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Friday, 5 May 1939

Mr McEWEN (Indi) .- I had the privilege, while Minister for the Interior, of preparing the bill now before the House, and I was Minister when it passed the Senate. Naturally, I support it. I do not believe that it is necessary to explain to the people of Australia why the Government has found it desirable to re-introduce some provision for the registration of aliens. This is not a new idea. The first registration was made under the old War Precautions Act, and it operated for some years after the war.

Mr Brennan - That was a punitive provision.

Mr McEWEN - There is a good deal in that. It was felt that the aliens registration provision of those days left a good deal to be desired. It was to some degree punitive, and was administered through the State police authorities, another undesirable feature. We pride ourselves so much on the freedom of British institutions that it is undesirable that an alien coming to Australia should find himself immediately and continuously under police surveillance. Eventually, the War Precautions Act was repealed, and for a time there existed no provision for the registration of aliens, an extraordinary thing, seeing that Australian-born citizens are required to register for electoral purposes. Australian citizens must notify any change of address, yet aliens, who come here and enjoy all the benefits of Australian residence, are not required to register at all.

This measure has a bearing on defence, also. If the country were at war, it is obvious that it would be necessary to know the number and addresses of aliens in Australia, together with certain other particulars regarding them. Thus this bill, in a sense, anticipates action that would be necessary in the event of war, but I am able to say with authority that it was not with any such thought that tlie measure was prepared and introduced.

The bill provides briefly that the machinery of the Commonwealth Electoral Department shall be used in compiling and maintaining the register. That divorces the matter from any association with police departments, a thing much to be desired. It seems to me, after listening to this debate, that the arguments have turned not so much on the actual registration of aliens, as on the white alien policy as it is practised at present in this country. There is a good deal of misapprehension in the minds of the Australian people with regard to the influx, as the newspapers have continually described it, of aliens to Australia. It is not generally known that fewer aliens came to Australia during the last few years than during the '20's. In my opinion quite unwarranted stress is placed upon the fact that many of our alien arrivals are Southern Europeans. I think that no country could take action more calculated to cause bad international feeling than to discriminate deliberately as between the nationalities of the people whom it would permit to come to its shores. During my occupancy of the Ministry of the Interior, I continuously and firmly advocated that in our immigration laws we should never embark upon a policy of discrimination as between nationalities. That was the policy of the government of which I was a member, and, I have no doubt, will continue to be the policy of this Government and of all governments that may succeed it. Whilst we agree that it is very desirable that, for obvious reasons, there should be no discrimination as between nationalities, at the same time we agree equally as willingly that there should be just as deliberate a discrimination as between individuals. That has been the aspect of our migration policy in which discrimination has been practised. The policy of admitting aliens to our country is not static ; it has been changing slightly with the knowledge and experience gleaned almost from week to week during the last eighteen months or so. We have been continuously tightening up the provisions of our migration laws in order to ascertain particulars of the antecedents of people who seek to come to this country.

