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Thursday, 8 July 1920

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - The honorable member by reading the letter is making himself responsible for the statements contained in it.

Mr GABB - Seeing that I am not allowed to make use of such a strong expression, I will leave it out -

This instrument hangs like the executioner's blade over our heads, and naturally prevents any of us from publicly making known many things condemnatory of the Australian Kaiser's attitude towards Australianborn subjects.

That gives a true reflex of the state of fear and suspicion in the minds of many of these people, and for that reason I do not intend to bring under the notice of the House many of the cases which I could quote.

It will be noticed that mv motion i& divided into three parts. The two first ask for a Select Committee to inquire into the internment camps and the treatment of the internees. That is not the most important reason why a Select Committee should be appointed, and if I could obtain the last portion of the motion -I should be even willing to forego the two first parts. Still it seems to me that some good may come from an inquiry into those things, if only because I have heard, and others may also have heard, of certain things which are said to have happened in the internment camps. I, as an Australian, would like an inquiry, so that if the statements are not true we may be clean and clear in the eyes of all, and, if they are true, the people of Australia may know what militarism means, and may not be deluded, as some of them seem to be to-day, into the belief that militarism in Australia must necessarily be different from militarism anywhere else in the world.

Mr Bamford - It is different. We have not seen a man shot in Australia, anyhow.

Mr GABB - Is the honorable member sure of what he is saying?

Mr Bamford - Yes.

Mr GABB - I am not. I will mark the honora'ble member's interjection, and when the time comes will answer it. If the honorable member will make inquiries privately I think he will find that he may not be correct. In any case there may have been circumstances where even that extreme course was justified. I believe the expenditure on the internment camps was between £1,250,000 and £1,500,000.

Mr Hector Lamond - The internees were treated better than the soldiers were.

Mr GABB - The honorable member may be right, but I have heard otherwise, and that is another reason why I should like a Select Committee that will have the confidence of the people to go into the matter.

Mr Hector Lamond - This Select Committee will have the defect that it will not have the confidence of the people.

Mr GABB - The honorable member doe3 not know who will be on the Committee. He, therefore, cannot say that it will not have the confidence of the people. It would be a good 'thing if the whole question could be cleared up. I am here as an Australian, and am proud of the fact that I am an Australian, and it hurls me when I hear of some of the things that are said to have happened. I should like to be on sure ground in saying that they have not happened.

Mr Marr - Did you fight for Australia when she needed your services ?

Mr GABB - Let me tell the honorable member that I did not fight on fields afar for a position in the Commonwealth Legislature. I do not wish that reflection to be cast on every member who has been in the ranks. I do not think that of them; but the first man in the House who interjected on those lines was the honorable member for Parkes. His attitude to me seems to show that he is a little inclined to make overmuch of the fact that he has been on the other side of the water.

Mr Bamford - You brought it all on yourself because you said you thought so much of Australia.

Mr GABB - I think so much of Australia that if ever the day comes when I believe it is in danger I shall be prepared to fight. ' Throughout the whole of this war I never once saw any chance of the British Empire losing the war, and never once saw any danger to Australia. After all, I do not see why, if a man is a returned soldier, he should be unjust to Australian-born citizens. If the honorable member has antipathy for me, that is no reason why he should have antipathy to Australian-born citizens who have not been fairly treated. Honorable members may " sling " all the mud they like at rae, but I am here battling for these people because I am convinced, from my inside knowledge of different things I have had the chance of reading about, from diaries that have been kept, and from meeting these men, who were once honoured, but who are not honoured to-day on account of the stigma which has been placed on them, that many of them have not received a fair deal. I do not want the question of war service to be drawn in, because, after all, that is only an attempt to influence the minds of some of the members of the House not to give justice to these people. Honorable members can think what they like about me, but I want them to give me a 'chance to get justice for these others.

Mr Bell - Are you going to tell us tb.8 nature of the ill-treatment ?

Mr GABB - No; I am not going to make any comments about the camps.

Mr Jowett - Then what is the good of the Select Committee?

Mr GABB - I am going to bring before the House one or two cases. I could bring u,p many, and in due time I shall quote all that honorable members want.

Mr Bell - We want to hear them.

Mr GABB - That would be dangerous to some of these people, unless the War Precautions Act is first removed out of the way.

Mr Bell - Why?

Mr GABB - Because under that Act unlimited power is given to this Ministry. In the interests of these people, and at the wish of some of them, I am not prepared to give the details now. As the honorable member for Barrier (Mr. Considine) asks me, " What is to prevent the Government, if they want to, from deporting any of these men?" Nothing whatever. It surprises me that the members of this Parliament have allowed the present position to go on so long. The war hasbeen at an end for a long time. Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, and Hungary have a]1 signed the Peace treaties, yet our War Precautions Act is still in force, and unless something is done to terminate it, it is bound to operate for the full length of this year, if not longer. We sit down here helpless in front of that Act. I have heard one or two members of the Country party, and some of the members on this side, complain about it, but the Act is still in operation, and if a man has been once caught under it he is afraid of the same weapon falling upon him again. The honorable member for Darwin (Mr. Bell) may be asking me for particulars from the best of motives, but I am going to tell my story in my own way.

