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Thursday, 10 May 1984
Page: 1970

Senator MARTIN(5.30) —by leave-I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

This statement was given by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) in the House of Representatives earlier this afternoon. Yesterday we had a debate in the Senate on the Australian Citizenship Amendment Bill and there were some attempts by some honourable senators to debate immigration policy. At the time I resisted those attempts on the grounds that immigration policy should not be debated under the heading of citizenship. He said that when the debate arose in the Senate the Opposition would respond to it here. This afternoon I will respond only briefly to some sections of the statement. I am sure the statement will be further debated by the Senate at another time and we will go more fully into our reaction to the statement of the Prime Minister at that time. The Prime Minister in his statement essentially attacked the Opposition, specifically the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) and also the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Cadman). I said that the Opposition had broken down the spirit of bipartisanship in immigration policy and that the honourable member for Mitchell had given misleading information to the House of Representatives in a speech he made in that House on 7 May. In responding I am going to confine myself essentially to the factual nature of the Prime Minister's statement and point out where it is wrong. The opinions that are expressed there will be debated at another time. On page 12 of the statement the Prime Minister said:

It is not enough for the Opposition to assert that it seeks bipartisanship and then by its behaviour to undermine it.

Further in his speech the Prime Minister appealed for bipartisanship. I recommend the Prime Minister's own words to him and the Government. It is not good enough for the Government to assert that it seeks bipartisanship and then by its behaviour to undermine it. Bipartisanship is not an unquestioning me- tooism, an attitude that whatever the Government does it can do no wrong and that if we question it at all we have broken down bipartisanship. Oppositions have a right and a duty to question any policy, action, or intention of any government. The present Government asked questions about the former Government's immigration policy, and it did it quite rightly.

The matter of immigration policies has been debated on a number of occasions in the House of Representatives this week and the Leader of the Opposition and other Opposition speakers have stated the Opposition's case, but they continue to be misrepresented. I want to refer to a couple of the statements that have been made about the Opposition's policies on immigration, its attitudes towards immigration, as well as its attitudes towards this Government's immigration policy and the action of the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr West). On 8 May, when referring to the Fraser Government's immigration policy, Mr Peacock said:

The elements of our successful policy should be understood by the Government. They were a balanced migrant intake, an emphasis on family reunion and refugee settlement and on an increasing recognition that in future more and more immigrants would come from non-European sources. We have said it time and again. But the nub of the matter in seeking bipartisanship is that that community support must not be lost as it has been in record time, a little over 12 months, by this Minister.

At another stage the Leader of the Opposition said:

In my view there are two essential elements to be addressed in a migration policy such as this if we are truly to carry the community with us. We have to recognise the fragility of the concept of community acceptance. Those elements are the people who come here, and the great contributions they make, and the people who were already here. The main charge we have made against the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr West) is that an imbalance has occurred over the last 12 months. He denies it; we affirm it.

It was under the Fraser Government that the great Indo-Chinese refugee problem arose. That Government embarked on, I believe, a courageous policy, a policy that had some inherent dangers in it which everybody, both Government and Opposition, would have recognised. It was in a spirit of good will, not only from the Government and the Opposition but also from the community, that those people came here and they have successfully settled. In that context the Opposition has frequently given full credit to the then Opposition, now the Government, and specifically to its then spokesman, Mr Mick Young.

However, the situation is changing a little. In raising questions about the method of implementation of its immigration policy, as well as details of its immigration policy, the Opposition has now attracted the charge of racism. In May last year a statement on the Government's immigration policy was tabled in the Senate after having been made by the Minister in the House of Representatives the day before. I responded to it on behalf of the Opposition on that occasion and I criticised elements in the shift of emphasis in the Government's policy. Senator Robertson, senator for the Northern Territory, replied. That was an amicable debate. We disagreed with one another, but in essence there was not anything different between the debate last year on the Minister's statement and the warnings we gave about the implications of the shift that that designated and the debate that has gone on recently. Nevertheless, it has blown up; it has become a fire. It is not my intention this afternoon to stir it along. I hope that appeals for bipartisanship by both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are followed, that the debate cools down. That does not mean it will go away, because there are some aspects of the Government's immigration policy which ought to be questioned. They were questioned 12 months ago, and rightly so.

The Prime Minister in his speech-I am referring to page 8-repeated some statements that have been made consistently as a charge against the Opposition in the last few days. I will quote the statement on the balance or the mix of immigrants. This afternoon the Prime Minister said:

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--

at least that is what the Prime Minister alleges; I do not agree with it-

in recent days about increasing the number of European migrants.

So the Prime Minister at that stage of his speech rejected the concept of a balance or a mix. But just a little further down, in the next paragraph he stated:

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 or our intake important, but also the programs within our community to promote the integration of migrants into our society . . .

The Opposition agrees with that statement by the Prime Minister. I suggest that when he says composition is important he is saying nothing different from what the Opposition has been saying. In referring in recent times and for quite some time to concern about the mix in the immigration program there has been a vicious attack on the Opposition alleging racism, specifically directed to the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. I refer once again to the words of the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives on 8 May:

All members on this side will dissociate themselves from racist groups and have no truck with them. There is not a member here who will not put such groups down , but there is not a member here who does not have the right to say there has been a change in the balance of the migrant intake.

