Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 30 June 1949


Mr LANG (Reid) .- This is a savage piece of legislation. It should be called "Reprisals Against Mrs. O'Keefe Bill " It reeks of venom and spite. The Minister for Immigration (Mr. Calwell) has been frustrated, so he turns what should have been an ordinary act of administration into a personal vendetta against a woman he has never met. When the High Court of Australia ruled against him, he was consumed with a personal hatred of Mrs. O'Keefe. She had appealed to the highest judicial body in Australia, and had won. That was sufficient to earn the undying enmity of the Minister. He must have his revenge. He had to show her that, no matter what the High Court of Australia said, he was the final authority. Once he said that this lady had to go, she had to go. It did not matter if he dragged down the Government in the process. He had to get his revenge. It did not matter that the platform of the Labour party says that the High Court of Australia should be the final court of appeal. It did not matter that a fundamental principle of justice is that no person shall be tried twice for the same offence. It did not matter that this woman, having established her right of residence by an appeal to the High Court of Australia, should have been left undisturbed. It did not matter that the principle established in the Walsh-J Johanson case might be placed in jeopardy. All those considerations were thrown overboard in order that the Minister might wreak his petty spite on one person. That is why this legislation is to be retrospective in operation, and why it is aimed specifically at a lady called Mrs. O'Keefe.

The Minister is going to show the High Court of Australia that he is not to be trifled with. That is in accordance with his code of inverted justice. Legislation designed to deal with individual cases, instead of with principles, is generally bad. When it is the outcome of a personal grudge it is always bad. No one will quarrel with the principle that a government must retain, the right to decide whom it will admit to the country. That is a sound principle. No one will quarrel with the principle that a government has the right to deport those who violate the laws of the country, if they are not nationals of the country. The O'Keefe case is not touched by either of those principles. Mrs. O'Keefe had been in Australia for a number of years. She had violated no law of Australia. It is this bill, introduced by the Minister for Immigration, that will make her a lawbreaker. The bill has been introduced for the deliberate purpose of making her a law-breaker. Our immigration law was never brought into serious question until the present Minister assumed office. It is not the law that is at fault, but the administration of the law by the Minister for Immigration.

Ifr. Lang.

The Minister talked glibly and hypocritically about the law being inflexible, and suggested that if he deviated by a hair's breadth from the letter of the law he would bring down the entire legal edifice. What arrant humbug! Such a statement proves that the Minister is ignorant of the principle of statute law. Our statute law provides the death penalty for murder, rape, and a number of other offences. Under the law, a presiding judge has no alternative but to -pass the death sentence on any one convicted of a capital offence. But the Labour party is opposed to the death penalty. During the war, the Curtin Government, in two instances, prevented the death penalty from being inflicted on naval ratings. Since then, doubts have arisen about their guilt. Does the Minister for Immigration say that the Curtin Government was wrong because those two naval ratings did not die? Although the law provides the death penalty for certain offences, all governments have recognized what are known as mitigating circumstances. If the Attorney-General were to insist upon the letter of the law being observed, the death sentence would not only be imposed on persons convicted of capital offences, but it would also be carried out in all cases; yet, as everybody knows, that is not done. Governments have always reserved to themselves the right to review death sentences in the light of circumstances, and in many cases justice has been tempered with mercy. Indeed, that is one of the highest prerogatives of government. Of all possible alleviating circumstances, that of our common humanity is the greatest, and it should have been a ground for clemency towards Mrs. O'Keefe. It is only because the Minister blundered in his administration that the Government now finds itself in a legal quagmire.

Every Australian with an instinct for fair play will say that the Government has acted wrongly in allowing the Minister to pursue this one-sided vendetta. Australians despise a bad loser. The Minister lost when he tried to run Mrs. O'Keefe and her family out of Australia. Now he is resorting to the black-jack of personal legislation, and the Government is making itself a party to this petty tyranny. The attitude of the Government is contemptible. There is no need for this bill. The issues raised before the High Court would never have been raised if the law had been administered fairly, and with common sense. If an attempt were made to administer every law inflexibly according to the letter of it, then every law would be challenged in the courts on some ground or other. This Parliament has enacted many laws providing penalties, but it has always been understood that the King may exercise clemency. Therefore, it is the custom in Australia for the Governor-General to review sentences. That is going on all the time and I challenge the Government to deny it.

