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Transcript 1577

SPEECH BY THE RT. HON. HAROLD HOLT, MP ON 'VOYAGER' INQUIRY - MINISTERIAL STATEMENT

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Holt, Harold

Period of Service: 26/01/1966 to 19/12/1967

More information about Holt, Harold on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 17/05/1967

Release Type: Statement in Parliament

Transcript ID: 1577

COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA
SPEECH 2 6 MAY 197
4BY8RARI
The Rt Hon. HAROLD HOLT,,
ON
' VOYAGER' INQUIRY
Ministerial Statement
[ From the ' Parliamentary Debates', 17 May 1967]
Mr HAROLD HOLT ( Higgins-Prime
Minister) [ 8.47]-The House has had a very
thorough discussion on this particular
matter. Three of my ministerial colleagues
have jaken part in the debate, as has a
former Minister for the Navy from the
Government side. It is not my purpose at
this stage to go over the ground again
or to try to canvass all the points that have
already been raised. We have reached a
stage where the Parliament must recognise
as I am sure most, if not all, honourable
members from the outset have recognised,
that we have an obligation to do justice.-
justice to the living and justice to the dead.
We also have an obligation to do justice
to the Royal Australian Navy. I believe
that we have a fine Navy with a splendid
record-a Navy that has inherited the
British tradition of naval efficiency and
gallantry. Certainly our own'Navy, though
small in size, ' has maintained a standard
which is not surpassed by that of any other
' Navy in any part of the world. It is a Navy
operating in the best tradition established
by what we believe to be the best of all
navies, the British Navy. Yet, as a result
of' allegations that have been made and
canvassed in the course of this debate,
justice is in danger of being obscured and,
in the case of some people, denied unless
this Parliament can resolve these matters
as they should most properly be resolved.
I devote the first portion of what I have
to say to what I term a ground clearing
operation. Although the allegations that
6980/ 67 have been canvassed here have been
directed in particular against the commander
of the ' Voyager' on the night of
this tragic collision, by implication they
have reached out to other people; indeed,
they have reached out to my predecessor,
Sir Robert Menzies, who was then Prime
Minister. There was created an atmosphere
that the Government, in order to avoid
some political embarrassment for itself,
concealed evidence which should properly
have been placed before the Royal Commission.
Some cloud has been cast over
even the Royal Commissioner himself, and
certainly there have been references to
, counsel assisting the Royal Commission,
the, Chiefs of the Naval Staff, the Naval
Board, and other senior naval officers. All
these things I believe have created a
situation which must be cleared. Let me
. say a few words in relation to my distinguished
predecessor.
Mr Clyde Cameron-Do not blame him
for it.
i Mr HAROLD HOLT-I am not attempting
to blame him, and I hope that no one
else will blame him. What I want to make
clear in relation to Sir Robert Menzies is
that from the outset of this unhappy
business he was determined that there would
be the most searching inquiry into its
causes. This was the reason that motivated
him in deciding to have a Royal Commission
rather than an inquiry by the Naval
Board, which would have been in accordance
with normal naval practice. To
remind the House of what Sir Robert

