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Wednesday, 12 October 1949

Mr ANTHONY (Richmond) . - Immigration ought to be a non-party matter in this Parliament, and it has been treated substantially in that way. In general, the policy of the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Calwell), in taking advantage of the unique opportunity to obtain a large flow of immigrants from Europe, has met with the approval of honorable members of all parties. I am sure that if the forthcoming general election should result in a change of government, the same policy will be continued, because we all recognize the need to populate and develop the country. Having regard to the changed attitude towards population among the white races, it is necessary for us to increase our numbers by bringing here surplus population from Europe.

It is a great pity, however, that the Minister should have thought it necessary, in administering his department, to behave as he has towards the very few Asiatics, or persons of Asiatic extraction, who were resident in Australia. This handful of persons has been the cause of much dissension and international ill feeling. The Minister's treatment of them has appeared to put us in the wrong, and has earned for us a reputation for being harsh and intransigent on the subject of colour, and has done nothing to strengthen the White Australia policy or obtain acceptance for it. It has highlighted the objection to colour that is inherent in the White Australia policy, and publicized that objection to our disadvantage throughout the world, particularly in Asiatic countries. On more than one occasion the Minister himself has said that the term " White Australia " should not be used, yet he has made use of it more than any one else. I regret that his fine record in developing migration from Europe should be marred by these incidents which, in themselves,, are of a minor nature. In one instance a few persons may be involved, or in another instance 27 Chinese, or individual persons as in the case of Mrs. Aug and that of Mrs. O'Keefe. Those incidents do not really amount to anythingin our immigration policy, and the Government should exercise a little discretion in matters of that kind.

Dealing with the proposed vote for the Department of External Territories I wish to discuss what I consider to be the very harsh and unsympathetic treatment that the Government has meted out to widows of civilians who lost their lives when the Japanese captured Rabaul. It is well-known that the lives of practically all civilians who were at Rabaul at the time the Japanese attacked were wilfully thrown away by the Australian Government. I say "wilfully" becausethose civilians had no hope pf defendingRabaul. I am not now talking about the armed forces. At that time there was sufficient shipping in the harbour toevacuate the civilian population, but the Curtin Government ordered that those civilians should remain at Rabaul. TheActing Administrator of New Guinea radioed to Australia to obtain permission to evacuate those civilians, but that request was refused. Consequently, when the J apanese struck, many of the civilians were killed whilst the remainder werecaptured. In the fullness of time their fate was revealed. Ultimately, after a considerable period, it was discovered that a great many of those who survived the Japanese attack lost their lives when Montevideo Maru was sunk. During the period that their fate remained unknown, the Government made liberal payments to widows of male civilians on the basis of the salary that the latter had been receiving. However, when hostilities ended an accounting was made to those widows and in each instance where it was possible, to get back money paid to them in excess of the ordinary pension rate of from £2 10s. a week the Government took action to recover such moneys. In some instances it did so by making deductions from payments that the widows were entitled to draw as superannuation benefits for which their late husbands had contributed. I am in possession of several statements issued by the Department of External Territories that show that some of these widows, instead of receiving a very substantial amount, in some cases hundreds of pounds, in the form of superannuation benefit, received practically nothing at all after these deductions had been made by the Government. I trust that the Government will see that justice is done to these widows, and I propose to show how it can do so.

First, however, I draw attention particularly to the case of Captain H. Edwards, M.C., D.O.M., M.M., whose widow now lives in Sydney. Captain Edwards had a distinguished military record in World War I. I read the following quotation from a letter that he received from General Birdwood : -

I must congratulate you on your excellent record of which you may well be proud in having gained the Military Cross, Distinguished Conduct Medal, and Military Medal. lt is indeed a fine achievement .and I trust that you will meet with still further success in the future.

Captain Edwards's brigade commander wrote to him as follows : -

I trust that you will be long spared to wear those ribbons. They betoken a spendid record of great hardships and dangers and adherence to duty under all circumstances.

I should like to tell honorable members how the Government treated the widow of that gallant officer. He was at Rabaul at the time that the Japanese struck.

He had been residing there for many years previously and was second in command of the New Guinea Volunteer Regiment a few months before the Japanese invasion. He was president of the Rabaul branch of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia. However, because at the time of invasion he was not in military uniform as the result of some dispute that had occurred between himself and others in the military forces at Rabaul, he was not considered to have been a soldier at the time of his death. Consequently, despite the fact that the estate of anybody who died as a soldier was exempt from estate duty, Mrs. Edwards was charged duty amounting to £67 on her husband's estate which was valued at £700. She had to pay that duty because her husband was not considered to have been a soldier at the time of his death. I am in possession of the documents in the case and I shall be pleased to pass them on to the Minister. I suggest that the following provision, which is set out in a letter which Mrs. Edwards has received from Mr. Olive Evatt, a Minister in the New South Wales Government, should apply in this instance -

No death duty shall be payable in respect of the estate of a member of the naval, military or air forces of the Commonwealth of Australia . . . who during the present war between His Majesty the King and Germany and her allies or within one year after its termination dies on active service or as the result of injury received or disease contracted on active service.

Captain Edwards was at Rabaul when the Japanese struck. He was the most highly decorated soldier at Rabaul and he lost his life because the Government refused permission for civilians to be evacuated. Because he was not considered to have been a soldier at the time of his death, his widow has had to pay the penalty. She has also been denied the rate of pension payable to the widow of an officer, which is considerably more than that payable to widows of civilians. The Government can do justice in this case. Evidence given in the New Guinea timber leases case revealed that the Minister can apply the provisions of an ordinance retrospectively. The particular ordinance cited in that case was Ordinance No. 5 of 1947, being " an ordinance to amend the Workers' Compensation

Ordinances 1941 of the Territory of New Guinea That ordinance increased the amount of maximum compensation from £750 to £1,000. It was dated the 14th May, 1947, under the signature of the Governor-General and issued by " E. J. Ward, Minister of State for External Territories ". In evidence given during the New Guinea timber leases case it was stated that one person who was favorably affected by the back-dating of that ordinance was a friend, or relative, of the Minister for External Territories. A notable feature of the amendment effected by that ordinance was that its commencement was made retrospective to the 1st January, 1947; that is, it was backdated five months in order, so it was alleged in evidence given in the New Guinea timber leases case, to cover the circumstances of a friend, or relative, of the Minister for External Territories. I have no evidence to offer in support of that statement except the evidence that was given in the course of the trial that I have mentioned. However, in view of the facts I have given I shall not believe that it is not possible for the Government to do justice to the widows of civilians who lost their lives when the Japanese captured Rabaul. Those civilians were at Rabaul as the representatives of Australia. I shall not agree that the Government cannot recognize Mrs. Edwards's, claim and refund the death duty that has been charged to her on account of the estate of her husband, or that she cannot be given the rate of pension payable to the widow of an officer, because her case has been settled. I shall not accept these excuses when I find that remedial action can be taken to benefit somebody who happens to enjoy a favoured position with the Minister. Those are facts.

Mr White - They do not get all their pension entitlement.

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