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Thursday, 29 July 1920

Mr HUGHES - I have not received information from the British Government, but I have noticed in the press the report of a statement made, I understand, by the British Prime Minister. So far as I apprehend the facts, Russians in Great Britain are quite free to return to their own country. Speaking offhand, and subject, of course, to correction, I know of no reason whatever why Russians who are free in this country should not be allowed to return to Russia.

Mr Considine - In the agreement the British Government undertook to provide transport.

Mr HUGHES - The British Government has nothing whatever to do with the position in Australia. Of course, this Government, whenever possible, acts in conformity with the policy of the Imperial Government in regard to such matters. It is most undesirable to have a policy in one portion of the Empire differing from that of other portions of the Empire. Apart from that, we have power to make what laws we please in the matter of permitting the entrance of persons to this country, or of providing for their exclusion, or of allowing them to depart. We can bring in, keen out, bind or let loose whom we will. However, I will look into the law upon this subject and give the honorable member a considered answer by Wednesday next. To repeat my own personal opinion, I know of no reason why Russians resident in Australia should be prevented from departing to their native land.

Mr Considine - I have in my hand a copy of the agreement entered into between the British Government and the Russian Soviet Government, which states that the British Government will repatriate all Russian civilians in the British Empire, or in any territory where the British Government exercises direct authority. .There is a further clause to the effect that the British Government will also arrange for transport for those who desire to return home.

Mr HUGHES - The agreement referred to by the honorable member was one it was proposed to ratify between the Russian Soviet Government and the British Government. It was not consummated. On the eve of its consummation, there was a disagreement between the parties. The point referred to there differs altogether from that with which I was dealing. The British Government proposed, not that Russians might return to Russia, but that the Imperial authorities would assist them to do so. That is the point; I had not raised it. I was directing my remarks to the matter of their freedom to go to their own country when and in what manner they pleased. But if the British Government have any agreement with the Soviet Government to repatriate Russians from any part of the British Empire, provided the Soviet Government act reciprocally, the Commonwealth Government, when officially notified to that effect, will do everything that it is called upon to do to assist the British Government in carrying out their policy.

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