Menzies said in his ministerial statement
concerning the loss of ; HMAS ' Voyager',
I-quote his ' words from page 1074 of
Hansard of 15th September 1964 as
follows: I do not'seek to minimise the tragic nature
of the ' Voyager' collision, with its appalling
consequences in lives lost. That is why we
instituted the most searching public inquiry in the
whole of our defence history.
As one who was close to my predecessor
at that time, being the Deputy Leader of
his own Party and a senior member of the
Cabinet, I can well recall the atmosphere
and the spirit in which he addressed himself
to these matters. So far as he was
concerned, he wanted an inquiry that
would produce the truth, not just for the
Government to see but for the information
of the people of this country. That is the
spirit in which I and my colleagues have
dealt with every aspect of this matter that
has since come before us.
There have been suggestions or allegations
that Sir Robert Menzies bore some
prejudice against Captain Robertson, but
I never heard him utter words of prejudice,
or for that matter words of criticism,
against Captain Robertson. At the bottom
of page 1075 of Hansard of 15th September
1964 Sir Robert Menzies is reported
to have said:
Of the general capacity, not only of Captain
Robertson but of Captain Stevens, there cannot
be any real doubt. Each had a splendid record
and very considerable naval experience.
That is not the language of a man who
bears prejudice or is trying in some way to
do a disservice or to belittle one of our
respected Service officers. Something was
made of the fact that Captain Robertson
had difficulty in securing senior counsel. The
facts as I understand them are that at the
beginning of the inquiry Captain Robertson
did not want counsel; he felt that his own
specialist naval knowledge would be of
strength to him in whatever might be
alleged during the inquiry. But as the proceedings
developed and his own position
came under challenge, it was suggested to
him that he should have counsel. He applied
for counsel. At the time it is true that he
was first allotted junior counsel, but what
has to be borne in mind is that he was not
the only officer whose position was under
some analysis and examination by the
Royal Commission; there were several such
officers, and if senior counsel were to be provided for each of them there would
have been something of a practical problem.
This matter was raised by the honourable
member for La Trobe ( Mr Jess). Very
properly he formed a view, no doubt after
consultation or as a result of what came to
him from Captain Robertson. As he will
know, he finally brought this matter to me.
I in turn took it to my leader, Sir Robert
Menzies. I can assure the honourable member
and the House that as soon as I made
my own recommendation on this matter and
explained the reasons for it, Sir Robert
Menzies readily consented. It is a distortion
of the situation to say, as has been said
earlier in this debate, that this was the
result of some pressure because there was
a Party meeting coming up. It was dealt
with on its merits and as it should have
been dealt with. Thereafter Captain
Robertson had the assistance of senior
counsel. I make a brief reference to Mr Justice
Spicer because it has been said that as a
former Attorney-General and a Minister in
a Menzies Government he was not an appropriate
person to have been appointed to this
Royal Commission. I do not think any
member-from whatever party-who was
in this Parliament at the time when Sir
John Spicer was a senator and the Attorney-
General will have any other view than that
he is a man of integrity, whose objectivity
and capacity for complete impartiality fitted
him to deal with a matter of this sort. 1
have never heard that seriously contested
by any contemporary of his from any section
of the Parliament. The fact of the
matter is that over the years Sir John
Spicer has built up something of a name
as an expert in these disaster cases. I took
the trouble only today to get some details
of a number of these matters in which he
has conducted inquiries. I find that he has
conducted at least seven investigationsthe
Trans-Australia Airlines Friendship
disaster at Mackay; the Ansett-ANA Viscount
disaster at Botany Bay; the Ansett-
ANA Viscount crash at Winton; three
marine courts of inquiry, including the
' Atlas' inquiry and two in Western Australia
so he was not unfamiliar with these
naval matters, and the ' Voyager' Royal
Commission. Therefore, I do not think the
House will allow any argument to rest on
the basis that these proceedings suffered
on the grounds of lack of competence or

