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Wednesday, 2 September 1942

Mr FORDE (Capricornia) (Minister for the Army) . - I have listened with great interest to the discussion, and I thank a number of honorable members for the fair and impartial manner in which they have debated this question. I think that the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) has set out the position very fairly, and I shall endeavour not to touch upon the aspects to which he has referred, but I was asked why I made any statement in regard to these internments. I made the statement because several paragraphs had appeared in the newspapers that members of the Australia First Movement had been interned, and because the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Watkins) asked on the 26th March -

Will the Minister for the Army make a statement to the House upon the reported internment of members of the so-called Australia First Movement? In order to make it definite, I should like to know whether it is true that any members of that organization have been interned?

After what had appeared in the newspapers, I considered it very likely that some question would be asked, and in addition to the report prepared for me by the Director of Military Intelligence for Australia, I telephoned to the Deputy Chief of the General Staff, in Melbourne, and discussed the whole matter with him. He was of opinion that in the national interest the statement should be made; but that it should not be broadcast or cabled overseas; and, consequently, the necessary censorship was applied to meet his wishes. I should like honorable members to bear in mind the atmosphere in Australia at that time, the middle of March, when every one considered that we were in imminent danger of invasion, when there was great apprehension everywhere, and when it was considered necessary to put the interests of the nation first. I should be one of the last members in this House knowingly to take any action that was unfair to any individual, or to deprive him of his freedom or of his rights as a British subject, but when we were in the throes of war, when there were definite statements that certain members of the Australia First Movement were engaged in subversive activities and definite recommendations to me as the responsible

Minister that they should be interned, I felt that it was my duty to approve the recommendation. On the 27th March the honorable member for War- ringah (Mr. Spender) when speaking on this subject, said -

The entry of Japan into the struggle has made a substantial difference to the degree of proof required before an alien is interned. It seems to me that whereas previously some evidence was required before a person could be kept in internment, now the very least suspicion is sufficient justification for that action.

The very least suspicion, he said, was sufficient justification for that action. He adopts a different attitude to-day. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden) moved the adjournment of the House on that date, no doubt with the full approval of the Opposition, and went a good deal further than the Government would go in regard to internments. The Government's attitude was selective internment after very searching inquiries, and not mass internment. On the 27th March, it was thought that Australia was going to be invaded. It is all very well to adopt a different attitude when there have been victories in the Coral Sea, at Midway Island and at Milne Bay. Then there is a suggestion of " to the winds with all these restrictions and precautionary measures ". But this is what the Leader of the Opposition said in this Parliament on the 27th March, 1942-

The position of enemy aliens should be considered in parallel with the activities of the Australia First Movement. My considered opinion is that -

(1)   Immediate action should be taken by the Government to intern aliens in Australia, excluding nationals of our allies and friendly nations.

(2)   Effective measures should be taken to investigate and restrict the activities of female enemy aliens.

(3)   An independent commissioner should be appointed to inquire into and report upon all naturalization certificates granted during the last five years.

(   4 ) In cases where the commissioner finds any circumstance which he considers suspicious, the person concerned should be interned. "Suspicious" is the word he used. There were no half measures. The right honorable gentleman was referring to British subjects when he said, " The fact that they are naturalized is not sufficient for me; I want to have all these cases reviewed for the last five years ". There was a general criticism that the Government was not going far enough in its internment policy. I admit that there was some division of opinion. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) said -

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.

I was most careful in the course of my statement on the 26th March not to mention any names. The statement was worded in such a way as to indicate clearly that I did not imply that the subversive documents were found on all those who had been interned, but had been found in the possession of certain members of the Australia First Movement. The Military Intelligence decided as a precautionary measure, in view of certain evidence, to have all members of the Australia First Movement interned. The military authorities had been investigating this matter not for a day or a week, but for several months. The Deputy Chief of the General Staff considered that it was wise to make a statement to warn people that, before associating themselves with any movement, they should assure themselves of its bona fides, and it was not an organization which, under the cloak of a pleasing name, was engaging in subversive activities. At the time when these men were interned the position was very grave. They bad been detained because it was considered by Intelligence officers that that course was necessary in the interests of national security. We knew not when our country would be ravaged by the Japanese hordes. As I said at that time, I did not wishto prejudge the persons interned, but thought that they should be given an early hearing. All relevant papers were forwarded to the Solicitor-General who was asked to advise whether prosecutions should be launched against those believed to be involved, and the House was informed of that at the time. In my statement on the 27th March last I said -

For that reason it is unwise to prejudge cases. There are processes of law open to those who consider that they have been wrongly interned. They are entitled to appeal for release and have their cases heard by a tribunal which has already been constituted.