One of the last steps I was able to take while Minister for the Interior was to arrange that a central bureau should be established at Australia House in London to deal with alien migration so that there may be closer and more intimate scrutiny of applications from aliens on the continent of Europe, whence, of course, most of the applications for permission to enter this country originate. I have no doubt that the present Government will continue along those lines and that it will probably extend, as I had it in mind to extend, this particular provision by the appointment of some Australian officials to reside on the continent of Europe so that they will be a'ble to make first-hand contact with applicants for permission to come to Australia by actual interviews. I think that whilst we should insist on getting the fullest particulars of them on paper it would be even more desirable to have personal interviews as a prelude to the issue of permits for aliens to come to this country to live. I think that we will recognize, in these days when defence is so much to the fore in the minds of all of us, that a nation of 7,000,000 people, occupying so vast an area as we occupy, cannot possibly, of its own efforts, take such defence measures as to make it secure in face of the aggression of some great power. The only ultimate way in which this country can be given a really final feeling of security with regard to its national integrity is by increasing the population to several times its number to-day. Every one of us has in mind an order of priority as to the sources from which we would seek to gain our additional population. Not one of us would not wish that our population should be at least double its present strength, and we would prefer that the gain should be from the natural increase. Secondly, I th'ink none would dispute that we would wish that this increased population should come from people of " British stock. Just twelve months ago there was put into operation a plan to assist British migrants to come to these shores ; but their rate of entry is far too slow to give us any confidence that the population of our country would be built up sufficiently rapidly from a defence aspect. There must also be brought into the picture the thought that, in these days when the peace of the world is constantly in jeopardy, partly because of the demand of certain over-populated countries for territorial expansion to meet the needs of their own people and for increased facilities for the procuring of raw materials, it would be foolish indeed for this young country so richly endowed in raw materials to attempt to give effect .to a policy of the closed door to people who are not British nationals. If we attempted to do so we would be immediately and seriously challenged by some of those powerful and heavily populated countries to which I have * referred. 1 think it is quite unlikely therefore that any government would think of embarking on a policy of the closed door against alien people who wish to come to this land. "While we continue the practice of a stringent policy of investigation into the character, health and antecedents of people who desire to come from foreign lands, and permit entry only of those whom we feel quite sure are desirable potential Australian citizens, we are on. very good ground. If we combine with those investigations a policy calculated to ensure that the admission of these people will not break down Australian industrial standards, we shall still be on quite good ground. I would be the last to say that the existing machinery is perfect and complete. It is not easy to be completely assured that an alien used to working long hours for comparatively small wages, when permitted to come to this country, will not be unwilling to introduce into Australia something of the industrial standards to which he was accustomed in the country from which he came. We must set ourselves strongly in the direction of endeavouring to establish the most adequate safeguards against such an undesirable possibility. For that reason a step was taken very recently to which reference was made by the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Martens). A Mr. A. L. Nutt has been appointed to the Department of the Interior, especially to keep under continuous scrutiny industrial practices of aliens who are permitted to come into this country, in order to see, as far as can be, that they observe one of the conditions upon which they were permitted to come here, namely, that they would not accept employment at less than ruling rates of pay, or engage in any employment in contravention of wages board conditions as established by law.

Mr Green - He is a very fine officer.

Mr McEWEN - That is so. While we have investigated, during the last eighteen months or so, every complaint that has been made with regard to any breach of industrial conditions by aliens, or any sweating, it is felt that a special branch of the department should be established, under the guidance of a wellqualified officer, the duty of which will be to maintain a continuous scrutiny of the industrial conditions under which aliens admitted to this country are working. The second function which will fall to the lot of this branch will be to make continuous investigations into area after area and report on the degree of aggregation of aliens. It has been the policy of the last Government, and I have no doubt it will also be the policy of the present Government, to prevent the development of alien colonies or any undue aggregation of aliens in particular areas. The initial steps in this policy were taken by the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson.) when he occupied the office of Minister for the Interior. The honorable gentleman arranged for the first investigations that were made on this important question of the aggregation of aliens in the sugar-growing areas in Queensland.

Mr Martens - Nevertheless aggregation of aliens is still taking place in those areas.

Mr McEWEN - As the result of the report which followed the first investigation, action was taken to refuse the issue of any further permits for aliens to come to Australia for the purpose of settling in those districts,' other than to dependent relatives of aliens who had already been admitted. It is not regarded as a good thing that admission should be refused for the wife or dependent children of an alien once he has been permitted to enter this country and has satisfactorily established himself here. That policy has been applied now for about eighteen months.

Mr Martens - Aliens are still going into the sugar areas from other parts of Australia every day.

Mr McEWEN - That is a point upon which I shall have something to say presently. No permits have been issued to aliens during the last eighteen months to go to the sugar-growing areas, other than to dependent relatives of those already settled there. The next field for investigation into the question of the aggregation of aliens was the Leeton irrigation area in New South Wales. The report which followed that investigation did not disclose an alarming degree of aggregation, and no immediate action was taken. Then the next field to be investigated was the Shepparton and adjoining areas in Victoria. As the result- of investigations made there I took the step of deciding to refuse the issue of any further permits to aliens to settle in those areas. Later, investigations were conducted along similar lines in the Werribee district in Victoria. Similar action was also taken there. I believe that investigations are at present proceeding in certain other areas, and I have no doubt that, if what is regarded as undue aggregation is disclosed, similar action will be taken. The honorable member for Herbert intimated by interjection that it is quite obvious that such action has been taken, and that aliens are still going there from' other parts of Australia. I do not dispute that; it is a matter that is very difficult to control. When we as Australian people permit an alien to come here, engage in employment and live a normal life, we do not wish him to have a halter around his neck. That is the policy adopted in certain continental countries.

