Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 30 November 1960

Mr KEARNEY (Cunningham) . - The issue now before the Parliament is most important. In my electorate, we have some 30,000 new Australians. One in every five in the entire population of the south coast of New South Wales is a migrant. There are 32 languages spoken amongst the 2,500 employees of the steel works. This issue, therefore, is important in this area and it is, of course, important to the country as a whole. The Opposition does not disagree with the terms of the bill, but I suggest that the bill does not touch the problem. I give the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Downer) full marks, but I do not think that he has faced up to the problem. He should seek to ascertain the real reasons why some 47.8 per cent, of eligible migrants have failed to apply for naturalization.

This bill merely proposes to simplify the procedure for naturalization. As far as it goes, it is good. But in my humble opinion, and I am sure in the opinion of any one who has dealt with large numbers of migrants, the procedure is not the reason why 215,000 eligible migrants at the end of June, 1960. had failed to apply for naturalization. Of that number, it is estimated that some 20 per cent, or 43.000 would be children under 16 years of age who could not apply in their own right. But that still leaves an enormous number. There must be some cogent reason why these people are not coming forward to be naturalized. I am not a bit dismayed by the number of applicants who have been rejected, and I will touch on that point a little later. But I am concerned at the fact that these people who have been invited to come to this country have failed to pursue their obligation to become citizens after they have settled in and decided that they will accept a share of the benefits of this great nation. They can best discharge their obligation by accepting the responsibility of citizenship and participating in government at all levels. They have the .responsibility, too, of merging into our social life - the responsibility of becoming, in fact, Australians. That is a responsibility of which no evasion can be permitted, and it is from that point of view that I look at .this piece of legislation.

I congratulate the Minister for Immigration on his personal good intent and on his administration of the important Department of Immigration. Since taking over his responsibilities he has acquitted himself well. Every one will concede that he is making a positive contribution to immigration and that in many instances his decisions are full of merit. I was a little amazed to find that, although he has shown much realism in deciding many of the cases I have submitted to him. he has failed to display the same realism in relation to the very important issue involved in this legislation.

The failure of migrants to apply for naturalization is a matter that we must look at with the utmost concern. We want all migrants to become first-class citizens. We do not want any of them to remain secondclass citizens. We want them to make an effort to become first-class citizens. We expect that of them after they have been in Australia for a reasonable period of time. The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Chaney) mentioned the housewife and said that she does not have the opportunity to mix with people to the same extent as her husband. I recognize, and so does my party, that that is true. However, I do not believe that the men folk, who are employed in industry and are working alongside Australian and other workmen, should be given any latitude in this matter. The Government should develop a plan whereby these people can be induced to study English and reach a standard of proficiency in it sufficient to allow them to make themselves understood. This week an Italian and a Swede appeared in the Wollongong court on two separate charges, and it was impossible for the court to proceed without obtaining the services of an interpreter. When migrants come to my office in Wollongong, frequently I have to send for an interpreter. That applies to people who are naturalized and to others who have been here for a long time. I am not referring to housewives. I am referring to male migrants, who are mixing with Australians in industry, often in places where dangerous work is being done.

Migrants who have not acquired a knowledge of English to the extent that they are able to understand simple orders and act upon them have suffered severe injury in Port Kembla. I could enumerate a dozen cases that come to my mind of men who were killed or seriously injured because of a lack of knowledge of English. Probably they imperilled the lives of other men. As a matter of fact, in the steel industry and allied industries where the work is sometimes dangerous, job foremen will not have migrants in their gangs who cannot understand orders given in English. It is logical and fair that that should be so.

The Minister, therefore, has a responsibility to consider this matter very carefully. I suggest that it is fundamental that these people should have a proper grasp of the English language. I suggest that, in the first instance, a campaign should be initiated to induce those migrants who are sitting back and not applying for naturalization to go back to school, as it were. A man who works in heavy industry all day should not be expected to spend a few hours at night in study, even if it is only on two or three nights in a week. I put the onus on the Government to induce managements to permit men to leave their work at certain specified periods during their normal working hours in order to attend classes and make themselves more proficient in the English language. In my opinion, business management has that obligation to its employees. It is ridiculous to suggest that a man who earns his living by the sweat of his brow and works hard all day should be asked to set about learning the English language at night. Occasionally studious types do that, but the great majority of people do not come under that heading. I am referring to the ordinary, average people, many of whom had only a rudimentary education in their own lands. Many of them were on the verge of illiteracy when they left their own countries to come to Australia. It is a hardship for those people to go back to books and study.

