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Thursday, 2 December 1965

Mr OPPERMAN (Corio) (Minister for Immigration) . - I move -

That the Bill be now read a second time.

Honorable members will recall that the Temple Society Trust Fund Act 1949 was introduced in this Parliament by the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell). I pay tribute to him for his initiative in providing a legal basis for the establishment and administration of a Fund, which has made it possible for the Commonwealth Government to receive and disburse certain moneys on behalf of a group of non-Jewish settlers from Palestine usually referred to as Templars, or members of the Temple Society. The history and background of these people, who are making their own distinctive contribution as members of the Australian community, are to be found in the second reading speech which the honorable member for Melbourne made when the original Bill was presented.

The purpose of the present Bill is to revise the Temple Society Trust Fund Act of 1949, so that, without any change of principle or policy, the Fund may be administered in the light of experience and developments. Following representations by Australia and through the good offices successively of the Palestinian, United Kingdom, German and Israeli Governments, which I am pleased indeed to acknowledge here, over three million pounds have already been received in the Fund and distributed to members of the Temple Society and others who migrated to Australia; and, under agreements concluded, or to be concluded, claimants here may, without long delay, receive with interest a total of between five and six million pounds for their former assets in Palestine or Israel. In addition, claimants overseas for whom Germany is responsible are to receive over two million pounds. Approximately 1,500 former German residents of Palestine or Israel have migrated to Australia without cost to the Commonwealth for their passages or for the administration of their funds, and most are now naturalised Australian citizens. About 500 others still remain overseas in Germany or elsewhere.

The principal Act confers no legal rights upon claimants, and moneys in the Fund are paid out in accordance with just rather than legal entitlement. However, practical administration of the Fund over the years since 1949 has revealed the need for amendments to the principal Act. Clause 1 of the Bill refers to the titles of the principal and amending Acts and is self-explanatory. Clause 2 provides that the amendments now proposed shall be deemed to have come into operation as from the commencement of the principal Act. This provision is necessary so that there shall be no doubt as to the validity of action taken, in accordance with earlier legal opinions, in the past. Clause 3 of the Bill widens the description, of moneys payable to the Fund. Under section 4 (2) of the principal Act, moneys are payable to the Fund which represent " proceeds of the realisation " of the assets of these migrants, a description which applies to certain moneys received from the United Kingdom and Palestine. This clause of the Bill removes any doubt there may be that moneys are also payable to the Fund which represent compensation - and interest earned on compensation - paid by Israel for other relevant assets.

Clause 4 of the Bill provides that section (6) (1.) of the principal Act shall be omitted and replaced. Under section 6 (1.) (a) of the principal Act, the Minister for Immigration is empowered to apply moneys standing to the credit of the Fund in making payments, on such terms and conditions as he thinks fit, to the Temple Society, members of the Temple Society and other persons who owned property in Palestine or Israel. Clause (6) (1.) (a) and (b) of this Bill provides that the Minister may also make payments to the following classes of persons who are not eligible or not clearly eligible to receive payments under the principal act. They are as follows: Persons who themselves owned no property in Palestine or Israel, for example, certain legal personal representatives or beneficiaries of claimants who have died; persons who are not entitled to such payments in their own right, but who may reasonably and justly be paid on behalf of others, for example, nominees authorised to receive moneys on behalf of communal bodies; and persons who are outside Australia, for example, persons abroad for study or medical treatment. It is also necessary for the Minister, when authorising payments from the Fund, to have regard to conditions relating to such payments in agreements between Australia and the countries from which the moneys have been received; that is, the German-Australian Agreement dealing with compensation received from Israel. As there is no provision of this nature in the original Act, the necessary authority is proposed under proposed new section 6 (1.) (b) (iii).

Clause 4 of the Bill also provides that section (6) (1.) (b) of the principal Act is to be replaced by new clause (6) (1.) (c). The original Act empowered the Minister to apply moneys standing to the credit of the Fund " in meeting expenses incurred by the Commonwealth in connection with the administration of the Fund or in connection with the immigration to Australia of persons " concerned. Moneys standing to the credit of the Fund have been used to meet such expenses. However, particular expenses incurred in connection with negotiations for the payment of relevant moneys, the rehabilitation of migrants concerned and incidental purposes have been charged, under advice, to so-called " administrative moneys ".

These " administrative moneys " were originally appropriated by the Palestinian Government for the evacuation and rehabilitation of German nationals and for similar and incidental purposes, and were sent by the United Kingdom to Australia to cover appropriate expenditure here when Australia assumed responsibility for the settlement of these migrants. According to more recent legal advice, " administrative moneys " a3 a matter of law form part of the Fund established under the Act. It is therefore necessary to ensure that there is clear authority for the particular class of expenditure mentioned to be charged to the Fund.

Hence section (6)(l.)(c) provided for by this Bill is proposed so that the Minister may clearly apply moneys standing to the credit of the Fund in meeting expenses incurred by the Commonwealth in connection with or as incidental to the administration of the Fund, negotiations regarding relevant moneys and the immigration and rehabilitation of the migrants in question. I emphasise that the purpose of this Bill is to do no more than revise the Act so that moneys in the Fund may continue to be administered efficiently, justly and securely. I commend this measure to the House in the interests of all concerned.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Daly) adjourned.

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