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Tuesday, 5 July 1949

Mr MENZIES (Kooyong) (Leader of the Opposition) .- Before the sitting was suspended the honorable member for Bourke (Mrs. Blackburn) had moved an amendment to clause 5, which is now being considered, that was in line with an existing piece of legislation dealing with aliens. The effect of the amendment would be that if it appeared to the Minister that the conduct and character of a person to whom this legislation applied was such that that person should not be allowed to remain in Australia, certain steps may be taken, including an investigation by a commissioner who must be a judge of the Supreme Court of a State or of a territory forming part of the Commonwealth. The amendment, if accepted, would confine the power to deport to two classes of cases, first, the class of case in which the person concerned has, by conduct, disqualified himself or herself from remaining here; and secondly, the class of case in which the person concerned has, by character, so disqualified himself or herself. I am not able to agree that those two matters are the only matters that .ought properly to be considered. I should have been content to vote against the amendment and for the clause as it stands if ii had not been for the very remarkable statement that was make by the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Calwell) before the suspension of the sitting. In order to justify my claim that the statement was a remarkable one, I shall remind the committee of the terms of this clause. The clause provides as follows : -

The Minister may make an order for the deportation of a person to whom this Act applies and that person shall be deported in accordance with this Act.

I emphasize the word "may". Clause 4 specifies the categories of persons to which the legislation shall apply. They include every person who entered Australia during the period of hostilities and is an alien, and every person who, during the period of hostilities, entered Australia as a place of refuge, and who may not be an alien at all. Those are the persons described in the title of the bill as " wartime refugees". The clause we are now considering provides that the Minister may make an order for the deportation of a person to whom the legislation applies. The word " may " normally imports a discretion. There is nothing in the clause to suggest that in this instance it has any other meaning. In point of fact, the clause makes a sharp distinction between "may" and " shall " by providing that the Minister may make an order and that the person shall be deported. It is evident that "may" is intended to mean may and, therefore, that the clause is intended to confer on the Minister a power only. It is a power which, in his discretion, he may or may not decide to exercise. Before the sitting was suspended the Minister said, in substance, "I do not regard this as giving rise to any discretion. I say that I am going to deport them all. They will all be gone by August ".

Mr Calwell - They will be deported if they do not go voluntarily.

Mr MENZIES - I accept the interjection. The Minister has said that they will either go quietly of their own accord or by compulsion, but they will all be gone by August. In other words, the honorable gentleman has told the committee that he is going to treat the clause as if it meant that the Minister shall make an order for the deportation of any person to whom the bill applies.

This is a convenient place and' a convenient occasion to bring the Opposition's ' view on this bill to a point. As I have said time after time, we have not, and we shall not, challenge the principle of the legislation as such. It represents a common, view in this country. But we have said that the Minister has a discretion and that he ought to exercise that discretion from time to time with good sense and fairness, and without being afraid to exercise it. Therefore, when the amendment that has been moved by the honorable member for Bourke has been dealt with, I shall move an amendment designed to bring into focus the whole point of issue on this legislation. I shall move that before the word " may " in clause 5 there shall be inserted the words, " after consideration of .the facts of the. particular case ". If that amendment is accepted, the clause will read -

The Minister, after consideration of the facts of the particular case, may make an order for the deportation of a person to whom the Act applies.

I make no secret of any belief that that is what the clause means now, but the Minister proposes to treat it as involving no discretion at all. He has said1, in effect, " I am not going to look at the facts of any particular case. They will go quietly or not, but all of them will be out before the end of August."

Mr Haylen - Does the right honorable gentleman claim that the words will make a difference?

Mr MENZIES - Let us make clear what I should have thought was already clear, that is, that this is a discretionary power. "We have not yet reached the stage in Australia where we have to toss people out of the country by act of Parliament. The amendment that I have foreshadowed, if accepted, will ensure proper consideration by the Minister of whether at any given moment he ought or ought not to make an order of deportation under the power that is to be conferred upon him by this bill. I cannot move that amendment now because there is another one before the Chair. "While I do not think that the amendment which is now under discussion is without merit, I think it puts the whole matter on far too narrow a basis and, therefore, I am unable to support it.

Mrs. BLACKBURN(Bourke) [8.71.- Under this clause, to which I am opposed, it seems that the Minister orders and the person goes. It is as easy, as that. I for one cannot be party to the introduction of such a despotic law into this country. "When I was speaking on the second reading of this bill I asked the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Calwell) a pointed question. I asked -

May I assume that the Minister is not actuated bv any racial prejudice in introducing this bill.

The Minister answered -

That is right.

I had a reason for asking the question. The honorable gentleman had said previously that he regarded the term " White Australia " as offensive to non-Europeans and that he considered it to be an inaccurate description of our immigration policy. I asked the question to find out what could be the reason for the introduction of this bill. The Minister said that it was not colour prejudice. I then enumerated a number of other factors that might afford reasons for the introduction of the bill, but I could not fit the measure in with any of them. I was forced to conclude that the Minister had introduced the measure in a fit of pique. I should be loath to accept that as a good reason. However, I am again wondering whether colour prejudice is not really behind the measure, and whether the Minister is not simply inconsistent. What he said last week does not hold good this week.

This measure affects the position of persons who came to Australia during the recent war. They came here to seek sanctuary or they were brought here because they could not go to any other country. Under what is known as British justice they should have the right of asylum, particularly if they are not a danger to the country and if their character and conduct are not in question. Why deny to them what is sound and just? They were torn from their own country during the recent war in which, probably, they had no interest. Now they are to be dumped back in those countries unwanted by Australia and, probably, unwanted in the countries from which they have come, where conditions for them have changed considerably. The Minister will not accept my amendment, but I have presented it in the words which he himself used only a few months ago. It promises counsel for those who might need counsel. Under this measure these persons can be thrown out of Australia without any further warning. When the Minister administered the law as he found it, no doubt to the best of his ability and understanding, I refused to criticize his actions even though I was asked to do so publicly on a number of occasions. However, when he makes a law to suit his own purpose, after having found that a mistake had been made and a weakness revealed in the law, I must strongly state my objection. I oppose the clause and, because of it, I oppose the bill.

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