The Argus at KellyGang 19/10/1881

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The second progress report of the commissioners appointed to inquire into "the circumstances preceding and "attending the Kelly outbreak," and "the present state and organisation" of the police force," was presented to Parliament yesterday. After giving the papers attentive consideration, we come to the conclusion that Mr Longmore and his colleagues have succeeded in demonstrating two things beyond the possibility of doubt, viz. : 1. The thorough disorganisation of the police force; and, 2, their own unfitness to conduct the important investigation with which they were entrusted. With regard to the former, the public certainly needed no assurance of the lamentable fact. All who have so much as glanced at the evidence published from time to time in our columns must have discovered it months ago. They must have noticed the little judgment exhibited before the murders of Sergeant KENNEDY and the two constables in dealing with what has been since known as the Kelly country; the state of complete un- preparedness in which the outbreak found the police — without proper arms, ill-mounted, and destitute of bush experience; the want of vigour and intelligence displayed in pursuing the outlaws ; the personal bickerings and jealousies of the principal commanding officers ; the spiritless conduct of the chief commissioner ; and the want of proper management and disciplined determination which characterised the final proceedings at Glenrowan. These things have all become so painfully apparent in the course of the inquiry that it is impossible they can have escaped the notice of the most careless reader. In view of the facts elicited in evidence, the commissioners have thought proper to recommend that some of the officers concerned should be superannuated and others reduced in rank. Whether in so doing they have kept within the scope of their instructions is doubtful. As they were not asked to assume judicial functions, but simply to report facts connected with specific subjects, and their opinions thereupon, we are under the impression that their apportionment of punishment is an attempted usurpation of executive functions.

But however this may be, it is evident that the Government cannot take action on the advice tendered. When the commissioners were appointed, we drew attention to the unfitness of some of the gentlemen selected for the important trust confided to them. Speaking of the chairman we said – " For this post " a man of good judgment, and with a " clear head is necessary, and the " Ministry has selected the most wrong " headed and prejudiced man in the " Assembly." Some of his brother commissioners were little, if any, better. As a natural consequence, the investigation has been disfigured by many im- proprieties, while the illogical findings resulting therefrom bear distinct traces of strong animus and of petty spite. No doubt the evidence taken will be of service to the Government in the further proceedings which are now inevitable. But before the Executive can come to any determination which will satisfy the country, that evidence must be supplemented by testimony of the sort which the com- missioners have appeared anxious to suppress. A correspondent, signing him- self " Martini-Henry, " says :

"The public have no adequate idea of the wrongheaded and hostile bearing of the commission towards the unfortunate officers who have fallen into their hands . . . It is a matter of notoriety . . that several respectable persons, who had no purpose to serve but to speak the truth, offered to give evidence, but they were not called, or were only partly examined, while adverse witnesses, no matter what their character was, appeared always welcome."

It is clear that recommendations based upon an inquiry conducted so unfairly are not worth the paper on which they are recorded.

There is another reason why the Government should not dream of acting on the advice tendered, viz., the want of connexion between the commissioners' premisses and conclusions. Take, for instance, the case of Mr Hare, who formed the subject of Mr Dixon's protest. In their reply to this appendix the other commissioners formulate the charges which they think may be fairly brought against the superintendent referred to. Of those, the following are a few samples :- 1. That Superintendent HARE was throughout in drtect collusion with Captain STANDISH in the petty and dishonourable persecu- tion to which Mr Nicolson was subjected for many years. 2. That he exhibited a spirit of insubordination. 3. That he addressed insolent communications to his superior officer. 4. That he indulged personal feuds and jealousies under the protection of the late chief commissioner. 5. That he used his position as superintendent of the depot to gain advantages over his brother officers. 6. That he improperly withheld reinforcements from Mr Nicolson. 7. That he interfered with Mr Nicolson in his endeavours to improve his men by rifle practice. 8. That he reduced undignified and ungracious tale-bearing to a system, and so materially obstructed operations against the out- laws. 9. During the time he remained in the field at Glenrowan he exhibited neither discretion nor generalship. There are many other accusations, but these may suffice, as it is evident that, if one tithe of the charges thus elaborately formulated can be sheeted home to Superintendent Hare, he ought to be drummed out of the force with every mark of ignominy. But do they propose that he should boedegraded and dismissed from the service which, they contend, he has disgraced ? Nothing of the sort. They desire to treat him " with the greatest " possible liberality," and deeply regret that they cannot, with, justice to themselves, bury all his alleged misdeeds in oblivion. Such inconsequential nonsense may suit the atmosphere of a boardroom where Mr Longmore presides, but we shall be very much surprised if it commends itself to the judgment of the people of Victoria.

There is yet another reason why the Government should not act upon the findings of the commissioners, viz., because they are not founded in equity. A great deal is said at the outset of the report about the want of judgment displayed in dealing with the Kelly district. Police stations were closed or reduced in strength ; experienced officers with a thorough knowledge of the country were replaced by men who knew nothing of the duties they were expected to perform; the arms of the men were bad, and their training, if possible, was worse; their horses were inferior, and their morale apparently anything but what it should have been. This and a great deal more may be quite true, but it by no means follows that the blame rests wholly with the police officers. Why were so many things amiss ? Simply because the force had been managed, not with reference only to its economical efficiency, but to serve political ends or political convenience. Reckless retrenchment, interference based on party considerations, favouritism, personal malignity, back-stairs influences, and a variety of similar forces lie at the root of the disorganisation of the Victorian constabulary. The commissioners dwell with unction on the fact that after the Wombat murders " the Government of the day rewarded " the efforts of the police" by quickly passing the Felons' Apprehension Act, and by giving " Captain Standish " carte blanche for any expenditure he " might think necessary in order to " capture or destroy the gang." No doubt the Government of which Mr Longmore was a member, did so endeavour to counteract the effects of the corrupt system of administration which it had favoured to a greater extent than any of its predecessors. But it is im- possible in an hour to remedy evils which have been growing up for years, or to change the nature of a great establishment by hasty legislation or a profuse expenditure of money. If we want good fruit, we must patiently and laboriously and persistently cultivate good trees. In dealing with this report,

the Government will meet its administrative crux, and we can only wish it a good deliverance.


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