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Friday, 27 March 1942

Mr ANTHONY (Richmond) .- There are several matters to which I should like to draw the attention of the Government. The first is the conflict which apparently exists between State and Commonwealth authorities in regard to war precautions that should be taken by civilians. For instance, the application of a scorched-earth policy is beingadvocated relentlessly by the Government of New South Wales. People are being urged by that administration and its officers to destroy every thing that may bc of value to the enemy. Police officers arebeing sent around the country districts, and in many cases they are advising farmers to destroy their pigs now, to evacuate their stock, and to take certain other actions which could lead only to a great deal of alarm at the present. On the other hand, the Commonwealth authorities are advising the people to stand firm. In consequence of this conflict of advice there is great confusion, particularly in the coastal areas, where the first impact of attack may reasonably be expected. I have received a letter from the Town Clerk of Casino, one of the large towns in northern New South Wales, pointing out the great difficulty which local government authorities are experiencing in deciding upon the right course of action. He informed me that officers of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade are at present in the Casino district organizing a scorched earth policy. Before committing itself to a decision, the town council wishes to know whether this policy is approved and authorized by the Bligh Command and by the Commonwealth Government. The 'Government should clarify the position. Af ter the Com. monwealth has delegated certain powers to State Premiei'3 under the National Security Act and the Premiers have exercised those powers in a way which conflicts with Commonwealth policy, which authority is to be supreme? The time has arrived for the Government to make an authoritative declaration, particularly on the subject of the disagreement between advocates of the " standfast " policy and those of the " run " policy. One or the other must be adopted. I have my own ideas about what ought to bc done, but the Commonwealth Government should make a definite pronoun cement for the benefit of the people as a whole.

I refer to another matter which is indicative of lack of co-ordination between Commonwealth departments in relation to defence organization. At a certain point on the coast in my electorate there is a lighthouse where an observation post, manned by detachments from the Volunteer Defence Corps, has been established. These men occupied a wooden building ' which previously was vacant for a number of years. Recently they were served by the Marine Branch of the Department of Commerce with a notice to vacate the building because it was wanted for use as a fowl house. A fowl house is not needed there, although the construction of one was commenced about two years ago. Apparently these men must be removed from an important point of observation because of something which is of no consequence to the war effort.

Mr Beasley - What would a- fowl house have to do with the Marine Branch ?

Mr ANTHONY - Apparently it would accommodate poultry to provide the lighthouse keeper's Sunday dinner. The position is ludicrous, and a closer degree of co-ordination between Commonwealth departments should be brought about.

I refer now to the method used by the Army Department to notify the nextofkin of the death of members of the armed forces. A woman residing on the Tweed River, in my electorate, had a shocking experience recently when her husband, Lieutenant Young, of the garrison forces, died suddenly at Warner's Bay. She spoke to him on the telephone one evening, and on the following morning she received an intimation that he had died suddenly. It came in the form of a rough pencilled note which was delivered by a person on horseback. That was the only intimation she received that day of her husband's death. The shock of the news affected her so much that she has not yet recovered.

Sir GEORGE BELL (DARWIN, TASMANIA) - Did that intimation come from the Army authorities?

Mr ANTHONY - The message was transmitted by telephone to the postmistress, who wrote it out on a slip of paper.

Mr Beasley - Perhaps the message was telephoned to the postmistress to be delivered as a telegram.

Mr ANTHONY - It was a telephoned message, not a telegram. The notification was not intentionally cruel, but it had a severe effect upon the widow. Nothing can be done to remedy that mistake now, but I want to prevent a repetition of it. I urge the Government to make a statement of its attitude towards the scorched-earth policy and to endeavour to secure greater coordination of policies as between the Commonwealth and the States on defence matters.

Mr.DUNCAN-HUGHES (Wakefield) | 5.38]. - I rise now to refer to a subjectwhich was discussed earlier by the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Ryan),' because none of U3 can be sure that ho will have many more opportunities to speak of these things with good effect. I refer to the problem of enemy aliens and Australians of enemy descent. We all know that many men belonging to both of these classes are loyal to Australia. But I believe that many others are disloyal, and, as the honorable member for Flinders has said, many others will " sit on the fence " in readiness to step discreetly to one side or the other as circumstances may dictate. It is a strange fact that some of the most disloyal people in Australia are people of British birth but of foreign descent. Many of them are even more dangerous to the nation than enemy aliens. Attention has long ago been directed to this danger by two such diverse authorities as the Premier of Queensland, Mr. Forgan Smith, and the Commissioner of Police in South Australia, General Leane. They warned the people that, unless they keep their eyes open in order to ensure that they are not betrayed by these disloyalists, they will have only themselves to blame if the worst happens. One would expect the people to take heed of warnings issued independently by two such responsible persons. The reasons why that should be so should be plain, particularly when we consider the number of enemy agents who visited Australia during the period of peace, the manner in which they were entertained and the persons who entertained them. In such circumstances, suspicions might be expected to arise. The actions of persons who live in cities are not so noticeable as those of persons who live in the country, but I arn well aware that in country areas numbers of men are generally regarded, in their own neighbourhoods, as disloyal. I have repeatedly heard it said of certain persons: " Do you know that they are regarded as disloyal? " In such circumstances, surely it is not unreasonable to expect that something will be done about it. Australia's attitude on this question throughout the war period has been exceedingly weak. The natural Australian attitude of mind on these matters is such that people do not regard their neighbours as disloyal unless they have good reasons for doing so. I have repeatedly made statements to that effect on the public platform. No man in this country is likely to be regarded by his companions as disloyal unless some evidence i3 available to support such an opinion. I was glad to hear a Minister say to-day that the Government's attitude on this issue had been strengthened recently, but I support the request of the honorable member for Flinders that the Government's attitude should' be still further reinforced, and that immediate steps should be taken to that end. Our position is infinitely more dangerous to-day than it has been hitherto, and stronger measures of control over enemy aliens and disloyalists should be exercised. The nature of the evidence that should be needed to indicate hostile designs by such persons should not need to be so strong to-day as it was in the past. I noticed a statement in the press a few days ago to the effect that General MacArthur would have the great advantage in this country of knowing that there were no fifth-column activities here. I say that that is not so. Apart from what transpired in this House yesterday, plenty of evidence is available of the" activities of fifth columnists in Australia, and the time has come for strong action to be taken onthe subject. I urge upon the Government the need for the most rigid scrutiny of the activities of any person who may be suspected of indulging in fifth-column activities. We should make sure that such persons do not find themselves in a position to do the damage here that they have been able to do in other countries. We surely do not wish to he confronted with a similar menace to that which confronted the Danes, the Poles, and, more particularly, the Dutch. We should not allow fifth columnists to gain a foothold here, and we should do ali in our power to reduce to an absolute minimum any possibility of hostile action by aliens.

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