AUSTRALIANS IN RABAUL.
CHARGES AGAINST OFFICERS
"LOOT, PLUNDER, AND
DEBATE IN PARLIAMENT.
Sensational allegations of pillage and rapine were made against officers of the Australian force at Rabaul, New Guinea, by Mr. Anstey, Labour member for Bourke, in the House of Representatives yesterday. Immediately after the questions had been disposed of Mr. Anstey moved—
"That it be an instruction to the Government to order the immediate release of the soldiers Thomas Wilson, William Penny, J. R. McDonald, R. Hunter, and A. J. Clogg, now undergoing sentences of from three to five years' penal servitude, imposed on them by the military
court-martial at Rabaul."
Mr. Anstey said that those sentences had been passed on the men by a military court martial because they had raided a Chinese opium den at Rabaul—an institution which should have been suppressed by the officers. Since their incarceration the men had asked that they be liberated and sent to the front. The military authorities said that they could not permit anyone guilty of such
practices to go to the front. Since then the wives, friends, and relatives of the men had approached the authorities and asked that if such punishments were to be meted out, they should not be one-eyed, and no distinction should be made between officers and the rank and file. Looting, plunder, and rapine were the perquisites of the officers of the expedition, who had strenu- ously fought against any investigation, and the whole forces of the military had been used in cloaking their actions from the public gaze. Individuals endeavoured to hush up the affair, and even those who had the testimony in their hands refused to act. Ship after ship, loaded with loot belonging to the officers, had left Rabaul. This could be proved by the mani- fests. Apparently they alone had the right to plunder, and the rank and file were not allowed to do anything. Officers had not only looted silver plate, but had even seized the clothing of women. For three months they had endeavoured to hide the truth, and that was the position the House was confronted with at the present time. It took 24 hours to condemn men by court- martial to three and four years' penal ser- vitude, but the inquiry into the other affair had been going on for three months, and there appeared to be no prospect of any- thing being done. The offences of the men could not be compared with those of the officers, who, on unquestionable evidence, had been guilty of wholesale rape and loot- ing, yet the officers had the audacity to sit upon the court-martial and condemn the rank and file. The military authorities had refused to do anything. The court was tainted. It was an unfair and improper court, and it was the duty of the Ministry to suspend the sentences until a properly constituted court—free from the trammels of militarism—had dealt with the men. Colonel Holmes, his son, son-in-law, and the whole tribe of relations who went up there had carried out wholesale peculations themselves. As he wished for a vote, he would conclude with a demand, in the name of justice, that the men mentioned in the motion should be liberated from gaol. (Ministerial cheers.)
Mr. Mathews said that the men should have a fair trial in a court which would give them justice. (Hear, hear.) The offi- cers were a law unto themselves. There was only one way to obtain justice, and that was to see that a board was appointed outside of the military officers.
Mr. Page (Q.) said that Mr. Anstey was
asking the House to vote on a question it knew nothing about. (Hear, hear.) His sympathy had always been with the men in the ranks, because he had been in their position himself, and if the things which Mr. Anstey had alleged had really occurred, both officers and men should be brought to trial as soon as possible. We had been hor- rified with the way the Germans were treating their enemies. If there was one thing more than another which made the blood of the Britisher boil, it was interference with the females of the enemy country. (Hear, hear.) Mr. Anstey had said that cases of rapine had occurred, and the Minis- try should institute an inquiry at once. Mr. Anstey had, however, given no definite evi- dence that such things had taken place, and, therefore, he would not support his motion. He would, however, vote for a full investigation, but would like to hear what the Ministry had to say first.
MINISTER IN REPLY.
The Assistant Minister for Defence (Mr. Jensen) said that no doubt Mr. Anstey had moved the motion with the best of inten- tions, but he was asking the House to do rather much. He would read a statement on the subject, and was sure the House would afterwards agree to stay its hand until the subject was thoroughly sifted and investigated.
Mr. Anstey.—They have been at it for three months already!
