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Thursday, 28 March 1957

Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Lawrence) - Order!

Mr POLLARD - Anybody who read his contribution to the solution of the housing problem would know that only too well.

The Brisbane declaration goes on further to say that there shall be a proportion of at least 60 per cent. British and 40 per cent. non-British immigrants.

Mr Townley - That is right.

Mr POLLARD - The Government, according to the Speech of the GovernorGeneral, has adopted a similar attitude. What right has the Minister, therefore, to take us to task for having a like policy. After all, we inaugurated the policy.

To show how false all this nonsense and propaganda really is, let me read from an article that was contributed to the Melbourne "Age" of 26th September, 1956. It was written by Mr. Malcolm Fraser, who, God bless him, because he is a very nice chap, is the Liberal member for Wannon in this Parliament. On the subject of immigration and its associated problems, and in connexion with inflation, he said this -

The solution to our problem is to cut min; tion to not more than 90,000 gross a year-

The Government's proposal for this year is how much?

Mr Townley - One per cent.

Mr POLLARD - And in terms of individuals, how much?

Mr Townley - One hundred and fifteen thousand.

Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! The honorable gentleman will address the Chair.

Mr POLLARD - lt is the policy of the Government, then, to bring in 115,000 immigrants. The honorable member for Wannon said that the number should be cut to 90,000, and he is probably right. He went on to say - not as permanent policy, but for two or three years until secondary industries can be encouraged to export, which many can do on present price levels, but which they will not do if inflation continues.

The honorable member went on to deal with those in this country who are strong advocates of a greater immigration intake, or of the maintenance of the present rate of intake.

Mr Freeth - Why is the honorable member attacking him?

Mr POLLARD - I am not attacking him at all. I say that probably he is right in his reasoning, and I shall tell the honorable member for Forrest why I think so. After dealing with those who are opposed to a cut in the immigration intake, the honorable member for Wannon went on to say -

Fourthly, these advocates may plead migration agreements with other countries that if once cut down it is difficult to build up again. It may be so, but there are fundamental structural problems in our economy NOW.

That is why the Australian Labour party has, in a not very dissimilar manner, declared that the time has come to consolidate and to reduce until such time as the economy is in a sounder condition. But the Australian Labour party has never said, no more than the Government has said, that there shall be cessation of the intake of foreign immigrants. If the supporters of the Government think that they are going to attract the votes of immigrants to their parties by condemning, slandering and misrepresenting the party that started this great immigration policy, they have a lot of thinking coming to them, because even immigrants do not like liars.

To continue with the article of the honorable member for Wannon, he said -

If we don't cure them wc may well break our economy and destroy Australia-

That is what we say, too - as an attractive country for migration. Where would these agreements be THEN?

I think I have exploded that argument of the Government.

Let me come to a very good and proven reason why there should be some reduction of the intake of immigrants. There exists in this country - and the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) should know of it - a really shocking state of affairs regarding accommodation for immigrants. In October of last year, in this Parliament, in a courteous manner I directed the attention of the Minister for Immigration to this problem, and a lot of other problems as well. He is not a bad fellow-

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - Is the honorable member referring to me or my colleague?

Mr POLLARD - In this connexion, you are better than he is, and that is not saying much. I directed the attention of the Minister to the unsatisfactory housing conditions of British and other immigrants at the Williamstown hostel. I did that at the instigation of the Ministers Fraternal and Association of Church Ministers within be precincts of the City of Williamstown, ihe Minister promised an inquiry. My complaint was aired in this House on, T think, 22nd October. On 15th November, the Minister wrote to me the following letter: -

I promised that I would have inquiries made about conditions at the Williamstown Migrant Hostel. ... I am now advised that the Victorian manager of Commonwealth Hostels

Limited . . . has been in touch with the . . Reverend Absolom, who has explained that the Fraternal has been concerned about what were believed to be crowded conditions in the hostel which could affect both the morals and the health of children resident in the hosie). You also had referred to congestion in the hostel.

