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Thursday, 28 March 1957


Mr TOWNLEY (Denison) (Minister for Immigration) . - My only reason for joining in the debate at this late stage is that I feel one of the proposals made by the Labour party in its censure motion has not received the publicity that it should receive. I should like to see it emphasized, I should like to see it highlighted and I should like to see it underlined. I refer to paragraph 3 (a) of the amendment, which reads - the immediate reduction of migrant intake.

The Labour party is calling for an immediate reduction in the intake of immigrants to Australia. Associated with that call is, of course, the statement of the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) that we should have a new system of assessing the proportion of immigrants. He said that 60 per cent, of the people who come here should be British immigrants, and that we can bring in the other 40 per cent, from Europe.

This proposal is really an attack on the European section of our immigration programme. I feel that that should be known far and wide in this land. It should be known particularly by the 500,000 European immigrants to this country. They should know that the Labour party proposes now that their numbers should be reduced. Thousands of them are working hard and saving money to bring out a child, a sister, a brother, a mother or a father from behind the Iron Curtain, as so many of them are doing, or from other parts of Europe. I want them to know that the Labour party has made a proposal which will make it virtually impossible for them to do that.

One of the most valuable assets in Queensland is the sugar industry. The people in Queensland should know that the Labour party proposes to reduce the intake of European immigrants, and without European immigrants in Queensland there will be no sugar industry. Make no mistake about it! The small shopkeepers and the big shopkeepers, who know how many millions of pounds go through their cash registers each week from immigrants, should know that the Labour party wants to reduce immigration. People in the irrigation areas along the Murray River, along the Murrumbidgee River, in the Barossa Valley and in all the fruit-growing districts should know that the Labour party proposes to reduce the number of people who pick their fruit, pack it or can it. They should know it on the great developmental projects such as the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme, which is the greatest developmental work in this country to-day.


Mr Bird - It was not started by this Government.


Mr TOWNLEY - Labour turned the first sod in the wrong place and that is where it finished. In that area, 50 per cent, of the work force consists of immigrants, and they should know that the Labour party has now turned against them. The 10,000 counsellors of the Good Neighbour Council - some of the most worthy men and women in this land, who give their time and their capacities to the assimilation of new Australians who come from Europe - should know that the Labour party now has turned against the immigrants.

While I am highlighting the fact that the Labour party has now turned against European immigrants, on behalf of the Government I want to say something to the European immigrants themselves. I want to say that the Liberal Government of this country welcomes the European immigrants. Only last year, we sought the best advice we could get. We called in experts from trade unions, from manufacturers, from retailers, from wholesalers, and from the banks, and we consulted economists. They studied the immigration question and said, Australia can safely and easily absorb, each year, a number of immigrants equivalent to 1 per cent, of its population ". That is the policy the Government has adopted. Therefore, I say to the 500,000 new Australians, "While a Liberal government is in office, you are safe. We asked you to come here. You are welcome here. We are grateful for what you have done and what you are doing. We are grateful to you for what we know you will do in the future ".

A natural question now arises; Why should European immigrants be attacked; where does the attack emanate; what is its source? We know that it is a direct reversal of the policy stated by Labour leaders of years gone by. For instance, the late Right Honorable J. B. Chifley, who led with great distinction the Labour party of other days, had this to say about immigration -

Immigration means security. Even more than that, it means the full development of untapped resources. It means greater production of goods and services, lt means a better, happier, more prosperous life for every Australian.

Now we are told that we must reduce immediately the intake of immigrants. That proposal is also contrary to the expressed opinion of the great trade unions of this land. The Labour party, in putting forward this proposition, is directly contradicting the expressed opinion of the great trade unions. The Federated Ironworkers Association of Australia, six or seven weeks ago, examined every aspect of immigration, its effect on the union and on the economy. The conclusion reached by the association was -

Firstly the facts show that during a period of immigration (unequalled by any nation in modern history) Australia was able to advance in all directions, while, at the same time, the standard of living was not jeopardised, but, in fact, improved. Secondly, it is correct to conclude that neither the economic advances, nor the improved standard of living, would have occurred to such an extent without the immigration programme.

Our conclusion is quite definitely that there should be no pruning of the migration programme; that the migration inflow has not had a major detrimental effect on our employment situation; that Australia's economy to-day is strong enough to absorb additional migrants, and that this absorption should result in a strengthened economy.

What the Labour party in this House is putting forward contradicts the policy stated by the late respected and esteemed leader of the party, and it contradicts the voice of organized Labour in the country. Where does the proposal come from? It has been suggested in this debate over and over again - I except the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) - that immigrants are accentuating the housing shortage. That is complete nonsense. Since the war, not fewer than 50,000 skilled building workers have come to this country. To-day, onethird of the skilled workers employed in the work force of the building industry are new Australians. Immigrants represent only one-tenth of the population, but onethird of the skilled workers in the building industry are immigrants. That shows how ridiculous it is to say that immigrants are causing a housing shortage.

