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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 3434

Mr GEORGANAS (Hindmarsh) (18:48): I too rise in support of the member for Fremantle's motion, which, according to the motion itself, is drawn from a motion moved in the South Australian parliament by the member for Light, Tony Piccolo. There were 18 internment camps during World War II, including Yanco, Hay and Cowra in New South Wales; Nangwarry and Loveday near Barmera in my own home state of South Australia; Gaythorne in Queensland; Dhurringile, Murchison and Tatura in Victoria; and Harvey and Northam in Western Australia. People suspected of being of German, Italian or Japanese background were targeted and persecuted by ordinary members of Australian society. There were stories of vandalism, sackings and personal assault. It would have been a terrible time for many people of German, Italian or Japanese background—many of whom had been here, in some cases, for a couple of generations or more. The government did not intern all people of German, Italian or Japanese background. Curtin acknowledged that this would not increase our security. Of those in Australia during that period, 33 per cent of German background, 15 per cent of Italian background and 97 per cent—almost every single person—of Japanese background were interned through the war, irrespective of the level of threat they represented. Internees were grouped in camps along cultural or national lines. People of German descent were interned together irrespective of their political views and we would have had many Germans who were anti-Nazi at the time and, in fact, were advocating in Australia against Hitler. Likewise those of Italian background. I suppose they were grouping communists, anarchists, fascists and the apolitical all into one.

We know there were many people of Italian and German backgrounds who were against the fascist movement in Europe, but this would not have made any difference. Mistakes and errors in judgment were made in my own electorate where I have many Italians and many people of Greek background who held Italian passports because, as a result of their islands—mainly the islands of Rhodes and Kos—being made up as a protectorate of Italy after the breakup of the Ottoman empire in 1921, were interned even though Greece was an ally. Even though they were clearly Greek, they held Italian passports and it took months of negotiations to release them.

Recently I launched a book in South Australia, The story of a community: a short pictorial history of the Greek Orthodox community in South Australia. The Greek community at the time of the war decided to make special badges saying 'We are Allies' and they would wear them in the city so that they would not be abused by people who thought that they were the enemy. The internment in November 1942 of a known antifascist campaigner, Francesco Fantin, with fascists at the Loveday site in South Australia's Riverland epitomised the injustice and absurdity of the practice of internment. He was a long-standing and active opponent of Italy's fascist regime. Fantin was put in a camp with supporters of Mussolini's fascist state and it led to him being killed. Born in 1901, Francesco Giovanni Fantin left Italy as an antifascist immigrant in 1924. In 1927 he established the antifascist Matteotti Club in Melbourne and the Mourilyan Italian Progressive Club in Queensland. He was overlooked in the first round of internments in 1940 but was arrested in 1942 as an enemy alien. In the internment camp at Loveday in South Australia's Riverland, Fantin continued his political activity and was organising with other antifascists sample donations of sheepskins which they sent to Russia, which at the time was a key ally against Hitler and Mussolini. The fundraising in the Loveday camp proved provocative to the interned fascists who targeted and murdered him on 16 November 1942.

The internment regulations were considered by civil libertarians to be draconian. The onus of proof against internment was placed on individuals to show that they were not enemy aliens and should not be interned. In the years of internment, 7,000 Australian residents were interned and a further 5,000 civilians interned from overseas. These included people from mainland Europe, including people of Jewish background, and people from the United Kingdom, Dutch, British and French colonies in the Pacific and South-East Asia. Prisoners of war were also imprisoned with these interns. There were a number of constituents in my electorate who were interned in World War II but as far as I know they all have passed away. (Time expired)