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Thursday, 10 May 1984
Page: 1965


Senator GARETH EVANS (Attorney-General)(5.29) —by leave-On behalf of the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr West), I present a statement made by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) earlier this afternoon. I seek leave to have the text of the statement and the accompanying documents and table incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech and documents read as follows-

STATEMENT TO PARLIAMENT-10 MAY 1984

Over the past few days, powerful emotions have been unleashed in this country and in this Parliament over the issue of immigration. We in this place have a particular responsibility to ensure that what we do and say on this matter is judicious, calm and constructive. There is a risk that if the debate on immigration loses touch with facts and departs from a civilised approach, racism and racial intolerance could be promoted to the detriment of our national unity and our basic values.

I know I speak for this Government, for the Australian Labor Party and for the overwhelming majority of Australians in rejecting racial intolerance and in calling for a measured and humane discussion of these issues.

One of Australia's greatest achievements has been our acceptance of people from widely diverse nationalities around the world. The enrichment of our national life by new settlers since World War II, predominantly of European stock, has been palpable.

Over the past decade, we have buried the White Australia Policy for ever. We have shown our capacity to accept people from Asian cultures, many of whom have sought a new life in Australia following the tragedy of the wars in Indo-China in which Australia itself participated.

Surely no Member of this Parliament would wish to allow that achievement to be called into question now by prejudice and intolerance.

As The Australian stated in its Editorial of 9 May 1984 in discussing the need for informed debate on immigration:

'Unless it is carried on with moderation and respect for other points of view we shall come to no sensible conclusion and Australia will become an ugly place to live in.'

It is therefore imperative that our debate be based on a clear understanding of the facts and the facts be presented honestly and without a view to political point scoring. Senator Chipp, whose views on this matter I respect, pointed yesterday to the dangers of ignoring and distorting the facts and their causes in a speech which I commend to all Members. My purpose here today is to place Government's Immigration Policy.

On coming to Office, the Labor Government took the view that at a time of high unemployment, unprecedented in the post-war era, we should reduce the total migration intake. We decided in particular to curtail drastically recruiting for the Australian workforce. I believe that that decision was correct.

As the same time, we acknowledged the aspirations of new settlers in our community to reunite with their families, by allowing an increased component for family reunion. We also accepted our responsibilities to the international community and our moral obligation as a participant in the Vietnam war to continue the bipartisan humanitarian policy of accepting refugees, particularly from Indo-China.

It is worth pointing out, as i said in this place on 8 May, that the Australian Labor Party in opposition wholeheartedly supported the Fraser Government's efforts in offering Indo-Chinese refugees a new life in this country, notwithstanding our Party's strong opposition to the war itself. Inevitably, Australia's bipartisan acceptance of Asian refugees has carried with it bipartisan acceptance of their right to participate equitably in the Family Reunion Program. As Senator Chipp has said, it is inconceivable that we could accept refugees in the late 1970's and refuse their families in the 1980's.

This Government is not going to designate any group of Australians as second class citizens. We are simply not going to tell people who are here legitimately in this country that they have second clss rights, that they are not allowed to exercise their rights under the Family Reunion Program.

When the intake of Indo-Chinese refugees was at its highest under the previous Government in the period 1979 to 1981, we as an Opposition responsibly and constructively sought to make no political capital out of that fact. There is some irony in the fact that now, when the absolute number of Indo-Chinese refugees-and indeed the total number of Asians-coming into Australia is dropping , we find ourselves being subjected to criticism from some quarters for allegedly contributing to the ''Asianisation'' of Australia.

The Leader of the Opposition has in this place and in statements to the media indicated that he is not opposed to the present number of Asians coming into Australia. Indeed he said on 'Nationwide' on 8 May that the 'right number' of Asians was now coming in. He has, however, expressed concern, about the 'mix' or the 'balance', as he put it, of the present migrant intake and has called for an increase in European migration.

The fact is that the proportion of settlers (excluding refugees) coming to Australia from Europe, the UK and Ireland is still higher than from any other area. In the nine months to 31 March 1984, migration visas issued to the people from that area constituted some 45 per cent of the total number granted.

