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Wednesday, 29 November 1944


Mr FORDE (Capricornia) (Acting Prime Minister and Acting Minister for Defence) . - by leave - Questions regarding the release of internees have been asked in the House during this sessional period by the honorable members for Griffith (Mr. Conelan), Moreton (Mr. Francis) and Wide Bay (Mr. Corser). In view of these questions, and of other questions asked in the Senate, it is desirable that a comprehensive picture be given regarding the release of internees in Australia, in order to clear up doubts and misunderstandings which otherwise may arise.

There has been criticism regarding the release of Italian internees, but much of it is ill-founded,because it is based on an improper appreciation of the policy governing releases, and does not pay any regard to the economic necessities which have made the policy of releases essential. Aliens employed in various forms of industry fall into four different classes: (1) aliens who have never been interned, and who remained in industry; (2) aliens resident in Australia who were interned and have been released; (3) aliens who were held in Australia at the request of overseas governments, and who have been or are being released; and (4) enemy prisoners of war allotted to farmers and employed on rural work.

I shall deal with these classes of aliens more fully, and shall give to the House a summary of the position regarding the employment of the aliens in each of the classes.

Class 1. - The principal cause of complaint is against the employment of the Italian element in our population. The fact is that 7,051 Italians, not being a security risk, have been permitted to live at large throughout the war. Their employment has been entirely a matter for the Man Power Directorate, except in very few cases in which some form of restriction has been necessary. Some of these 7,051 Italians are members of the Civil Aliens Corps, which includes also aliens released from internment.

Class 2. - The number of Italians, both aliens and naturalized British subjects, released from internment up to the end of October this year, is 3,510, of whom 3,799 are aliens and 711 are naturalized British subjects. The figure 2,799 represents the total number of all Italians who have been released and are available for the Civil Aliens Corps or private industry. The nature of their employment has been governed by three factors: (ti) if physically eligible, they have been drafted to the Civil Aliens Corps; (fc) where medically unfit for the Civil Aliens Corps, they have been placed at the disposal of the Man Power Directorate for employment, subject in some instances to the approval of the Director-General of Security; and (c) a small number have been directed to return to their homes, as being medically unfit for any employment by reason of age and infirmity. Many released internees became medically unfit after being in the Civil Aliens Corps for a time. A number of Queensland Italian internees who were experienced workers in the sugar industry have been released temporarily from the Civil Aliens Corps for work in the sugar-fields of north Queensland, following the strongest representations hy the Food Production Executive.

Class 3. - Under a War Cabinet decision, internees from the Straits Settlements and the United Kingdom became eligible for release and employment in Australia. Individual releases were made by the Minister for the Army, after a decision had been made by the Home

Office. The number released in this way to October, 1944, is 487. The majority were released for work of national importance, but a considerable number were aged and infirm people, not capable of working at all. Some of them have been employed in the Civil Aliens Corps. In addition, some hundreds of internees from the United Kingdom and the Straits Settlements were released for service in employment units of the Australian Military Forces. More recently, Cabinet's decision was extended to cover the release of all overseas internees in Australia not having a security risk, at the discretion of the Minister for the Army.

In July, 1944, the Government appointed the Overseas Internees Investigation Board, of which Mr. Justice Hutchins is the chairman." The board has recommended the release of approximately 100 internees, some of whom have, in addition, wives and members of their families in internment camps. The release of these internees is being implemented.

Internees released are medically examined, and those found fit are enlisted in the Civil Aliens Corps. It is the Government's policy not to release any internees for whom suitable employment and living conditions cannot be found.

Class 4. - There are 11,842 prisoners of war now employed in prisoner-of-war control centres or hostels on rural work throughout Australia. They have been allotted to the various States as follows : -

 

The Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin), in July, 1944, informed the federal executive of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia that prisoners of war would not be allowed to remain in Australia after the war.

I emphasize that former internees are employed on work of national importance because of the grave shortage of manpower. It is far better that they should be usefully employed if no security risk is involved, rather than that they should remain in internment camps and be a charge upon the nation. They are not depriving any person of employment, because our man-power shortage is so great that employment exists for tens of thousands of additional persons.

On the question of whether or not certain aliens from abroad will be allowed to remain in Australia after .the war, I say that no person will be allowed to remain unless he or she is likely to make a desirable citizen, and no prisoner of war will be permitted to remain after the conclusion of hostilities. Arrangements will be made for internees from abroad who have been released in Australia to be returned after the war to their country of origin. Cabinet approval has been given for the Minister for the Interior to consider, on their individual merits, applications by any white former internees released in Australia for permission to remain in Australia, on the basis that - (a) the applicant has been certified as a refugee alien; (o) nothing detrimental is known against him; and (c) the Minister is satisfied that the applicant is likely to make a desirable citizen if allowed to remain in Australia.







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