Evidence of war criminals finding refuge in Australia is not new, but Konrad Kalejs still makes news because successive governments have never cleansed their stables.

Kalejs’s arrest in the US in April 1985 sparked Mark Aarons to research his ABC radio series, followed by the 1988 War Crimes Amendments, and Aarons’s book, Sanctuary, Nazi Fugitives in Australia.

Kalejs is not welcome now, but he was embraced in the 1950s. With numerous other fascists, he did not slip into Australia, but was slipped in.

Evidence of Nazi activities here was met with lies and obfuscation. Immigration Minister Holt claimed in 1951 that a bust of Hitler was a ‘souvenir’ and whips were ‘carpet beaters’; he also alleged that concentration camp survivors were confusing the SS tattoo under the armpit with the tattoos on their own wrists.

When Kalejs arrived in Australia, Australian authorities accepted the reports of International Refugee Organisation without further investigation.

Contrast this laxity with the treatment of Italians. External Affairs Minister Richard Casey noted in his diary for 2 November 1951 that, of the 1918 potential emigrants who passed the medical, only 62 remained “after ‘political’ examination” to remove anyone who had ever voted Communist. Not content with reports from the Italian Ministry of the Interior, the Australian government spent ‘a great deal of time in delving into the local records’.

The IRO chief in Australia, Major General C. E. M. Lloyd, was linked to the right-wing secret Army, ‘The Association’, headed by Field-Marshall Blamey in the late 1940s.

How Kalejs got IRO support, how he became a camp official here and was accepted for naturalisation merit investigation, as does the War Crimes Prosecutor Bob Greenwood’s belief that Kalejs had been recruited by ASIO, which cleared him for naturalisation in 1957. ASIO chief Brigadier Charles Spry praised other alleged war criminals because they ‘can and do assist ASIO to the limit of their ability’.

The Coalition’s 1988 concern that probing Security agencies would assist the Soviets no longer applies. The British Home Secretary could open all the files.

Support came from diverse sources. When employers needed skilled Germans, the businessman head of Commonwealth Immigration Planning Council defended the bringing out of ‘the hundreds of thousands [who] were quiescent Nazis’.

The difficulty of prosecuting Kalejs makes it all the more pressing for an inquiry with wider terms of reference than in 1986 and conducted by someone less trusting of incompetence as an excuse.