing this because he was well and truly under the influence of alcohol that night. In his evidence Sir William Morrow said that Captain Stevens s face was alight with pleasure and that his manner was very buoyant. I know something other than ulcers which will make a person's face alight with pleasure and his manner very buoyant. The evidence is that on the occasion of the birthday party, when the person presiding made a speech about Captain Stevens, who was the guest of honour, Captain Stevens did not stand up and he mumbled a reply that could not be understood. Then the profound observation is made that some alcohol appears to have been taken as a consequence of the evening's meal, but 'I am convinced that this condition was mainly due to the ulcer'. What is the condition? He could not stand up and was able only to mumble a reply.

Nothing has been said about Dr Birrell's report. It is hidden away in this little room about which I spoke and I suggest that honourable members go there and see it for themselves. This is what Dr Birrell had to say in Exhibit No. 183:

I consider this man to be suffering from alcoholism, there being no reasonable alternative.

He then refers to the definition of alcoholism. It was given by Piper and he says that he accepts Piper's definition, which is:

Drinking in amounts sufficient to interfere with the drinkers health or social functioning.

A decision as to whether Captain Stevens was suffering from alcoholism depends on the meaning of the word 'alcoholism'. Does it mean a chronic state in which the man cannot drag one leg after the other for 24 hours a day for 6 months on end? Or does it mean, as Piper says, drinking in amounts sufficient to interfere with the drinker's health or social functioning?

The significant aspect of the ulcer, which was supposed to be in evidence long before 1959, is that when the X-ray was taken in Sydney in 1959, according to Dr Birrell, it showed not only that there was no ulcer but also that there was no scarring. The report goes on to say that no cirrhosis of the liver was evident but adds that only one in every ten alcoholics suffers from cirrhosis of the liver. This man, being only 42 years of age, apparently was in the nine-tenths that did not suffer from cirrhosis.

Dr Birrellreferred to the great discovery by Dr Morrow that he had not been drinking to the extent that there had been cerebral damage. He was saying that Captain Stevens had not become a lunatic as a consequence of excessive drinking as there was no cerebral damage. Referring to the misbehaviour in the wardroom, Dr Birrell said that Captain Stevens acted like a 16-year-old boy being drunk and not like an adult non-alcoholic. All this evidence apparently was cast to one side by the Royal Commission. None of it was brought out in the report to show that Cabban was telling the truth when in fact he must have been. [Extension of time granted]

Do not let us forget that Dr Tiller also said at one time that he thought that alcohol was the prime cause of the trouble. Dr -Birrell then says that it is easy to explain why Captain . Stevens's conduct began to improve at lunch time because by this time his blood had attained the normal alcohol content and finally fatigue would overcome him and cause a sudden collapse. He made another relevant, remark. He said that it is not normal fora man to want brandy in his coffee first thing in the morning; and I do. not think it is. Even the worst of us here has not reached the point of wanting brandy in his coffee in the morning. The doctor said that he thought the pattern displayed in these events was brought about primarily by alcohol misuse. Sir, of course it was.

The Leader of the Opposition has been attacked for allegedly saying that Captain Stevens was a chronic alcoholic. That is not what he said at all. I want to make it clear that what the Leader of the Opposition did was to refer to. a statement made by the honourable member for Warringah.

Mr Arthur - Which he should never have made.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The evidence seems to suggest that there was every justification for it. The Leader of the Opposition, however, said nothing of the kind. He has been attacked for daring to expose the points of weakness of the Government. Attacks have been made upon him by nearly every honourable member on the Government side who has spoken, and I include those who have supported Lieutenant-Commander Cabban. There is no doubt that honourable members opposite recognise the superiority of the Leader of the Opposition over their Prime Minister (Mr Gorton), who was appointed by the senators and by the oncers' in the Parliament over the old guard who would probably have done a much better job. Honourable members opposite also fear the great clarity of mind of the Leader of the Opposition. They fear his capacity to expose the Government's duplicity and the Government's weaknesses. They see the Leader of the Opposition as Australia's Prime Minister after the next election. They know that their numbers are up and they must do something about it.

I have already proved that it is possible for two Royal Commissions on the same evidence to reach different findings. It would be possible for another commission - I am notsuggesting one, of course; we do not do that - on the evidence of Dr Birrell to come to the conclusion that Captain Stevens was an alcoholic. The two Royal Commissions that we have had already have reached different conclusions on the evidence of the -position of the two ships and they could -reach different conclusions on other matters if the inquiry were held again.

The Government's credibility is at issue here. And so it ought to be. This is not the first time that this has been so. If we go back far enough over the Government's record we can show that the credibility of certain Ministers was at issue on such matters as the tapping of telephones. The Prime Minister, the Attorney-General at the time and others assured us that telephones were not being tapped. We later discovered that while they were saying this in the Parliament telephones were, in fact, being tapped and that they were not telling the truth. The Government also misled us over the 'Voyager' issue in the very first instance. Three Ministers said here that it was not possible to corroborate the evidence that Lieutenant-Commander Cabban could give. That was not true. Untrue statements were made to the Parliament about the VIP flight. Untrue statements were made to the Parliament about the water torture in Vietnam. I exonerate the Minister for the Army (Mr Lynch) from this, because he was the victim of the situation that I mentioned earlier. Wrong information was given to him or an officer failed to supply to him information which it was that officer's duty to supply.

That officer should have been dismissed immediately. If the Act does not permit this to be done, it should be altered so that the Minister can sack the officer on the spot and send him back to civilian life. Wrong information has been given to the Parliament about the cost of the Fill aircraft. Time and time again we have been misinformed about these matters. Time and time again we have been misinformed-

Mr SPEAKER (Hon. W. J. Aston)Order!The honourable member is getting a tittle away from the subject that is being debated. I suggest that he come back to the business before the House.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - If I may I want to ask honourable members opposite a question. It has been said in evidence in support of the statement made by Lieutenant-Commander Cabban that Captain Stevens had a triple brandy at sea on the night that the accident happened. Would you say, Mr Speaker, if I may address you directly, that if the hostess of a plane rushed past you with a triple brandy when you were 35,000 feet in the air and said that it was for the captain or the pilot, you would feel very happy about it? Would you not say: There is something in what Clyde Cameron said about a man not having a triple brandy when in charge of an aircraft?'

Suggest corrections