Nationals MP calls for Breaker Morant inquiry

Nationals MP George Christensen has called for an independent inquiry into the historic ‘Breaker’ Morant case. Lieutenants Harry Morant and Peter Handcock were executed and Lieutenant George Witton was sentenced to life imprisonment after being found guilty by a British courts martial of murdering Boer prisoners.

During his address to the House of Representatives Mr Christensen gave a stinging assessment of the way Australian military justice during its short but eventful history. He lamented the “trial by media” and assumption of guilt that has blighted the good names of many men and women who served this country.  He pressed the government to give the descendants “….the courtesy of proper due process and properly investigate the circumstances that led to the execution of Morant and Handcock.”

 ‘I welcome and endorse Mr Christensen’s comments,’ said Jim Unkles who has been campaigning for a. judicial review of the case since 2009. 

‘Australia entered the Boer War as a colony and became a nation while still under arms. The 1902 courts martial and execution of Lieutenants Harry Morant and Peter Handclck and the life imprisonment of Lieutenant George Wilton during the Boer War was the first great test of Australian nationhood.’

   

‘Our first Prime Minister, Edmund Barton, failed to hold the British to account, even when there was clear disparities between the story the British Commander-in-Chief Lord Kitchener told him and the reports from returning Australian servicemen. Unfortunately, it set a depressing precedent for the way subsequent military legal issues have been handled.’

Unkles maintains that an independent inquiry by a retired judge is 120 years overdue, as there is clear and compelling evidence that they did not receive a fair trial. Of the many points of contention three stand out. 

They were denied legal representation between their arrest and the day before their trial began in January 1902 when the luckless Major John Francis Thomas, a country solicitor from Tenterfield with no trial experience, answered a plea for assistance. 

After having refused to appear when called as a witness by Morant, Kitchener denied Morant’s controversial claim that he was only following orders when shooting Boer prisoners. It was a valid defence in 1902. However, the unpunished actions of other British officers and a note in the casebook of British Judge Advocate- General, Colonel James St Clair reads: “….I agree with the Court of Inquiry. The idea that no prisoners were to be taken in the Spelonken appears to have been started by the late Capt. Hunt and after his death continued by orders given personally by Capt. Taylor.” The orders did indeed exist.

The Courts Martial members recommended that the three accused be spared the death sentence. However, after confirming the death sentences on Morant and Hancock, Lord Kitchener left Pretoria leaving his staff to tell a distraught Thomas that he was “uncontactable,” thereby denying the Australians their legal right to appeal to King Edward VII and seek assistance of their government. 

“We have road tested our claims with some of the most eminent jurists and parliamentarians in this land and they have stood up to scrutiny,” noted Mr Unkles.

 “We intend to enlist the support of the many parliamentarians, from both sides of the House, and to pursue Mr Christensen’s call in 2022, which will mark the 120th anniversary of the executions.”

Those who have backed a call for an inquiry include: Alex Hawke, MP, Greg Hunt, MP, Tony Smith MP, former Att Gen, Robert McClelland, MP, Scott Buchholz, MP, Sir Laurence Street, AC, KCMG, QC,(former Chief Justice of NSWs), Judge Alexander Street, SC, Gerry Nash QC, David Denton RFD, QC, Andrew Kirkham, AM, RFD, QC, Tim Fischer, AC, former Deputy PM, Geoffrey Robertson AO,QC. Their united chorus is this case must be reviewed by an inquiry independent of Government.

“It should also be noted that a motion was tabled in the House of Representatives in 2018 that acknowledged the injustice and contained an expression of sincere regret and apology to the descendants of these men for the manner in which they were treated“….The process used to try these men was fundamentally flawed. They were not afforded the rights of an accused person facing serious criminal charges enshrined in military law in 1902.” Surely an inquiry must be the next step.” 

During his speech Mr Christensen noted that “….If justice were a meal, it would be better served cold than not served at all, and in a country where belief in a fair go is in our DNA the quest for justice should never fade.” 

Read the full speech at: https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Hansard/Hansard_Display?bid=chamber/hansardr/25177/&sid=0000


 
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Posted by Brian Hartigan

Managing Editor Contact Publishing Pty Ltd PO Box 3091 Minnamurra NSW 2533 AUSTRALIA

2 thoughts on “Nationals MP calls for Breaker Morant inquiry

  • 08/12/2021 at 11:01 am
    Permalink

    Mr. Christensen,
    Guess you watched Breaker Morant (1980) recently…
    Injustice! Look no further! Heres are some from more recent times…
    How about using some of that “Fair Go” you’re banging on about and putting it to good use for those still living like the following:
    Rifle Company Butterworth Soldiers here:
    https://www.contactairlandandsea.com/2020/06/01/rcb-denied-warlike-service-appeal/
    SASR Squadron here:
    https://www.contactairlandandsea.com/2020/12/17/2-squadron-sasr-struck-off-secretly/
    https://www.contactairlandandsea.com/2021/08/29/boycott-2-squadron-sasr-flag-folding-ceremony/
    Australian Army Public Relations Service Vietnam veterans denied recognition here:
    https://www.contactairlandandsea.com/2020/09/21/aaprs-vietnam-veterans-denied-recognition/
    And, what some then Lt General wrongly did here:
    https://www.contactairlandandsea.com/2018/04/19/chief-of-army-new-cdf-bans-death-symbology-and-iconography/
    https://www.contactairlandandsea.com/2018/04/19/an-open-letter-to-lieutenant-general-angus-campbell/
    Stop digging in the past look at the “Present” as there’s plenty of work needing to be done.

    Spent Cartridge
    Proud Army Veteran and PeaceKeeper
    (via email)

    Reply
    • 19/12/2021 at 9:51 am
      Permalink

      Spent Cartridge, you make some good points, so with an election approaching perhars you may wish to advocate some of the issues you have cited, issues of the past.
      I recently made a submission to the the Defence Royal Commission and cited issue about the teatment of ADF personnel.
      Regarding the Breaker Morant matter, Why does this case matter?
      The sacrifice of any Australian veterans in the past and present should be recognised and respected. If doubts exist as to the manner in which they were treated by their Military Command and Government then this should be examined by an independent authority.
      National Interest:
      • Concerns former Australian veterans and their descendants;
      • The passing of time and the fact that Morant, Handcock and Witton are deceased does not diminish errors in the administration of justice. Injustices in times of war are inexcusable and it takes vigilance to right wrongs, to honour those unfairly treated and to demonstrate respect for the rule of law. How we respond to this case remains a test of our values and is vitally important to the descendants of Morant, Handcock and Witton and those who respect the rule of law and seek justice. In the eyes of Australian and the community a wrong is never diminished by the passing of time and it is our duty to put it right.
      • Taking action in this case reflects Australian values and ethics enshrined in respect for rule of law and due process. While the Morant matter occurred 120 years ago, the principles of due legal process and fairness remain as relevant today as they did in 1902.
      Wish you well and perhaps address some of the concerns you have raised. Digging in the past may address injustices!

      Reply

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