The Prime Minister made some further statements which I suggest were not correct in fact. Again I refer to page 8 of his statement where he said:

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 statistics. 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.

Further on, on page 10 he stated:

I make the further point that the Opposition made no effort to consult the Minister before obtaining the figures.

On the one hand we are told that no request for information was made but on the other we have a criticism in relation to figures the Opposition has obtained. I quote from the Hansard of Senate Estimates Committee B on 30 April 1984, when the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs gave evidence to that Committee . Senator Walters asked the following question of Mr Woodward, who holds the position of Deputy Secretary-a very senior official-in that Department:

Could you give me the number of applications and the number of approved migrants for the United Kingdom and Ireland, for each country separately in Europe and Asia, and in North America and South America?

That was a request for figures. The Minister knows of no such request. Mr Woodward replied:

We have the information but it would take a fair time to try to extract it for the countries that you have mentioned.

That just does not sit at all with the Prime Minister's statement. The request was made by Senator Walters. We all know that when questions are raised at Estimates committees and information is sought, Ministers are notified of them. Somebody is not doing his job if the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs truly did not know that that request was made at the beginning of last week by a member of the Senate. Mr Woodward indicated that it could be done but that it would be difficult. It has, of course, been done, in a form-a form that is the attachment to the Prime Minister's statement, a letter from one W. A. McKinnon, Secretary to the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. The Prime Minister said:

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.

. . . .

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 Hon. 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.

Mr McKinnon said of Mr Cadman in his letter:

Mr Cadman's office approached the Department direct by telephone. The figures supplied are derived from the Migration Program Management System.

In the debate this afternoon the honourable member for Mitchell produced for the House a letter signed by one Phillip Richards, Immigration Policy Branch, Central Office. That is the source of his figures. The figures were in writing and they were official.

Senator Withers —Not a junior officer.

Senator MARTIN —No, not a junior officer and also from the Central Office, which has to be the ultimate authoritative source. That attack on Mr Cadman was quite wrong. I believe that the Prime Minister believed what he said but he was given incorrect information.

Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle —You think so?

Senator MARTIN —At this stage, in the absence of better information I am prepared to make that statement. In conclusion I wish to say a few more things about the letter. As I said at the outset my concern this afternoon is to place on record a number of factual matters or to point out that there were some things in the Prime Minister's statement which are stated as fact but which are wide open to question.

The letter I referred to from Mr McKinnon makes a number of points about the statistics in question, statistics on family reunion and origin. A number of tables are also included. It is possible that with longer time to look at those tables and to study the figures extracted from them by Mr McKinnon, I might understand how the figures, particularly those on page 2, depend on the tables that are attached. I cannot see it. I am not suggesting that Mr McKinnon has not given correct figures. I am saying that, interesting though the attached tables are, they do not show us how the figures given on page 2 of his letter are derived. They are used to negative Mr Cadman. The conclusion is not something that I can extract from the information that Mr McKinnon gave. In relation to Mr Cadman's statement Mr McKinnon said:

The figures are wrong. The data included in MPMS, which is still being developed, are notoriously unreliable.

He said that the Department had done:

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

I hope at some time in the future we will be told why the re-run is more reliable than the original run and why we would be expected to accept that this re-run is necessarily right and that Mr Cadman is necessarily wrong. If the figures are unreliable in relation to Mr Cadman, they are unreliable in relation to the Prime Minister's statement.

The second point that Mr Mckinnon makes is that the figures are seasonal and should not be treated by doubling a half-year figure. Because Mr Cadman in his speech on 7 May did double a half-year figure Mr McKinnon said:

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

The inference throughout the debate today-and in recent days-is that by taking the January-June 1983 figures and doubling them, Mr Cadman was doing something that was misleading people. Mr Cadman said at the time that they were six- monthly figures and he realised there could be an error in doubling them. What is even more important in relation to this is that the figures he does not have- the figures that are given by Mr McKinnon-show that the figures for the half- year that are missing are likely to be larger. Mr McKinnon himself says that there is a risk of grossly under-estimating or over-estimating. The attack on Mr Cadman has been based on an assumption that they were an over-estimate. They could as easily be an under-estimate.

I leave my remarks on behalf of the Opposition there for this afternoon. I am sure that the Senate will want to come back to the debate at some future time. There are a number of matters in relation to policy that I would seek to put on behalf of the Opposition. I think it is possible that there might be some other speakers this afternoon who also wish to respond to the statement. I am going to seek leave to continue my remarks so that I can speak at another time but I indicate that I do so not to deny any other senator the right to speak. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Colston) —Is leave granted?

Senator Tate —Well-

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Did I hear an honourable senator say that leave was not granted?

Senator Tate —Mr Acting Deputy President, I was just seeking to clarify the situation.

Senator MARTIN —Mr Acting Deputy President, if I may for Senator Tate's benefit; I am aware that Senator Harradine wants to speak briefly this afternoon. I do not just want to sit down because then I lose my right to come back and say some other things I want to say when the debate comes up again. I have sought leave to continue my remarks later. That would normally automatically adjourn the debate, but Senator Harradine now seeks leave.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.