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Wednesday, 2 September 1942

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON (Barker) . - Honorable members will feel easier in their minds after hearing the statement of the Attorney-General regarding the intentions of the Government, but there are certain aspects of the Australia First Movement which leave a doubt regarding the propriety of the action that has been taken. I do not attribute anything wrong to the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde), but I have not been able to understand why he came into this House and made what was obviously a prepared statement regarding the internment of these persons. Hundreds of persons have been interned since the outbreak of war, but Ministers have not seen fit to make statements about them.

Mr Forde - I had been asked questions in Parliament about them.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - Yes, but the Minister was not bound to answer them. That statement of the Minister was really the root of the whole trouble. Without it, public attention would not have been focused on the matter, and the Government would have been able to deal with the situation more effectively and more expeditiously.

Mr Forde - The Deputy Chief of the General Staff was of the opinion that, in the interests of national security, a statement, should be made.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON -I believe that the Minister acted in good faith, but I am still at a loss to understand why the statement was ever made. If further internments should take place, I trust that no statement will be made in this House while cases are sub judice. It is a wellestablished rule in Parliament that no reference should be made to a case while it is before a court of law. In these cases, unfortunately, action without precedent in the history of Parliament was taken by the Minister for the Army.

I cannot understand why the Government handled these cases in one way in Western Australia and differently in N ew South Wales. In Western Australia, four persons were publicly tried, and nothing came out at the trial which was likely to prejudice the security of the Commonwealth.I cannot believe that there was any sound reason against the holding of similar trials in the criminal courts of New South Wales, if only the Commonwealth Attorney-General had felt so disposed. It is well to state afresh the fundamental difference between the rights and obligations of enemy aliens in Australian territory and of our own citizens in time of war. Enemy aliens, as a matter of fact, have no rights at all except what we choose to give them. A citizen, on the other hand, has both rights and obligations. If the citizen fails in his obligation - and one of them is loyalty to his country - there are laws enough on the Statute Book under which he may be tried and punished. I can understand, of course, that cases may arise in which the character of the person concerned is such that it is wise to keep him under restraint. I know something regarding the cases of some of the men who have been interned. One of them was an irregular correspondent of mine for years before the warthoughI have neverseen him. I think he is the man to whom the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) referred and he is a man well up in years. Another man had a very good record during the last war, yet he is still interned. There are certain aspects of this case which do not leave one in a very happy frame of mind. I believe in the rule of law in this country, but in this and certain other cases there is too great a tendency -to depart from the law and allow laxity to creep in.

Mr Calwell - It should be civil law, and not military law.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - Military law i3 much more expeditious and just than is civil law, and much less costly. The prosecutor before a military tribunal has to put the case for as well as against the accused. He has to say what he knows in his favour, which is not the rule in civil courts to-day. If every lawyer had to argue the case in the light of what he believed to be fair and truthful, very different decisions would often be given. This case will not be allowed to rest where it is. It is so extraordinary that if certain aspects be not cleared up in the speech which the Attorney-General will, I hope, make next week, other parliamentary methods of reaching a satisfactory conclusion will have to be used.

I proposed also to deal with the point raised by the honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott). My experience is not so bad as his, although it is somewhat similar. If a citizen of New South Wales has occasion to write to me or to the honorable member for New England, and there is nothing in the letter which should be struck out - and I have never had a word crossed out in any letter I have received - the censor has no right to hold it up. It is his business to pass such letters on at once to honorable members, who have certain responsibilities, not only to their electors, but also to the Commonwealth as a whole, responsibilities which we do not propose to surrender. On that point I agree for once with the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender). As I say, certain aspects of this case must be carefully looked into by the Government, because if the explanation promised be not satisfactory the House will have to reach some understanding in regard to, not only this case, but also the future handling of similar cases. The Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) knows that I have not agreed with many of the methods employed for a long time past, but I have allowed them to pass without publicly criticizing them. At this stage I leave the case in the bands of the AttorneyGeneral, and hope he will be able to produce next week something which will satisfy the House that the Government is alive to the situation and prepared to take it in hand.

Mr.BERNARD CORSER (Wide Bay) 1 10.24]. - I .think that the AttorneyGeneral and the House generally will concede that there are some points affecting those interned in this case that are not at all common. In the first place, those who claim to be members of the Australia First Movement in Western Australia would not have the sympathy of any section of the community, and certainly would not. be supported by any member of the House, but it has been asserted by those in the movement in New South Wales that they have no association with, and do not know, the four people who made the foolish statements in Western Australia. I am not aware which of the internees in New South Wales has been released, but I know something of the president of the movement in that State. If he is still interned I say in the name of British justice that something should be done to assist him to a fair and open trial. I knew him long before he went away as a Rhodes scholar: 1 know what bis activities were on ihe other side, and since his return to Australia no one can say that he has not lived a successful and honorable life in the community. He claims that the public statements made in this chamber and published to the world really made him ;i criminal before he had an opportunity to say anything at all. He claims that he was one of seven among the sixteen internees of the movement who collectively signed a letter addressed to the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) in the following terms : -

We the undersigned internees are refraining from appearing before the Advisory Committee established under regulation 26 (2) of the National Security Act because it is a secret tribunal.

Then he goes on -

Implying thereby that I, as one of the aforesaid seven internees who signed the said letter, desire to be publicly exonerated and exculpated from all suspicion of indictable offence or any offence, and I say further that the Minister for the Army exceeded the powers conferred upon him by the National Security Act in making public statements of his reasons for believing himself to be satisfied to have me interned and to keep me interned without affording me any opportunity of publicly denying or rebutting the said reasons, which were in any case fallacious and absurd, and for the reasons set out herein I say that I am wrongfully and illegally detained, interned and imprisoned.

He claims that he is detained contrary to the intention of regulation 26 of the National Security Act, which requires that the Minister he properly, reasonably, and correctly satisfied in his mind that a person is guilty before making an order for his detention without trial. He complains that he appears in the records as a guilty person, and is so regarded by the public. He quotes in his letter, which has been sent to each of us, a report in the Sydney Morning Herald of a statement by the Minister for the Army to the following effect: -

That tile Solicitor-General had advised that no further action be taken against persons interned in New South Wales until they had taken the opportunity, if they wished, of lodging appeals against their internment.

He says that the Minister meant thereby that no charge would be laid against him in a court of law - and he has not yet been charged - until after he had been first interrogated by the secret Advisory Committee constituted under regulation 26 (2) of the National Security Regulations, and that such interrogation in secret of a person suspected or accused of crimes or offences, for the purpose of endeavouring to secure evidence which would bc used against him in a prosecution or indictment, or to persuade him to incriminate himself, is contrary to the law and practice of the Australian and British constitutions and not in conformity with the intention of Parliament in enacting the National Security Act. He submits that to attempt to clear himself in the manner suggested by the Solicitor-General would be to act to his disadvantage, and to the detriment of those associated with him. He asks that he be given an opportunity, such as was conceded to others in another State, to clear himself publicly in the minds of those who have been told through the Minister's statement in Parliament that he is guilty. I urge the AttorneyGeneral, in view of the position that has been created, to give these people a chance to re-establish their names before Parliament and the public, and to clear themselves if they are not guilty.

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