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Wednesday, 25 March 1942

Mr HOLT (Fawkner) . - I regret that I have to interrupt what appears to be developing into a lively fight about the merits or demerits of Werribee beef, but my speech can be regarded as an interval between rounds. I desire to raise a matter which is not very fashionable in these times, namely, the rights of enemy aliens. In these days, we look to the Government, in the interests of national security, to impose restrictions upon enemy aliens who come under that broad heading. Nevertheless, the operation of the war damage insurance regulations, insofar as they affect certain persons who come under the definition of enemy alien, is working an injustice. Regulation 5 (1.) (d) provides that the regulations shall not apply to enemy aliens. In other words, the property of enemy aliens is excluded from the provisions of the war damage insurance scheme. But regulation 65 prohibits insurance against war damage by any means other than that provided by the regulations. That means, in effect, that the property of an enemy alien cannot be insured either under these regulations or by any other means. The definition of enemy alien is not in any way restricted by the regulations.

There are persons in this community who came to Australia some years ago with the full knowledge and consent of the Government. As a condition of their entry to the country, they were required to bring such property as they possessed ; and they have become good, useful citizens of the Commonwealth. They have, perhaps, greater bitterness of feeling and hatred against our enemies than that felt by Australians. But their property is automatically excluded from any form of insurance against war damage risk. I realize that the feeling in the community at present is such that it is difficult to expect a reasonable and calm approach to a problem of this description; but if we analyse the circumstances in which many of these people are placed, we shall find that there is a very real case for permitting some of them to come under the operation of the war damage insurance scheme. Under the National Security (Aliens' Service) Regulations. Statutory Rule No. 39 of 1942, ' the Government has distinguished between various classes of enemy aliens. We have made it possible for a class known as the " refugee alien " to enlist in the fighting forces of the Commonwealth. The definition under the heading of "refugee alien " includes an alien who was forced to emigrate from enemy territory on account of actual or threatened religious, racial, or political persecution, and who is opposed to the regime which forced him to emigrate. Under those regulations the Government recognizes the distinction between persons who have come to Australia under those conditions and we have given to them an opportunity to enlist in our fighting forces.

I bring to the notice of the House, in order to establish my case, three instances which came before me during the last few days. In two of the cases, the men concerned had come to Australia under the conditions that I have just described. One of them had actually spent a period in a concentration camp. Both of them had volunteered for service in the forces of the Commonwealth in order to fight against our enemies; both of them had also converted the capital which they had brought to this country into assets in Australia. One of them was in charge of an engineering establishment, the total output of which represented defence orders for the Commonwealth Government. Yet both men were excluded from the right to insure their property under the war damage scheme. The third case involved a distinguished Austrian who had formerly been a wealthy man in his own country. When forced to flee, he was able to bring very little of his property with him. Nevertheless, such property as he had when he arrived in Australia was invested in the business of making surgical instruments. The manufactures of that establishment are entirely at the disposal of the Commonwealth Government; in fact, the Government, in order to increase the output, installed additional machinery on the premises. I ask the House to sink some of those prejudices which we might normally have in a time like the present against people who have come from an enemy country, whatever their feelings may be towards the country which treated them so harshly. I ask honorable members to be prepared to apply, in justice, the definition which the regulations have applied to these persons when requiring them, giving to them an opportunity to serve in our fighting forces. If we were fair in doing that with regard to military service, we should be prepared to follow that principle through to its logical conclusion, and say, "just as you have a right to volunteer for military service, so you shall have the same rights as those which are enjoyed by other citizens of the Commonwealth to insure your goods against war damage, upon payment of the prescribed premium ".

I ask the Government to amend the definition of enemy alien or the reference to an enemy alien in the war damage insurance regulations, so as to provide that " enemy aliens " shall not include a person who is deemed for the purposes of the aliens service regulation to be a refugee alien. If that distinction were made, it would mete out justice to these people, and give a great deal of satisfaction to persons who have sought refuge here and who, on account of the exigencies of the war, must on grounds of national security accept many other restrictions which are irksome to them, but which they bear in a cheerful spirit because they believe them to be necessary. In my opinion, they should be granted this right, and I ask the Government to give earnest consideration to my proposition.

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