That was the tribunal set up by the present member for Warringah when he was Minister for the Army. I believe that he was roundly criticized by the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) in connexion with the setting up of some of these tribunals.

Under the law as it stands to-day, any body who believes that he has been wrongly interned may apply to a tribunal which has already been constituted. There are two kinds of internment tribunals, one dealing with aliens and the other with British subjects. These are presided over by Supreme Court judges or ex-Supreme Court judges. I set out clearly what the procedure was as explained to me by the Solicitor-General, Sir George Knowles. All of the papers were referred to him, and upon his advice it was decided that the four persons who had been interned in Perth should be indicted. Voluminous documents had to be examined in Perth and in Sydney. Over 3,000 foolscap sheets of evidence had to be typed. Proceedings were instituted against the four persons in Western Australia and it was decided on the recommendation of the Solicitor-General that the others should not be prosecuted. The fact that a man has been interned does not mean that 'hp should be prosecuted under the Crimes Act; he should be permitted to appeal to the duly constituted tribunal. Two out of the four Western Australians were found guilty and imprisoned. The honorable member for Warringah knows that. He interned a large number of people when he was Minister for the Army, but he did not prosecute them. He set up a tribunal to hear their appeals in camera. At the time of the discussion in March he said that the slightest suspicion was sufficient to justify internment, but now he protests and suggests that something unfair has been done. I do not desire anything unfair to be done; I merely want justice done. It has been the policy of the present Government, and it was also the policy of the last Government, to intern suspected person's merely as a precautionary measure, to which recourse is had in order to prevent them from taking action prejudicial to the national interests. Many persons now interned have done nothing for which they could be charged in a court of law, but there were good grounds for deep suspicion. It is to prevent them from taking action that would be prejudicial, to public safety that they were interned. On the 26th March last I set out the procedure that would have to be adopted by these interned persons in order to have their cases heard by one of the tribunals. On the 2nd June only three of them had failed to appeal. Six of them lodged appeals and subsequently withdrew them. Then others, appealed and their cases were heard. The tribunal recommended that two of the internees be kept in custody and that five of them be discharged. The evidence on which the recommendations for internment were made was very bulky, and the preparation of the cases took some time. Instructions were given by me on several occasions that the work was to be completed without delay, even if additional staff had to be engaged. The appeals were heard late in June or early in July, and after due consideration the committee made its recommendations.

Since then the Attorney-General has been made the Minister responsible for national security, following the appointment of the Director-General of Security, on my recommendation, in March last. A decision was made during the regime of the last Government that there should be a Director-General of Security under the Attorney-General, and that officer was appointed as the result of a recommendation made , by me to the Attorney-General. In addition to the compilation of dossiers in respect of each individual who had been interned, it was necessary to compile a general dossier on the movement which covered 3,000 pages. While this was being compiled work was continued night and day, and no obstacle was put in the way by mc as Minister. Nobody had greater regret than I that it was necessary to intern any member of the so-called Australia First. Movement who was known to be a British subject. I did not know any of them. My only concern was for the security of Australia. I therefore collaborated with the Solicitor-General and urged that the appeal cases be heard with the greatest possible expedition. For reasons that I have stated it was not possible to have the cases heard immediately. As the Attorney-General has said, there will be a Security conference on Saturday next. After my consultation with the Attorney-General that conference has been called. It will be attended not only by men at the head of Military Intelligence but also by those in charge of national security throughout Australia. We should have foremost in our minds the security of this country, but we wish to ensure that every man and woman shall have a fair deal. The Japanese were knocking at the door, as it were, at the time those internments were ordered. That was the atmosphere in March last when the honorable member for Warringah said that people should be placed in internment camps if the slightest suspicion rested on them. The Deputy Chief of the General Staff considered that there was ample evidence to justify the internments of these individuals at the time. I did not wish to prejudge them. As I have said, the machinery was available early in June to enable them to appeal. All but three of the internees appealed, and certain others withdrew their appeals. I am in favour of the others now appealing - something they should have done months ago. Any action taken by me was taken in the national interest on the recommendation of the highest military authority.

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