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Friday, 23 September 1949

Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) (Minister for Information and Minister for Immigration) . - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of this bill is to create by statute a secure procedure for the reception, administration and disbursement of certain moneys received by the Australian Government on behalf of a group of non-Jewish migrants from Palestine known generally as " Templars " or members of the Temple Society. The Temple Society is a religio-economic society whose original members migrated from Germany to Palestine between 1860 and 1870 for "the spiritual and economic development of the Holy Land ". By the use of communal funds and a. communal organization sustained by religious motives, members of the society gradually established urban and rural colonies at Haifa, Jaffa, Sarona, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and elsewhere in Palestine, and by the outbreak of the recent world war had developed them into flourishing and lucrative communities. Economically, they derived their wealth mainly from the primary products of their rural colonies, which, scientifically irrigated and cultivated, were given for the most part to citrus orchards, vineyards and dairy farms. Members of the Temple Society did much to raise the standard of scientific agriculture in Palestine. Although at the outbreak of the recent world war the society in general had been for 80 years in Palestine, and the majority of its members then living had never seen Germany, they had remained predominantly of German stock and had not lost their German nationality. When, therefore, in 1941, Palestine became a strategic war area of great potential importance, the Palestine Government found it necessary as a precautionary measure to move the majority of these Templars from Palestine. With the agreement of the Australian Government, some 574 men, women and children of the society were received in Australia as internees, and they remained in Australia as such during the war years.

By 1946 it was clear that the Templars in Australia would be unable to reestablish themselves in Palestine ; they had no desire to be transported to Germany, the Allied Control Commission of which was, in any case, not ready to admit them; the Australian Government was not anxious to be burdened with their internment indefinitely; and they themselves had applied to settle in Australia. They were, therefore, referred for investigation to Mr. Justice Hutchins, of the Supreme Court of Tasmania, who was then acting as a commissioner of inquiry in respect to such applications. In the final result,

Mr.Justice Hutchins recommended that, of the Temple Society, 504 men, women and children should be permitted to remain in Australia, and that 70 should be deported or voluntarily repatriated to Germany. I approved of this recommendation and put it into effect. Mr. Justice Hutchins, who 'had complete access to overseas and local intelligence reports upon the political affiliations, character and conduct of members of tho Temple Society, and who examined each case individually, made these comments upon them in his reports -

Generally speaking, they are practical men of standing and of pence . . . Clearly these men and their families, whom, with a few exceptions, I have certified as of no security risk, have no need to be kept behind barbed wire any longer ... In their case, us in others, I have to the best of my ability endeavoured to sift those who have proven bad records from those who have not, and I am happy to say that the great majority of these men and their families to my satisfaction have not been shown to be dangerous to the security of this country or the Empire . . These men, in the main farmers, have, as is well known, been anxious for many months to settle in Australia . . . Any detailed unbiased examination of their previous history will not support, in the main, any allegation which is contrary to the opinion I have above expressed . . . The great majority of them have every intention of applying for letters of naturalization and will become British subjects . . . There are many others (in Palestine), who also hold property, desirous of settling in Australia . . provided that they know that their very considerable assets even in part will in the end be made available to them. In this way Australia could secure people who apparently are desirable workers in primary industry.

Upon their release from internment, Templars in Australia requested me to grant landing permits to members of the society who still remained either in Palestine or in Germany, and to assist them officially in the liquidation of their valuable Palestinian assets and the transfer of the proceeds to Australia. I informed them that,- with the exception of a few special categories, Templars in Germany, like other German nationals, would not become eligible for admission to Australia until after the conclusion of the peace treaty with Germany. As the result, however, of the work of an Australian Government mission sent to Palestine at my direction in April, 1948, a further 270 Templars from Palestine, who, among others, had been evacuated to Cyprus for their own safety, were selected for migration to Australia and have since joined their relatives in this country; and arrangements have been made for the sum of approximately £3,500,000 sterling, derived for the most part from the liquidation of the Templar colony at Sarona, and then vested1 with other German assets in the Palestine Government, to be transferred to the United Kingdom Government for eventual disbursement to Templars in Australia. Part of this money has been received by the Australian Government, and, with the approval of the Treasurer, and as an emergency measure, a sum of £100,000 has already been distributed to individual Templars to relieve their immediate needs. The remainder of the money should arrive in Australia shortly after the completion of certain necessary audit and legal processes in the United Kingdom.

