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Thursday, 15 May 1924

Mr BRUCE (Flinders) (Prime Minister and Minister for External Affairs) . - The honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) has directed the attention of the House to a question of great moment to Australia. The attitude of this country towards the German people must most seriously concern us in the near future. Does the honorable gentleman think that the whole of the restrictions at present operative should be removed immediately, and that the German people should at once be placed on exactly the same footing as they had before the war ?

Mr Gabb - I believe that the nomination system of immigration should be permitted.

Mr BRUCE - I take it then that he believes that the nomination system which applies to the people of Great Britain should be permitted to apply also to the German people.

Mr Gabb - Exactly.

Mr BRUCE - I am not quite clear whether the honorable member for Angas thinks that at no time after the war should any restrictions have been imposedupon the immigration of Germans to Australia, but I shall not ask him to indicate his views upon that subject. This House must consider this question in all its aspects. I do not think that a single member will dispute the honorable gentleman's contention that we desire to receive into Australia all persons of any white race which has as good a record as the German people had before the war. Any healthy, industrious, thrifty people of the white race should certainly be welcomed to this country. Honorable members must recollect, however, that the circumstances surrounding the re-admission of the Germans to Australia are complicated and difficult. Some five years ago we were engaged in a life and death struggle with the German people. During the war much feeling was engendered against those with whom we were engaged in hostile operations. Many episodes occurred which inevitably intensified the bitter feelings of the people of Australia. After the war, this Parliament deliberately placed upon the statute-book a measure which excluded Germans from Australia for a period of five years. All honorable members will agree that, in fairness to our own people, and in recognition of the sentiments and feelings of the nation which we represent, some such action as that had to be taken. The war ended some years ago, and we have experienced a change of feeling in many directions. Australia has resumed her trade with Germany, and we have in this country to-day a representative of the German people in the person of their consul. The Government recognize, and so do I, as fully as any one, that the atmosphere has changed during the years that have passed. Although we cannot dissociate the German people from many things that were done during the war, we recognize now that the war was caused by the governing classes of that nation. The German people supported the actions of their Government because of the spirit that had been engendered in them for a considerable time before the outbreak of hostilities. I believe it is now the wish of the Australian people that the war experiences should be completely forgotten; and, as a new spirit grows in Germany, and as new ideals inspire the German people, the feelings which have existed should entirely disappear. But we have to. determine the time and the manner in which normal relations shall be restored. This Parliament determined that during a period of five years during the immigration of ex-enemy nationals should be restricted, but the law does not absolutely prohibit the entry of Germans into the Commonwealth. The Minister has power to admit Germans, and he has exercised that power liberally. He is constantly receiving applications from Germans for permission to enter the Commonwealth, and very many of them are being granted. Some o»f them have to be referred to the Cabinet for final determination, but the spirit of the administration is that such applications shall be granted in the absence of any- special reason to- the contrary. All the circumstances of each case have to be considered. An application might be received from a German who throughout the war fought against Australian soldiers. In such a case we could not disregard the sentiments of our people. Let honorable members consider the feelings of a mother who lost three, four, and possibly five sons at the hands of the German people. lt would be a little inconsiderate to bereaved relatives of soldiers if we were to admit freely to Australia men who had fought against our men throughout the war. However, time has a softening influence, and as the years go by, the bitterness t.Kat arose out of the great world struggle will diminish. The Government considers that the statutory limitation should continue for the full period of five years, so that the bitter feelings which existed at the conclusion of the war may be softened. The restriction will operate only until next year.

Mr Gabb - The provision is that the restriction, shall operate for five years and thereafter, unless Cabinet otherwise decides.

Mr BRUCE - The statutory period is for five years " and thereafter until the Governor-General by proclamation otherwise determines." When the five years has expired it will be opportune for Parliament to review the restriction. At the present time the Act is being administered as sympathetically as possible. Germans ave being admitted into the country. Many young men who have desired to bring their fancies from Germany have been permitted to do so. Whole families of Germans have been allowed to enter the Commonwealth, and, generally speaking, the permissive power of the Minister is exercised very liberally.

Mr McGrath - What about Australian women in Germany who are not allowed to return to Australia?

Mr BRUCE - If honorable members are aware of individual cases of hardship the Government will sympathetically consider any representations they may make. We believe it to be essential that some time should .elapse before the free flow of the nationals of ex-enemy nations into Australia should be allowed. The Government does not subscribe to the sentiment that because Australia was once at war with the Germans our hostility to them should continue for all time. But I ask honorable members to- consider not only the claim of the German who wishes to> enter the Commonwealth, but also the natural feelings of our own people. This is not the proper time to .decide this question. Allow the healing influence of time to operate and to smooth over the present difficulties,- and then, reviewing the statute in a calmer spirit, we shall achieve much more than we now can when the embers of hatred are still alive. There are people who hold extreme views on both sides of this question, and a- discussion of it at this -stage will do very little to achieve what we all desire, namely, that -as soon as possible the .war and the hatreds it engendered shall be forgotten.

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