In considering this legislation, it becomes necessary for me to ask the Parliament whether or not the present Minister has shown himself to be a fit and proper person to exercise the powers that are to be conferred upon him by this measure. If he proposes to use them as a repressive instrument, he should not be vested with them. If he refuses to recognize that it is his job to see that there is no miscarriage of justice, he should not administer this legislation. He has approached the problem of administration with a split persecution complex. He apparently believes that he is the victim of persecution, and that he should get even with society by persecuting those who happen to cross his path. So, he puts himself forward as a victim of vicious newspaper persecution. Yet, on the other hand, he goes to the extreme length of trying to curry favour with the same newspapers. He has two huge departments which constantly feed hia alleged persecutors with carefully prepared handouts. If he regards that as persecution, all I can say is that be is a glutton for punishment. He would have us believe that the " Manila girls " plotted with the American army to persecute him, and that he was the victim of a terrible persecution. He would have us believe that some of them went through the form of marriage in order to thwart him, so to get his revenge he tried to drag them back to this country against their will. He tried to use the American army to accomplish his purpose. When the Americans refused, he insisted that they were in a conspiracy against him. Is the

Minister, who is looking everywhere for foul conspirators against his ministerial authority, a proper person to exercise the powers which this measure proposes to confer upon him? In the Gamboa case, once again he would have us believe that cloak and dagger men were after him. This time they were again in the ranks of the American army. They belonged to General MacArthur's personal staff. The Minister screeched to the world press, through an American press agency, of course, that there was another foul plot afoot against him. The same story was told over again about the O'Keefes. He would have us believe that Mrs. O'Keefe's husband conspired with her in order to defeat the law ; but the High Court said that the law had not been broken. So, how could there have been a foul conspiracy against him? He would have had us believe that Mrs. O'Keefe's religious adviser, the local parish priest, conspired against him and tried to persecute him. He would have us believe that the hundreds who subscribed to the fund to help this poor woman also conspired against him. I have no doubt that the neighbourhood children who played with the O'Keefe children must also have been in the conspiracy because they were on Mrs. O'Keefe's side and not on the Minister's side. The newspapers which reported the Minister's many garbled statements were also in the foul conspiracy. Any medium that puts forward a point of view different from that of the Minister must be in the plot. If the newspapers had really wanted to persecute him they could have failed to publish his handouts. That would have been a mortal blow. That would have been real persecution. That explains his approach to this bill. It is his counterpersecution.

Although Mrs O'Keefe has broken no Commonwealth law, she must suffer. She stood up against the Minister, so she must be dumped back in a hostile country among people who may regard her as an enemy for all the Minister knows or cares. She must be separated from her husband. Her home must be broken up. If this Parliament believes in freedom and fair play and in humanitarian government, it will not stand for such political sadism. It will no'; stand for the twisting of the law to satisfy the revenge motive. It may he desirable to consider the appointment of a separate " Minister for deportation " as well as a Minister for Immigration. One Minister would be bringing in immigrants and the other would be deporting them. Both of them would have a full-time job, and they would both have fully-staffed departments. If the Government desires to see justice done, the powers proposed to be conferred by this measure should not be vested in the present Minister. He should not be placed in a position of having to review his own blunders or even the mistakes of his predecessors. There is ample precedent for such a procedure. In New South Wales it is the function of the Attorney-General to frame the law and to see that it is enforced through the courts. Then there is a Minister for Justice to see that people are not only dealt with in accordance with the provisions of the law, but also, and above all, in accordance with the principles of justice. The Minister for Justice sees to it that punishment is made to fit the crime, taking into consideration all the circumstances. That is a sound principle that might well be applied in this instance.

Is it not the duty of this Parliament to honour moral obligations that were assumed during the war? Those obligations are two-fold. First, there is the obligation of the individual to honour the bonds of matrimony. When those bonds have been solemnized by the church and fulfilled by the parties to the marriage surely there is a case against the Commonwealth smashing such honorable undertakings. If we are to maintain this country as a Christian country, and if we are to uphold the ethics of religion, surely we will not ruthlessly destroy such marriages. Should not every case be judged in the light of all the known facts? This is not a job for a Minister of the Crown. It may be a job for a member of the judiciary who is granted discretionary power. It may even be a matter that should be entrusted to responsible religious authorities for their consideration of each individual case. It is certainly not a matter for rule-of-thumb departmental administration without an investigation of each in dividual case. Secondly, there is the other important moral obligation that rests upon every member of this Parliament to those who individually served with the Australian armed forces during the war - the people who risked their lives to defend this country. In Mrs. O'Keefe's case, it was her first husband who forfeited his life. Had he lived he would have been deported with her and there may not have been the same ground for public concern on the first issue I have raised. Is it not fair to ask ourselves whether we do not owe a heavy obligation to those who went into battle in Australian uniforms and fought side by side with Australians in order to save this country? Could not such an obligation be fairly advanced as a reasonable ground for special consideration in cases where marriages have been contracted with Australians and residence established? In addition, should we not give some consideration to the plight of the women who married these men while they were serving with the Australian forces at a time when we were under the impact of war ?

