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Thursday, 22 July 1920

Mr TUDOR (Yarra) . Honorable members who have been in the House since 1914 are fully aware of the history of the War Precautions Act. Theoriginal Bill was introduced by the present Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) on the 28th October, 1914, and on that occasion the right honorable gentleman said, as reported in Hansard, page 369, volume LXXV. -

The Bill confers upon the Commonwealth power to make orders and regulations of a far-reaching character, and, as honorable members may see in clauses 4 and 5, is mainly directed topreventing the leakage of important secrets,to secure the safety of means of communication, railways, docks, harbors, or public works, and to deal effectively with aliens, and, in certain circumstances, with naturalized persons. Its aim 'is to prevent the disclosure of, important information, to give power to deport and otherwise deal with aliens, to interrogate and obtaininformation in various ways, and to appoint officers to carry into effect any orders or regulations which may be made under the Bill.

That measure was introduced and carried through all stages in one day; no division was taken on the measure, and no amendment was moved. If time permitted, I could quote the remarks of the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs), who protested against panicky legislation at a time when people were not in a position to judge whether or not such legislation was proper. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt), the then honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Irvine), and the present Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Groom) expressed a fear that the Bill would be used for purposes not set forth in the measure, and honorable members who have studied the history of the Act know that that has been done, especially during the last two or three years. Section 2 of the original Act provides -

This Act shall continue in operation during the continuance of the present state of war, and no longer.

That was the express limitation of its operation. The two amending measures in 1915 did not affect that section, but the last Amending Act passed, in 1918, enacted -

Section 2 of the principal Act is amended by inserting in sub-section (1) thereof, after the words " state of war," the words " and for a period of three months thereafter, or until the 31st day of July, 1919, whichever period is the longer."

Some honorable members who sit to-day, as they sat then, in the Ministerial corner, protested violently against any extension of the period of operation of this Statute. They objected to it operating for one day longer than was necessary, and every member of the party sitting on this side of the House voted against any extension of the Act. The honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) complained that the Act and the regulations thereunder were upsetting the commercial world. I, whilst admitting that certain sections of the Act had worked advantageously, protested against the continuance in operation of certain powers whilst others were dropped. The regulations which dealt with price fixing did afford a certain amount of relief to the community, but price fixing was abandoned by the Government, notwithstanding that I recollect the Prime Minister saying that price fixing operations under the Act had saved to the purchasing community about £3,000,000. Other powers under the War Precautions Act are still being operated. I am convinced that, had the Ministry not given their word to the Corner party that the Act would terminate on the 31st July, 1919, or three months after the declaration pf peace, the 1918 Bill would have been defeated.

Mr Gregory - The Government could not have passed it through the House.

Mr TUDOR - Yet certain sections of the Act, and certain regulations made under it, are still in operation. I know, sir, that you will not allow me to refer to a particular case, which was mentioned yesterday, and which is said to be sub judice. I remarked yesterday that it is very strange that, whilst we in this House are prevented from discussing that case, outside persons and Ministers on public platforms can say anything they please. Why are they not haled before the Courts for contempt? And why were members in another place allowed to discuss this matter yesterday for upwards of an hour and a half, one gentleman making charges, and a member of the Government replying to him? Apparently, in every other building in Australia persons are at liberty to say what they like about this case, but we in this House may say nothing. I say here, as I have- said elsewhere, that I am opposed to the deportation of any person without trial. When the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs), on the 15th August 1919, moved the adjournment of the House to discuss the matter of deportations, he put on record communications from the Defence Department, and showed how the authorities were separating husbands from wives, and children from their parents. The honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) informed this House a few days ago that 122 or more Australian children have been sent out of this country. I agree with the honorable member for Capricornia in his remarks, made in October, 1914, upon the War Precautions Bill, when he said: -

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 trial 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 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 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.

That was true at that time. It may have been panic legislation. I was a member of the Government which passed it. The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) truly said the other day that we were going to resign at one particular stage when we were both members of the Fisher Ministry. That is not the only time when I was about to resign. However, I was not prepared to take the extreme step of resigning over every matter coming (before Cabinet with which I disagreed. Surely at this stage, so long after the signing of the armistice, we should have advanced far and away from this piece of legislation. There is no reason to-day to do things and make provision for emergencies which might have been necessary during a time of war.

I have never seen any one of those individuals whom it has been proposed to deport or who have been deported, but I take the stand that before we deport anybody - any man or woman who has been in Australia from birth, or who has been here for many years - a fair trial should be afforded in these times of peace before deportation takes place. It has been stated, both in this Chamber and elsewhere, that by the action of the Government, Magna Charta has been virtually torn up. Every man is entitled to fair and proper consideration of his case. There is no need for the War Precautions Act to operate to-day. The then Acting AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Groom) moved the second reading of the Bill to amend the War

Precautions Act in 1918, soon after the armistice had been' signed, and he knows that the second reading, would have been, defeated if the Government had not agreed to insert a time limit. When that time limit was. included it was considered that July, 1919 - so late a period after the armistice had been agreed to - would furnish a reasonable term for the operation of the measure. To-day is twelve months later, but the Act is still in operation so far as the liberty of certain persons is concerned. The Government may say that they have reason for their action. What is that reason ? We have a right to know. I am not free to say what was said in another place yesterday by the Leader of our party in that Chamber. The statement of the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce), delivered elsewhere, would have been ruled out of order if one of his colleagues had sought to make it in this Chamber. Why should there be one set of rules for the guidance of one place and another set for the con- ' duct of this Chamber?

Mr Mcwilliams - Each Chamber makes its own rules.

Mr TUDOR - The honorable member knows full well that one can refer to the matter to which I allude in any town or city or building in the Commonwealth, except within these four walls. I supported the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) when he moved his adjournment motion nearly twelve months ago; and I recall that I, with other gentlemen, waited upon the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) and sought a definite decision in regard to the termination of the War Precautions Act. We had never understood that it would have operated as it has done, or for so long. If these persons who have been deported, or are to be deported, are a danger to the community they should be dealt with. I do not care who or what they are; but every man is entitled to a fair trial. A former member of the present Government, Mr. Glynn, stated that there was no single definite charge against the gentleman whose case is now the subject of everybody's attention. I demand a definite statement from the Government concerning how long the War Precautions Act is to operate. Is it to cease totally, or is it to be whittled away so that'-' those portions which are advantageous to the community shall be done away'-wi'th and only those parts allowed fe'6' remain which can operate unfairly upon certain sections of the community? This Act, and every Act passed by the Federal Parliament, should be administered by the Government without bias and irrespective of political or religious opinion: When the present Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Groom) .brought forward 'his Bill to amend' the War Precautions Act he said -

Section 2 of the Act provides -

(1)   This Act shall continue in operation during the continuance of the present state of war, and no longer.

Then the Minister dealt with the matter of the proclamation. He continued -

When that proclamation has been issued it means the termination of the present state of war as far as this Act is concerned.

I remind honorable members that this debate occurred on the 12th December, 1918 - more than a month after the armistice had ' been signed. " Hansard records that, following upon the statement of the Minister, which I have just quoted, the following occurred : -

Mr. Boyd.; It does not extend to the ratification of treaties by interested parties.

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