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The Kirby Royal Commission, 1946: Garrett and Chisholm

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Charges and findings

Melville Roy Garrett was a Forestry Department officer. Donald Wallace Chisholm was a bushman who worked at different times for the Forestry Department and various sawmillers. Both had been based in the Northwest for many years, although at the time of the 1946 Royal Commission both men had left the district.

Garrett and Chisholm had been repeatedly investigated (see introduction). Judge Kirby re-examined each of the matters previously raised; these involved several of the major sawmilling companies operating in Circular Head at the time. After listening to the evidence, Kirby remarked 'I am satisfied that the sawmillers who gave bribes are at least as responsible for such a practice of bribery as are those who received them from sawmillers. In the witness box the attitude of sawmillers on occasions appeared to be "it was quite alright for me to make the gift (sic) but criminal for the Forestry official to accept it."' A selection of Kirby's findings are organised alphabetically below by company. Note that there were two Chisholms involved in the investigations: Don Chisholm and his brother Maxwell Stuart Chisholm, referred to below as 'Max'.

Cumming Bros

There were four separate Cumming claims. The first was made by James Cruickshank Cumming, managing director of Cumming Bros. He said that in the mid-1930s Garrett (then stationed in Burnie), visited the Cumming Bros' Burnie office and told Cumming that Don Chisholm had cruised an area at Sunny Hills (Nabageena) and that it 'would be worth £500'. Cumming understood that to mean that a bribe of £500 would be split between Garrett and Chisholm. Cumming said he ignored the solicitation and applied for an Exclusive Forest Permit (EFP) for the area. The application was turned down by the Forestry Department and the area was instead granted to Frank Fenton and another sawmiller.

The second claim concerned Cumming Bros' successful application for a lease in the Housetop area near Hampshire in 1936. Garrett assisted the company by describing the timber on the area and advising on how to get it out. James Cumming said he met Garrett afterwards and gave him £25 in notes, an amount reimbursed by the company in March 1936 with another £5 in travelling expenses. Cumming said he didn't think at the time it was against the law to make gifts; Cumming Bros had been making Christmas gifts to Marine Board and Railway Department employees for years. He said he told his son about the £25 gift at the time, but Cumming's son did not recall the incident.

The third claim was that in or around 1937, Garrett told Cumming that Don Chisholm had cruised an area on the Montagu Swamp. Chisholm had seen 2 500 000 super feet of celery top pine and blackwood, and that it 'would be worth £300'. Again Cumming paid nothing, but mentioned the solicitation at the time to his son, and reported it to other Forestry Department officers several years later. Cumming said he didn't report Garrett at the time because they were good friends. Cumming Bros applied for and got the Montagu Swamp area, but never worked it.

The fourth claim originated with Cumming's son, James Stuart Cumming. He testified that in 1938 or 1939 Garrett had visited the Cumming Bros office in Burnie and asked James to meet him in the same office that night. At the evening meeting, Garrett proposed that Cumming Bros falsify their books. Cumming Bros had a large order from a South Australian company to supply piles. Garrett allegedly proposed that Cumming Bros should understate the measurement of the logs they harvested on Crown land, reporting them as poles. The poles royalty was smaller, and Cumming Bros could then split the difference with Garrett. Young James said he turned the offer down, discussed it with his father and reported it to a Forestry Department inspector in 1941.

Kirby dismissed all the Cumming Bros claims as uncorroborated.

Dunkley Bros

In January 1940, Dunkley Bros applied for a 1000 ac lease near Trowutta. The Forestry Department turned down the application. Garrett worked behind the scenes on Dunkley Bros' behalf and succeeded in getting them a 3000 ac lease (not actually operated until 1943, following Dunkley Bros' joining with other millers to form Circular Head Amalgamated Timbers). In December 1940, Dunkley Bros manager L.R. Hill drew a £20 cheque on CH Timber and Kiln Seasoning Co P/L and cashed it as '£20 account of Dunkley Bros., prospecting bush'. He then sent £20 in notes to Garrett in an envelope together with a Christmas card. Hill testified that he wrote 'prospecting bush' because he did not want anyone to see Garrett's name in the books of the company.

