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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 3435


Mr ROBERT (Fadden) (18:53): I rise to support the member for Fremantle and to thank her very much for her motion, which is detailed, personal and entirely appropriate. History records that in the interests of national security the Australian government interned thousands of men and women during World War I and World War II. It is fair to say that they thought they were doing that with the best of policy intentions, but it is also fair to say that there were many, many voices that spoke against it at the time—voices of reason, voices of compassion.

History has shown that the policy was wrong. Those present, at the time, should have told them the policy was wrong. Most of those who were interned were classed as 'enemy aliens'—that is, they were nationals of countries at war with Australia. The reasons for establishing these camps and interning foreign nationals were apparently threefold: first, to prevent residents from assisting Australia's enemies; second, to appease public opinion; and, third, to house overseas internees sent to Australia for the duration of the war.

Somehow we as a nation at the time lost sight of the fact that when Australians sailed off to war in November 1914 from Albany four ships sailed: two cruisers and one other ship escorted by a Japanese warship crewed by Japanese sailors. Somehow we forgot that Australians of Chinese descent have served Australians in every war from the Sudan in 1885 through to Iraq in 2005. In fact, the earliest Chinese-Australian serviceman is Sergeant John Joseph Shying who served with the New South Wales contingent in the Anglo-Egyptian War in the Sudan in 1885. Shying's grandfather Mak Sai Pang came to Sydney in 1818. He married Sarah Ferguson in 1823. Sarah was a free settler who had come to Australia with her convict mother. Christopher Shying, another family member, served in the 1st AIF.

Many Chinese men and citizens of other nations stormed the beaches of Gallipoli. It is one of the great enduring factors of us as a nation that we are one of the great multicultural nations on earth. In April 1915, with the Federation just 15 years young, the great thing about Australia's ill-fated assault on the Gallipoli Peninsula is that it was done by Australians, many of whom were not born here. They were Geordies, Italians, Chinese and Japanese—the force that assaulted the peninsular was made up of men from all different nations. That is why it is disappointing that ostensibly through the First and Second World Wars the government of the day, albeit with the best of intentions, fell back on a sense of unease and established a range of internment camps.

These camps were established across the country, from Cowra in New South Wales to Enoggera in Queensland, Harvey in Western Australia, Hay in New South Wales, Holsworthy and Liverpool in New South Wales, Loveday in South Australia, Rottnest Island in Western Australia, and Tatura and Rushworth in Victoria. In World War II, internees were often held in smaller camps before being transferred to larger ones—Bathurst in New South Wales in 1939, Long Bay from 1939 to 1941, Orange in New South Wales in 1940-41, Parkeston in Western Australia and Dhurringile near Murchison in Victoria.

The aim of internment was to identify and intern those who posed a particular threat to the safety or defence of the country, notwithstanding that many of their own countrymen were fighting beside Australians from other lands who had come to call our country home. As the war progressed the policy changed and Japanese residents were interned en masse, again forgetting our history as our soldiers sailed from Albany en route to World War I. Most internees during the First and Second World Wars were nationals of Australia's main enemy during respective conflicts. Their only crime was to have been born in or associated with the country with which we found ourselves in conflict. In the latter years of World War II Germans and Italians were interned on the basis of nationality alone, rather than any particular threat that authorities may have believed had been posed. Over 20 per cent of all Italians residing in Australia during World War II were interned.

That is why I think it is important that the member for Fremantle brings the motion for debate and discussion within the halls of parliament today. It is an important motion. We should not run from our history or hide from it. We should not try to reinvent it or re-interpret it. We should accept it and understand it. If we are wrong we should apologise for it. As a nation we should embrace and move forward together with a shared view of our future.

Debate adjourned.