Let us consider New South Wales. This point was mentioned by my colleague, the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) only yesterday. If there is an acute housing shortage in any State, it is in New South Wales. Yet we find that New South Wales has had the lowest proportionate increase in population of any State. Additionally, it has had fewer immigrants than any other State. Western Australia had the greatest proportionate increase in population and twice the immigrant intake of New South Wales. Yet the Minister for Housing in Western Australia said last August that the housing shortage had been overcome in that State. It is quite interesting to go into the Parliamentary Library, examine the Western Australian papers and look down the columns of " To Let " and " For Sale " notices for houses and flats. In any case, if there is an argument on housing, how does the Labour party explain that in 1949, when the shortage of houses was twice as great as it is today, on the figures, it brought into the country 167,000 immigrants. While it was doing that, the Prime Minister of the day, the late Right Honorable J. B. Chifley, in his policy speech in 1949, said-

The great immigration drive . . . will be continued vigorously until Australia has the population she needs to achieve the development of all her resources and guarantee her security.

In 1949, the net immigrant intake into Australia was 150,000, in round figures, and the number of homes constructed in that year under the Labour Government was roughly 50,000. The ratio of immigrants to homes constructed was three to one. Last year the net immigrant intake was 86,000, and 72,000 houses were built. The ratio was three to one under the Labour Government and almost one to one under this Government. ls this call for a reduction in the immigrant intake being made because the immigrants are not pulling their weight in the community? Is that the suggestion? Every 100 workers that we have brought in from Europe have brought with them 86 dependants, but in our own work force for every 100 workers there are no fewer than 424 dependants. Is the suggestion that the European immigrant is not pulling his weight? Of all the immigrants that we have brought to Australia, 50 per cent, have been workers. In our native population the proportion is only 41 per cent.

If we want to see what these immigrants are doing, let us look at some production figures. Five years ago the production of steel in Australia amounted to 1,200.000 tons. To-day it has reached 3,000,000 tons, and steel is produced at a cost which is £35 a ton less than we would have to pay if we brought it in from other countries. At Port Kembla, where this great increase has mainly been achieved, over 40 per cent, of the work force are European immigrants. Let us consider also the motor vehicle manufacturing industry. The production of motor vehicles in Australia saves us £100,000,000 a year, and we find that 45 per cent, of the work force in that industry are European immigrants. Our colleagues of the Australian Country party know the importance of agricultural machinery, and I can tell them that 25 per cent, of workers engaged on the production of that machinery are European immigrants. In the manufacture of fertilizers, 25 per cent, of the workers are European immigrants. I mentioned previously the building trades, in which 33 per cent, of the work force consists of immigrants. When we consider public utilities, we find that 17 per cent, of railway workers are European immigrants, and that the proportion of immigrants employed by water and sewerage undertakings is 21 per cent., and by power supply organizations 35 per cent.

Surely, therefore, we cannot ask for a reduction in the immigrant intake because the immigrants are not productive. Why, then, is this demand made? Is it because these European immigrants are not taking their part in union affairs? Is the Labour party criticizing them and wanting to reduce their numbers because they do not take their stand alongside their colleagues in Australian industry and play an active part and accept responsibility? If that is so, how does one explain the statement by the Australian Council of Trades Unions that immigrants are now taking an active part in union affairs, not only in those union affairs that concern them as immigrants but in union affairs generally? Of the 79 union delegates at the Port Kembla steelworks, seventeen, or 21 per cent., are European immigrants. The Australian Railways Union has 5,000 immigrants anions 30,000 members of its New South Wales branch alone. Over 12,000 immigrants are members of the Federated Ironworkers Union. The Australian Workers Union has even larger numbers among its members. When we consider smaller unions, we find, for instance, that 95 per cent, of the members of the Glass Workers Union, working in the manufacture of window glass for houses and shops, are immigrants. In the Rubber Workers Union of New South Wales, 52 per cent, of the membership consists of immigrants.

I ask again, therefore, what are the reasons for this call for a reduction in the intake of European immigrants? They more than pull their weight. They accept their responsibilities. They have helped the housing situation, and they are doing more, in proportion, for the development of this country than any other section of our community. I do not believe that honorable members opposite are sincere in this call for a reduction in the intake of immigrants. They know that the chances are that the beds that they rose from this morning were made by European immigrants. It is probable that the breakfast they ate was cooked and served by European immigrants. That is certainly true of the meals that we take in our own parliamentary dining room. If some evil genius, by waving a wand, could remove from Australia all our European immigrants, then let us not fool ourselves and let us realize that the whole of our rural, commercial and industrial life would grind to a halt. If we cut down our immigration programme, I believe that we will lose the greatest opportunity that we have ever had of becoming a vibrant and powerful nation in the future. It could well be that we would also lose our chance of survival in the years to come.

As I listened to the Leader of the Opposition the other evening 1 could not help being reminded of the slogans that we see as we drive along the roads of Victoria and New South Wales, warning about bushfires. One of them, on a big placard, reads -

Remember: A tree takes years to grow, and it takes seconds to burn.

I might apply that statement to the immigration programme and commend it to the Leader of the Opposition and his followers who sit behind him.







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