PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS: World War II: Internment
I rise tonight to acknowledge the many people who were interned in Australia during World War II. Many of those interned were dinky-di Aussies who had contributed greatly to Australia. Last month the South Australian parliament unanimously accepted a bipartisan motion, moved by Labor member for Light, Tony Piccolo, to acknowledge the internment of Italian civilians living in Australia during the Second World War.
I acknowledge the member for Fremantle's motion and accept that, in many cases in many ways, it was wrongful internment. As the Australian government established a war economy it also began to take steps to neutralise what was considered the potential threat posed by resident aliens. The Australian War Memorial noted that, at the time:
Australians were gripped by an irrational panic about the potential for the tens of thousands of foreign nationals resident in Australia to become saboteurs or spies.
The decision was made to introduce severe restrictions on the aliens and, in some cases, to imprison them in internment camps. The internment of aliens was considered to be a last resort, and women and children were not allowed to be interned. The process of arrest and internment was usually peaceful but, as the member for Brisbane pointed out, it was unfortunately often not the case. Authorities sought internment only if there was a reasonable case and evidence against an individual enemy alien, such as evidence which linked them to participation in or membership of the Nazi or fascist movement. People tied to the movements responsible for the war in Europe made Australians feel understandably apprehensive. They believed that by interning them they were reducing the potential threat they posed to the protection of Australia, our internal security and peace of mind for the wider population.
I acknowledge the disruption these migrants faced and stress which it placed upon their families. To many, it seemed unfair, and it was unfair that they were being persecuted for their beliefs, often on evidence they felt was incorrect. Others could not understand why they were being segregated because of who they were and their place of origin—their heritage. However, we must acknowledge that a decision was made to protect the wider community based on the information at hand. In my electorate of Riverina, Griffith has a strong Italian community, with about 60 per cent of the city claiming an Italian background. Many Italians moved to Griffith post-World War II to join family who were already resident there or because they were aware of the Italian community that was already established.
The Italian influence in Griffith expanded the fruit and vegetable range and also significantly increased the number of wineries and the range of wines produced, with nationally and internationally recognised wineries including De Bortoli and Casella wines.
It is important that we acknowledge parts of our history which are not necessarily elements which we find acceptable or palatable today. Many would deem the internment of people as xenophobic and based on irrational panic. However, we must also look back through the eyes of the people of the time to ensure that we do not unfairly judge them for actions they felt were being undertaken to protect Australian citizens and to help prevent war arriving in Australia, possibly from within. I accept the member for Werriwa's mention of the change of name of Holbrook, from Germanton, to avoid the obvious connotations and connectivity.
Lobbyist Steve Carney was in the House this afternoon and spoke of the two Italian prisoners of war who worked on the Purlewaugh property of his father Arthur during the Second World War. 'Hard workers, good people' was how he described these men. Indeed, many Italian migrants and POWs and people of Italian heritage contributed mightily to this country during these difficult, torrid and worrying times. They were also desperate years, and those in authority did what they felt was necessary to safeguard our people and our security. That is, after all, the key role of government. It was then and it remains more so than ever today. However, I do commend the member for Fremantle for her motion and I commend it to the House.