The Public Service Regulations at the time stated that Officers are expressly forbidden directly or indirectly to solicit or receive gifts or presents for services rendered by them as officers of the Public Service. Hill claimed that bribery rumours had been on his mind when he sent the cash. If it was going on, 'it would be wrong for my company not to show they were willing to participate in it.' Garrett said he didn't think there was any improper motive. Hill was in Stanley at the time and Garrett was now based in Launceston. Garrett said he didn't want to send the money back and risk offending Hill.

Kirby concluded that Dunkley Bros had bribed Garrett.

W.H. Etchell

Etchell had a sawmill in Mawbanna when, in April 1939, he paid Don Chisholm £5 for bush survey work. Chisholm was employed by the Forestry Department at the time. He said he did the work on weekends and was unaware that the Public Service Regulations prohibited this kind of arrangement.

Kirby regarded the deal with Etchell as an error of judgement on Chisholm's part.

E.H. Fenton

Ernest Hugh Fenton testified that in February 1940, Max Chisholm asked for £20 for a Forestry Department chart of the Salmon River area, showing timber areas. Fenton offered £10 for the chart and for assurance that Max would not sell the information on the timber areas to anyone else. According to Fenton, Max accepted the £10. Max denied ever having seen the chart or accepting the money.

It was unclear how the chart left the Forestry Department office in Smithton. Kirby heard no evidence that Garrett or brother Don Chisholm had supplied the chart to Max or shared in its sale to Fenton.

Frank Fenton

In December 1940, Fenton paid Don Chisholm £118. The claim was that the money was a bribe in return for help from Chisholm, as a Forestry Department employee, in getting a timber lease. Fenton said as much to an Audit Department investigator in 1943, but subsequently said that statement was untrue. Fenton's testimony at the Kirby Commission makes uncomfortable reading; his answers to questions are evasive and often very hard to believe.

Chisholm testified that the money was an unsecured personal loan from Fenton to enable Chisholm to pay off the mortgage on a farm he owned at Redpa. He intended to pay back the loan when the farm was sold. It was finally sold at the end of 1945, but as of April 1946 (when Chisholm appeared before the Royal Commission) the money and its accrued interest had still not been paid to Fenton. During the whole of the five years of the 'loan', neither Fenton nor Chisholm had spoken to each other about it.

Chisholm admitted that he had worked for Fenton while employed by the Forestry Department, but only out of work hours, and he said he had not provided Fenton with information obtained as a Department employee. Kirby concluded that Fenton, Chisholm and Chisholm's wife had all given false testimony, and that the £118 was a bribe given to Chisholm for services rendered while Chisholm was employed by the Forestry Department.

F.D. Hay and Sons

According to the Mercury newspaper, mill manager Robert Wilson Hay testified that in February, 1940, he and his father, Frederick David Hay, had a conversation with Max Chisholm.

'Chisholm said he could give us information on a forest area at Trowutta and that he thought it would be worth £25,' Hay said. 'Chisholm told us what timber he thought was on the area, and said a few other sawmillers were interested. He gave us to understand we had a good chance of getting the area from the Forestry Dept. He mentioned that his brother, Donald Chisholm, was in the department, and on that account we had a good chance. I was under the impression from the conversation that Max Chisholm already had discussed the proposition with his brother Don.'

Mr R. F. Fagan (assisting the Commissioner, Judge Kirby: 'Did you ask him how his brother could assist?'

Robert Hay: 'No, not that I can remember.'

'Did you pay him any money?' - 'Yes, a cheque for £18.'

'What was that for?' - 'I had heard a lot of rumours about firms getting big areas of forest and the bribery of forestry officers. I thought here was a good chance to see what was taking place.'

Judge Kirby: 'Leaving bribery out of it, would the £18 represent fair pay to an honest man for inspecting the area?'