However, unless they understand our language we cannot expect them to overcome the great problem of assimilation during their lifetimes. When all is said and done, assimilation involves participation in all aspects of our way of life - our literature, our sport and our pastimes. It is only by being able to read the written word and speak the language that migrants can acquire a knowledge of this country, make an assessment of its history and develop an enthusiasm for its great accomplishments. This is not a second-rate country. I have been disgusted often to hear the vapourings at naturalization ceremonies by people who suggest that we owe everything to the people who come from overseas. We do not. They owe us a lot, and it is incumbent upon them to co-operate with us. It is incumbent upon the Government also to induce them to co-operate and to equip themselves to be first-class citizens.

I now wish to deal with the numbers of the people of various nationalities who have failed to apply for naturalization. I shall give a few figures which indicate the lack of action by some people who are eligible for naturalization. Of the Austrian migrants, only about one-eighth have applied for naturalization- 2,800 of the 19,000 who have arrived here. In the case of Czechoslovakians, 8,900 have applied for naturalization out of 11,000. The rate is high in their case. Only about one-fifth of Dutch migrants have applied. I am giving rough figures because time is short.

Mr Beazley - You must remember that one person, by becoming naturalized, may naturalize two or three others.

Mr KEARNEY - I realize that fully, but, even allowing for that, the gap is still very great. The responsibility, I suggest, sits squarely upon the shoulders of the Government of the day to provide the encouragement that is necessary for people to apply for naturalization. In the case of Hungarians, approximately one-half have applied. About one-quarter of the Italians have applied. The figures supplied by the department show a similar tendency for all the nationalities involved.

Turning to migrant educational statistics, the figures for 1959-60 show that attendances have remained fairly constant. However, the intake of migrants has increased. We could expect that the attendances would increase automatically as we absorb more people, and as more people become available to attend classes, but there is a levelling out, as it were, in respect of the number of these people accepting the educational facilities offered by the Government. The basic need is for the Government to step up the campaign to induce migrants to absorb a knowledge of the English language and to reach a standard adequate to permit them to accept the responsibilities of citizenship. There is a need to break down the degree of resentment that exists in industrial areas against migrants who have been here for some years and who, during that time, have failed to improve their knowledge of English much beyond the standard they had reached when they arrived. The people of this country expect migrants to increase their knowledge of English, and they should do so as far as it is humanly possible.

Reference has been made to the number of applications for naturalization that have been rejected. According to departmental figures, 8,286 applications have been rejected. Of that number, 3,947 were rejected on the ground of inadequate knowledge of English for the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship. I ask the Minister to explain these matters when he replies, so that we may understand exactly what is meant. As worded, now, the statement does not express clearly exactly what is meant. It is obvious that the Government has rejected the applications of 3,947 migrants who cannot speak English because it is anxious that we maintain a certain standard when granting citizenship rights. After all, citizenship is not a bauble; it is a most cherished possession, for by it these people are being given equal rights with those who were born here. Upon being granted naturalization, there is an obligation upon these migants to recognize and honour the responsibilities which go with Australian citizenship.

Again, 529 applicants for naturalization were rejected for failure to comply with the character requirement. I would not attempt to suggest what that expression means. Were they rejected because they had criminal records or undesirable habits? If they were, then they should be returned to the countries from which they came. If, in the opinion of the Government, they will not make desirable citizens because of their dastardly character, the Australian taxpayer should not be required to put up with them. 1 should like the Minister to explain all these terms. 1 presume that " mental incapacity " means that these people are suffering from some mental deficiency.

Mr Curtin - Those are the people who vote for the Liberals.

Mr KEARNEY - They certainly would be the type who would vote for the Liberal Party. These people who are rejected because of mental incapacity might be dangerous to have in the community. Are they the types who should be incarcerated in asylums? The Minister has not explained that.

We find that 195 applications have been rejected or deferred on security grounds. Of this number, 44 were approved subsequently upon review. All these matters must be scrutinized very closely. I do not intend to deal with the security question in detail because that has been covered adequately and ably by previous speakers, but we do look with the gravest suspicion on rejections based on security grounds. We have had ample cause to do so, and our suspicion on security grounds is no less when the persons concerned are migrants. There have been instances in which applications for naturalization have been rejected because the applicants had been wrongly clubbed Communists, by reason of their having been members of a socialistic movement in Europe. That is not a sufficient reason to refuse them citizenship. If they have all the other desirable characteristics, they should be given citizenship, and from then on their fate would be in their own hands, just as it is with any Australian national. If, on the other hand, there is a really good case for rejecting them on security grounds, let those grounds be known, and let undesirables be returned to the countries from which they came. After all, we should not be required to shelter, feed or take to our bosoms people who could become a danger to our security in the event of our becoming involved in an international situation. All these cases should be thoroughly investigated by a committee, perhaps one representative of all parties in this Parliament. I, for one, am not prepared to accept the bare reason, " security grounds ", for the rejection of 195 applications. So far as I am aware, the rejections were based solely upon departmental decisions, of which no details have been made public.