Mr. Jensen.—The statement he referred to said that Privates T. J. Wilson, W. Penny. J. R. McDonald, R. Hunter, and A. J. Clogg had been tried by field-general court-martial at Rabaul on dates between October 27 and November 14, 1914, for very serious offences. Penny was sentenced to four years' penal servitude, and McDonald, Hunter, and Clogg to three years' penal servitude, after having been found guilty of robbery; while Wilson had received a sentence of three years for having received moneys, knowing them to have been stolen. The robberies were of a very serious nature, the first-men- tioned four men being concerned with the robbery from a Chinese of large sums of money, and Clogg, of robbery under arms from a German Roman Catholic missionary. The field-general court-martial was con- vened in accordance with section 49 of the Army Act, and the findings and sentences of that court were confirmed by the officer authorised by section 49 of the Army Act. Before confirmation, the proceedings were referred to the Assistant Judge Ad- vocate-General at Rabaul, who was a qualified barrister-at-law, and who was satisfied regarding the legality of the proceedings. On the arrival of the report of the proceedings in Melbourne, the question of the sentences of penal ser- vitude was referred to the Attorney-Gene- ral's department, as such a sentence was not usually inflicted upon criminals in Aus- tralia. The department advised that the sentences of penal servitude should be com- muted to imprisonment with hard labour, and that had been done. While the matter was being considered and dealt with, the men concerned were kept in military deten- tion, and were not actually committed to the civil gaol until the end of January. The proceedings were carefully considered by the Minister, who decided that nothing was to be done until the expiration of six months, when he would review the cases with a view to the remission of part or all of the unexpired portion of the sentences. As the sentences took effect from the date of their signature, that period would ex- pire in one case on April 27, and in others early in May. Since their return to Aus- tralia the men had made allegations to the effect that others, including the officers at Rabaul, had also been concerned in acts of looting. In support of their allegations, sworn statements had been made and ob- tained from them in the Goulburn Gaol, and they had been placed before a court of inquiry, which had been convened at Syd- ney. That court had been sitting for several
Mr. Anstey.—That is not true! It is a
lie! More like several months!
Mr. Jensen.—For several weeks, and had obtained evidence upon which the trial of several other individuals would take place at an early date. The actual evidence taken by the field court-martial at Rabaul was not at present available, as the documents had been sent to the court of inquiry at Sydney in order to assist it in its investiga-
Mr. Mathews.—Who is investigating it
Mr. Jensen.—Military officers. (Interrup- tion.) Why should they not? They were acting under the Defence Act, and the
Minister had to follow the law.
Mr. McWilliams (T.).—Surely among the officers there are some who will see justice
done? (Hear, hear.)
Mr. Jensen.—Members should stay their hands for a while. Some of the men might be out of gaol almost immediately. The Ministry would not make any class distinc- tions. (Cheers.) If the officers had com- mitted offences which privates had com- mitted, they would be dealt with just as severely. The Court was now sitting, and everything was being investigated. What more could the Ministry do? He hoped
members would not be carried away by Mr. Anstey's statements. Some might be true, but he doubted whether they all were. (Hear, hear.)
Sir William Irvine.—Does the Minister intend to remit these sentences at the end of six months?
Mr. Jensen.—No, they will only be re- viewed. The Ministry is not committed to
Mr. Riley (N.S.W.) said that, in view of a case which had come to his knowledge of a sentry having been unjustly and severely punished for a trifling misdemeanour, he felt that many of the statements which have been made were absolutely true. He would vote to secure for the soldiers mentioned by Mr. Anstey a trial in a civil court. A
retrial by a military court would simply
mean the confirmation of the sentences al- ready passed.
Sir William Irvine said that he felt sure that neither Mr. Anstey nor the supporters of the motion were fully aware of the con- sequences which would follow such action as they advised. He knew nothing of the merits of this case, and it was quite pos- sible that there might have been a mis- trial. He wanted, however, to impress upon members that, if they were to have any- thing like military efficiency, those who joined the forces must submit to the deter- mination of a military tribunal. If the pre- sent system were superseded by a system which allowed an appeal to be made to the civil courts, then it would be good-bye to discipline.
Mr. Fisher.—Hear, hear.
Sir William Irvine.—They should not, of course, shut their eyes to any case of in- justice, but they could not on the mere statement of an accused person say that they had sufficient ground to upset a judi- cial determination. The military tribunal must deal with the facts on the spot as best it could. Honourable members would realise that, unless they had something a great deal more definite than a mere statement by a convicted person, they would, by agree- ing to the motion, be taking upon them- selves a very responsible role, and one de- trimental to the whole service.
Mr. Glynn (S.A.) said that he hoped that the Minister for Defence would review the whole case. It was not for them to decide whether there had been an error of judg- ment, or an excess of severity in the penal- ties. In regard to the subjection of civilians to military jurisdiction, he hoped that the Ministry would see fit to extend to civilians all possible facilities for a civil trial. He would like to see the Minister for Defence revise very carefully the decisions of Courts, both military and civil, but particularly those of the military tribunals, lest serious injustice should be done. A man might be arrested, and held for trial for a number of days. Cases had come under his know- ledge which appeared to require a thorough investigation. One particular case con- cerned a man who he knew was of high character, and who was over-scrupulous in his observance of the law. He was not blaming the Minister for Defence in this case, but the military authorities. A letter had on that occasion been sent to the Min- ister, and within 24 hours a reply was re-
Mr. Mathews.—You were very lucky.
