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Thursday, 8 July 1920

Mr BELL - If there were any evidence of ill-treatment of Australian-born citizens of German parentage, or even of German birth, during the war period, no appeal to honorable members for the appointment of a Select Committee would be made in vain.

Mr Nicholls - We will give you plenty of evidence.

Mr BELL - The mover of the motion alleged ill-treatment, but presented no evidence of it, so the whole matter simply resolves itself into a complaint that some people were interned on suspicion, and that, therefore, a Select Committee should be appointed to inquire into their loyalty or disloyalty. I take the view, however, that it is very hard, at this stage, to prove any man's loyalty. There was a time when it was easy enough to do that. There was ample opportunity during the war for every man to show where he stood. The question now is - Were the Government of the day justified in interning Australian-born citizens of German parentage on suspicion?

Mr Considine - Certainly not.

Mr BELL - I say they were justified.

Mr Considine - Not on suspicion.

Mr BELL - The British, as a race, have always been inclined to be trustful rather than suspicious; but during the recent war there was plenty of evidence to prove that the Government were perfectly justified in interning any one upon reasonable grounds for suspicion.

Mr Considine - You are qualifying your statement now.

Mr BELL - It was a reasonable precaution to take.

Mr Considine - Surely the honorable member can distinguish between " reasonable " ground for suspicion and mere suspicion.

Mr BELL - Exactly. And most people believe that the Government, when interning these people, had reasonable ground for suspicion.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If one of those men came to you and said he believed he had been wrongfully interned, would you give him a chance to prove his case?

Mr BELL - Yes. He has a chance now. While the mover of the motion was speaking, I made an interjection that I would not have minded had I been charged with disloyalty. There was no possible chance of that. Likewise, many young men of German parentage had no fear of the charge during the war; but I know that many people of German parentage, whose sons were at the Front, were openly disloyal, and avowed that they would never recognise their sons again. In the face of all this, it is a peculiar argument that the presence of a son at the Front should have been regarded as the test of a man's loyalty.

Mr Considine - Almost as peculiar as the argument that a certain gentleman in Victoria, with a D.S.O. decoration, should now be charged with disloyalty.

Mr BELL - Exactly. A man might have the D.S.O. and still be distinctly disloyal.

Mr Considine - Then, your going to the Front was no proof of your loyalty.

Mr BELL - I had no need to go to the Front to prove my loyalty. Some people would need to go to the Front many times, and still they would be under suspicion. It is, as I have said, difficult now for men who were interned to prove their loyalty, so there is very good reason to believe that the motion has been introduced for the purpose of getting another little stab at the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. Therefore, the House would not be justified in supporting it, especially as the honorable member who submitted it intimated that, at some future date, he is going to bring forward another motion, and cite cases of gross ill-treatment.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If this motion is not carried.

Mr BELL - We might very well defer the appointment of a Select Committee until such time as we get some definite charges. If, by any chance, the occupants of the Opposition benches had been in power during the war, I doubt very much if they would now appoint a Select Committee upon the evidence submitted to the House. I would have been very much surprised also if, during the war, they had not taken some action, such as they now condemn, to intern people of German parentage on suspicion of disloyalty.

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