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Thursday, 4 October 1956

Mr CAIRNS (Yarra) .- I understand that the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) was a lieutenant-colonel in the Army and I believe that, like all lieutenantscolonel, he has little understanding of the working man and the trade unions. The true position, as every one knows, is rather the reverse of what the honorable member has stated it to be. During the last seven years, the trade unions, as has been recognized by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt), have given a very high degree of cooperation to this Government despite the fact that it has adopted an economy policy that has not been favorable to the interests of the trade unionists. The trade unions and their leaders have given a far higher degree of co-operation than the Government has had the right to expect. I think the facts will prove that to be the position.

As my contribution to the debate at this stage, I wish to refer to the Department of Immigration. I should like to begin by quoting a few statistics on immigration over recent years as the basis for what I should like to say later. Between January, 1947, and June, 1956, 1,083,628 immigrants came to Australia, and of that number 831,308 have remained. It is necessary for us to have regard to the composition of that total, which is an extremely high figure for this country or any other country with a similar population. I should like to refer first to the national make-up of that figure. The Minister for Immigration, in a recent speech, concentrated upon figures that were recorded in the statistical bulletin issued by the Department of Immigration and related to immigrants from British sources, which is a rather vague and indefinite term. 1 shall cite the figures for British immigrants compared with those for people who were not British, or who were alien, throughout this period. The figures show that 47.9 per cent, were British and that 52.1 per cent, were alien. The proportion of British immigrants varied from 39.8 per cent, in 1950 to as high as 55.5 per cent, in 1951.

When one looks a little more closely at this bulletin, one finds that figures are given on page 9 for immigration from the United Kingdom under the free and assisted scheme. On the assumption that these figures include nearly the total of immigrants from the United Kingdom - and 1 am not absolutely sure that they do, but the statistical bulletin gives no information on this point - the proportion of immigrants from the United Kingdom to the total number of immigrants between 1947 and 1951 was only 25 per cent. In 1952, it was 27 per cent.; in 1953, it was 18 per cent.; in 1954, it was 18 per cent.;, and in 1955, it was 18 per cent. For the first two quarters of this year it was 20 per cent. The overall average for the period is 24 per cent. That is the point to which the Minister for Immigration should have directed his attention and which, as was pointed out by the honorable member for Darebin, was carefully avoided in his long contribution to the debate this afternoon.

It is quite true that, if we have a look at the proportion of British immigrants that Australia has received compared with other countries, we find we have done better than most of them. But it has nothing whatever to do with the proportion that has come to Australia. It has nothing whatever to do with the fact that the total that has come from Britain has fallen continuously from 56,700 in 1951 to 36,000 in the last completed year. It has nothing to do with the fact that the number coming from the United Kingdom, as distinct from this overall British figure, has fallen from 35,000 in 1952 to 25,600 in the last completed year. That is the particular matter to which I want to direct the attention of this committee.

Tt is quite true that if one looks at the total alien proportion of the Australian population one will see that it is a surprisingly low figure. Aliens are those people who are registered under the Aliens Act 1947, but the figures relating to them do not include children under sixteen years of age, and visitors. There were 387,923 of those people in 1956, or 4.1 per cent, of the total, and if one adds to that total the number naturalized between 1945 and 1956, which was 52,322, then the total proportion of aliens and recently naturalized people in Australia is only 4.7 per cent. Those people who look to the future for some political significance in the nonBritish element in Australia still have a long way to look.

I want to refer, also, to the matter of naturalization. I think that we have a right to say, at this stage, that in recent years the rate of naturalization in Australia has been surprisingly low. I direct the attention of the committee to two separate sets of figures in order to demonstrate that. If we consider the number of immigrants naturalized between 1953 and 1955 we find that there were 17,160 in 1955, 4,770 in 1954, and 2,532 in 1953. If we compare those figures with the number of arrivals five years previously - I think it is the figure - as an indication of the number that might have been naturalized, we find that in 1950 there were 153,685 people, compared with 17,160 who were naturalized in 1955; in 1949, 149,270 people arrived, compared with 4,770 who were naturalized in 1954; in 1948, 48,468 people arrived, compared with 2,532 who were naturalized in 1953.

Before leaving that point, I should like to say that the information provided by the Department of Immigration in this bulletin and in other sources as to the social and national characteristics of immigrants is completely unsatisfactory and inadequate to allow any definite and helpful conclusions to be based upon them. I think the Minister should take into account the need to give a far more adequate statement of the social and national characteristics of immigrants, which is of vast importance to this country, than is provided in this bulletin.