Mr Mahoney - Why do you do it?

Mr McEWEN - We are not doing it. lt would be entirely out of sympathy with general Australian sentiment to adopt such a practice in Australia.

Mr Martens - Migrants are coming to Australia under the pretext that they propose to settle in certain parts of Australia and they then settle in the sugar districts in Queensland because of the better opportunity to obtain work.

Mr McEWEN - I am glad that the honorable member for Herbert has raised that point. I am able to say that, although it may occur in rare instances, it is not practised on a large scale.

Mr Martens - It is.

Mr McEWEN - The honorable member for Herbert says that an alien receives a permit on the pretext that he proposes to settle in a certain district, and he then goes to what I might call a forbidden district. It is impossible under the present alien migration law for that to be done on a large scale. Permits are issued to aliens under certain conditions. They must have a minimum of £200 of capital, and in other respects their application must be acceptable. Alternatively, they must be nominated by some person in Australia who is already established here, and who must undertake to find work for the alien. The work must be a definite job which must be specified and identified. Investigations are then made to ascertain ifby giving the man the job he would displace some Australian already engaged. Moreover, the nominator must guarantee that the migrant will not become a charge upon the State within five years. Fully 99 per cent.' of the southern Europeans who came to Australia during the time I was administering the department came either as dependent relatives of aliens already settled in Australia or as nominated migrants to go to a certain specified job. If the job specified in an application was within a forbidden area, the application was refused. In practice, of course, it works out that an alien who is already settled, for instance, in the sugar-growing area is able to secure a job for his prospective nominee only in an adjacent district. It is obvious that it would not be easy for an alien settled on one of the sugar-growing areas in Queensland to secure a job for a nominee for whom he would be responsible in a country district in, say, New South "Wales. Therefore the decision to refuse permits for aliens to come to the sugar areas to work means, in fact, that aliens already resident there are now largely excluded from nominating other than dependent relatives. In practice, what the honorable member for Herbert mentioned cannot occur on a large scale. There may be instances where an alien secures permission to come to Australia to work in a certain State and then goes to another State; but I can assure honorable members from personal knowledge and continuous investigations into many charges made in this direction that that is not practised on a scale of any magnitude.

Certain points of view have been presented by honorable members who have spoken in regard to naturalization, language and land ownership. The lastmentioned falls entirely within the constitutional jurisdiction of the States.

Mr Martens - Aliens cannot hold land in Queensland.

Mr McEWEN - As statedby the honorable member, the Queensland laws forbid an alien to own freehold land, but that policy does not operate in Victoria. It would be very desirable if the States were to adopt uniform laws in this respect. I would suggest that the Minister - I had the matter in mind when I was Minister - draw the attention of the State governments to the lack of uniformity in this respect.

Mr Martens - If an alien is given the rights of citizenship, why should he not be permitted to own property?

Mr McEWEN - That is a matter that falls within the State laws.

The honorable member for Herbert has directed attention to the fact that naturalization is refused aliens because of their inability to speak the English language. Under our laws, naturalization cannot be granted to an alien until he has been resident in this country for five years. That is a probationary period. We make the most complete investigations that can be made as to the desirableness of applicants, 'but naturally it does not follow that we are able by correspondence to form so firm an opinion of the desirableness of prospective migrants as to justify us immediately conferring the rights of British citizenship upon them. The practice followed in this country is that adopted in other countries. After the probationary period, the benefits of naturalization are granted. The period provided in Australia is five years and personally I think it wouldbe undesirable to reduce it. When I was Minister, representations in this respect were made to me by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) and the honorable member for Herbert, and I gave the matter very serious consideration, but I came to the conclusion that, on the experience gained by the department over a period of years, it would not be wise to reduce the period. I was under the impression that it would be desirable to introduce perhaps some interim period if that were possible.

Mr Green - They do that in the United States of America.

