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Wednesday, 2 September 1942

Mr ABBOTT (New England) . - There are some features of this case which have not yet been mentioned. On the Srd August, one of the internees in the Liverpool camp wrote to me, but the letter bore the postmark of the Sydney General Post Office, dated the 21 st August. Apparently it had been held up by the military censorship in the Liverpool Internment Camp for eighteen days before being sent to me. As a member of Parliament representing the electors, 1 regard that as a gross misuse of the censorship powers, particularly when not one word in the letter was censored. If the representatives of the people are to be treated in that way by the military censorship, I can only say that that censorship needs a thorough overhaul. I shall not say anything regarding what the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) said about these interned persons. He has explained that he was guided by reports received from certain intelligence officers. I remind him that because a gentleman is dubbed an " intelligence officer " he is not necessarily an intelligent officer. I believe that the Minister has been grossly misled by the reports, but his chief and greatest sin is that he has allowed these people to languish in internment for five months without any proper trial, or without taking any steps to inquire into their condition.

Mr Forde - I issued an instruction that they should have the right to appeal to the tribunal and that any appeal should be heard expeditiously. In the absence of the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt), the Solicitor-General, Sir George Knowles, promised to do everything possible to expedite the hearing. However, some of the people did not exercise their right of appeal. Of the seven of them who appealed two were recommended for continued internment and five were released.

Mr ABBOTT - I shall have something to say about the manner in which the trial was conducted. I do not know how fast Sir George Knowles moves, but the fact remains that these men languished in internment for more than five months.

Mr Rankin - Some Australians have languished in internment in Japan for seven or eight months.

Mr ABBOTT - I cannot support the view of the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) that innocent men may have to suffer in time of war. If men are innocent, and their innocence can be proved, they should be taken out nf internment as soon as possible.

Mr Harrison - I agree with that.

Mr ABBOTT - If the views of the gentleman who wrote to me about the procedure before these tribunals are correct, the whole procedure is an absolute travesty of justice. The man was never informed of the charge laid against him. Certain extracts from his writings were read to him. Some of the matter was written before we were at war with Japan, and some of it before we were at war with Germany. The man was cross-examined exhaustively and an attempt was made to force him to admit that certain things he had written were capable of a meaning which he did not intend them to have. He has pleaded that he be given a fair trial. I do not ask that the trial be in public, because, undoubtedly, certain disclosures might then be made which should not be published, because of the risk of smashing our security organization. But these men are entitled to a fair and proper trial.

Mr Curtin - The personnel of these tribunals was decided upon by the Government of which the honorable member for New England was a member.

Mr ABBOTT - I do not care whether it was decided by a hierarchy of angels. I want these men to- have a fair and proper trial. I do not suggest that every tribunal appointed by the Government of which I was a member was perfect in personnel. Some of the tribunals may not have been at all perfect. According to the letter that I have received this man has not had a proper trial and he asks for one. Another person involved was a retired official over 70 years of age who had no personal association whatever with this organization. He had merely consented to be a trustee of certain funds of the newspaper which the organization published. This man was turned out of his bed at midnight and put into an internment camp, where he has remained ever since. Another had his business wrecked and he is in a bad way. When he requested that he be released he was asked to sign certain papers which contained an undertaking that he would not make any public comment on the matter Another man had been an official of the Commonwealth Government. When he was ultimately released as innocent he was told that he would not be required in his former position. The whole subject requires investigation. I feel sure that if the Minister can be convinced that these men are innocent he will override the decision of any of these tribunals. If the statements made by the men that they had not had a fair trial are correct, it is high time that they were given a fair trial.

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