impartiality on the part of the Royal
Commissioner. Counsel assisting the Royal Commissioner
has come in for his share of criticism, it
being alleged that he deliberately withheld
evidence which had a material bearing on
the matters before the Commission. The
implication is that he did this to cover up
in some way for the Navy or to withhold
inlormafion which could have been of
embarrassment to the Navy. The irony of
this is that shortly before this he came under
a great deal of criticism because it was
alleged that his cross-examination and his
analysis of Navy actions were much too
severe. I do not think the House will place
very much reliance upon that charge either.
Some of my colleagues-including the
presentMinister for Education and Science
( Senator Gorton) who had been Minister for
the Navy until a couple of months before
this incident and my colleague the honourable
member for Perth ( Mr Chaney) who
was at the time of the incident Minister for
the Navy-have by implication come under
a cloud. If one draws from these allegations
the belief that in some way the Navy was
not in good shape and was not being
properly conducted, the inference is that
the Ministers I have mentioned, Chiefs of
Naval Staff, the Naval Board and senior
officers of the Navy, were not doing their
duty properly by the nation. This charge
all hangs on a single fabric, so far as the
Parliament is concerned, and the fabric is
the uncorroborated Statement of Lieutenant-
Commander Cabban. There has not been
any other evidence or material of consequence
put before the Parliament in the
days of this debate which goes beyond the
statement that has been under debate and
which comes from Lieutenant-Commander
Cabban. I ask the House to weigh this
because if the reputations of so many men
in high places and if the prestige of the
Australian Navy are at stake in this debate
then the grounds for these charges and
these suspicions must be thoroughly
examined. Of course, those who have spoken in
the debate have said: ' This is our purpose.
This is what we want to achieve. We want
to see whether these statements do hang
together and whether they are worthy of
credence.' I have no wish to make any sort of personal attack upon Lieutenant-Commander
Cabban. I believe him to be a
conscientious man with a sense of public
duty which' he has demonstrated with some
courage by the way in which he has brought
these matters forward. But as my colleague
the Treasurer ( Mr McMahon) pointed out
earlier today, if we are to rely on this
statement and build this structure upon
that singlestatement then we cannot ignore
some of the elements in the past record or
in the personal history of the man who
makes the statement.
: Mr Clyde Cameron-So now the Prime
Minister will drop the bucket.
Mr HAROLD HOLT-The honourable
gentleman is accustomed to that technique.
I am putting as dispassionately as I can
facts I believe to be relevant. If he thinks
that they are not, he can say so or form
his judgment upon them, but I. think it is
of relevance when-statements are madeso
far not corroborated, although great publicity
has been given to the matter throughout
Australia, and, I should imagine
throughout the English speaking world. So
far as I am aware no member on the opposite
side of the House has brought forward
any-substantial corroboration of the series
of allegations that has been made. Here is
a man who, having as a member of the
Naval Air Arm, failed to make the grade
and, being removed from that posting,
sought twice to resign from the Navy;
and who in the course of the first application
said that he was disillusioned with
the Navy. I think these are relevant facts.
I do not wish to over-emphasise them but
they are relevant when, I repeat, the basis
of the allegations is the statement coming
from this man.
These statements bear on the career and
reputation of a' man who had given long
and able service in the navy of this country.
He is a man who can no longer speak for
himself, because he went down with his
ship, and we, have a duty to do justice
to him as we have a duty to do justice
to the living. I mentioned a little earlier
Captain Robertson. I think it is relevant
again to remind the House of what Captain
Robertson had to say about Captain Stevens
in the transcript, as recorded, of the Royal
Commission on the loss of the ' Voyager'.

Captain Robertson was being questioned by
Mr Jenkyn, as follows:
Did -you know Captain Stevens personally?-
Yes. Do you know his record as an officer?-Yes.
Do you know him as a competent commander
of a destroyer?-Yes.
And so this vessel which was manoeuvring with
you you kniew was at least skippered or commanded
by a competent captain?-Yes, but let
me just qualify that. I knew his reputation as
a very successful naval officer. From my own
personal knowledge I had not served in a ship
with him and so I cannot honestly say that I
knew him as a good commander but I knew
his reputation was certainly that, and I have no
reason to doubt it at all.
Ours is a small Navy and Captain
Robertson was, as I understand it, about
the age then of what would be the age
today of Captain Stevens had Captain
Stevens survived. In other words, they were
contemporaries in the same fleet-in a
small navy. I doubt if he would, on oath,
have been expressing himself in these terms
if he had reason to believe that there were
attributes of Captain Stevens which made
him an incompetent officer or which, on
the occasion in question, would have
raised doubts in ' his mind as to the course
the other vessel was taking.
I want to put to the House-and I do it
with some reluctance but with a full
sense of responsibility-confidential reports
which were made over the ten years
leading up to the incident which brought
about the death of Captain Stevens. My
predecessor gave powerful reasons why
these confidential reports should not be
made public. He pointed out that the
officers who provide these reports are
normally not below the rank of captain
which, in naval terms, is the equivalent of
a full colonel in the Army-in other words
a senior officer of the Navy. The reports
are made to the superior officer . of the
officer reporting. If the reports are to be
quoted publicly from time to time, then
some inhibitions would be placed on the
reporting officers and the usefulness of the
reports would be eroded. We have thought
long about, whether these reports should be
made public and until the debate of the
last two days it had been our decision,
although we know of them and their substance,
that they would not be made
known. I believe that in justice to the
memory of this dead naval officer and in view of the allegations that have been
made against him, we have . a duty to his
family, to his memory and . to the public
to make known what his fellow officers
thought of him at that time. [ Extension of
time granted] I thank the House and 1
shall endeavour not to abuse its patience,
but the seriousness of this matter is well
appreciated. I asked for reports going back over the
ten year period leading up to the ' Voyager'
incident. The first report is signed by an
acting captain of the Royal Australian
Navy. It speaks of Lieutenant-Commander
Stevens, as he then was, as a very capable,
forthright and reliable officer, really keen,
alert and zealous who has the interest of
the Service at heart and who does not
spare himself to improve conditions. The
report continues:
He will do well. Physically fit and plays most
games. A good messmate who is maturing with
responsibility.
The next report covers the period 1st
December 1953 to 27th October 1954 and
states: An extremely proficient and resourceful officer
with a flair for organisation. Cheerful and very
loyal ' with the interest of the Service at heart.
A good leader and does not spare himself
in the performance of his duties.
Plays most games reasonably well and keeps
himself fit.
The next two reports cover very short
periods and are marked by the officers
concerned: ' Insufficient knowledge' and
' Insufficient knowledge. Time only'.
Mr Clyde Cameron-What dates do they
cover? Mr HAROLD HOLT-They cover the
periods 29th October 1954 to 15th April
1955 and 9th June 1955 to 22nd September
1955.
Mr Clyde Cameron-What about the one
in between, the one you have missed?
Mr HAROLD HOLT-I have not missed
any, and I ask the honourable member for
Hindmarsh to restrain his normal impulses
and behave himself. This report covers the
period from 23rd September 1955 to 26th
October 1955 and it reads:
A volatile officei, extremely loyal and capable,
who should do very well in the Service. Keeps
himself fit.
The next one covers the period from
October 1955 to 15th April 1956. It is