This high proportion of visas issued has occurred despite a diminution of migrant applications from that region and repudiates claims of anti-British bias or anti-European bias in our Migration Program. In the same nine months, 39.5 per cent of total migrant applications came from Britain and Europe compared to 44.4 per cent for 1982/83, 63.1 per cent in 1981/82 and 66.6 per cent in 1980/81 .

European migration posts have been recently asked by the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs to offer explanations for the diminution in interest in migration to Australia from Europe. In the case of Britain, for example, migration applications have declined dramatically-from over 130,000 in 1980/81 to some 13,000 in the first nine months of this financial year.

The post in London attributes particular importance in this decline to publicity given in Britain to the recession in Australia, the unemployment situation in 1982 and, especially, unemployment among British migrants. It may well be that as the improving economic circumstances here become more widely known in Europe this situation will turn around.

One can imagine, Mr Speaker, the impact in Britain of reports of steel workers, recruited for BHP under the former Government's Employer Nominations Program, being sacked within months of their arrival in this country. Nothing could be better calculated to have a long-term negative impact on migration from Britain.

At the same time, while the absolute number of Asians now coming to Australian is declining because of the lower target which the Government has set for refugees, their percentage share of the intake is increasing. This partly reflects the decline in interest from Europe to which I have referred.

More relevantly, since the Opposition has raised the issue of alleged distortions in the 'balance' or 'mix' of the migration program, the percentage increase of Asian migration also reflects the fact that the Opposition during its final year in Government reduced the total migration intake at a much faster rate than the refugee intake.

In that year, it reduced its migration intake by 21 per cent from 118,000 to 93 ,000. Yet at the same time, it reduced the Asian refugee intake by only 12 per cent, from 14,557 to 12,758. We did not then, nor do we now, criticise them for that decision.

By contrast under the Labor Government, the reduction in the overall migration program has been closely paralleled by that in the Asian refugee intake.

The point that I wish to emphasise is that in Government the Opposition had no particular regard for the so-called 'balance' or 'mix' it is now promoting as a policy objective. Not only that, the number of Asian refugees included in the overall intake during the period that the Opposition was in Government is now being strongly reflected in the family reunion program. There are ample grounds therefore for suggesting that the Opposition's stand on this issue smacks of hypocrisy.

For my own part, as I said on 'Nationwide' on 8 May, I do not believe that one can honestly say that there is an immutably right figure for any migrant group within the overall intake. Rather the approach of the Labor Government reflects the application of economic criteria in determining the total intake and of economic and humanitarian factors in breaking down this total among different categories of migrants.

This Government does not consider that a 'balance' or 'mix' in our migration program determined on racial grounds can have any place in our society. It categorically rejects the discriminatory concept of quotas, which is implicit in what the Leader of the Opposition has said in recent days about increasing the number of European migrants. It also categorically rejects any proposal to introduce covert discrimination through differential standards in selection criteria.

We of course acknowledge the need to ensure that our migration program does not threaten the stability and fabric of Australian society. But in working towards this end the Government considers that not only is the size and composition of our intake important, but also the programs within our community to promote the integration of migrants into our society from initial concentrations of ethnic groups, and the broader promotion of racial tolerance in our country.

In the past few days, the Leader of the Opposition has supported his criticism of the Government's Immigration Policy by reference to statistics which he describes as official government. The basis for his claims has caused some puzzlement to the Government because my colleague, the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, has received no request from the Opposition for up-to-date immigration statistics.

Enquiries have now revealed that some figures were in fact obtained by the Hon. Member for Mitchell directly from a junior officer in the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs.

The Department has now had these figures re-checked because they do not square with other statistics available to the Government. Our figures-figures confirmed and released yesterday by the Minister-showed that overall migration applications from Europe are in decline. The Opposition's figures purported to show that family reunion applications from Europe were increasing against this trend.

It emerges that the Opposition's figures are in fact wrong-and that even these figures have been used in a statistically unsound manner. My colleague, Mr West, has today written to the honourable member for Mitchell pointing out this error and giving him revised figures which confirm the Government's consistent advice that the trend of family reunion applications to migrate to Australia from traditional sources in Europe is in fact declining.

The Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, Mr McKinnon, has also provided the Minister with statistical and other material which clarifies the factual basis on family reunion and the trend in Australia's Immigration Program. Furthermore, it sets out in some detail the highly dubious fashion in which these incorrect statistics were used by the Opposition.

