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Tuesday, 24 February 1987
Page: 500


Senator MASON(3.22) —On behalf of the Australian Democrats I indicate our pleasure that the Government is following up this matter with some resolution. There is not a great deal in what Senator Durack has said that we take exception to, but I would like to make a few additional points. I noted when I was in Israel last year that there is natural and considerable interest in that country in these inquiries, seeing that Jews were the principal victims of war crimes during World War II. Perhaps more to the point, while in Brussels I was told by officials of the European Economic Community that evidence given to the EEC inquiry into the rise of fascism in Europe could contain material which bears on this topic. I raise that point because, as I understand that that material is not in the report of that inquiry but appears in the evidence, the Special Investigations Unit set up by the Government within the Attorney-General's Department may like to follow that up if it is not already aware of the situation.

I agree with Senator Durack in regard to methodology. It is quite right and proper that these people, most of whom will be fairly elderly now, in their 60s or 70s, and many of whom would have been residents or citizens of Australia for a long time, ought to be tried here. One point of some significance arises in the last finding of Mr Menzies:

ASIO officers in a number of cases had contact with persons sometime after their entry into Australia in respect of whom the Review has recorded allegations of commission of war crimes and obtained information from them for ASIO purposes not related to the war crimes allegations . . .

That is not a matter that can be left up in the air completely. I know the Government is always nervous about any statements or revelations about what ASIO does, even if it might have committed a crime or an injustice against citizens. I strongly disapprove of that policy. I can see a need for some secrecy where security is concerned but I disapprove thoroughly of a blanket secrecy which presents, at best, a temptation to use it as a screen for concealment. If it is found in this case that these people gave material to ASIO at certain times in the past and that as a result citizens of this country were unfairly accused or in some way treated unjustly-that must be a possibility, I suggest-I would ask the Government if not at least to reveal that to the Senate then to follow it up, to go back and make sure that there were not injustices committed at that time which were brought to light as a result of information given to people who may well as a result of this inquiry be convicted as war criminals. I hope that the Government will take that up and not overlook it, because I think it is a matter of justice which is enormously important.

We ought to be a little more independent from what has happened in the past in our definition of war criminals. A war criminal from the perspective of this country in 1987 might be rather different from what was considered a war criminal from the perspective of the very heated emotional atmosphere in a country that suffered during and after the war. That is not an unjust assumption although perhaps it could be regarded as such. If there is any discretion in this matter the Government ought to tip the balance towards a more compassionate and merciful view. However, I would certainly not recommend that course of action where people appear to have caused actual loss of life or liberty or even any major loss of property. That point needs looking at because war criminals were associated, especially in Germany and especially where the Jews were concerned, with a very major confiscation of property. That ought not to be overlooked even at this stage. Senator Durack made the point that Mr Menzies' investigation revealed just 70 people. He appeared to impute that this might be the lot. I do not think so. Page 4 of the Minister's statement in the second paragraph states:

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.

There is no reason to be so complacent as to believe that that is as far as it should go. I mentioned the avenue in Brussels of the European Parliament's evidence on its inquiry into the rise of fascism in Europe. There may well be other areas and it would seem to me to be almost inevitable that any investigation of the initial 70 people could quite likely involve others, some of whom could be in Australia. I do not think we need to have just a token effort here as that in itself would be unfair. If for want of further investigation there is any suggestion or any course of action which brings justice to some people and not to others who may have committed an even worse crime, I believe that further investigation ought to be carried out. We should make no judgments as to the actual number of war criminals here or what their influence is on our society-of course, that is an important matter-until this investigation has been carried out. I would stress, finally, that last point. One of the best possible reasons for going ahead with this investigation is our national self-interest. If there are people here who, as it subsequently turns out, were involved in war crimes-and one must recall that the crimes of World War II were extremely unpleasant and grim-I think it would be a good exercise simply in the interests of purging our society of influences which are bad, harmful and unhealthy.