signed by a captain of the Navy. It is
customary for the next senior officer to
whom one of these reports is forwarded to
sign the document, or the flimsy, as I think
it is called, and to add a remark if he
thinks that necessary or desirable. This
report reads:
An outstanding officer who lives for the Service.
Full of initiative and drive. Quick to make
decisions and an officer who welcomes responsibility.
Possesses a high professional standard. The
ship's present state is due to a great degree to the
qualities of her captain. This officer has served
under me in another appointment and with my
previous and present experience of him I would
be glad to have him in higher rank at any future
time. To this the rear-admiral added ' Concur' and
his signature. The next one is for the period
from 23rd September. 1955 to 7th July
1956: A proficient seaman with plenty of initiative and
drive. He has the ability to make decisions without
any unnecessary delay. At times wears a doleful
expression which is quite misleading. Extremely
hardworking but nevertheless can relax. Most pronounced
quality is that of loyalty. In view of his
non-specialist training and his considerable small
ship experience I am not sure regarding the
measure of success in staff appointments at this
stage of his career.
The rear-admiral who sighted this merely
signed it without comment. The next report
is for the period from 7th July 1956 to
19th December 1956. He was at that time
a training commander and had been promoted
commander. The report reads:
A keen and enthusiastic officer who has the
ability to bring out the best in the young ratings
under training. He sets a high personal example to
the officers under him and has good power of
command. A good organiser and keen games
player. He deserves very great credit for his work
as Chief Marshal at the Olympic Games. A most
likeable personality.
Then I come to a report covering the period
from 14th January 1957 to 1 lth July 1958:
A very good officer with marked qualities of
leadership. He tackles everything with enthusiasm
and has the faculty of inspiring loyalty and keenness
in his juniors. As well as efficiently fulfiling
his duties as Training Commander he has run the
F. N. D. Cricket Club and Australian Rules Football
Club with success and was in charge of the
arrangements for the Inter Service Sports 1957-58
for which the Navy was host Service. These also
were a great success. He is a good mixer, a
splendid messmate and has considerable personal
charm. The next report is from 28th July 1958 to
December 1958. He was then an executive officer.'. The report . reads:
I feel Stevens is finding it a little difficult
being second in command. H' is a forceful
character with only average brain power, and
because of this he is inclined to rush his fences.
At present he makes ' tioo much noise too frequently
to inspire quiet confidence in a carrier.
I have told him of this failing. He is energetic,
of, sober habits and zealous. When he finds his
feet and has a little more experience, I am confident
he will be a complete success in his present
appointment. That was signed by a captain and countersigned
by a rear-admiral. Then I have a
report from 17th December 1958 to 7th
August 1959, when he was still an executive
officer: A smart and enthusiastic officer who gives of
his best at all times. He is inclined to brood
over problems. A very good games player.
To that the rear-admiral added:
Concur. He has been a successful Commander
of the Flagship.
I have another report for the period from
17th December -1958 to 3rd December
1959: A keen and hardworking officer who has
achieved good results. He is a firm and fair
disciplinarian both with officers and men. He has
been more cheerful and brooded less since his
ulcer was successfully treated. Of good physique
and smart in appearance. A keen and good games
player. That report was followed by these remarks
of the rear-admiral:
Concur. He has been an efficient Commander
of the Flagship.
Then there is' a report for the period 14th
Maich 1960 to 12th August 1960. The
significance of this one is that it covers a
period when he was in England as a student
at the Royal , Naval Staff College at Greenwich.
It is signed by a captain of the Royal
Navy and there is an additional signature
of a British rear-admiral. The report reads:
A cheerful and very likeable officer whom I
would welcome on my staff. Stevens has played
a full part in all activities of the Staff College
and has contributed well. Very co-operative. He
should make a sound and reliable staff Officer.
I believe this officer would be a useful Captain
and therefore recommend him for promotion now.
The rear-admiral added: ' Concur'. Captain
Stevens was at the Naval Staff at the
Admiralty during the period from 27th
October 1960 to 7th March 1961, and this
report was made on him:
A bluff and cheerful officer who goes into his
work with enthusiasm and has very quickly found
out how the Admiralty organisation works. He is

