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Wednesday, 9 October 1985
Page: 894

Senator DEVLIN —My question is addressed to the Minister for Veterans' Affairs. Is the Minister aware of allegations that certain Australian prisoners of war were interned in nazi concentration camps during World War II? Do these prisoners have entitlements to compensation from either the Australian or West German governments? If so, what action is being taken to secure those entitlements?

Senator GIETZELT —Yes, I am aware that for the last three or four years some Australian ex-servicemen who were prisoners of war have been attempting to establish claims with the West German Government in respect of their incarceration in concentration camps in Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia and Buchenwald in Germany. The West German Government has claimed that the prisoners of war are not covered by the West German indemnification law although we on our side claim that under the Geneva Convention ill-treatment was meted out to this particular group of Australian prisoners of war who were incarcerated because of their repeated attempts to escape, which is part of the obligation of servicemen in a wartime situation. I understand that the previous Government made representations to the West German Government in 1982 and no progress was made.

As a result of representations by the veterans themselves, both on an individual basis and through my Department, the Minister for Foreign Affairs has agreed to establish an interdepartmental committee made up of the Department of Finance, the Attorney-General's Department, the Department of Defence, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Veterans' Affairs with a view to pursuing the matter with the West German Government because we believe that a breach of the Geneva Convention did take place and in that sense it comes within the ambit of the indemnification law of West Germany. Of the 26 veterans I am advised that 16 received a disability pension from my Department. All of them get free medical treatment as ex-prisoners of war. However, as they did suffer unduly as a result of their internment in concentration camps, there is a view that they are clearly entitled to some form of compensation by the West German Government and we are actively canvassing options for settling their claims.