301 Memorandum by Prime Minister's Department

CANBERRA, 19 October 1943

On 13th September, 1943, the Archbishop of Melbourne [1] forwarded to the Prime Minister a report [2] prepared for him by Reverend Father H. Modotti, S.J., pointing out that many Italian internees after working in labour camps have been found medically unfit for work and have been turned adrift in Australian cities, often many miles from home and without medical attention, food or lodging.

Specific cases of severe hardship were quoted and it was urged that it is the Federal Government's duty to return these people back to their homes and families.

It was pointed out also that farms belonging to these people-were going to ruin during their absence and that complaints were made by Italian internees about the manner in which their properties have been dealt with by the authorities.

The Archbishop proposed as a satisfactory solution to the problem that pending the appointment of Consuls, the Government should appoint an accredited Liaison Officer between the Government and the Italian community, and that he would be prepared to nominate an Italian who he thought would give complete satisfaction.

Appointment of Italian Liaison Officer In regard to the question of the appointment of a Liaison Officer, the name of Mr. G. Vaccari [3] was suggested to the Prime Minister as being a suitable man for the position.

The representations by the Archbishop were referred to the Minister for the Army, the Attorney-General and Minister for External Affairs and the Security Service, together with the name suggested to the Prime Minister.

The Attorney-General in reply [4] to this question stated in effect that in his opinion security requirements would not be lessened by such an appointment providing it is understood that the appointee is to be regarded as an unofficial representative of the Italians, and Naturalised British subjects of Italian origin, in relation to security matters upon which his co-operation might be useful. Dr. Evatt stated further that no objection would be raised to Mr. Vaccari filling such an unofficial position.

On the 7th October, 1943, the Department of the Interior was requested to bring the Attorney-General's views to the notice of the Minister for the Interior in regard to the question of consultative facilities and also in connection with the possibility of the Allied Works Council desiring to nominate an officer for direct approach to the proposed representative. [5]

The Director-General of Allied Works reported on individual cases mentioned by Father Modotti and expressed the view that the representations made related to naturalised British subjects rather than to aliens called up under the Alien Service Regulations in the Allied Works Council. [6]

The Secretary, Department of External Affairs, on the 15th October, set out his comments on the matter to the effect that Italian interests are at present being looked after by Swiss Consul[ar] authorities, who have carried out this work satisfactorily. In addition there is also an International Red Cross delegate, Dr. G. W. Morel, who performs certain functions in connection with prisoners of war and internees. The Secretary added that to appoint an additional officer would result in duplication and might imply that the two authorities mentioned were not carrying out their functions satisfactorily. It was pointed out that these authorities enjoy the confidence and respect of the Italians. It was suggested by Colonel Hodgson that Dr. Mannix might be advised of the foregoing so far as his proposal is concerned. [7]

Return of Aliens to Queensland The Secretary, Department of the Army, stated that his Department would be glad to contribute in any way it could towards a solution of the problem and on the question of the return of the Italians to Queensland the following was suggested as a basis for consideration:-

(a) Only those ex-internees who are virtually unemployable by reason of age, injury or sickness should be permitted to return.

(b) Return of any individual should depend upon the Director- General of Security being satisfied that he will not constitute a security risk.

(c) No ex-internees should be permitted to return to those parts of Queensland which have been declared Emergency Control areas.

[8]

The Director-General of Security stated that he was in complete accord with the basis suggested by the Secretary, Department of the Army, as explained in above paragraph, and that the release of Italian internees is at the present time proceeding on that basis.

[9]

1 Dr Daniel Mannix.

2 Dated 11 September. On file AA:A1608, AA19/1/1.

3 A Melbourne businessman.

4 Evatt's letter to Curtin of 29 September is on the file cited in note 2.

5 Strahan's memorandum to Carrodus is on the file cited in note 2.

6 See Carrodus's memorandum of 8 October on the file cited in note 2.

7 Hodgson's memorandum to Strahan and Curtin's letter to Mannix of 25 October are on the file cited in note 2.

8 The Army Dept's memorandum 166847 of 27 September is on the file cited in note 2.

9 No written record of this advice has been found.

[AA:A1608, AA19/1/1]