I had done so. This letter was prepared, at the request of the Minister, as an answer to a complaint which came, not from me - the Minister might consider me to be a disreputable person - but from people who may be regarded as being among the most reputable people in the community. If honorable members will listen while T read the letter, they will sec with what contempt the Ministers of this Government treat people who attempt to deal with real social evils and their remedy. The nature of the complaint that had been made justified a personal visit by the Minister to the hostel, rather than a request to one of his officers for a report, which was prepared and sent to me and the ministers of religion concerned. Dealing with the point of crowded accommodation, the Minister staled - 1 should explain that the standards of accommodation observed in this hostel are in accordance with the policy of which I have approved and which is applied in all migrant hostels.

By those words, the Minister indicated that the conditions which I have outlined and will describe further later apply to every migrant hostel in Australia. The letter went on as follows: -

You may recall that the existing arrangements had been recommended to me by a special and representative committee of the Commonwealth Immigration Advisory Council. Williamstown hostel has an accommodation capacity of approximately 650. and as at present there are only approximately 430 residents, it cannot be said that overall there is any congestion or over-taxing of community facilities.

There may not be an overtaxing of facilities in the dining room and the kitchen, hi'1 there is a shocking terrible overtaxing of facilities in the living quarters.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - I think the Labour government built that hostel.

Mr POLLARD - I thought we should hear that. When the Minister's officers wheeled that answer up to him, if they did. no doubt he accepted it with great glee. ls there any sensible person in this chamber who. knowing the conditions of 1949. would say that it would have been unreasonable to expect some unsatisfactory conditions in immigrant hostels in those days? The

Chifley Government was faced with the problem of providing accommodation for great numbers of refugees and displaced persons at a time when it was busily engaged on the repatriation of great numbers of ex-servicemen. No proper comparison can be made of conditions in 1949 and in 1957. For the last ten years, this country has enjoyed great prosperity and substantially increased production, due, not to anything done by governments, but to the goodness of providence. We have had bountiful seasons. I shall say nothing more about that letter except that it is a disgrace to the Minister.

The Ministers Fraternal then asked me to accompany them on a visit to the hostel, which I did. 1 had a good look at it on that occasion, although I had been there before. I had been there several times, as I had also to the Brooklyn and Broadmeadows hostels. At about the time I visited the Williamstown hostel, the federal Ministers concerned were enjoying themselves at what they were pleased to call a citizenship convention in Canberra. They were doing themselves pretty well, with an excellent body of people. I do not take exception to that. But let us see what effect an appeal to alleviate some people's suffering had upon those two gentlemen. I sent a telegram to both of them. About a week ago, when I asked the Minister for Immigration in this House whether he had received that telegram from me, he said that he had done so, but that the matter was not his pigeon. He said also, referring to food, that one could get a better meal in the Williamstown hostel than in the refreshment rooms of Parliament House. He evaded the issue, but he did not take into consideration the fact that I had sent a telegram in the same terms to his colleague, the Minister for Labour and National Service, who is responsible for conditions in the hostel. I have a copy of the telegram here. Let me read it to the House.

Mr Townley - This comes within my colleague's jurisdiction, not mine.

Mr POLLARD - You are trying to wriggle out of it. Now I shall deal with the other Minister concerned.


Order! The honorable member will address the Chair.

Mr POLLARD - I am addressing the Chair. This is what I said in my telegram -

Hansard October 30th, 1955, records my complaints re Williamstown Migrant Hostel. You promised inquiries. The outcome a letter from you which meant nothing. A few boards haw been painted at the hostel. Accommodation space for families continues so cramped as to constitute a crime by your Government against society. Example, husband, wife and two children in iwc rooms each 1 lft. 8 ins. by 9 ft. 7 ins., ceiling heigh 7 ft. 4 in. to 8 ft. Furniture arranged a: follows: Three single beds in one room, one

Some honorable members opposite think that this is a matter for amusement. J remind the House that this telegram wa; sent when the Ministers concerned were having a mighty fine jollification at thi Citizenship Convention. The telegram continued -

Vacant rooms are available and should be aliocated at once to alleviate this rotten position Hostel floors are bitumen fit for a garage only. They are on outside ground level. In summer, dust blows in from screenings and sand outside. In winter, mud goes in. Few available ventilators have to be plugged to keep out dust. Thinly partitioned walls divide rooms enabling children to overhear conversations in some cases known to be obscene. Brooklyn and Broadmeadows not much better. These hostels are full of the most beautiful children. Their futures depend or better surroundings. Management in all cases i splendid. Only your Government can providthe means for essential improvement. Mr. Calwell and two Ministers of religion and self inspected hostel yesterday. All support my protest Williamstown Health Officer strongly condemn! position. Your personal inspection and action ivery necessary.

