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Tuesday, 30 April 1996
Page: 33

Mr RUDDOCK (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs)(6.34 p.m.) —As Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, I wish to be associated with this condolence motion. Sir Hubert Opperman was an outstanding Australian who served his country with distinction as a sportsman of world class and standing, as a RAAF Flight Lieutenant, as a Liberal member of parliament and as a federal minister and diplomat. As was so properly recalled by the Prime Minister (Mr Howard), the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Tim Fischer) and the member for Charlton (Mr Robert Brown), he played a very significant role as Minister for Immigration between 1963 and 1966. It is those matters which I wish to highlight because he was a reformist in the great Liberal tradition. He pioneered liberalisation of the immigration program, yet was firm when he needed to be in that area, as all ministers are.

As minister he presided over a review which changed the focus on conditions for the entry of non-European people to Australia, their qualifications and ability to settle. Sir Hubert's action to address discrimination against non-European students who were forced to leave Australia before becoming eligible for naturalisation, as it was then known, led to another Opperman doctrine. He put a stop to this practice by allowing non-European temporary residents to become residents and citizens after just five years instead of what was formerly 15 years. This also allowed the residents and citizens to bring their families to Australia much earlier than might otherwise have been possible.

The Opperman reforms are now recognised as heralding the beginning of the end of the White Australia program and paving the way for the reforms of the late 1960s and the 1970s. Emeritus Professor Jamie Mackie of the ANU recently said in the Australian of March 1996 in a tribute to the Opperman doctrine:

Opperman deserves the nation's thanks . . . for having broken the political ice in 1966 and got the process of policy reform started, in substance if not yet in name.

These were very significant reforms for Australia. It is recognised that Sir Hubert started that process. He is a person whose inspiration and achievements were shared and celebrated by all Australians and whose contribution to public life was much wider than his legendary sporting fame. His political achievements alone will endure for all time as a major milestone in our multicultural history. I commend Sir Hubert Opperman and I offer my condolences and that of my department to his widow, Lady Mavys Opperman, his son, Ian, and family.