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Friday, 29 March 1946

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON (Barker) (Postmaster-General) . - I should admire in some ways the defence of the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) if he had said specifically, " I don't Care a hang what the law gays, or what it means in the opinion of the Opposition; we have done this " ; and offered no apology. But his exhibition of casuistry would in certain quarters, I think, be dubbed jesuitical. His attempt to substitute regulations for statute law was one of the weakest I have ever heard in this place. The Minister knows perfectly well that he is the intellectual father of the soldiers' rehabilitation legislation; and that is an off-spring of which he need not be the least bit proud. He was forced to amend that legislation. By his attitude in this debate he has shown that the amendment was most distasteful to him. Having been forced to accept that amendment as the result of pressure, not only from honorable members on this side, but also from honorable' members opposite, he- is now determined, regardless of what the law, or Parliament, says, to carry out his own will. It would be hard to recall in the history of this Parliament a greater exhibition of the spirit of dictatorship.

The case put up by the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) is unanswerable, and the Minister has. not attempted to answer it. He said that 911 releases had been made; and he also made the statement, which I think is incorrect that every applicant for accelerated release who had had a year's training at a university before entering the armed forces was, in fact, released. I believe that that statement is not correct. There have been eases of such men being told that their services were indispensable to the forces, that they were key men. I mentioned the other day the case of a lad from Adelaide who is in the navy. Within 24 hours after making representations on that lad's behalf, I received a letter from the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Makin) informing me that he would not be released, although he has had over three years' service, and has many more points than the men referred to by the honorable member for Gippsland. I know of another young man, the son of a doctor, who is being retained in the Army. Many other young fellows are still being retained in the forces, although they endeavoured to obtain release in order to commence university training. Some of them did not wait to be called up, but enlisted at eighteen years of age and have seen years of service ; .but these men are told to remain in the forces for at least another year, whilst certain enemy aliens are released in order to complete university courses which they had not started in the Commonwealth. Some of the universities in the countries concerned ure long-established and well-known institutions. J. raise no argument about that; but the Minister tried to get away with talk about these men being stateless. I have not been able to figure out what a stateless man is. There were any number of enemy aliens in this country before the war. They were interned. Incidentally, the fact that, some nien had rendered distinguished war service to this country did not prevent the Government from interning them. However, that is another matter. Some alien refugees approached me in Sydney with a proposition to form an Australian foreign legion. I would not touch their 'proposal with a forty-foot pole. 1 have never believed in the French Foreign Legion, although it has been one of France's greatest weapons in its political and economic policy. As 1 have pointed out, on previous occasions, the Government at any early stage of the war decided that no persons could enlist, in any of the forces unless they were natural-born or naturalized British subjects. That was not the case in the First World War. because in that conflict 1 served in the ranks with many nien who were foreigners. The men we are now discussing were called up for service; and the Minister tried to split,, not. hairs, but the tiniest silken thread in an attempt to differentiate between in employment units and service in labour con.panies. For all practical purposes, there is no difference, because both do the same kind of work. But the Minister has tried to show that these men must have been taken into the Army. His exhibition is in that respect unworthy of a Minister. He is endeavouring to cover up an unsavory piece of administration in deliberate. defiance of Parliament for which he cannot find justification in logic or common sense. The case put forward by the honorable member for Gippsland is absolutely unanswerable.

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