conscientious, outspoken and willing to seek
advice, and he is pulling his weight well. I am
impressed by his commonsense outlook, particularly
on Commonwealth matters. He is not ready
for promotion yet, but I believe he will be suitable
after a little more experience.
That was signed by a captain of the Royal
Navy and under ' Remarks of Senior Officer'
we find ' Forwarded' and the signature of
a vice-admiral, Fifth Sea Lord. Commander
Stevens was still with the Admiralty between
27th October 1960 and 18th September
1961, and for that period the
following report on him was made:
The more I see of this officer the more I am
impressed by him, and the more I like him.
He is bluff and cheerful, but by no means a
blowhaid. He gets on well with everyone and
earns their respect for his professional knowledge
and vigour. His commonsense is refreshing.
Withal he is always prepared to seek and accept
advice, and has learned rapidly how best to set
about progressing-a project in -the Admiralty
machinery. As an ' integrated' officer he has access
to matters he might not see in a purely national
capacity, but. I have absolute confidence in his
discretion and no fear that he will abuse this
position. I believe he will do well in a higher
rank.
The vice-admiral added ' Concur'. He was
still at the Admiralty between 27th October
1960 and 9th March 1962, and I have
this report:
I have nothing to add to my remarks on
this officer in his last report except to confirm
that I recommend him for promotion.
That was signed by a rear-admiral and
the vice-admiral added ' Concur'. Then
there is a report from the Naval Staff
Admiralty, for the period from 10th March
1962 to 7th December 1962:
A vigorous and forceful officer who deserves
the goodwill which exists between him and all
his contacts. He has dealt very effectively with
the multiplicity of business for which he has
been responsible. Coming directly from the Staff
College, I believe that he has faced a challenging
task with determination and efficiency. I do not
doubt that he has found it useful experience both
in general Staff. work and also in the work of a
Service Ministry:
That again was signed by a captain of
the Royal Navy and to it was added
' Concur' by a rear-admiral. Then there is
a report on Captain D. H. Stevens, Commanding
Officer, HMAS ' Voyager', for the
period Ist February 1963 to 20th July
1963: A popular and pleasant officer, who has a
ready smile and is fine company. He has worked
hard and well while with the Far East Fleet
to good-effect. Very enthusiastic and rarely disheartened. There is sound material here but at
present I cannot rate Stevens' chance of reaching
flag rank higher than good.
That was signed by a vice-admiral, and
another vice-admiral added:
I agree. Stevens has shown himself to be a
good Post Captain.
The last report I shall read in this connection
covers the period from 2nd
January 1963 to 6th January 1964:
A very keen officer of average intelligence who
is devoted to the Service. He has a volatile
nature, considerable dash and much enthusiasm.
He does not strike me as having great abilities
and has probably reached his ceiling, though he
will always give his best to the Service in any
capacity. That was signed by a rear-admiral and the
senior officer, a vice-admiral, added: ' Noted
-I concur'. That is the last of the reports
up to the time of this episode.
Mr Whitlam-Are they the originals or
copies? Mr HAROLD HOLT-They are copies.
If the honourable gentleman believes that
I would supply the House with false copies,
he might say so.
Mr Whitlam-You put in an anonymous
letter once.
Mr ACTING SPEAKER ( Mr Lucock)-I
ask the Leader of the Opposition to refrain
from interjecting.
Mr HAROLD HOLT-I leave the matter
to the fairminded judgment of the members
of this House. A man has been the subject
of confidential reports by senior officers
from the rank of captain up to vice-admiral.
More than twenty individual reporters are
in the list that I have given to the House
tonight. If the Leader of the Opposition
wishes to study their names I shall make
the reports available to him, but for obvious
reasons they should not be generally canvassed.
This has been the responsible judgment
not only of officers of our own Navy
but also of officers of the British Navy
in Great Britain and outside that country.
We are now told on the uncorroborated
evidence of one man that we have been
dealing with a chronic drunkard, a man
who was not fit to command a ship at sea.
Is it reasonable for anybody seriously to
believe that the charge could be made that
any one of these men, let alone all twenty
of them, would be so lacking in a sense
of duty and so lacking in a sense of responsibility
to seamen under the command of