This measure has been framed to deal specifically with people who came here for sanctuary during the war. That is all the more reason why they should be regarded as cases not likely to recur. If the Government has no objection to an Asiatic coming here to establish himself in business or commerce and marrying here or bringing his wife here, there is all the more reason why it should be consistent and regard the cases that have arisen out of war conditions as calling for special consideration.

This Government is not and never has been consistent on the White Australia front. Measures such as these are dangerous in that they are bringing the White Australia policy under fire throughout the Orient. Indiscretions, such as that of the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley), who claimed that the White Australia policy is racial and not economic, are even more dangerous to the future of this country. Let us by all means make certain that we rigidly regulate entry into this country in accordance with the policy that has never been questioned in the past. But when it comes to dealing with those who have already established residence here, who have been good citizens and have honored their family obligations and respected the laws of this country, let us deal with those few cases on their merits, with discretion and in accordance with the overriding consideration of humanity and decency. Finally, I should like to know how this Government squares this piece of legislation, which discriminates against a few selected individuals, with the obligations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This Government was a signatory of that declaration. Its Minister for External Affairs (Dr. Evatt) was one of the fathers of the declaration. This measure is resigned to appease the wounded pride of the Minister for Immigration and to satisfy his lust for revenge, and it is a complete repudiation of this country's obligation under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the preamble of which reads -

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity, and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family, is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world, whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind.

The nations then entered into a number of solemn contractual obligations. Article 2 of the declaration reads as follows : -

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, with out distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

This Government signed that declaration. Lt initiated the obligations. Was it only paying lip-service to them, or did it believe that they applied only to other members and not to itself? If that is to be its attitude, what humbug it is! ^ I refer the Government to Article 11, which guarantees that every one is entitled to full equality and to a fair and public bearing by an independent and impartial tribunal in .the determination of his rights; to Article 14, which guarantees freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State; to Article 15, which guarantees that every one has the right to seek' and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution; and, in particular to Article 17. That article reads as follows : -

(   1 ) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. . . .

(3)   The family is the natural and fundamental group of society, and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

What would be Australia's position if Mrs. O'Keefe were to take her case to the Court of International Justice? Would the Minister for Immigration be sent overseas to defend .the case ? I know that he would not like to place his trust in the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt). He has already publicly shown his hostility to that right honorable gentleman. It would be useless for the Government to plead that these are domestic matters, because the Soviet Union has made that plea too often. In fact, this Government has been accused of intruding into the domestic affairs of other countries. This legislation is discriminatory against the nationals of certain other countries, and it will be judged on that basis. This Government is in danger of being the first government to be convicted of repudiating .the contractual obligations of the charter. It is just taking up a. " mugwump " stand. Why should it deliberately court the enmity of Asian countries by persevering with such a vicious undermining of the principles of human justice? The Minister, by this bill, is dragging the principles of Labour into the gutter. Labour has always stood for fair play and a " fair go " for. the underdog. This is just " putting the boot in " because it is thought that these people are down. The Governmentis exhibiting a fascist mentality, a warped and twisted fanaticism, and. a maniacal urge to hurt deeply by depriving a defenceless woman of her home and her family life. All this is to be done with the majesty and force of legislative sanction. Could anything be more loathsome than the clothing of such petty revenge, in the garb of governmental deliberation, and decision?. Those honorable members on the Government side of the House who still retain spine manly self-respect should call the Minister's bluff and put an end to his despicable reign of personal terror^ ism against a handful pf unfortunate victims of war. The truth is, of course, that the Minister only gets away with it because the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) stands behind him, either because he approves of every thing that the Minister does or because he is afraid of him. The right honorable gentleman can take his choice.

Motion (by Mr. Spender) put -

That the debate be now adjourned.







Suggest corrections