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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 3429

Ms PARKE (Fremantle) (18:29): I rise this evening to acknowledge the thousands of Australians who were detained in internment camps during World War II or were subject to other forms of discrimination and deprivation on the basis of their migrant heritage. I have brought this motion to express heartfelt regret that in those circumstances we misjudged and mistreated a minority of our fellow citizens while in the thrall of fear and prejudice and, in so doing, subjected many good people to suffering. More than that, I want to recognise and pay tribute to the fact that those people who were interned, including more than 1,000 Italian internees in Western Australia, put aside the suffering inflicted on them and, in the return to peace, renewed their profound contribution to the rich and diverse multicultural Australia that we now all share.

I cannot think of a better example of this than Tom D'Orsogna, a resident of Fremantle, who at 21 years of age was interned in Fremantle Prison. The food was poor and strictly rationed, and the general conditions of internment affected the health of many internees. But, upon his release, Tom D'Orsogna simply got on with his life. He opened a small butcher's shop on Stone Street in Fremantle, and today his smallgoods business employs 450 workers and has an Australia-wide presence and reputation for excellence.

Before I go further, I want to thank all the members who are contributing to this debate this evening, and I want to particularly acknowledge the advocacy and leadership of Peter Tagliaferri, the former Mayor of Fremantle, a longstanding and active member of the Western Australian Italian community and my good friend. Peter's grandfather and father were interned during the Second World War, and he grew up in a community dealing with the effects of that policy and with the prejudice that underwrote it.

The situation at the outset of World War II was so starkly different from today as to be virtually impossible to hold in one's imagination. There was a sense that the most basic order of things was being torn apart and that destruction, chaos and tyranny were spreading inexorably across the world's map. Whole nations had been invaded, defeated and annexed, and the idea that Australia too might experience invasion and subjugation, as Poland, France and China had done, was very real. It was in those circumstances that Australia put in place security measures under the provisions of the National Security Act 1939-1940. Internment of people designated as 'enemy aliens' or 'naturalised persons of enemy origin' was a key part of that policy.

While I am not here to say that the people who believed those measures necessary were bad people, I am here to say that the measures themselves were wrong. Thousands of migrant Australians whose lives were enmeshed in the social and economic fabric of their communities had their houses ransacked and their menfolk seized and put in prison out of fear that they might collaborate with our enemies. Between 1940 and 1943 nearly 9,000 people of Italian, German and Japanese descent were interned. That included more than 20 per cent of Australia's Italian population and an astounding 97 per cent of all people originating from Japan, including women and children.

Internees were stripped of their rights, their dignity, their liberty and their family. Those not interned were subject to restrictions on movement and property. Of course, the families who lost their fathers, sons and brothers also lost their livelihood and personal security. At the same time as we acknowledge the wrong that was done through internment, we should recognise and celebrate the remarkable fortitude shown by women and families within migrant communities who kept their households and children afloat in a time of terrible uncertainty, hardship and loneliness.

I bring this motion for debate because the internment policy should be better remembered as part of Australia's World War II history but also because I represent an electorate whose Italian community was one of the worst affected. It is a community that continues to be such a deeply intrinsic part of Fremantle's character, its flavour and diversity, and its distinctive joie de vivre—or should I say its sense of la bella vita?

I want to thank Tony Piccolo, the member for Light in South Australia, for raising this matter in the South Australian parliament last year. Mr Piccolo highlighted the practice of housing prisoners of war together with internees. This caused the death of one internee who was killed in a fight for expressing his support of Australia's cause. He died in defending his country even while his country had turned its heart against him.

One of the terrible things about war is the way it pushes a tide of fear and intolerance through any civil society, freshening prejudice and turning what might be a latent discrimination into measures that can amount to real cruelty. This certainly occurred in Australia in the early 1940s through the harsh and summary internment of migrant Australians. It was a self-inflicted wound. It caused suffering to our fellow Australians and to the communities from which they were torn. I believe it is right that we express our regret for those policies and our admiration for the people who endured them and, through their courage and forbearance, transcended them.