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Wednesday, 2 September 1942

Mr ANTHONY ("Richmond) . - - The remarks of the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin) indicate that, in his mind, and doubtless in the minds of many other persons, certain individuals have already been prejudged, although no evidence of their guilt has been submitted other than the evidence of their arrest by Military Intelligence. The speech of the honorable member for Bendigo makes it necessary for the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) to have this matter determined with all possible despatch. I have no quarrel with the action of the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde), in the first place, in ordering the detention of these men. That was his obvious duty, in view of the Japanese menace to Australia. What I do take exception to is the manner of the announcement of their arrest, because it prejudiced a fair trial of those citizens. I remind honorable members that any individual might possibly be arrested and imprisoned by the order of the government of the day, just as these men were, without trial, and merely on the advice ofMilitary Intelligence.

I suggest to the Attorney-General that some distinction must be drawn between these cases, and the vast majority of internments. The Minister for the Army announced in this chamber that twenty members of the Australia First Movement had been arrested and that a conspiracy to assassinate certain prominent Australian citizens had been unearthed. Every member of the group who was arrested now carries the stigma of being associated with this assassination plot and with being a party to this conspiracy to overthrow the Commonwealth Government, regardless of whether he belonged to the Western Australian movement or to the New South Wales group. One of the things that seriously disturb those who value liberty and advocate a fair trial for an accused person is that an entirely different procedure was adopted in dealing with those who were arrested in Western Australia and those who were apprehended in New South Wales. One explanation for the differentiation was that more evidence had been collected against the accused in Western Australia. If that were so, it follows that less evidence was available against those who were arrested in New South Wales. Consequently, there was greater justification for taking prompt action to determine whether the members of the New South Wales group should be detained or released.

Mr Rosevear - The Crown witness in Western Australia was a "great" character. He ought to have been in gaol himself.

Mr ANTHONY - Exactly. The evidence against the Western Australian group was pretty sketchy, in view of the record of the principal witness for the Crown. But no evidence has been presented against members of the New South Wales group to warrant a verdict that they were parties to the conspiracy.

Mr Rankin - They may appeal to the properly constituted tribunal.

Mr ANTHONY - I understand that the tribunal was not constituted until the trial of members of the Western Australian group had concluded.

Mr Forde - There was a tribunal. I explained to the House on the 27th March the nature of the tribunal and the 6teps that should he taken by those who desired to appeal to it. All, with the exception of three, applied to appear before the tribunal early in June, but some of them have since withdrawn their applications.

Mr Spender - That was three months later. In the meantime, this charge hung over their heads.

Mr ANTHONY - Will the Minister for the Army inform me whether any citizen of the Commonwealth may be arrested bv military officers, and thrown into an internment camp when there is not a tittle of evidence against him?

Mr Blackburn - That is the position.

Mr ANTHONY - Even when there is no evidence or reasonable suspicion against him ?

Mr Rosevear - Yes.

Mr ANTHONY - He can be arrested on the order of the Minister, detained, and released later after a secret inquiry with a stigma that he is a traitor hanging over the heads of himself and his family. In such circumstances people would naturally wonder by what means he was released. Is that the position that exists? If it is it requires some clarification. I agree that there may be some cases where internment is warranted on the grounds of suspicion, but a person so interned should not be kept in camp for two, three or five months, as were the members of the Australia First Movement, and then released because the suspicions were unwarranted. I sincerely hope that the AttorneyGeneral in his statement next week will completely clarify the position for the future. To a degree, I sympathize with the Minister for the Army for having been led in the way he was. I believe that he acted in good faith, but whether he acted in good faith or bad faith, the fact remains that a grave injustice has been done to certain citizens of this Commonwealth. You and I and all our friends may be thrown into gaol tomorrow unless the protection of the Commonwealth is accorded to us.

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