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Friday, 27 March 1942

Mr McEWEN (Indi) .- The motion has been provoked as much by a publication in this morning's Canberra Times as by any other factor. Referring to the statement made yesterday by the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde), that newspaper said -

Mr. Curtinlast night declined to amplify Mr. Forde's statements, or to indicate what punishment would be inflicted, if any, for what Mr. Forde had described as " treasonable practices ". Mr. Curtin said, however, that the matter was in the hands of the military authorities, who perhaps might contemplate further action. Persons who were interned had the right to appeal against their internment. He declined to release the names of the persons concerned.

It was the implication embodied in what purports to be an accurate report of the interview with the Prime Minister that is exercising the minds of members of the Opposition. The Minister for the Army stated that certain persons had been interned because of the discovery of evidence of their treasonable intent - indeed, of their treasonable practices - and the Prime Minister was reported to have said that if further action was contemplated, it might be taken by the Army authorities. It has now been made clear by the Prime Minister that the report does not accurately indicate the intentions of the Government. The Prime Minister has said that civil action shall succeed this preliminary internment if sufficient evidence is disclosed, and that assurance is satisfactory to the Opposition. However, I am just a little concerned with one aspect of the matter. It is undeniably right that where prima facie evidence is discovered of treasonable practice or intent on the part of any resident of this country, his trial upon indictment should follow; but in order to prove a person's guilt in a court of law, complete proof must be produced. In British courts, it sometimes happens that accused persons are not found guilty, and are discharged, because it is impossible completely to prove their guilt, but that does not remove from the mind of the court a strong suspicion of their guilt.

Mr Brennan - The standard is what should satisfy a reasonable man.

Mr McEWEN - That is true, and I do not question it. That is the foundation of British justice, but when the security of the nation is at stake, as in war-time, something more should be required in order to secure the release of a suspected person than mere failure to provide complete proof of guilt. It may well be that the Government will be in some difficulty as to whether it should order the release of persons under suspicion even though it has not been found possible definitely to prove their guilt. While I am quite content in peace-time to take my place with those who fight for the personal freedom and security of the individual, in time of peril, I have no hesitation in placing the security of the community above that of the individual. I shall take the risk of perpetrating injustice against an individual so that the security of the nation may be preserved. I endorse the action of the Government, and I am prepared to go so far as to say that no suspected person should be released from internment while there' remain any grounds of suspicion against him.

Debate interrupted under Standing Order No. 257b.

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