Mr McKinnon said:

'MIGRANT APPLICATION STATISTICS

You asked me to explain the apparent conflict in applications for family reunion in European posts as used by Mr Cadman in the Adjournment Debate on 7 May 1984 with the advice given to you related to the decline in interest from traditional countries of migration.

Mr Cadman's office approached the Department direct by telephone. The figures supplied are derived from the Migration Program Management System. They comprise recorded applications for family migration by class, by country of last residence for 1982/83 and the first half of financial year 1983/84. Mr Cadman then doubled the half-year figures to produce an annual rate which he compared with the 1982/83 figures.

On the basis of this comparison, he concluded that there was an increase in family migration applications in the United Kingdom and Europe.

A number of qualifications need to be made:

1. The figures are wrong. The data included in MPMS, which is still being developed, are notoriously unreliable. They depend upon input from a number of posts using a number of classification methods. When supplying such figures, a caveat is normally included which draws attention to their limitations, but on this occasion the caveat was not included.

A complete re-run of the figures, including recourse to the basic data, has been undertaken. The revised results are attached. You will note that they considerably alter the picture portrayed by Mr Cadman.

2. The figures are seasonal and should not be treated by doubling a half-year figure. Applications in European posts are seasonal. An example using U.K. figures for total number of persons covered by applications shows:

July-December 1980 46,504 January-June 1981 77,854 July-December 1981 43, 883 January-June 1982 60,317 July-December 1982 29,357 January-June 1983 22,766

Thus a doubling of the figures for July-December in any category runs the risk of grossly under or over-estimating the annual rate.

3. The series is not consistent. A higher proportion of persons applying in European posts have been applying under family reunion as the opportunities for skilled migration, which does not depend upon sponsorship, have declined. As the occupational Demand Schedule has narrowed, persons who would normally have applied otherwise are now applying under family reunion.

Furthermore, the increase in the scope of family reunion to include Category C only commenced in the first half of 1982 and the influence of this widened eligibility would have been felt increasingly through the period used by Mr Cadman.

4. The data are not complete. One of the other indications of declining interest in migration is the number of persons put into processing who do not respond to an invitation to interview. For example, the current response rate in the Athens post is as low as 50%, which indicates that about half of the people being sponsored by relatives in Australia are not interested in migration. Although the non-response rates for other European posts are not as high, they are still significant and well above the equivalent rates for Asian posts.

I should point out that the figures for applications relate to actual arrivals approximately one year later. Thus, even if family reunion interest were to be regenerating in traditional migration countries (which is contrary to the advice from virtually all our posts), this would not be reflected in current arrivals figures.

The current figures on the balance of source countries for arrivals would reflect the applications in 1982/83 at the latest, before any changes in immigration policy of the current government became operative.

In any case, I should point out that the only changes made since the change of Government affect the family reunion Category C. This represented less than one quarter of all family reunion arrivals in 1982/83. Thus the changes introduced in the Points Assessment System will change marginally the proportion from different sources in future arrivals.

I would like to give you my unqualified assurance that no policy or operational instructions have been promulgated which would inhibit migration from traditional source countries. You would be aware that special efforts have been made to lift the number of Category C family reunion migrants once the shortfall became evident. Furthermore, with the declining overall level of applications in these countries, we have been able to improve significantly our processing times for family reunion migrants particularly from those countries.

For example, for the United Kingdom the average time between receipt of the application (M47) to the approval letter is now approximately 3 1/2 months, compared with 9-11 months two years ago. It is now one of the shortest periods anywhere in the world.

I believe that Mr Cadman should be informed of the adjusted figures and the limitations on the use of the figures in measuring interest in family reunion'.

I seek leave, Mr Speaker, to incorporate a number of supporting tables, provided to the Minister by Mr McKinnon.

I make the further point that the Opposition made no effort to consult the Minister before obtaining the figures. Having obtained them, it made no attempt to discuss the matter with the Minister, notwithstanding the Government's citation of other statistics which argued a contrary trend. Given the sensitivity of these issues, one might have expected a little extra care to be shown, a little more time to be spent, a little more effort to be invested, before bipartisanship and national consensus were put at risk by public political attacks based on false premises.

