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Thursday, 4 October 1956


Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) .- The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Freeth) suffers from the same disadvantage in dealing with the Estimates for the Department of Immigration as do members of the Opposition. We have to confine our remarks to fifteen minutes. The Minister for Immigration (Mr. Harold Holt), who preceded the honorable member for Forrest, had unlimited time, and had no scruples in exercising his right. However, the honorable member for Forrest, like the Minister for Immigration, took advantage of his freedom to ignore facts and statistics. He spoke entirely in generalities and platitudes.

There can be no doubt that all political parties in Australia agree with the principles that have been enunciated on immigration, but there is growing resentment in Australia, and particularly on the Opposition side, to the practice of immigration in recent years. There can be no question that the vast majority of Australians want Australia to take as many immigrants as it can absorb in our economy, in our industries, both primary and secondary, and in our society. In recent years, under the administration of this Government, the absorptive capacity of Australia in relation to immigrants has decreased year by year. Criticisms have been voiced by many persons, including some on the Government side, although they were virtually strangled by their colleagues for their pains. There were disgraceful episodes when persons, appointed under the Holt empire to advisory councils, the honorable member for Forrest, and the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) heckled the honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner) and the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Malcolm Fraser) when they ventured to criticize Australia's immigration policy, not as enunciated by the Government, but as carried out by it. We all agree that Australia should be able to absorb by way of immigration 1 per cent, of its population every year, that is, that we should be able to absorb at present over 90,000 persons a year, this number being the difference between those who permanently arrive in Australia and those who permanently depart from it. Some honorable members on the Government side have had the temerity to suggest that in our present economic conditions we cannot absorb that number. I agree with their contention. We cannot absorb them because of the way in which the Government handles the economy. I know it is difficult for any government in Australia, under our federal Constitution - the horse-and-buggy harness which we have to wear - to control our economy properly. To-day, with a Liberal government - worse still, a coalition government - on the treasury bench in the Federal Parliament, we shall have unemployment and disorganization in our economy, whether we cut down on immigration and defence expenditure or whether we maintain it.

Secondly, it is agreed that we should have a balance between the skilled and the unskilled breadwinners whom we bring from overseas. Thirdly, it is agreed that we should have a balance between those who come from the British Isles - England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales - on the one hand, and those who come from other countries on the other hand. As is clearly revealed in the successive statistical bulletins issued by the Department of Immigration, the balance between the unskilled and the skilled is not maintained, and we assert that it is unfair, that it is an unnecessary selfimposed hardship, to import unskilled persons into this country when there is unemployment. It is unfair to the unskilled persons who were born in Australia and who are out of employment. It is unfair to the immigrants who have earlier come to Australia and who are unskilled and unemployed; and it is unfair to the unskilled persons whom we propose to bring and who also will be unable to secure employment. Nobody suggests that unemployment is caused if we bring in skilled immigrants, to take an extreme example, to fill the jobs which are unfilled in the books of the Commonwealth Employment Service. Unemployment is being caused, however, because we are not maintaining a proper balance between skilled and unskilled. We say that it is important not how many we bring in, but who and what we bring in. If we cannot get skilled breadwinners and their dependants to the number of 45,000, we do not have to make up the quota of 90,000 with unskilled breadwinners and their dependants. We should bring in no more unskilled than skilled, even if thereby we reduce our immigrant intake below I per cent, of our population.

In addition, there is the social aspect of our immigration. No one objects to skilled persons coming into the country, from whatever country they come. In discussions on immigration, frequent reference is made to the position of Italians. Nobody in Australia, as 1 understand it, would be reluctant - in fact, we all would be delighted - to receive the skilled persons from Italy, from the factories, say, of Milan and Turin, from Fiat and Olivetti, and all such people who are not only the most skilled in the Mediterranean but are also equal in skill to anybody in the world. Australia would be very fortunate and very proud to get them, but we are not getting them. All parties profess that half the persons who come to this country should come from the British Isles, because they are most easily absorbed. There is nothing shameful or racist in this aim. After all, the people from whom most of us sprang are from the British Isles - by either chain migration or migration in chains, according to our various ancestors. We can most easily absorb persons who come in turn from the British Isles. It is to be deplored that many persons on the Government side, many of its supporters, headed, to his shame, by the Minister for Immigration himself, do their very best to play on the political prejudices of immigrants from the continent of Europe. During the last State election campaign in New South Wales, for instance, a Labour candidate in my area was the victim of propaganda in Maltese put out by his Liberal opponent, stating that the Labour candidate was a Communist. Everybody has had that sort of experience. There are honorable members here who know that in union election campaigns multi-lingual pamphlets in Polish. Dutch, and Italian are circulated among unionists prior to court-controlled ballots under the first-past-the-post system, suggesting that anybody who is in agreement with Labour policy is a Communist. Persons on the Government side are doing their disruptive and divisive dirtiest to spread dissension among our new arrivals and to distort Australian political aspirations.

The Minister for Immigration consistently comes out with three stereotyped replies, when we ask any questions suggesting that parity is not being maintained between immigration from the British Isles and immigration from other sources. They are fallacious replies as well. First, he says that the figures do noi show the true British migration, because they deduct those Australians who are leaving our shores to go to the United Kingdom or Ireland for a period of twelve months or more. He seems to think, however, that we are always to overlook those persons who go fo: twelve months or more. Of course, the figures for succeeding years show those persons who are Australian by birth and who have gone to the United Kingdom or Ireland for twelve months or more and have then returned to Australia as being permanent immigrants from the United Kingdom and Ireland. The right honorable gentleman's excuses in this regard take all Australians to be persons who are veritable tyros on statistics. The figures of the Statistician allow for the population movement, which he pleads.

His second excuse is that Australia has attracted more immigrants from the British Isles than the next three countries which take immigrants from the British Isles, and he cites the figures for the last ten years. He never cites the figures for the last three or the last two years, or the last year, because they do not bear 0U his contention. If he looks at his own statistical bulletin, the last one that was issued. No. 19 for July, 1956, he will find that Canada alone in the last three years has taken more immigrants from the British Isles than has Australia.

The Minister's third stereotyped and fallacious reply is that 48 per cent, of our immigrants have been British. He cites the figures for ten years. He will not cite the figures for the last three or the last two years, or the last year. Of course, he includes under " British " a number of categories, exceeding one dozen. I should have thought that in our understanding " British " means persons who came from Great Britain and Ireland or, should I say, to spare the Prime Minister's feelings, the Republic of Ireland. As the Minister refuses to give the figures, and as the honor able member for Forrest, who was given a hand-out on the subject, also refuses to give the figures, let me state them. They are as follows: -

 

I shall now give the committee the figures for Australian residents who departed permanently for the United Kingdom and Ireland, and for other countries, from 1946 onwards. They are as follows: -

Honorable members will see from these figures that, whereas the proportion of immigrants to Australia from the British Isles has declined to approximately one in four, the proportion of departures from Australia to the British Isles is two in five. The proper solution, I suggest, is to encourage British immigrants and skilled immigrants, first, by giving them the modern health and social services which they enjoyed in the countries from which they came, and, secondly, by making it possible for them to enjoy the housing conditions which they were able to obtain in the countries from which they came.







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