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Friday, 29 March 1946

Mr MCDONALD (Corangamite) . - I congratulate the honorable member for Gippsland (M!r. Bowden) upon the moderate and temperate way in which he placed this matter before the House. His speech was so temperate that it. deserved a much better answer than either of the Ministers who replied to it. was able to furnish. . I thought that the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan) intended- to make the replies which the Ministers failed to give, but he was more critical of the action of the Government than those on the Opposition side who instigated the debate. The Minister for the Army' (Mr. Forde) sa'id that the Minister for Postwar Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) had dealt effectively with the charges made by the honorable member for Gippsland. I envy the Minister the very vivid imagination which allowed him to believe such a thing. As a matter of fact, the charges ware practically ignored by both Ministers, who assumed a defensive role from the outset. People who receive sanctuary in Australia should not be penalized, but neither should they get a better deal than Australian-born people who have given war service to their country. They should not be placed in a more favorable position than those who have proved their citizenship and risked life and limb in the interests of the nation.

The reference by the Minister for Postwar Reconstruction to the Japanese, destroyer, Yoizuki, was most unfortunate. The Government had nothing to be proud of with regard to that incident, and it has less to be proud of in connexion with the matter to which the honorable member for Gippsland has drawn attention. Whilst the Minister's heart bleeds for humanity, and he preaches the brotherhood of man, he was not actuated by such a purpose when a " digger " of World War I., who was interned on the ground of association with the Australia First Movement, and was afterwards proved to be innocent of ' any charge levelled against him, was allowed to languish in an internment camp for years, although he 'had a war decoration. He actually died during his internment. The Minister cannot escape responsibility for the position now under discussion. The Government, by its action, has allowed a decision of this Parliament to be overruled. When the Reestablishment and Employment Bill was before the House, the rights of enemy aliens excited much debate. An amendment of the definition of a " member of the forces '"' was submitted by the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr.

Fadden) and was defeated, but at a later stage an almost similar amendment from the Government side was carried, because the majority of honorable members opposite recognized the fairness of the amended proposal. In the matter now under consideration the Government acted in accordance with the original definition from which it was compelled to retreat as a result of the force of opinion in this chamber among, not only members of the Opposition, but also its own supporters.

It is disturbing to find that men who served in the forces because they had no opportunity to do otherwise are released with 109 points, whereas servicemen with many more points to their credit are not allowed to be released. The Minister said that releases were made impartially, but afterwards he admitted that, if the services of certain men were required because they occupied key positions, they could be retained. In those circumstances, it would be possible for any serviceman to be refused discharge. I have noticed striking instances of men being classed a.s key men, although in some instances they were engaged on only menial jobs. Because they were doing that work well, and their commanding officers did not wish to lose their services, they were said to be key men, and for that reason they were not discharged. They were denied an opportunity of rehabilitation in civil life, whilst at the same time men described by the Minister as " stateless " were allowed to undergo courses of education at the expense of the Australian taxpayers. I have, no objection to that, provided there is no undue discrimination, but anybody who heard the casepresented by the honorable member for Gippsland would -have to admit that unfair discrimination has been shown.

The Minister for Post-war Reconstruction seemed peeved because the honorable member for Gippsland was able to get certain information. I take it that the information was not of a. secret character. It was not obtained by him surreptitiously. It was secured by means of correspondence made available to him by the returned soldiers organization, of which he had been a member since the first world war. I know of no man in this House- more entitled to use the information than he, and I do not know anybody who could have used it mow effectively than he did to-day. His effectiveness was proved by the tortuous way in which both Ministers attempted to avoid the real crux of the matter. They tried to induce the House to believe that these internees received no more than that to which they were entitled. But whoever is responsible for the action taken has seized an opportunity to do something of which the House has expressed its disapproval, and for which the people of Australia will not stand for a moment. Again, I congratulate the honorable member for having brought to light a matter of which the Government should be heartily ashamed.

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