Put simply, the Opposition's case is based upon inaccurate statistics, improperly used. It has at its heart the false allegation that the Government has somehow sought to deter migration from Europe. Mr McKinnon's statement refutes that allegations-if it ever needed to be refuted-when he says, and I repeat.

'I would like to give you my unqualified assurance that no policy or operational instructions have been promulgated which would inhibit migration from traditional source countries.'

For several days now, the Opposition has vilified my colleague, the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, who has steadfastly and honestly set out the facts to this House regarding the trend in Australia's migration flow.

He has been completely vindicated by the information released today.

The Government has throughout emphasised the importance of a bipartisan position on this crucial issue. For its part, the Opposition has paid lip service to the concept of bipartisanship but claims that it no longer exists as a result of Government policies.

It is not enough for the Opposition to assert that it seeks bipartisanship and then by its behaviour to undermine it. The Opposition's behaviour in this place in recent days has diminished the dignity, decorum and reason which ought to surround this issue.

As the Sydney Morning Herald said this morning:

'The Opposition's claim that the Government has departed from bipartisan immigration policy by running a ''pro-Asian and anti-British'' policy is nonsense . . . it is the Oppoisition and not the Government that is seeking to depart from bipartisan policy . . . it seems that Mr Peacock does not want a constructive debate. The Opposition just wants to make a quick killing'.

It is not too late to restore decency and commonsense to discussion of this issue. At this point, Mr Speaker, I repeat the call which I made to the Leader of the Opposition in the House on 8 May to put an end to this debate as a party political dispute and in particular to dampen down the racial overtones which it can so easily assume. I said that it would be to the great service of this country and all its citizens, and to our relations with countries in this area, if we did not allow this very dangerous issue to be raised and to become something that is in the forefront of political debate.

As Senator Chipp said in the statement to which I referred earlier, the rhetoric which is surrounding the debate does not match the facts and the danger is that the consequences of the rhetoric will be to fan those underground elements of racism and prejudice.

A bipartisan policy in this area is of crucial national importance-splitting the debate along political and partisan lines would only serve to cause wholly undesirable divisions within our society.

Is there anyone in this place who wants to see discrimination reintroduced into our Immigration Policies, with all the tragic social damage and conflict which that would bring to this great country? Does anyone here want to see Australia turn its back on those in our region who have known anguish and human suffering? Do we want to see Australia lose its reputation as a tolerant, open-hearted country, which can hold its head high in the world?

I know where the Government stands on this matter. I would like to believe that the Opposition stands with us.

FAMILY MIGRATION

Applications preselected in(1) by country of last residence (cases)(2)-total of family migration categories A, B and C. Updated figures as of 9 May 1984. Figures in brackets are the totals of those supplied to Mr A. Cadman, M.P., on 5 April 1984

1982-83

July-Dec. 1983

Abu Dhabi 59 (0) 30 (21) Algeria 2 (2) . . (0) Austria 132 (109) 40 (41) Bahrain 29 (24) 8 (4) Bangladesh 24 (23) 8 (9) Belgrade 1,008 (750) 485 (552) Buenos Aires 413 (341) 198 (205) Burma 56 (48) 22 (18) Canada 615 (591) 269 ( 337) Chile 300 (204) 127 (116) China 272 (227) 88 (112) Cyprus 119 (109) 76 ( 75) Denmark 53 (49) 38 (48) Egypt 286 (254) 151 (139) Fiji 435 (428) 208 (225 ) France 239 (223) 130 (158) G.D.R. 5 (5) 1 (1) Germany 700 (602) 299 (339) Greece 502 (468) 261 (306) Hong Kong 1,700 (1,327) 844 (903) India 1,052 (813 ) 391 (363) Indonesia 383 (321) 153 (184) Iran 44 (31) 43 (30) Ireland 200 ( 174) 108 (129) Israel 148 (142) 45 (48) Italy 391 (352) 164 (187) Jamaica 28 (25) 11 (11) Japan 90 (86) 51 (68) Kiribati 4 (4) 2 (2) Korea 311 (285) 210 ( 166) Kuwait 31 (29) 14 (12) Malawi . . (0) . . (3) Malaysia 746 (671) 393 ( 353) Malta 204 (197) 101 (125) Mexico 27 (24) 12 (17) Nairobi 470 (420) 94 ( 61) Nauru 2 (2) . . (0) Netherlands 402 (384) 160 (178) New Caledonia 14 (9) 17 (18) New Zealand 157 (151) 66 (79) Pakistan 118 (116) 56 (54) Papua New