Robert Hay: 'That was the way I worked it out.'

Hay said that in December, 1939, he and his brother Norman had gone through the particular area. His impression was that Max Chisholm knew little or nothing of the area.

Mr Fagan: 'The £18 was not for any information he could give you?'

Robert Hay: 'All the information I got from him was valueless.'

'Why did you pay the money, then?' - 'I gathered from the conversation that part of the money would go to Don Chisholm.'

'If you had not known Max Chisholm was associated with Don Chisholm and Melville Roy Garrett, would you have paid any money?' - 'Not for information on that particular area.'

Robert Hay was cross-examined by Mr F. J. Wilmshurst, acting for Chisholm and Garrett. Hay said he wanted the support of Don Chisholm and Garrett in his application.

Mr Wilmshurst: 'Why Garrett?'

Robert Hay: 'Don Chisholm was not in a position to forward applications to the Forestry Department.'

Frederick Hay said he thought Max Chisholm could give him more information about the Trowutta area than he had. Max Chisholm had told him that if he put in an application, he would get the lease. 'I heard that when my application went in I was out-bidden.' Hay said.

Mr Fagan: 'What do you mean by out-bidden?'

Frederick Hay: 'Other people were giving more money, and my £18 was insufficient.'

Norman Douglas Hay said that in June 1943, he told forester C.W. Fidler that it was a bad day for the sawmillers when Fidler left the district. 'I told Fidler it had got that bad we couldn't deal pleasantly with forestry officers,' Hay said. 'Rumours and suspicions were rife, even among workmen, that millers had to pay for leases.'

Norman Hay said he told Fidler that his firm had been approached by Max Chisholm with information about an area at Trowutta in return for £25 or £50. If the money was forthcoming, Max Chisholm had said, he would see through Don Chisholm and Garrett that Hay and Sons got the lease. 'We couldn't have a forestry officer near the mill without workmen saying, "More palm oil today",' Hay said. Hay said he knew the firm would not get the area, and he thought it had not put up enough money. He naturally surmised that anything to be done in the matter of leases would have to go through Garrett.

Kirby concluded that Max had swindled the Hays, and that Garrett and brother Don Chisholm were not involved.

Hine Bros

Max Chisholm spoke to John Henry Hine of Christmas Hills at the beginning of 1939. Max told Hine that for £20 he would direct Hine to some blackwood stave timber. Hine and his brother Tom met Max in Broadmeadows shortly afterwards and agreed to pay Max £16 to be taken to the blackwood on the following Sunday. If the Hines were satisfied with the quality of the blackwood, they would pay Max an additional sum.

On the Sunday, the two Hines, another Hine brother and George Harding travelled to the 15-mile peg on the Christmas Hills-Marrawah Rd. 'There' said Hine, 'we were met by Max and Don Chisholm.' The Hines were led to a patch of bush where cut blackwood logs were lying on the ground. Tom Hine suspected these were logs on a Britton Bros permit or licence area which the Brittons had asked Tom to pull out. The Hines said they wouldn't touch those logs, but decided to apply for a licence to cut standing blackwood on the area. The licence was granted, and John Hine paid Max Chisholm another £4 or £5.

Kirby found no evidence that Max Chisholm had shared the £20 or £21 from Hine Bros with his brother Don. However, he found that Don had acted improperly by providing Max with confidential Forestry Department information (the information that Britton Bros had not renewed their hold on the area) and had acted in concert with Max in selling information to Hine Bros.

F. Jaeger and Sons

Sawmiller Frank Jaeger had died before the Kirby Royal Commission was convened. His claim was presented in the form of testimony by others.

In February 1940, Jaeger was anxious to have approval of an EFP at Newhaven. He travelled to Launceston and met Garrett in the Forestry Department office there on 19 February. They discussed the Newhaven area, and Jaeger claimed that Garrett asked for £50 for information about the area, and for an additional £150 if Jaeger got his EFP. Jaeger wrote out a cheque for £50 and handed it to Garrett. Jaeger's EFP application was approved in January 1941, several months after Jaeger had reported the bribe to Forestry Department Inspector J.M. Firth.

