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Tuesday, 24 February 1987
Page: 593

Mr LIONEL BOWEN (Attorney-General) —by leave-In April and May of 1986 a series of serious allegations were made concerning claims that nazi war criminals, who had evaded justice after the end of the Second World War, had managed to obtain entry into Australia and were resident here. As a consequence of these allegations and the widespread public disquiet aroused by them the Government announced on 25 June last a review of material relating to the entry of suspected war criminals into Australia. The review was conducted by Mr Andrew Menzies, a retired senior public servant. His report was presented to the then Special Minister of State on 28 November last, and, except for a small confidential part, was tabled in the Senate on 5 December last year and in the House of Representatives on 17 February this year. Mr Menzies also presented to the Special Minister of State on 28 November last a sealed envelope containing details of allegations relating to some 70 named persons, allegations which he recommended should be the subject of further investigation.

As part of the conclusions of his report Mr Menzies made a number of factual findings. Given the wide public concern over the allegations made in 1986, and the attention they attracted both in this country and overseas, I think it is important that I give further emphasis, in the Parliament, to these findings. Mr Menzies found that it was more likely than not that a significant number of persons who committed serious war crimes in World War II, have entered Australia, and some of these are now resident in Australia; that while endeavours were made to prevent the entry into Australia of persons responsible for war crimes, there were serious limitations, particularly in early years, in both the staff available for checking, and the data relied upon for those checks; that it is important to remember that the number of persons suspected of serious war crimes who have been able to enter Australia would have been a minute proportion of the enormous number of persons who migrated to Australia in the post-war years; that no evidence whatsoever has been found that an Australian officer had knowingly allowed a war criminal to migrate to Australia, nor do the facts establish the existence of any policy by any Australian government to allow or assist the entry of known or suspected war criminals into Australia; that no person admitted into Australia under arrangements with the United Kingdom or the United States intelligence agencies, to the knowledge of Australian authorities, appears to have been the object of charges or allegations as to the commission of war crimes, although there is a possibility that, particularly before 1956, former employees of such agencies may have entered Australia without the knowledge of Australian authorities; that Australian Security Intelligence Organisation officers in a number of cases had contact with persons some time after their entry into Australia in respect of whom the review has recorded allegations of the commission of war crimes and obtained information from them for ASIO purposes not related to the war crimes allegations, but there is no evidence that ASIO was involved in the entry of any of these persons into Australia.

The Government accepts the conclusion that some persons, against whom the most serious allegations have been made, are likely to have entered Australia after the Second World War, and to be still resident here today. However, as Mr Menzies has found, their entry was achieved in the circumstances of the urgency and intensity of our post-war immigration program. Given that background, there is no value in continuing to examine the past with the idea of apportioning blame, or endeavouring to sheet home responsibility. Instead, our attention must be concentrated on the steps to be taken to ensure that suspected war criminals involved in serious crimes are brought to justice.

On 22 March 1961, the then Attorney- General, Sir Garfield Barwick, speaking in this House, said in regard to the prosecution of war crimes committed in the course of the Second World War that the chapter should be regarded as closed. Where serious war crimes are concerned this Government does not regard the chapter as closed. This Government will take appropriate action under the law to bring to justice those persons found in Australia who have committed serious war crimes. We do not intend that there should be any reduction in our normal standards of justice when dealing with such cases, or in the safeguards now available under Australian law to persons accused of serious crimes. We will take action against individuals only where charges are serious and fully supported by evidence. It is important to understand that the Government's determination to investigate allegations of war crimes, and, where appropriate, to lay charges, is not action directed against ethnic groups, and is not to be regarded in any way as a slur upon any particular ethnic group. Our actions will be taken in relation to individuals and will be based, not on their ethnic origin, but upon their behaviour.

