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Friday, 29 March 1946

Mr MCEWEN (Indi) .- The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) has brought forward a very clear-cut and simple, though important, case. He expounded it in lucid terms, substantiated it with facts, and even offered to produce the names of the enemy aliens to whom be referred. It. is a simple charge, and the Government claims that, its action can be successfully defended. Therefore, I cannot understand why the two Ministers who have spoken have made no attempt to answer the charge. Each one has practised the oldest of political tricks, that of dealing, not with the case that was raised, but with some other case. The honorable member foi' Gippsland said that certain people of enemy origin had been released for admission to Australian universities in preference to Australians who wished to be admitted. The Government's contention, so far as we have been able to untangle it from the complicated web of words woven by the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) and the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde), is that the 21 persons involved are worthy aliens about whose admission to universities nobody should bicker. I wish to make it quite clear that it is not the wish of members of the Country party that these people, who were granted asylum in Australia, should never be permitted to attend universities. The honorable member for Gippsland did not urge that at all. He said that preferential treatment should not be given to these people. The whole of the resources of our university educational system, subsidized heavily by governments, should not be made available to these, people until the very legitimate and understandable aspirations of men who have served in the Australian armed forces are satisfied. Every Australian who has served in the war, and having had his career interrupted by military service, now wishes to take up the threads of civil life again, should be given the first opportunity to avail himself of the opportunities afforded by the universities. These other people can stand farther down the queue. That is our contention, and the Government has made no reply to it although there have been attempts to confuse the issue. The Minister for Post-war Reconstruction even' went so far as to imply that the honorable member for Gippsland had secured information in some surreptitious manner. He suggested that the information had been obtained through some officials - not government officials, and therefore presumably university officials - who were willing to wound the Government by supplying the facts. The honorable member for Gippsland has authorized meto say that his information was obtained from communications addressed to the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia. That the Government should allege that it is improper for the league to be in possession of the names and categories of persons of alien birth who have been admitted to Australian universities in preference to Australian servicemen, is almost incredible. The Government's position is entirely indefensible. It ill becomes the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction to decry individuals who have supplied -uch information to the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia.

Instead of defending the Government's - policy, the Ministers gave a glowing account of the magnificent service to Australia given by the aliens in question. Even the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) chipped in to say, in effect, " Why,- in addition to the services they have given, Heaven only knows what magnificent service they may give in the future, because in some foreign land in some long-past century there were instances of persons of alien birth becoming worthy and valuable citizens of the country to which they emigrated ". Such extreme and consistent confusion of the issue can scarcely be credited. Both Ministers said that some of these aliens served in the Sth Employment Company of the Australian Military Forces, and worked hard and loyally. What else could one expect? Australians were conscripted to fight or to work. Are we to regard it as an act of generosity on the part of aliens who came to this country for asylum that they should be willing to work? Most of us have seen aliens unloading baggage from the Spirit of Progress at- Albury Railway Station and transferring it to the Sydney train. Those rneb were well fed and well clothed, and they work for reasonable hours. The fact that they gave such service is cited by the Ministers as justification for selecting some of them for entry to universities in preference to Australian servicemen. The Ministers attempted a further silly defence of the Government's position by claiming that these people are not of alien birth but are " stateless persons ". I can only describe that, argument as being too silly for words. They are not " stateless " 'of their own choice; that is a mere accident. A man who came to Australia from Bavaria is a German. If he came from Sudetenland prior to the occupation of that area by the Germans after Munich, he is neither a Czech nor a German, and therefore he is " stateless ". He might have been a fanatically pro-Nazi Sudeten German, for all we know, but because he is " stateless ", Ministers say, " Why, this worthy -man to whom you would deny university education is riot a German; he is stateless ". They argue, by a weird mental process, that such aliens have achieved some right to admission to universities before Australians who served their country, and. in some instances, actually shed blood for it. I repeat that we do not claim that these aliens should never be given the opportunity to attend Australian universities. We say. that they should stand in order of priority after Australian citizens who fought for their country. I hope that, before this debate ends, some attempt will be made on behalf of the Government to reply to the charges' made by the honorable member for Gippsland. The Ministerfor Post-war Reconstruction said that every serviceman who applied to be released, and who was eligible to be released, for university training had been discharged. The fact is that eligibility for release is subject to the whim of somebody in the ' services who decideswhether the man concerned is a " key man " or not. I know of a man acting; as batman to an officer, who sought; release in order to return to an essential' civil occupation, but obstacles .were placed in his way because he was described asa " key man in the Army ". Every member of this house must be aware of similar ridiculous cases. There must be? hundreds of them.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member's time has expired.

Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.

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