I want to refer, for a moment, to the occupations of the 1,000,000 immigrants who have come to Australia. We find, for instance, that throughout this period only 7.7 per cent, of them were rural workers, although approximately 15 per cent, of the population as a whole are rural workers. The figures are as follows: -

It is difficult to compare this break-up of immigrants' occupations with that of the community as a whole. Here, again, there is a serious deficiency in the way in which the statistics are presented. The Department of Immigration makes a totally different classification of occupation from that which is presented in the Commonwealth Statistician's figures on population as a whole. This is another matter that ought to be taken into account by the Minister and the department, in order to bring into line the kind of classification of immigrant intake so that we can compare it with the classification of the population as a whole. It is useless, pointless and deceiving for the Minister to talk about the occupations or distribution of the immigrant population because we are not in a satisfactory position to compare immigrants with the population as a whole and we are not in a position to know what kind of immigrant occupational distribution we want.

Dr Evatt - The question is whether they stay in Australia.

Mr CAIRNS - That is an important question, and nothing like that is revealed. I think there are three other kinds of classification that appear in the immigration figures to which I should like to refer. The first concerns the proportion of workers and dependants among permanent arrivals. The average is 51.9 per cent, of workers and 48.1 per cent, dependants. That appears to be a higher proportion than obtains in the population as a whole despite the fact that when we refer to the age distribution - perhaps this is the explanation - we find that the age distribution of the immigrant population is younger than the population distribution as a whole. For example, although there is not much difference in the underfourteen group, 16.2 per cent, of immigrants are in the age group between 20 and 24 years whereas only 8.2 per cent, of the population as a whole is in that age group. Among immigrants 16.2 per cent, are in the age group from 25 to 29 whereas 7.9 per cent, of the total population is in that age group. That is, of course, normal with an immigrant population and it is one of the reasons why an immigrant population is a desirable thing.

Upon the basis of these statistics, I should like to spend a minute or two in trying to review the question, "What should be national policy with regard to immigration? " I want to make clear, for a start, that with regard to this very important and fundamental question, there is a very great difference of opinion in the Australian community. Not only is there a difference of opinion in the Labour party but there is a difference of opinion among Government supporters. It is quite true, as the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) pointed out some time ago, that we had the sight, recently, of the honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner) being heckled by his own supporters when talking on immigration. Whether or not that happened to the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Malcolm Fraser) I am not sure, but if it did not happen to him it would have simply been because the hecklers were not present when he happened to be talking. There is a very marked difference of opinion among Government supporters on this matter and there is a very marked difference of opinion in the community.

What should be our criterion? At what should we look when we are concerned to answer this question of, "What should be national policy on immigration? " I suggest that the Government has looked almost exclusively at what it calls absorptive capacity and when it wants to know what absorptive capacity is it has regard to the level of employment or unemployment. The Government has taken great pride in the level of employment that it has maintained. The Government has not maintained employment in Australia, but it has maintained inflation, and full employment has been a consequence of that policy. It is true that if the Government allowed unemployment to come about in Australia it would probably lose votes and, perhaps, an election. Therefore, it pays the Government and its supporters, for other reasons, to maintain inflation and thereby full employment. If the time comes when it pays the Government not to maintain inflation it will not maintain full employment.

The Government has had regard to the level of employment, because its immigrant intake has varied .with that level. Some time ago, the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Freeth) was challenging members of the Opposition to say whether we supported an immigrant intake of 1 per cent, of total population in all circumstances. Of course we do not, and neither does the Government. If we examine the proportion of total population, including immigrants, represented by the immigrants themselves in recent years we find the variation to be as follows: - In 1949, the percentage was 1.9; in 1950, 1.86; in 1951, 1.32; in 1952, 1.09 and in 1953, .49. What happened to the 1 per cent., in that year? In 1954, the percentage was .76, and in 1955, it was 1.07.

The figure dropped considerably below 1 per cent, in 1953 and 1954, because in those years there was about 3.5 per cent, or 4 per cent, unemployment in Australia. The Government has accepted the principle of varying the immigration programme in accordance with the level of employment. Both the Labour and anti-Labour parties accept the fact that a high level of immigration cannot be maintained if there is unemployment. Although the Government has recognized the effect of the level of employment upon immigration, it has failed to consider the impact of the immigration programme upon other important factors such as housing, schools and transport. The most serious of the social problems in Australia to-day is that of housing. No government that adequately considers its responsibilities to the Australian community can ignore housing as one of the criteria of its immigration programme.

The CHAIRMAN (Mr Adermann -

Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

Sitting suspended from 5.57 to 8 p.m.

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