such an officer and going on operational
duty with their lives at hazard, that the
officers concerned would fail to report some
blemish in the character of this man that
made him unfit to control a ship or made
him a hazard to the lives of the men under
his command? That is what we have been
asked over recent days to believe about
this man.
I ask honourable members to take their
minds back twenty-four hours to the allegations
that were being bandied about this
place. Sir, I think I should put before the
House one further piece of information that
comes from a highly responsible source. It
was prompted by the article that appeared
in a Melbourne newspaper on 13th May.
I am authorised to make this statement
public on the authority of the Minister for
the Navy ( Mr Chipp), who in turn was
authorised by the gentleman concerned to
release it. The Medical Director-General of
the Navy, Surgeon Rear-Admiral Coplans,
has stated: in view of certain critical statements
appearing in a Melbourne newspaper on 13th
May 1967 concerning the late Captain Duncan
Stevens, I feel I must place on record my
own perception of the man.
I was acquainted with Captain Stevens for about
twelve years. I use the term ' acquainted' in the
sense that I am acquainted, by virtue of my profession
and standing, with many officers and sailors,
and their families.
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.
Even before his admission to hospital for treatment
of his duodenal ulcer, he drove me many
times both in the city and in the country. I refer
to this because I do not normally like being
driven by other drivers, but I never at any time
had any doubts about Captain Stevens' ability to
drive, and he was one of the few drivers in whom
I felt confident at all times.
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.
Somebody might say: ' That sounds all right,
but what about that triple brandy?' There
was evidence that, not having ordered anything
to drink earlier in the day, on the
night of this accident he ordered a triple brandy. A triple brandy sounds an enormous
drink, but I suppose that if the Captain
had ordered a tot of rum nobody would
have thought it an enormous intake for a
sailor. After all, the daily issue in the
British Navy of a tot of rum has been
going on for more than a century certainly
and perhaps back beyond Nelson's time for
all I know. A tot of rum consists of between
2.6 and 3 ounces and'is the equivalent of
a triple brandy. The medical evidence was
that the autopsy which was conducted in
an area of the body that would produce
the least favourable results for this man,
showed an alcohol concentration of
0.025%. Much was made earlier in the
debate of this result representing a rather
considerable degree of alcohol absorption.
It has been pointed out that 0.05% is
normally regarded as the threshold at which
insobriety commences but my understanding
is that in Great Britain a man is taken
to have reached the threshold of insobriety
at 0.08%. In New Zealand, I think, it is
taken as being reached at 0.07%. I speak
subject to correction on this point.
I do not want to canvass these matters
in any technical spirit or in all their detail.
They have been discussed by other members
who are much more competent to deal
with them. All I am trying to do is bring
this episode back into something of the
perspective that I believe it should rate. I
have mentioned these matters in a desire to
do, justice to this dead man who served his
country for so many years, on the evidence
before us, with great devotion, loyalty and
ability. Nowhere in that record does there
appear anyihing to suggest that his personal
habits had disqualified him in any way for
the conduct of a naval command. Earlier
today the honourable member for Batman
( Mr Benson) quoted some other evidence
in relation to this man's physical condition.
For reasons that we all understand he was
not disposed to mention that his ulcer had
played up again with him, but there is
the evidence about the pain in which he
found himself. There is also information
to the effect that in times of great pain he
would, as I have known other duodenal
ulcer sufferers to do, take some spirits and
water to ease the pain. However, what is
alleged is a far cry from that. Indeed, the
very symptoms that were alleged against