Mr. Glynn.—He was certain that when all cases came under the personal cogni- sance of the Minister justice would be
The Prime Minister (Mr. Fisher) said that the matter was of very great national importance. When men joined the forces they knew exactly the conditions under which they had to serve. He had watched the proceedings, and had to admit that he could not agree with all that was said and done by the officers.
Mr. Mathews.—Don't you think that there should be redress?
Mr. Fisher.—Yes; but I don't think that officers are so incompetent or corrupt as has been suggested.
Mr. Mathews.—You don't know them.
Mr. Fisher.—The general aim in this country is to give even justice.
Mr. Page.—Before you try a man in the civil court you have a jury. There is no
jury in a military court.
Mr. Mathews.—Does the Prime Minister know that a soldier is not allowed to make his defence properly.
Mr. Fisher.—I have been in the ranks.
Mr. Page.—A Saturday afternoon soldier. (Laughter.)
Mr. Fisher.—I expressed my opinion from personal observation and knowledge of the men, that it is impossible to get such cor- ruption and such injustice.
Mr. Anstey.—The men, of course, are cri- minals; but it is impossible for the officers
Mr. Fisher.—The evidence was not here. He would agree with the Minister for De- fence, as a fair-minded man. After the Minister had read all the evidence he could get—and the whole of the evidence should
be in his hands before anything was done —the matter would be subjected to review; but the end of discipline in the naval and military forces would come if Parliament was going to direct the Ministry as to whether sentences were just or not. The House was not competent to do that. A civil tribunal would be a competent body to review the military court's decisions. But the charge that had been made was that the officers were corrupt; that they had participated in the crime; and that, therefore, they would make an incompetent court to try the case. If that could be sub- stantiated, the men would, of course, have to be retried; but if the charges were not justified, it was not for Parliament to retry or commute sentences. That belonged to a different branch of the government of the country altogether. He asked hon. mem- bers to accept the statement of the assis- tant Minister for Defence that when the evidence came to hand the whole case would be reviewed.
COLONEL HOLMES DEFENDED.
The leader of the Opposition (Mr. Cook) said that he had not been in the House when the member for Bourke had spoken, but he understood that he had made very serious charges against Colonel Holmes and other officers. He felt it his duty to say something on the question. He did not know the case, but he knew Colonel Holmes, and Mr. Anstey did not know him. Mr. Anstey.—No, thank God.
Mr. Cook.—The hon. member thanked God he did not, and yet he came there, to this national Parliament, and traduced him with odious charges. Only skunks would do such things. (Disorder.) Colonel Holmes had proved himself for uprightness of charac- ter. No man had done more for his fellows.
Mr. Anstey.—You come in here and dis-
cuss a speech you never heard.
Mr. Parker Moloney (to Mr. Anstey).— He says you are a skunk for saying some- thing he didn't hear.
Mr. Cook.—The life of Colonel Holmes gave the lie to these charges. It stood for all that was high and reputable. While say- ing this, however, he trusted the Ministry to see that if an injustice had been done to these men, then justice should be done to them. What he did object to was the mak- ing of reckless and indiscriminate charges against reputable men.
Mr. Wise said that the motion did not ask for an inquiry at all. The House could not do what was asked, and direct the Ministry to liberate the men. Grave charges had been made, and in justice to these officers who had gone to Rabaul and to all Aus- tralian officers, there should be no delay in their investigation. Weeks should not have been spent on such an inquiry already.
Mr. Finlayson (Q.) also said that it was impossible for the House to agree to the motion without evidence. However, the ordinary soldier should have every chance against the officer. He did not have every chance now. The private had no rights, and officers were so jealous of their positions and standing that ordinary privates had little chance of securing justice. The whole ques- tion required investigation.
Mr. Poynton (S.A.). said that the most damning charges had been made against public men, and the Minister should not rest 24 hours before appointing a tribunal to in- vestigate them. His experience was that the
military authorities were exceedingly hard
to deal with.
Mr. Gregory (W.A.) said that the motion could not be accepted. If the Ministerial party was against courts-martial, let it amend the law. If the officers were proved guilty, then double punishment should be meted out to them, because their respon- sibility was the greater. (Hear, hear.) However, he did not believe that Mr. Anstey had an atom of evidence with which to support his charges.
Sir John Forrest said that he had not heard Mr. Anstey's speech, but—
Mr. Anstey.—Then you ought to keep quiet about it.
Sir John Forrest.—The charges which he understood had been made required investi- gation at once. (Hear, hear.) He pre-
sumed that Mr. Anstey was prepared to prove his case. If not, he had no right to come here and make these charges. If he failed to substantiate them, he should take the only honourable course open to him, and resign from Parliament.
