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Wednesday, 28 October 1914

Mr HIGGS (Capricornia) .- I regret that it appears to be necessary to pass this Bill through all its stages in the same day. The time allowed to consider so important a measure seems to me to be too short. The Bill proposes to establish Naval and Military Courts and courts martial. These, I imagine, will be secret tribunals. Neither the public nor the press will be allowed to be present at the ferial of any person before them. While I am with the Government in every endeavour they make to get hold of any enemy in Australia, and to put him where he ought to be, I wish to know whether they are making due provision for the protection that ought to be afforded to every person who comes to Australia at our invitation, and who makes his home here. I regret to find that there is a great deal of feeling against Germans who have come to Australia, and have made their homes here at our invitation - people who have raised families here, and whose sons and daughters are in every respect good citizens of Australia. What may be described as something of a " pannicky " feeling has taken possession of some members of the community, and it is causing a great deal of cruelty to be exhibited to certain persons who are good citizens of Australia. We sent agents to Germany to invite Germans to settle here. Queensland sent a representative to Germany to endeavour to secure immigrants for that State, and it had difficulty in obtaining any until our agents were able to inform the German Government that they could obtain here as good a living as they could secure in their own country. I understand from the Attorney-General that the Government will not avail themselves of this measure except where necessary. But will each case come before the honorable gentleman? Will no action be taken, with regard to any individual or body of individuals, until his consent has been obtained?

Mr Hughes - Nothing will be done without the approval of the Government as a whole.

Mr HIGGS - Is that in regard to each individual case?

Mr Hughes - No; that is before the power is conferred, and the power may be conferred in respect of one particular case.

Mr HIGGS - I understand that the proposal is to give power to Naval and Military Boards to conduct courts martial. Some person with a very vivid imagination might lay an information against a German, or the offspring of German parents in Australia, and that individual might be brought before a naval and military court martial - a secret, tribunal. The matter, I presume, would not come before the AttorneyGeneral.

Mr Hughes - Tes; the proceedings of all courts martial come before the AttorneyGeneral.

Mr Archibald - Has the Government's treatment of Germans resident in Australia been harsh up to the present time?

Mr HIGGS - I see no provision in the clause to the effect that it can be put into operation only after the AttorneyGeneral has been consulted. The position would be different if it provided that no action could be taken without his consent.

Mr Fisher - Before or after? It would be very difficult.

Mr HIGGS - The Minister of Home Affairs wishes to know whether the Government have so far treated unfairly any of the Germans at present residing in Australia. I do not believe that they have, nor do I believe that they will. I should be very sorry to think that members of our party would allow themselves, because of what may be described as "the war feeling," to do an injustice. I notice, however, that power is to be taken under this clause to apply to naturalized persons, with or without modifications, all or any of the provisions of any order relating to aliens. I fear that it is rather dangerous to hand over to naval or military men the power to hold courts martial. It would appear to me to be unnecessary, seeing that we have civil Courts that ought to be able to deal with all the offences covered by this measure. We have Judges and magistrates who are capable of weighing evidence, and men who are accustomed to hear evidence from day to day are in a far better position to decide what is really evidence against an alleged offender than are the men who, as members of a naval or military court martial, would be placed in the position of Judges. I do not rise to oppose the Bill, because it was introduced only an hour ago, and I have, therefore, not had an opportunity to properly study it. I hope, however, that the Government will take full power to see that wherever possible cases arising under the Act will come under their supervision before they go to these secret tribunals, where the persons concerned may not enjoy the protection they would have in an open Court presided over by a Judge or a magistrate.

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