Mr McEWEN - I have had some inquiries made and find that in the United States of America that is the practice to some degree. I urge the Minister to follow up this matter by making further investigations, because . I believe from experience that it would be desirable to introduce some system, with adequate safeguards, of conferring some interim or probationary rights of citizenship. When an alien applies to come to Australia to live here more or less permanently, a pertinent question to ask him is whether if he is permitted to come here he will, when the law permits, apply to become a naturalized British subject. I found that no inquiries had ever been made on that particular point, and during the last few months I had introduced into the questionnaire which the applicant is required to fill in, certain additional questions. For instance, he is now asked whether he can speak the English language. In regard to one type of alien of whom only a quota is admitted - I refer to refugees - the answer to that question is one of the factors which guide the department in its decision as to whether a permit shall be issued. He is asked whether he can speak the English language.

Mr Lazzarini - What is the test?

Mr McEWEN - He is required to produce a certificate from some acceptable authority that he can speak English. The second question. I had introduced provides that an alien is now required to state in his application whether it is his intention, when the law permits, to apply for naturalization. The reply to that question is a factor in determining whether a permit shall or shall not be issued.

Mr Mahoney - If the reply were in the negative, would that prohibit his entry into this country?

Mr McEWEN - It would not automatically prohibit him, but it would influence the department to take serious cognizance of his replybefore issuing a permit. No provision is made in the act in this respect; it is a matter of departmental practice. While the probationary period of five years remains, it is not unreasonable to expect that aliens allowed to come here and enjoy the benefits of Australian citizenship should, during the probationary period, develop the capacity to make themselves understood in the English language. That is all that is required of them. No special examination " is conducted. It is customary to utilize the services of the police authorities in the respective States in this matter. When an alien applies to become naturalized, it is customary to ask the police authorities whether the applicant is able to make himself understood, for the purposes of normal business transactions, in the English language.

Mr Martens - I know of half a dozen good citizens at Halifax who can pass that test and who havebeen turned down.

Mr McEWEN - The honorable member must he in error. The police authorities are asked to report upon the capacity of an alien to make himself understood in the English language, and if the report is satisfactory it is accepted by the department on that particular point.

During the last eighteen months, there has been introduced, really at my instigation, another qualification in respect of naturalization. I found that many married aliens were coming to this country and enjoying the benefits which we have to offer, and, after five years were anxious to become naturalized British citizens without making any attempt tobring their wives or dependent children to Australia. We have therefore introduced a new and desirable condition in the matter of granting naturalization. Now it is not the practice to grant naturalization to married aliens living in this country unless they are prepared to unite their families by bringing their wives and dependent children to live here also. It is desirable that such conditions should exist.

Reverting again to the speaking of the English language, I am glad to say that during the last year or so special classes have been established in Melbourne. I think it is intended to establish similar classes in Sydney and perhaps later in other areas for the purpose of teaching aliens, and particularly refugees, the English language as soon as possible after their arrival in Australia. In that respect, I have to say that there has been a happy degree of co-operation between the Commonwealth Government and the governments of- the States I have mentioned. Certain voluntary migration organizations have been established so that the interests of such persons may be protected.

So much publicity has been given to alien migration, to Australia, that many people believe that during the last few years, it has resulted in a heavy dilution of our population. That is an entirely wrong conception which I look to the press of Australia to correct. The most recent census disclosed that of the total population of Australia, there is a greater percentage of British citizens than there is of the total population of the United Kingdom itself. Actually it disclosed that 98 per cent, of the population of Australia are naturalborn British subjects, and 99 per cent, of the people of Australia are legal British subjects. Approximately 1 per. cent, of the population are naturalized people. Thus only 1 per cent, are unnaturalized aliens from whom there is a steady flow of applications for naturalization. This has become particularly noticeable in the last year or so.

Mr Green - That 1 per cent, includes the Chinese and other coloured races to whom naturalization is refused.

Mr McEWEN - That is so. Every encouragement is given by the department; no barriers are erected to prevent or to delay naturalization subject only to those particular points which the law provides and those other points of policy which I have mentioned. The House will be on very safe grounds in providing what might be regarded as the coping stone of this gradually developed policy of white alien migration by carrying the measure before the chamber to provide that in future there will be provision for registration of aliens in this country so that we shall have them on an equal foot ing with ordinary citizens. It is a desirable change, that the register shall be compiled and conducted by civil authorities, the electoral authorities, and entirely divorced from the practices which previously obtained. During the war years the register had some relation to the military authorities and during the time it was kept after the war it was controlled and implemented largely by the police authorities.

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