Mr. Anstey, in reply, said that he was perfectly satisfied with the course the de- bate had taken, and he desired to withdraw his motion. His object had been achieved. He had directed attention to certain facts. As to Sir John Forrest's remarks—well, he would resign from Parliament if Sir John Forrest would give him the pension he had improperly got hold of. (Interruption).
Mr Gregory asked for the withdrawal of
Sir John Forrest.—Oh, don't take any
notice of him.
Mr. Anstey.—Out of deference to you, Mr. Speaker, and at the request of the member
for Dampier, who is battling for Sir John Forrest for the leadership of the Opposition, I withdraw. You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours. It is significant, however, that the only members who have been in any way violent in their statements have been the two—Mr. Cook and Sir John Forrest— who were not present when I submitted my case. And it is just like their damned im-
The Speaker (Mr. McDonald) insisted upon a withdrawal of the expression.
Mr. Anstey withdrew. Continuing his speech, and addressing the House with ex- treme fervour, and with such headlong rapidity and abandon that his words were at times almost indistinguishable, the mem- ber for Bourke pointed out that Mr. Page, from his own practical experience of the army, had said that there were cronk trials by court-martial.
Mr. Page.—My word, yes.
Mr. Anstey (warmly).—And yet, accord- ing to Mr. Gregory and others, nothing must be said against the officers who govern these trials, and who govern the military system. Anything is good enough for the poor devils in the ranks. They can be charged and committed to prison for three or four years, but it must not be said that the officers do such things. Oh no, Mr. Speaker, of course not! In this case, I have made certain general charges without sup- porting them with evidence. I hope the House will agree that this is not my usual practice. If I bring forward a case, I bring forward the evidence. But in this instance I have not, because I have been told that the presentation of the evidence would inter- fere with the course of justice. My object has been to acquaint the House with the position, and to make an attempt to stimu- late the military authorities to justice. And I want to emphasise again this fact—the fact that only 24 hours elapsed between the charging of these men in Rabaul and their conviction and sentence by the military Court, while these charges that I have made have been before the military authorities, at any rate, since January. The Court ap- pointed to investigate them has been at work for two months, yet nothing has come of it. No prosecution of an officer has taken place. I ask if any man can have a word to say for such things. The member for Parramatta says that my accusation is quite impossible, you know, quite impossible, be- cause the officer who has been mentioned is known to him. Of course, all such people are pure, clean, angelic characters. Mr. Cook says so. Yet among these men in gaol, already nearly for six months, there are those whose characters were, before these charges, just as clean and pure as Mr. Cook's friends. If these men, of previously un- tainted character, did fall when the tempta- tion to loot came, is it not possible that the officers of equally high character fell also? Is the whole thing justice? No man can say it is. The men are charged and convicted in 24 hours. The Court hearing the charges against these officers is going on week after week, and apparently month after month, pushing the inquiry back, doing anything to extend it, in order that the thing may be forgotten, and the evidence eventually disappear. Yet, I say, the Court has the evidence. Here is the silver, here the gramophone, here the typewriter, here the underclothing, the very loot. Here are the ships' cargoes, ready to be seized. Here are the manifests. Why have they not been seized? There have been even admis- sions of offences by officers. They have said: "Yes, this is my property." What next is wanted? What more? Here is the admis- sion of guilt, in the hands of the military authorities. Yet nothing is done. And the men were in gaol in 24 hours. Is it not a scandal? Why is no officer prosecuted? No, day by day, week by week, the inquiry is prolonged, cloaking it all over.
A Member.—Does the Minister know this?
Mr. Anstey.—I do not blame the Minister. He is a fair man, and will do what he can. But I give notice to the military authorities of this country that if they don't make this inquiry full and complete, if they don't bring the military law into operation against the highest criminals as well as the poorest of the rank and file, I will produce every detail of evidence I can, despite all pledges, and despite all promises of confidence. The tainted Court must be overthrown. The poorest man must be entitled to just the same justice as the strongest. The man who takes a bottle of wine shall not be convicted as a criminal when those who loot Govern- ment House escape. The case is on solid ground. I can lay certain testimony, and sworn testimony, before this House that will make the hair of honour- able members stand on end with horror, and make their hearts bleed. My voice will be heard again in this Chamber if justice is not done. I leave it at that, and withdraw my motion.
Mr. Jensen, by leave, made a short state- ment, in which he assured the House that the strictest inquiry would be made into the charges. The Minister was well seized of certain of the facts. Looting had been going on, and by others than privates. The Minister could be trusted to do everything that could be done to uphold the honour of the army of Australia. (Hear, hear.)