The first recommendation in the Menzies report is that the Government should make a clear and positive statement on its attitude to the prosecution of serious war crimes. That statement I have just made. The report recommends that the Government establish a small unit in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions along the lines of the United States Office of Special Investigations, to conduct investigations of allegations of war crimes. The Government will be setting up a Special Investigations Unit within my portfolio, reporting directly to me. It is normal practice to separate the investigation and prosecution functions. The Director of Public Prosecutions will, of course, conduct any prosecutions in the ordinary way, and it will be the DPP who decides whether the results of an investigation justify the bringing of a prosecution. The unit will have responsibility for investigating, in the first place, the allegations listed and detailed by Mr Menzies and contained in the sealed envelope handed to the Special Minister of State. That envelope will be handed over to the head of the Unit. The Unit will also have responsibility for investigating any other allegations that persons resident in Australia, either now or in the future, committed war crimes during the Second World War, including the allegations received by the Government from the Simon Wiesenthal centres in the United States and Israel.

Mr Menzies, in his recommendations, placed emphasis on the possibility of extradition where investigations showed that serious charges of war crimes should be brought against particular individuals. The approach preferred by the Government is to conduct war crimes prosecutions in Australia. I would be concerned at the prospect of making special arrangements to extradite persons to countries with markedly different judicial systems. However, should there be a request for the extradition of an alleged war criminal within the context of Australia's normal extradition arrangements, it will be dealt with by me in the ordinary way, with assistance, where appropriate from the Special Investigations Unit. If extradition was not appropriate, Mr Menzies recommended that consideration be given to revocation of citizenship and deportation in appropriate cases, but he specifically declined to recommend legislative change. The Government will consider those possibilities within the context of present legislation and policy.

As a result of its inquiries, the unit may be recommending the bringing of prosecutions. Mr Menzies has recommended that only the more serious war crimes are worthy of attention now, more than 40 years after the events. The Government agrees and the work of the unit will be directed accordingly. For example, allegations as to membership of, or demonstrated sympathy for, various fascist organisations in nazi controlled Europe, and allegations as to production of fascist propaganda, do not warrant attention. The Menzies report sets out the types of crimes which would always be of concern, no matter how long ago they were committed. I mention, for example, participation in police or so called `security' units which had the task of deporting, ill-treating or murdering persons on racial or political grounds-in some cases these people worked under German orders, in other cases they operated largely independently; participation as guards or administrators in the operation of German established concentration camps or prisons at which large numbers of people were murdered or ill-treated; participation in national or local puppet governments under Nazi German direction at an executive level, allegedly involving direct responsibility for the deportation, ill-treatment or murder of persons on racial or political grounds.

So that prosecutions may be brought in Australia, it will be necessary to make amendments to the War Crimes Act 1945. The principal amendments will be as follows: To provide for the trial of war crimes before State courts exercising Federal criminal jurisdiction or, where appropriate, Territory courts, instead of before military tribunals as is presently the case. At present, the Act arguably does not apply to serious crimes committed in the course of hostilities in Eastern Europe, in that the extraterritorial application of the Act is restricted by reference to countries allied with His Majesty. An amendment is needed to encompass war crimes committed in the course of hostilities known as the Second World War. The Act would be applicable only to persons resident in Australia, either now or in the future. Evidentiary and procedural provisions which would be inappropriate for criminal prosecutions before civil courts will be repealed. These changes will necessarily involve amendments to the criminal law having retrospective operation. The circumstances are, however, sufficiently serious to justify this course. I will be introducing amendments to the War Crimes Act as soon as possible.

Mr Menzies also recommended that the Australian Security Intelligence Organization Act 1979 should be amended to permit ASIO, in relation to persons seeking entry into Australia, to obtain and communicate information concerning the commission of war crimes. Overseas investigation may be made by the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. Once the amendments to the War Crimes Act have been made, the present provisions of the ASIO Act will allow communication of any information the Organisation has in its possession.

This Government shares the abhorrence felt by all civilised nations at the serious criminal activities committed in the course of the Second World War, and considers that justice must be done, no matter how much time has passed since the events in question. We commend Mr Menzies, and those who worked with him, for the report. The Government will ensure that investigations are conducted with seriousness and dispatch, and that, within the normal standards of our criminal justice system, suspected war criminals will be brought to trial.