Those who were interned, so far as I have been able to go into their cases, may be divided into four classes.

Mr Jowett - Are the people that the honorable member speaks of still interned ?

Mr GABB - No. I am asking for a Select Committee, not to get them out of an internment camp, but to give those who remain here a chance to clear themselves of the stigma of disloyalty that is upon them to-day.

Mr Jowett - Are they still being interfered with in any way by the authorities?

Mr GABB - Not that I know of. The first class would include the recent arrivals in Australia. Amongst those who came here when the war started there would he a good many runaway sailors. So far as I have been able to gain infor mation, it seems to me that much of the trouble was created by runaway sailors and others who had only recently come to this country. I have no complaint to make about the internment of those men, nor could I have. The Government was justified in taking those who had recently come here, and whose sympathies were bound to be with their native country, and putting them where they would not do any harm. I have no complaint to make about that particular class, provided that they were treated humanely in the camps. The second class comprises unnaturalized persons who have been in Australia for a long period. Some honorable members may say it was their own fault that they were not naturalized. Some of these cases have come before me, and I find the position to be as follows : - The South Australian law in regard to naturalization did not necessarily confer naturalization on the child with the naturalization of the parent. I am informed that in some of the other States the opposite was the case, and that, consequently, when a person who came from Germany with his family became naturalized there, his naturalization automatically passed to all his children who were under twenty-one years of age. Many of the people in Australia to-day who have been here since childhood are not naturalized simply because they thought that their naturalization was necessarily consequent on the naturalization of their parents. Others have told me that they paid men to get them naturalized. They so little understood the procedure that they did not trouble, even when no certificate of naturalization was given to them, and they find now that they were simply fooled. Honorable members may be inclined to take this with a grain of salt, but I assure them that there have been on the rolls numbers of electors who were not naturalized, although they thought they were. It was only when it was pointed out to them, after the war started, that they were not naturalized, that they had to go off the rolls. This class is distinctly unfortunate. I recognise that the Government were acting within their legal rights in their case, but it seems to me that since these people had been residents of the Commonwealth for many years, and had proved themselves good citizens, the Government, in interning them, were pressing for the uttermost.

Mr Hector Lamond - They were not interned because they were not naturalized.

Mr GABB - i recognise that; but I do not know why they were interned. The fact that, although they had been resident in the Commonwealth for many years, they remained unnaturalized told against them in the opinion of many people, and it is for that reason that I have explained why they failed to take out naturalization papers. They believed that they were covered by the naturalization of their parents. i understand that under a Commonwealth Act which came into operation only a few months ago, the naturalization of al foreigner will apply to all his children under the age of twenty-one years.

Mr Jowett - The honorable member knows that these people were interned because they were believed to be disloyal.

Mr GABB - That is what the honorable member and the majority of the House think ; but I can quote a statement made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) that many of these people were interned on suspicion. A South Australian Judge has said that the fact that a man has been interned is no evidence of his disaffection or disloyalty. Many persons were interned on suspicion, and the trouble is that they come out of the internment camp bearing the same brand as those who might have been absolutely disloyal.

The third class to which I desire to refer are naturalized Australians who were interned. There were 267 cases of that kind. A naturalization paper carries with it the rights of a British subject, and one of the rights of a British subject, "War Precautions Act or no such Act, is that he shall not be condemned or imprisoned without a fair trial. These 267 men had taken out naturalization papers, but under the War Precautions Act those "scraps of paper" were, so to speak, torn up by the present Ministry. i can well understand that there might have been suspicion in regard to some of these men, but since they had been naturalized, .and had thus been given the rights of British subjects, 'the Government should have carried out their part of the bargain, and have given them a trial. The last class i propose to mention are those of Australian birth who have been interned, and it is for these that I am specially in the fight. I am bringing forward these unpopular matters-

Mr Hector Lamond - This is a fairly popular matter in the honorable member's electorate.

Mr GABB - In order to clear the honorable member's mind, and to induce him to be a little more charitable, let me tell him that a leading Labour worker in my division some three weeks ago said to me, " Gabb, old man, you have done enough to show the German people" - he should have said "Australians " - " that you are trying to be their friend, and are endeavouring to carry out your pledges. Your attitude on this question is being used against you in your electorate for all it is worth. You have proved yourself to be the friend of these people; take my advice and do not have much more to say on the subject." More than half of my electorate are of British origin, and I know that my opponents are stating all ever my electorate that I am a proGerman. If I had regard only to my own interests I should accept my friend's advice. He is a stalwart Labour worker who travels over a good part of my electorate, and I have had his friendship for many years. I have already fought an unpopular fight in this connexion, and if I had regard only to my own interests, I would now allow the matter to drop. I believe, however, that these people have been wronged. They are as truly Australian as I am. There are forty-three of them who were born on Australian soil, and I am satisfied that those honorable members who are now jeering at me will, within the next three years, view this matter in its proper light, and recognise that our fellow Australians should be fairly, treated.