Jaeger later denied his own report and said the cheque was an old debt he owed to Don Chisholm. However, the cheque was made out to cash or bearer, not Chisholm. Garrett passed the cheque to Chisholm, who cashed it in Burnie on his way home from Launceston to Smithton. Garrett and Chisholm both testified that the money went to Chisholm alone, as compensation for a failed 1934 business deal between Chisholm and Jaeger.

According to the Mercury, Firth saw Jaeger again in early 1941 and asked him about the £50 payment. 'Jaeger said he didn't want to talk about it. It was some time previously, he said, and in addition Garrett might some day have his (Firth's) job and come back as the man in charge,' Firth said. 'On subsequent occasions Jaeger refused to talk.'

Kirby concluded that the £50 was a bribe for Garrett, and that Garrett had used Chisholm as a means of negotiating the cheque at arm's length.

J.S. Lee and Sons

There were several claims involving Lee and Sons. The major one involved a complicated arrangement with Don Chisholm.

Chisholm had been renting a house in Smithton from the company before he joined the Forestry Department, and he owed £92/4/5 in rent. The company accountant, R.H. Atkinson, had a letter sent to Chisholm in July 1938 requesting payment. Chisholm responded with a claim of £90/12/- on Lee and Sons. Atkinson took Chisholm's claim to manager W.A. Lee, who endorsed it as correct. The money owed by the company was supposed to be for work done by Chisholm, but there were no accounts showing any such work. The difference between rent owed and the amount claimed was written off by the company. Atkinson said the situation was irregular.

Chisholm testified that he had done some work for Lee and Sons after joining the Forestry Department. 'The work was carried out in time entirely my own, during holidays and at weekends,' Chisholm said. 'None of the inspections involved any information acquired by me as a forestry officer.' The counter claim of £90/12/- was in part for work he did in building a garage at the rented Smithton house and about a chain of road to it.

In fact, only £10 of the £90/12/- was repayment for those property jobs. The rest was a claim for bush inspections and surveys. Neither Lee and Sons nor Chisholm had any written records of the bush work claimed by Chisholm. Garrett, unbelievably, said he was unaware that Chisholm had been working for Lee and Sons while employed by the Forestry Department.

Kirby found that Lee and Sons had given Chisholm a bribe in the form of an allowance of a credit for that amount against his rent account, and that the bribe was given as a reward for services rendered or to be rendered to the firm by Chisholm as an employee of the Forestry Department.

Loongana Sawmill

Proprietor G.P. Taylor wanted to sell his Loongana mill. Garrett suggested potential buyers, among them Alstergren P/L. Taylor sold out to Alstergren and posted a cheque for £5 to Garrett in December 1940. Garrett did not acknowledge the gift.

The evidence was not disputed. Kirby said the £5 was not a bribe, but that public servants should not act as estate or commission agents.

J.H. Mackay

In August 1934, Mackay and Don Chisholm agreed in writing that Chisholm would provide information about forest areas to Mackay. Mackay paid Chisholm an intial £10 in 1934, £5 in June 1935, £10 in July 1937 and £10 in March 1940. In 1935, Chisholm became a temporary employee of the Forestry Department. The claims were that Chisholm had been paid by Mackay for information obtained by Chisholm as a Department employee, and also that in 1935 Garrett had loaned Chisholm to Mackay and had allowed Chisholm to be double-paid, i.e. by the Department and by Mackay.

Evidence was presented to Kirby that Garrett had approved Chisholm's working for Mackay for one week in 1935, and for that week he was not paid by the Department. The 1937 payment was passed on by Chisholm to another sawmiller. The 1940 payment was the last under the 1934 agreement, but it could not be demonstrated that the information supplied to Mackay by Chisholm had been obtained by Chisholm while working for the Department.

Kirby dismissed the claims.

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