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Thursday, 10 September 1942

Mr FORDE (Capricornia) (Minister for the Army) . - The honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Hutchinson) and the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) referred to enemy aliens being allowed to continue in occupation of their farms.

Mr Hutchinson - I was referring to the action of some aliens in acquiring land within recent months.

Mr FORDE - If the honorable member will supply me with a list of names, together with a statement whether the persons are naturalized British subjects or not, I am sure that the AttorneyGeneral will have the cases inquired into by officers of the Security Department. This problem is not easy of solution. I found, when I became Minister for the Army, that, while Australians were being called up for military service, there was no call-up for friendly aliens, refugee aliens and enemy aliens. I had a national emergency regulation promulgated, giving friendly aliens and refugee aliens a fortnight to enlist in the forces or in a labour unit, and providing that, if they failed to do so, they would be liable for call-up if they were of a suitable type. Of course, we could not have in the military forces, or in a labour unit associated with the military forces, men whom the Security Department regarded as doubtful. In addition, some thousands of enemy aliens were' called up and drafted into labour units. To-day, they are working for the same rate of pay as the Australian soldier.

The enemy aliens were men against whom the authorities had no evidence of participating ia subversive activities, but they happened to be in vulnerable areas, and we received complaints that Australians were being called up for military service whilst these men were permitted to remain on their farms. We considered that it was only right that they should be called up, in the same way as was every man within that serving age group. Of course, many of the aliens were beyond the age limit for military service, and even the age at which they could be utilized for hard work. Many of them are to-day engaged in vegetable-growing, or poultry-farming. When the food problem became acute in Australia, officers of the Department of Labour and National Service, who "vet" these persons before they are called up, decided that it would be better in the national interests to allow them to grow vegetables than to place them into. labour battalions to dig trenches or construct roads.

Mr Prowse - Would it not be better to allow them to remain on that work, but subject them to special taxation?

Mr FORDE - On that subject I should have to obtain the opinion of the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) ; but I assume that it would be unconstitutional to impose a higher rate of tax on one citizen, because of his nationality, than on another citizen engaged in the same occupation.

Mr Prowse - The suggestion has been made that they should work on farms at the award rate, but should receive a soldier's rate of pay, the balance being paid into consolidated revenue.

Mr FORDE - The honorable member has raised this matter t on several occasions amd I know that he is very sincere in his desire that these! aliens shall not derive any advantages compared with the average Australian.

Mr Prowse - That is the point.

Mr FORDE - I ordered an investigation of the position in certain districts to which the honorable member directed my attention previously. Had I known that the matter would be raised this evening, I would have brought the relevant file into the House and given the honorable gentleman some more facts. However, I shall examine the case to-morrow and communicate with him at a later date.

The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) emphasized the necessity for encouraging additional tin production in Australia. This important matter will be brought to 'the notice of the Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Beasley).

The honorable member for Lang (Mr. Mulcahy) takes a keen interest in the welfare of returned soldiers, and in repatriation matters generally. Whilst I must admire his great sympathy for young men who are sentenced by a court martial to imprisonment for having been absent without leave from the army, I cannot hold out any hope of being able to alter the process of the law. If men were to be permitted to be absent without leave with impunity, the efficiency of the army would be so reduced that the forces would become a mere rabble.

Mr Pollard - The Minister should review any savage sentences.

Mr FORDE - When savage sentences are brought to my notice, I refer them to the Judge Advocate-General, and obtain his views upon them. As Minister for the Army, it would be wrong for me to interfere with the process of the law in dealing with persons who are absent without leave or who commit serious offences. I shall inquire into the circumstances of the cases which the honorable member mentioned, and will furnish him with a reply at a later date.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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