Mr Jowett - The honorable member has not shown that these men have been unfairly treated.

Mr GABB - I shall do so. The Prime Minister recently stated in this House that the question of the injustice done to Australian-born citizens was no longer a live matter. There is in my electorate a man of German origin who, like the Prime Minister, had two boys at the Front. One of them paid the supreme sacrifice, and lies buried in France. This man, who is about the same age as the Prime Minister, was put behind the barbed -wire of the internment camp.

Would any honorable member in the same circumstances consider that his internment as a disloyal subject was not a live question?

Mr Bell - I know some absolutely disloyal men whose sons went to the Front - men who said that they would like to shoot their sons for enlisting.

Mr GABB - I question whether the son of any mau who was so disloyal would go to the Front.

Mr Jowett - There were many such cases.

Mr GABB - The spring cannot rise above its source; the influence of the home is great. I cannot believe that a child reared in a disloyal home would enlist. In the light of these facts, it is absurd to say that this is no longer a live question. In another case a poor man of German origin, with a wife and eight little children, returned from work one day to find a constable waiting for him at his gate. He was arrested, taken from place to place, and ultimately interned. His wife was allowed 30s. per week for the upkeep of the family. While he was in camp he learned that she was ill, and naturally desired to go to her, but was not allowed to do so. How would any honorable member like to be treated in that way, especially when he did not know why he was interned? Would this not be a live question to him? In yet another case a wealthy man - and I admit that, in this matter, the Government did not discriminate between the rich and the poor - who was interned, has determined, as soon as the War Precautions Act ceases to operate, to take his case into the Law Courts. He knows that an Act is to be passed indemnifying the Government and its officers for any wrongful act that may have been committed by them; but he is determined to take his case to the Court, in order to clear himself. He told me that, although he had struggled hard for what he had, he had resolved to clear himself of the stigma resting upon him by an appeal to the Courts, even if he had to spend every penny he possessed to do so. How can it be said that this is not a live question to a man who feels so warmly? No honorable member has experienced what it is to be disowned by his own country.

Mr Bell - We are not likely to.

Mr GABB - I hope not. Even if we were justly disowned by our own country we should be much perturbed, but if we were unjustly disowned and dishonoured - if the sense of injustice rankled in our breasts - would it not be a very live matter to us ? This is an intensely live question to those who, in some cases, have been dishonoured on mere suspicion, and it is only reasonable that we should appoint a Select Committee to determine their guilt or innocence. If any of these people, born on Australian soil, enjoying all the advantages of this country, sharing its freedom, and participating in its blessings, are proved to' have been disloyal, then the Government may treat them as it pleases. Such people deserve punishment, but let us give them a fair trial.. Let us give them a chance to prove their innocence.

Mr Jowett - Does the honorable member say that no Germans in this country were disloyal during the war?

Mr GABB - I make no such statement.

Mr Jowett - The honorable member's assertions suggest that he does hold that view.

Mr GABB - Nob at all. The honorable member does not appear to be able to grasp the meaning of plain English. 1 am surprised at such an interjection from one who is usually most charitable in his views and dealings.

The Prime Minister on one occasion said in this House, " I would be the last to deny justice to a citizen of this country because he happened to bear a foreign name or because his father came from Germany." If the Prime Minister means that, I hope that the Government will not oppose, but will facilitate, the giving of an opportunity to do justice to these people. If they will afford such .an opportunity, that will be a proof that the Prime Minister meant what he said.

Mr Jowett - He always means what he says.

Mr GABB - We all have our own opinions about that. I notice that a writer in Stead's Review, in commenting . upon this matter, did not seem to think that he meant what he said. I believe that there are some members of the Government who are in accord with the statement of the Prime Minister ; but, from my experience in battling here for justice for these people, I am disposed to think that they do not number many, and that there are some Ministers who are inclined to penalize a man simply because he has a German name, or has a German father.

Mr Marr - Let the honorable member name them.

Mr GABB - I will not name them.

Mr Marr - The honorable member should not make such an allegation against them if he is not prepared to name them.

Mr GABB - I am asking no favours. I am merely asking for a Select Committee, the members of which can be appointed by this House.

Mr Marr - The honorable member is casting insults upon Ministers.

Mr GABB - They can look after themselves, and do not need a baby of the House like the honorable member to do that for them. To my sorrow, I know that they are well able to look after themselves, and so I say the honorable member need not worry. They will look after themselves at the right time. I want to come to the point.

Mr Jowett - It is time the honorable member did so.

Mr GABB - The honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett) is interjecting so frequently that if he is not careful I shall endeavour, as he deserves it, to have my name passed over to him.

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