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Friday, 29 March 1946

Mr FORDE (Capricornia) (Minister for the Army) -My colleague the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) has dealt very effectively with the motion submitted by the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden). He clearly demonstrated that the persons who were allowed the benefits of university training were not enemy aliens, but refugee or stateless aliens. Enemy aliens are defined as -

People who possess- the nationality of a state at war with His Majesty, or, being stateless, at any time possessed the nationality of a state at war with His Majesty, but not including refugee aliens.

The Minister completely refuted the allegation that preferential treatment was given to 21 aliens. He showed that they were not released in such a way as to prevent Australians from undertaking universities- courses. They numbered 21 out of a total of 911 successful applicants for accelerated release.

Mr McEWEN - It does not apply only to universities.

Mr FORDE - It applies only to universities as the Minister for PostwarReconstruction has said. The Minister quoted section 63 (2) of the act which provided that the demobilization scheme should be prepared in a manner to apply, so far as practicable, equally to all members of the services. I think it is necessary that I should endeavour briefly to clarify the position in so far as it concerns the Department of the Army and the military authorities engaged on duties related to the discharge of personnel from the Army, whether in the ordinary process of demobilization or otherwise. In the general programme of demobilization, the Army authorities perform their duties in consultation and co-operation with the civil demobilization authority which functions under the administration of the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction. In fact, the two organizations work together to implement the Government's policy decisions. From time to time the Army discharge authorities are approached by civil authorities such as Man Power, or the Department of Postwar Reconstruction, to arrange the release of personnel in special occupational or other categories, whose discharge, even although sometimes in advance of normal points priority, i9 in accordance with approved policy. The release of personnel to resume university training from and including second years courses is a case in point. Applications for such courses from serving members of the military forces were submitted to the civil training authorities, and after an examination of individual records, all those eligible were recommended for discharge by the Co-ordinator of Demobilization and Dispersal. From then on, the Army was concerned only with the processes of discharge and the completion of the details of the military service of the nominated personnel. The position of refugee aliens who were enlisted members of employment companies of the Australian Military Forces was this: These men were in no different category, in so far as the Army discharge authorities were concerned, from any other serving military personnel whose release was sought to enable them to take university courses at the second year or subsequent stages, under the provisions of the Reestablishment and Employment Act.

Sp much for the Army's part in this matter. I turn now to the history of the alien personnel of the 8th Employment Company. As the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction pointed out, some of the aliens had come to Australia so far back as 1933. Others had been mustered overnight in the United Kingdom after the collapse of France, and had been sent to this country where they were cared for by th-E Australian Army authorities on behalf of the British Government. Subsequently, the British Government, realizing that there was no evidence against many of them, but only certain grounds for suspicion, sent a trusted British Army officer to Australia. That officer spent more than two years investigating the records of the aliens, and checking up as far- as possible their innocence or otherwise. As the result of those investigations,, the

British Government released from internment refugee aliens who had satisfied the authorities that they had been forced to emigrate from enemy territory because of religious, racial or political persecution, and who were opposed to the regime that had forced them to emigrate. Others were discharged in this country to take up various occupations. Some had carried out courses of study while interned and had passed matriculation examinations,, and applied themselves to university subjects. It was not possible, owing to transport difficulties, to return all the refugee personnel to Great Britain and many of them had to be held in Australia. A number of them demonstrated their anti-Nazi sentiments by agreeing to play an active part in direct support of the allied cause in Australia. They could have continued a' life of relative comfort and full security in internment camps, at the expense of Australian taxpayers; instead, they volunteered for service in the Australian Military Forces. Some of them said that they were prepared to join fighting units if permitted. However, those who were medically fit for service were enlisted and posted to the Sth Employment Company for service in Australia. Thus, these men fulfilled their promise to assist Australia's war effort and the Army and the country had the benefit of their services in a variety of ways. An exhaustive investigation was made before they were attested as members of the Australian Military Forces. Enemy aliens who could not be classed as refugees were not permitted to .enlist in the Sth Employment Company. I would mention here that -at the same time, the provisions of the National Security (Aliens' Service) Regulations were enforced, and aliens resident in Australia who were classified as " refugee " under the terms of those regulations, were also permitted to volunteer. No "enemy alien " as defined by those regulations, /as enlisted in the Australian Military Forces. These stateless aliens - members of employment companies in the Australian Military Forces - have received no preferential treatment over that accorded to Australian or British-born members of our forces. Their release was for second year university courses, and was in conformity with the policy which, as has been explained by the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction, precluded any accelerated discharges for enrolment this year in first year courses. Furthermore, the release of this relatively small number of alien personnel - less than 2-J per cent, of the total releases for university courses - involved > no displacement or supersession of Australian servicemen who had been approved for resumption of university training at the second year stage. No Australian servicemen who was eligible was refused his discharge to commence his second year study at an Australian university, and many thousands of the 300,000 members of the lighting forces who have been demobilized, have since taken up first year courses at universities. The 21 individuals referred to, have been approved only for second year courses, and in comparison with the total figures for the Commonwealth their number is negligible. Certainly the circumstances do not warrant the protests that have been made bv honorable members opposite.

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