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Thursday, 30 March 1944

Mr MENZIES (Kooyong) (Leader of the Opposition) (10:45 AM) . - I desire to refer on this motion to a question which lias on two or three former occasions engaged the attention of Parliament, but still remains, so far as I can judge, unsettled. I refer to the internment of certain men because of their alleged association with the Australia First Movement. I am not concerned this morning to endeavour to determine the strength or weakness of the facts of any individual case. That is not my function, and probably Parliament would not consider that it was it? function, either. The circumstances which call for the closest and fullest inquiry by some properly constituted body are these: Right back in 1942, on the 26th of March, the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) made a statement - he was then the Minister concerned with internments - and that statement related to an allegation that sixteen or twenty persons, who were believed to have been associated with the so-called Australia First Movement, had been arrested and interned. Honorable members will recall the nature of the statement then made. I'-am nol for one moment saying that the Minister did not believe that the circumstances warranted the making of the statement. I merely point out that the statement indicated fifth column activity of the worst kind, including sabotage and conspiracy, and that was subsequently elaborated to include conspiracy to murder. On that date, with particular reference to the name of (his organization, the people of Australia were informed that a deadly plot bad been discovered, and that sixteen to twenty persons had been interned in order that the community might be protected.

Mr White - lt made very sensational reading overseas.

Mr MENZIES - 1 am sure it did. The story was published under streamer headlines. It became a topic of discussion among 90 per cent, of the people within 24 hours. In fact, at that time, a number of persons, about sixteen 1 believe, were interned in the eastern States. At the same time, several persons were detained and interned in Western Australia. The allegation against those who were interned in the eastern States was, apparently, that they were associated with the Australia First Movement, and that they could not be, with safety to the public, left at large. Subsequently, prosecutions were launched in Western Australia, and convictions obtained, but in the course of obtaining them it became abundantly clear that the small group of persons in Western Australia had no connexion with the Australia First Movement in the eastern States. What they had done was to concoct a scheme to get. affiliated with the larger body, their desire being to tag on to it.

After the internments had continued for some time, the Attorney-General made a statement in this House on the 10th September, 1942, in the course of which he made it clear that, on the material before him, there was no evidence that the Australia First Movement members in New South Wales were parties to the plans of the conspirators in Western Australia. He said - lt is reasonably clear that there was no guilty association between the Western Australia conspirators and the sixteen New South Wales internees.

I regret to say that the Attorney-General then went on to read a series of extracts from the correspondence of persons associated with the Australia First Movement in New South Wales, written from 1940 onwards until 1942 - each of a rather sinister kind, but not one of them, I am informed, written by one of the interned persons.

Dr Evatt - Every one was written by one or other of them.

Mr MENZIES - I understand not.

Dr Evatt - I say that it is so.

Mr MENZIES - What is the source of the Attorney-General's information?

Dr Evatt - The departmental files. I should like to know the source of the right honorable gentleman's information.

Mr MENZIES - I shall take one case to illustrate the gravity of the matter we are discussing - which is the right of the ordinary citizen to liberty in this country, unless deprived of it under due process qf law. One of the men interned is a solicitor. I happen to know him quite well, because he went through the university at the same time as I did. He had been practising as a solicitor in Melbourne for a long time. His association, so I am informed, with the Australia First Movement amounted to this : Some man who had secured appointment with the movement wrote to him and asked him to subscribe, and he forwarded 10s. 6d. as a subscription.

Mr White - He drew a big dividend ?

Mr MENZIES - He did, indeed. Never before was 10s. 6d. spent with more disastrous results. In due course, his name appeared as a member of the organization, on the strength of his having subscribed 10s. 6d. Then he was haled out of his home, imprisoned and put in an internment camp. He was there for month after month. In the camp he was compelled to perform the most menial tasks. Nothing worse could happen. All that time he was without charge and without trial. Subsequently, facilities were made available, and his case went before a tribunal. It recommended his unconditional release, and he was released - after being for months in an internment camp in his own country, of which he is a native of the second or third generation.

Dr Evatt - Will the right honorable gentleman write down the man's name and hand it to me? I think there is a mistake. T do not think that he is one of these men at all.

Mr MENZIES - I hand to the Attorney-General the name of that person.

Dr Evatt - It is as I thought; he is not one of the Australia First internees.

Mr MENZIES - He will be interested to learn that. After. all, he is the man who has been interned.

Dr Evatt - The right honorable gentleman said that he belonged to this group, and he debated the matter on that footing. I say that he was not in .the group to which my statement referred.

Mr MENZIES - What the AttorneyGeneral says is illuminating. I have taken the case of this man, because it was explained to him that he had been taken up because he was associated with the Australia First Movement, and he was imprisoned and interned. So far as the charge was put to him, the whole occurrence arose out of his association with the Australia First Movement. He was interned for eight months, and then released unconditionally. Now the Attorney-General says that he was not one of the men to whom he referred. This means that not one of those letters cited by the Attorney-General contained a statement by the man I am talking about. I know this man, and I know something of the disaster which this has brought upon him. Other honorable members are more familiar with other cases, I know. Here is a man who for twenty-odd years was building up a practice as a professional man. He was taken out of his home, just as anybody might be. He was incarcerated in circumstances of immense notoriety. When he came out, what happened? His friends were gone, his practice was gone, his reputation was gone. Everything that was of importance to him had gone. We all are familiar with the cynical proverb which can do so much harm : " Where there's smoke there's fire ". People will ask him, " Where have you been ? Oh, in an internment camp? Well, you can't tell us that you would have been in an internment camp unless the authorities had some reason for it. Were you mixed up with the Australia First Movement?" "Well, yes, I paid a subscription to it." "Oh", they would say, " those are the people who conspired to murder, and who entered into a treasonable correspondence with the Japanese - to become, in the truest sense, the quislings of Australia." Just imagine the position of that man. I might have been in that position myself.

Anybody might have been. So far as I know, it is not suggested that there was at any time any real reason for this man's incarceration. That statement by me may be true, or it may be untrue. I believe it to be true. It may be accurate, or' there may be inaccuracies as to detail; but, having regard to the notoriety of the occurrence, nothing will satisfy me and, I hope, other honorable members, which stops short of an independent investigation of these cases, with the payment of compensation, and the public clearing of their names, if it turns out that these persons have been unjustly used.

I have received correspondence from another man in this category, a man who fought in the last war, and who had engaged in business in Australia in a certain line of production. He was whisked out of his house without a moment's notice, and now his business is gone, and he is ruined. It is nothing to the point to tell me that because, after months of internment, he is released, that washes out everything. There can bo no greater or more permanent stain on a man's reputation and his name for generations than that he should have been thrown into an internment camp in time of war. That is the proper place for people guilty of conduct even remotely Treasonable if the community is to be protected. But if, in .point of fact, it is true that one, two, three, four or what you will, of these men who were interned in connexion with the Australia First Movement were wrongfully interned when they were innocent people, then I say that just as the injury was done with all the notoriety of headlines so must the clearance be established with equal publicity. I do not want to elaborate that. Two or three of those cases, on which I have received correspondence, are strange cases, and if one wanted to go into them one might speak for an hour, but my purpose is not to convert this House into a tribunal. ' My purpose i3 to ask the Attorney-General, who, after all, as I know, has an instinct for justice on these matters, whether he does not believe that, having regard to all the circumstances to which I have referred, he should set up a tribunal and say to that tribunal, "Go into the cases of these men. Determine whether there were ever real reasons for their internment, and, if you find that there were not and that some great error was committed, bring in a report and we shall publish their names and clear their names and compensate them for the ruin that has come upon them ".

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