The Minister for Labour and National Service knows that I have never been unreasonable to the Government in connexion with complaints by immigrants and that in some cases I have supported the departmental attitude. But I believe that the situation in existence at Williamstown, Brooklyn anc other places demands immediate attention. However, these Ministers - I believe they are typical of most of the other Ministershave adopted the policy of referring al! complaints and problems to their understudies or departmental officers.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - I have been to both hostels.

Mr POLLARD - When were you last at Williamstown?

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - I do not go every week.

Mr POLLARD - You do not know when you were there. I do not think you were ever there.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - I can assure you that I have been there.

Mr POLLARD - If the Minister assures me that he has been to these hostels, I accept his assurance, but I believe that his visits took place a long time ago. He has not been since this complaint was lodged with him - a complaint which has the backing of the best section of the community. I am sure the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) will be interested to know that the doctor who has been attending the people living in the hostel wrote as follows: -

For the past eight months 1 have frequently attended the Commonwealth Hostel- -Kororoit Creek-road, Williamstown, as medical officer. Most of those living at the hostel are forced to have two and often three beds in one room - there being no living room. When one member of a family becomes ill, often with an infectious disease, the existing conditions afford no means of isolating the patient in a single room, this being necessary not only for prevention of the spread of infection but to ensure adequate rest and freedom from disturbance. Apart from these difficulties, the existing crowded living conditions have caused much mental stress and anxiety to many mothers with more than one child. One mother was confined to Williamstown Hospital with a nervous breakdown resulting directly from the continuous strain of caring for four children who developed varicella and she could not cope with the situation under the present set-up. In view of these facts and from what I have observed at the hostel I give full support to any resolution which may result in improvement of the living conditions therein.

So the Minister need not say that these complaints are just the meanderings of a politician. They are the complaints of people who expect that Ministers will at least visit the hostels when complaints are made, and investigate them. I received from the Minister for Labour and National Service a letter dated 7th February, 1957, which I have not time to read in full. Again, it was the work of a departmental officer.

Mr Opperman - Did the honorable member write his own letters when he was a Minister?

Mr POLLARD - I do not know that the honorable member for Corio (Mr. Opperman) is capable of writing anything. He has not made much of a show on behalf of anybody since he has been a member of this House. The Minister's letter to me read in part -

In any case the accommodation at present vacant will be needed for the large numbers of British and other migrants coming forward within the next few months-

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - Mention the fact of £600,000 having been spent over the last few years on the hostels.

Mr POLLARD - Yes, spread over the numerous hostels all over Australia. Does that exonerate the Minister for the undoubtedly rotten conditions in this hostel? How would the Minister like to live in a room with a bitumen floor - which in his letter he calls a " malthoid " floor - with a door-step consisting of screenings and dust? In his letter the Minister said that it was not necessary to have three beds in each of two rooms. The fact is that the people have only two rooms in which to accommodate their beds, and the rooms measure only 1 1 feet by 6 feet. They are not fit for the housing of dogs. In his letter - or rather the letter prepared by his officers - the Minister points out that the standards adopted throughout all hostels -

.   . provide that no more than two beds should be placed in any room although it is known, as apparently is the case with regard to the families you have mentioned, that some families place three beds in one room so that they can use the space provided for other purposes.

So what does the Minister expect these people to do? Deprive themselves of proper living-room accommodation by putting one of the beds in the living-room, which in most cases would have already a sofa and two arm-chairs in it, and in some cases a refrigerator? That seems to be the only alternative to having the three beds in one room.

I do not want to put the Minister on edge, but I think he ought to go and see what is happening, and then he ought to rectify the position.


Order! The honorable gentleman's time has expired.

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