This sum of approximately £3,500,000 sterling is by no means the only amount which the Australian Government expects to receive for disbursement to Templar migrants. Because of unsettled conditions in Palestine immediately prior to and since the close of the British Mandate on the 15th May, 1948, much the greater part of Tempar property in Israel still remains unsold. It is believed and hoped that the Israeli Government will grant facilities for the liquidation of remaining Templar property in Israel, and for the transfer of the proceeds to the Australian Government for disbursement to these, its new citizens and settlers.

The moneys now in question are not public funds in the ordinary sense of the words. They are migrants' funds. It is important, therefore, that they should be distributed and used' in the best interests of Australia and of the migrants themselves. To quote merely one example it would not be in the best interests of Australia were these funds to be used for the establishment of large alien colonies. I have permitted Templars to settle in Australia on the express understanding that they will not form large alien colonies such as they were accustomed to in Palestine, and I intend to see that this understanding is respected. It is important also that these funds should be distributed in the interests of Templar migrants themselves, so that some priority in distribution is given to those who are in greater need, and to those who desire to give themselves to primary or other production in the national interests. Generally it must be assured, of course, that each Templar receives the proportion of these moneys to which he is justly entitled. The interests of Australia and the interests of these migrants themselves can be safeguarded most effectively by such a measure as is now before the House.

The nature of these moneys makes it obvious that a special trust fund should be created' to receive them, and that, like other trust moneys held by the Australian Government, they should be subject to the provisions of the Audit Act 1941-1948. Furthermore, there is no valid reason why the Australian Government should be subject to expenditure in connexion with the administration of this fund or with the immigration of these migrants to Australia. Members of the Temple Society, in any case, have voluntarily offered to defray any such expenditure.

It must be pointed out that some small proportion of these funds will be found to be attributable to certain non-Templars resident in Australia and elsewhere. The records of the former Palestine Custodian of Enemy Property, which have been received in Australia, are so voluminous and interconnected that, prior to their transfer to Australia, it was impracticable for the Palestine and United Kingdom Governments to isolate moneys and supporting records pertaining to members of the Temple Society, from those pertaining to certain other persons. Consequently, this measure provides that disbursements from the fund shall be made in Australia to resident members of the Temple Society and to certain other residents who have a claim upon these funds, such as some nonTemplar German or former German nationals who were transported to Australia with the Templars in 1941 and were similarly permitted to settle here. It also provides that moneys proved to be attributable to non-residents of Australia, which will be a very small fraction only of the total moneys received, shall be refunded to the source from which they were obtained.

The United Kingdom Government agreed to transfer these moneys to Australia for disbursement, provided that the Australian Government furnished it with an indemnity against any claims arising from the wrongful distribution of these assets. As these moneys could be distributed more quickly and expediently in Australia, where the majority of claimants are available for consultation, this indemnity was regarded as justified and was given. "Whilst, in turn, the Temple Society and its members are quite willing to give a corresponding and covering indemnity to the Australian Government, it is considered more advisable and even necessary that the Australian Government and the Minister concerned should be protected by statute against any actions, proceedings, claims and demands whatsoever arising from the disbursement of these moneys. Legal and other difficulties attendant upon the proving of claims to shareholdings in this fund make it imperative in the interests of Australia that, although every care should be taken to ensure that the fund is justly administered, neither the Australian Government nor the Minister administering the fund should be subject to liability in connexion with anything done or omitted to he done in relation to the act or to any payment of money in pursuance of the act. This is a perfectly reasonable precaution.

I have personal knowledge of the migrants affected by this measure, and I believe that they will be a distinct asset to Australia. They are accustomed to the British way of life. Many are already naturalized British subjects and Australian citizens, whilst the others will apply for naturalization when their period of probation expires. Wot one penny of Commonwealth funds has been expended in bringing them to this country, and, under this measure, no Commonwealth funds will be expended in administering their assets or in settling them in Australia. I believe that their high standards of morality and conduct will earn them the respect of our Australian people, and that their farming skill and experience will enable them to contribute to the production of food for this growing nation and for the United Kingdom. Therefore, I commend the measure to the House, in order that, securely and efficiently, their assets may he received, administered and disbursed, and they may be enabled in consequence to settle successfully in Australia as new Australians, for their own good and in the interests of this great country.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Holt) adjourned.

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