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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 3430


Ms GAMBARO (Brisbane) (18:34): It is with much pleasure that I rise to support the motion moved by the member for Fremantle. I congratulate the member for Fremantle for moving this motion and bringing it before the chamber but also for bringing before the chamber a very sad part of our history that unfortunately gets forgotten. It is left out of the history books quite a lot. The motion sincerely acknowledges the experience of enemy aliens who were interned in Australia during World War II and the severe and detrimental impacts that that policy had on the families and communities involved. I speak to this motion as a proud daughter of Italian migrants with a degree of personal experience, as my grandfather was interned at the Loveday Camp, near Barmera, in South Australia. I will relay some of that experience later on.

In both world wars Australia interned not only civilians from a number of enemy countries but also civilians brought to the country from elsewhere, including British and Dutch possessions in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as seamen and passengers from any merchant ships impounded in port or intercepted at sea. This was common international practice, with internment of enemy civilians occurring in most countries that were engaged in both world wars. The rationale behind that was that their presence, supposedly, posed some sort of threat and security risk to our great nation. History will show that that particular theory was deeply flawed. It was discriminatory, ethically wrong and logically unsound. Indeed, as the motion notes, many of the persons interned were born in Australia, Australian residents or British subjects. These people in turn became known as 'enemy aliens'. According to the research that I have gleaned from the Parliamentary Library, during the high point of internment in Australia, in September 1942, some 6,780 persons were held in custody, including 1,029 Germans, 3,651 Italians and 1,036 Japanese civilians.

I think it is fair to say that the group that was severely impacted by the policy was the largest group, the Italian-Australian community. During the period of the policy nearly 17,000 people were interned. Nearly 5,000 of them were Italo-Australians and over 2,000 of them were from Queensland. It is a very sad part of our history and a very sad part of history for many Italo-Australians.

The process of internment, as the member for Fremantle spoke about, was very harsh. It was disrespectful and undignified. Many families were separated and divided. They had to endure the spectacle of being dragged from their homes, in front of their neighbours and families. They were interned not by individual assessment of the supposed risk they imposed but because they had a certain cultural and heritage background. Quite often their homes would be ransacked and destroyed, leaving emotional and traumatic scars. We should acknowledge not just those who were interned but also the women and children, as the member for Fremantle spoke about, who were left to fend for themselves after their husbands or their fathers had been taken.

Last week I went to a Co.As.It. International Women's Day lunch where Anna Barbi spoke of the experiences of her and her husband being taken away from their property in Far North Queensland. She was forced to go back and live with her family. There was no way that she could continue the family farm. The banks foreclosed because the farm was no longer productive.

I also had a grandfather interned in South Australia. I want to pay tribute to him. In the whole time I knew him when he was alive he never spoke of the camps, but he was interned for about three years. Again, he was working in Far North Queensland when he was taken. He did become the camp cook, which later led to him opening a restaurant. It was a very sad period for many Italo-Australians in this country.

In conclusion, it is absolutely right that the Commonwealth parliament acknowledges what the enemy aliens went through and expresses its regret at the suffering and the damage that was caused. I am very proud to support the motion that has been put forward today by the member for Fremantle.