Guinea 96 (80) 55 (52) Philippines 2,599 (2,380) 1,221 (1,488) Portugal 178 (170) 82 (100) Saudi Arabia 72 (56) 24 (15) Singapore 450 (334) 174 (177) Solomon Islands 9 (9) 6 (7) South Africa 875 (710) 365 (377) Spain 138 (133) 43 (56) Sri Lanka 204 (192) 841 (868) Sweden 112 (102) 65 (80) Switzerland 154 (129) 48 (56) Syria 809 (726) 580 (662) Thailand 196 (183) 94 (139) Tonga 7 ( 0) 5 (9) Turkey 830 (676) 303 (366) United Kingdom 6,254 (5,340) 2,541 (3,054) U.S.A. 1,242 (1,122) 567 (784) U.S.S.R. 17 (8) 4 (4) Vanuatu 4 (4) 5 (5) Vietnam 662 (654) 669 (1,003) Warsaw 227 (206) 300 (362) Western Samoa 21 (17) 9 (8) Zambia 11 (9) 10 (10)

The following countries were omitted from the December table:

Laos 1 0 Tanzania 11 3

(1) Preselected in=prima facie eligible applications only.

(2) Cases=applications. A single application may cover one or more members of the family unit.

FAMILY MIGRATION(a)-APPLICATIONS PRESELECTED IN AND VISAS ISSUED BY REGION ( PERSONS)

1980-81

1981-82

1982-83

1983-84(b)

Region

Number % Number % Number % Number %

UK & Ireland-

Applications n.a. n.a. 13,534 24.9 6,591 18.5 Visaed 6,046 30.7 6,917 30.6 6,178 24.1 5,971 25.2

Europe-

Applications n.a. n.a. 8,627 15.9 5,440 15.3 Visaed 4,115 20.9 3,817 16.9 2,628 14.5 4,129 17.5

Asia-

Applications n.a. n.a. 17,220 31.7 14.533 40.8 Visaed 5,071 25.7 6,425 28. 5 5,039 27.8 7,607 32.1

Other-

Applications n.a. n.a. 14,909 27.5 9,022 25.4 Visaed 4,480 22.7 5,411 24.0 4,276 23.6 5,955 25.2

Total-

Applications n.a. n.a 54,290 100.0 35,586 100.0 Visaed 19,712 100.0 22,570 100.0 18,121 100.0 23,662 100.0

(a) The definition of Family Migration has changed during the period 1980-81 to 1983-84.

(b) 1 July 1983 to 31 March 1984.

n.a.=not available.

Source: DIEA manual statistics for 1980-81 and 1981-82 and MPMS data from 1982- 83 onwards. MPMS data are preliminary and subject to revision.

ALL MIGRATION*-APPLICATIONS (M47) AND PERSONS VISAED BY REGION

1983-84 to

1980-81

1981-82

1982-83

Mar. 31 1984

Region

Number % Number % Number % Number %

UK & Ireland-

Applications 137,112 (39.6) 105,011 (31.6) 53,057 (18.1) 13,202 (10.7) Visas 35,602 (43.6) 39,711 (41.9) 25,822 (38.1) 8,794 (25.6)

Europe-

Applications 93,500 (27.0) 104,597 (31.5) 77,087 (26.3) 35,631 (28.8) Visas 21,826 (26.7) 26,584 (28.1) 15,763 (23.2) 6,728 (19.6)

Asia-

Applications 54,242 (15.7) 47,963 (14.4) 67,827 (23.1) 35,301 (28.5) Visas 10 ,970 (13.4) 13,155 (13.9) 12,882 (19.0) 10,970 (32.0)

Other-

Applications 61,124 (17.7) 74,524 (22.4) 95,580 (32.6) 39,711 (32.1) Visas 13 ,225 (16.2) 15,319 (16.2) 13,366 (19.7) 7,807 (22.8)

Total-

Applications 345,978 (100.0) 332,095 (100.0) 293,551 (100.0) 123,845 (100.0) Visas 81,623 (100.0) 94,769 (100.0) 67,833 (100.0) 34,299 (100.0)

* excluding refugees.