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Friday, 27 March 1942

Mr CURTIN (Fremantle) (Prime Minister) . - The whole subject, of the safety of the Commonwealth is constantly receiving the attention of the Government, and so also has what has. been described as the preservation of the essentia] principles of British justice and fair dealing. They both go together. The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) has said that, because of a statement made in Italy to a meeting of the Fascist Grand Council, this Government, must watch very closely the conduct of Italians in Australia. Most certainly that is what the Government ought to do. The proposition submitted to the Government this morning is in two parts. One is that al] enemy aliens should lie interned. The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) says that he knows of hundreds of Germans whose conduct during this war has been above reproach.

Mr Francis - And Italians, too.

Mr CURTIN - That fact is well established. Military intelligence, home security officers, and officials of both Commonwealth and State departments are able to point to what they believe to be the irreproachable conduct in this crisis of great numbers of persons who can be described technically as enemy aliens. On the other hand, the Minister for the Army , (Mr. Forde) yesterday told the House of persons, not enemy aliens, who had to he dealt with because their activities were endangering the safety of the State.

Mr Archie Cameron - They have not been dealt with.

Mr CURTIN - The honorable gentleman may have his views on that subject, but I point out that in this country there are processes of law which the present Government will observe. The first obligation on the Government when this evidence was submitted to it by its intelligence departments was not to judge on the facts for itself, or to decide whether the persons concerned were guilty or not guilty, but to take the elementary precaution of removing them from any possibility of carrying on their activities until such time as the evidence was examined. That the Government did. The Government does not seek to prejudice the trial of these persons by naming them, but, acting promptly on the advice of military intelligence, it took steps to ensure that they would not be free to carry on subversive activities. The Solicitor-General has the matter under his careful consideration. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), who has had experience as Attorney-General, knows how that department functions. He knows that there is no political interference with the ordinary processes of law. The only action which the present Government has taken has been to give a direction that persons suspected of engaging in activities which would be of assistance to an enemy shall not be free to carry on those activities. That is all that the Government has done. The Leader of the Opposition says that we should intern more enemy aliens. I do not propose to give the numbers, or the names, of the persons who have been interned since the war began, but I point out that the struggle has continued for two and a half years, and that compared with the numbers of persons interned during the first two years of the war, the number of internments during the last four months has doubled.

Mr McEwen - For good reasons.

Mr.CURTIN.-Yes. I suggest that that very fact of itself is an indication that the Government does not need any spur from the Opposition to see where its duty lies. Surely no person in this House will declare for the mass internment of enemy aliens. That being so, there has to be some process of selective internment; and that means investigationby properly appointed officers. That is what is going on now.

Mr Francis - It is not intense enough.

Mr CURTIN - As honorable members know, these investigations are now entirely under the control of the Army. The House also knows that the Commissioner of Police in New South Wales has been appointed Director-General of the department which makes these investigations. It is true that there are Army officers working under his direction, but the important point is that a civilian accustomed to the detection of crime and to the preservation of public order, a man who was highly recommended for the positionbecause of his great experience and exceptional gifts, is in charge of the department.

Mr Calwell - He is a fascist-minded gentleman.

Mr CURTIN - He has to deal with fascist-disposed persons.

Mr Calwell - He has dealt with the Labour movement in his day.

Mr.CURTIN.- He dealt also with the New Guard, as the Minister for Supply and Development (Mr.Beasley) has pointed out.

Mr Calwell - He is like Fouché who, during the French Revolution and later, served every government to his own advantage.

Mr CURTIN - My own qualifications to decide who would be the best man for this job are not very great. That statement applies to a number of appointments which the Government makes, and, therefore, before making any appointment the Government seeks advice from those who are qualified to give it. Appointments are not made upon the basis of political or personal partiality. From the panel of names which those who have knowledge of the subject submit to me the Government makes the appointment. So far as I am aware, I have never met the Director-General of the department, but he was recommended to me as a highlyqualified man for the position. He held office under the Government of New South Wales for a number of years, and it may interest the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) to know that he was strongly recommended by Mr. Duncan, the Commissioner of Police in Victoria.

Mr Calwell - Mr. Duncan does not know Australia. He has been in this country only about five minutes.

Mr CURTIN - The honorable gentleman may argue until he is black in the face, but the Government made the appointment believing that it was a good one, and will stick to it.

Mr Calwell - The Government has also stuck to other bad appointments that it has made.

Mr CURTIN - The honorable gentleman no doubt believes that some of the appointments which have been made have been particularly bad ones.

Mr Spender - He probably has in mind some appointments to Cabinet!

Mr CURTIN - I do not know. The Australia First movement has been under the constant observation of Military Intelligence for several months. The previous Government had it under observation. As the result of that observation, twenty persons concerning whom a prima facie case has been established by Military Intelligence have been interned. I do not know if any more persons will be arrested. The whole processes of the law will be invoked; the civil authority will be directed to formulate charges on the evidence that is available. 1 agree with the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) that there ought to be no prejudicing of the fair trial of these people, and that they ought to be given every opportunity to establish their innocence, if they are innocent.

With respect to the treatment of aliens generally, I say that the Government does not believe in taking people en bloc and throwing them into internment camps. The Government believes that that policy is entirely at variance with all that we are fighting for. The war in which we are engaged is not a racial war: it is rather a philosophic war.

Mr Spender - That is going abit too far:

Mr CURTIN - It is a war of ideas and ideals.

Mr Spender - It is a war against Germany and other enemies who are fighting against us.

Mr CURTIN - Of course it is; but I decline to accept the line-up of nations as we see it in the world to-day as a racial line-up.

Mr Spender - I do.

Mr Hughes - It is not racial.

Mr CURTIN - In dealing with enemy subjects the Government is adhering to the principles which the previous Government laid down.

Mr Spender - That is a different matter.

Mr McEwen - Conditions are different to-day.

Mr CURTIN - Does the honorable member for Indisay that the Government should intern every German and Italian in Australia?

Mr McEwen - No.

Mr CURTIN - The answer of the Government is that officers, both military and civil, have been instructed to apprehend immediately every person whom they suspect of having subversive tendencies.

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