him are so inconsistent with a degree of
alcoholic indulgence except indulgence such
that no man could possibly carry out his
normal naval duties, that they become consistent
with a physical condition that was
seriously affected by this peptic and
ulcerated condition about which the
Medical Director-General spoke.
I return for a moment to a point raised
by the honourable member for Batman in
relation to Lieutenant-Commander Cabban.
He asked: ' Why, if he felt that this man
was in this chronically unsatisfactory condition,
did he not make a report to a
superior officer?' I ask that again, as did
the honourable member for Batman, because
it would be entirely in accordance
with the duties expected of an officer of
the Navy, even if it were a superior officer
whom he was reporting. It would be
entirely in accordance with the duty expected
of him to report this condition to
another officer of even more superior rank
who could take appropriate action. I can
tell the House that there is an interesting
precedent for this in that one junior officer
who did feel it his duty so to notify his
superiors subsequently became Chief of
the Naval Staff of the Royal Australian
Navy. It did no detriment to his position
in the Navy and is entirely consistent with
what could reasonably have been expected
of him.
1 do not ask the House to judge these
events tonight. I believe that not only is the
dead man Stevens in a sense on trial in this
Parliament in this debate, together with
others to whom I have referred and over
whom a cloud has been cast, but also the
Parliament itseh is on trial as an institution.
We are expected by the people of this
country to behave with a sense of responsibility
and a spirit of fairness in relation to
this issue. The Government has not held
back any material factor relating to this
matter of which I am aware. After my colleague,
the honourable member for La
Trobe, had, for understandable reasons
which we all can respect, pressed this matter
so vigorously, it was discussed with him
and considered by Cabinet. We came to the conclusion that we would
not be justified in having any further public
inquiry into this matter. Now that the House
has had all the relevant information before
it and has had an opportunity to discuss
the matter, it is for the House to judge what
course we should adopt. There are various
possibilities. A select committee has been
suggested, but anybody who has followed
the debate closely during the last two days
would have grounds. for questioning whether
ihis Parliament, in this atmosphere and with
so many personally committed in their views
on this. subject, is the appropriate tribunal
to'resolve, as between competing evidence,
which should prevail. I leave that thought
with honourable members. I do not exclude
from my own mind a select committee as a
possibility. There are other possibilities. I
do. not. exclude any of them. There is the
possibility of further judicial inquiry.
There is the possibility that this matter
having been" canvassed and laid bare as it
has, with the question being asked of it
whether this evidence would in any way
have' affected the findings of the Royal
Commission, we perhaps should consider
whether any useful purpose would be served
in further pursuing the matter and whether
we would be justified in harrowing the
feelings of others indefinitely by carrying
these processes on. These are all matters
which arise for judgment and I suggest io
the House that it should not attempt to
exercise its judgment tonight.
I would like to have an opportunity to
discuss ihese matters further with my colleagues
and the members of our Parties. I
have no doubt that the Leader of the
Opposition ( Mr Whitlam) would wish to
take a similar . opportunity to discuss the
matters with members of his party. I
would expect to be in a position to report
to the: House at some stage tomorrow the
recommendation which the Government
would make to it regarding the future
course to be taken on this matter. I would
hope that' that recommendation would be
based upon a responsible assessment, invoking
that spirit of fair play and decent justice
that I am sure all of us would wish to bring
to our conclusions on this matter.
BY AUTHORITY: A. 3. ARTHUR, COMMONWEALTH GOVERNMENT PRINTER, CANBERRA, A. C. T.

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