We are bestowing a great blessing upon these migrants in accepting them as citizens, and in turn they are playing a great part in the development of this country. But here we should pay tribute to the trade union movement of Australia for its cooperation in absorbing the migrants. Whether it be on the Snowy Mountains project or any other work, the Australian trade union member has accepted the migrant. He has not shunned any man simply because he was a migrant, although he would draw the line at accepting any person who would seek to endanger his workmates on any project. The trade union movement is to to be congratulated on its acceptance into the Australian work force of some 800,000 migrants of all nationalities. Probably the greatest example of that aceptance is to be seen at the works of Australian Iron and Steel Limited at Port Kembla, where 32 countries are represented in a total work force of 6,000 men. The difficulty has been experienced there. The unions have played a wonderful part in cooperating, from go to whoa, to make our immigration scheme a success.

Goodwill towards the migrant starts first amongst the men with whom he works and then spreads to other sections of the community. This expansive vision on the part of the trade union movement should be fostered by the Government. No doubt it is, and it should be continued. This great scheme, that was introduced by a Labour government, in which the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) was the Minister for Immigration, has been of stupendous benefit to this nation. Assimilation is a necessity which flows from it, and to my mind that is a most difficult task. I am sympathetic towards those in authority in their task of bringing about the welding of divergent stocks and cultures into a homogeny, a singleness of loyalty and purpose which is unmistakably Australian.

Another difficulty confronting us is the question of cliques of certain nationals. I am not referring now to social get-togethers which are held from time to time; I am referring to-the cliques of -nationals who are influenced -by political considerations in the sense that they have retained their overseas allegiances and for this reason are being deprived , of easy acceptance of Australian citizenship. Not so very long ago, I attended a meeting of young men of about 35 years .of age, and I was astounded to find that, although most of .them had been here long enough to qualify for naturalization they had not as yet been naturalized. When I explained to .them that if a conflict broke out between Australia and the country from which they came it was possible that they would be incarcerated in Australian detention camps because they were not naturalized, one of them shrugged and said that at least they would be safe in a detention camp-mar they may not be safe in an Australian uniform. He merely expressed the view that I felt was shared by a number of those present.

Another important aspect of .naturalization is marriage. Many migrants have married Australian men or Australian women. According to statistics, 270,000 children, one of whose parents was a migrant, have been born in Australia, and 220,000 more births have resulted from marriages in which both parties were migrants. I have seen scores of these children in my electorate, and I am convinced that in them we have gained a race of wonderful young Australians. They are magnificent pupils, usually at the top of their classes in school, and they are of splendid physique. Intermarriage of immigrants with Australians is one of the best means of assimilation, but while the language problem remains it should be a matter of urgent concern for the department.

An active programme is being pursued. The Government expects that the migrant intake will be 125,000 a year. Of that number, half will be from alien countries and their knowledge of English will probably be limited. The problem, of teaching English to them has gone past the stage where it can be done in an honorary way. The system of having school teachers devote an odd night in the week for the purpose is not satisfactory. It is a haphazard and willy-nilly approach. Instruction in English should be given to an applicant right from the time he is accepted in his own country as a migrant. Some system should be instituted in those countries, perhaps to the point of demanding of intending migrants certain progress in the study of English, particularly by men folk, before they enter this country. The Australian attitude towards the migrant is excellent and we do not want it disturbed or upset by defects which can be examined and cured.

Another factor that tends to make a migrant hesitate to seek naturalization is the housing situation. The Government is continuing to bring in migrants without doing anything positive to house them. On the south coast of New South Wales, in the steel-producing area, a distressing set of circumstances exists because of the absence of finance to enable migrants to obtain housing. The situation is tragic and this Government is not lifting a finger to alleviate it. The Government brings out migrants, puts them in hostels, and at that point washes its hands of them. There are living in hostels on the south coast migrants who have reared two, three or four children in those hostels because they could not obtain homes. That position does not apply generally but it is sufficiently common for me to raise this matter with the Minister. The Government has a direct responsibility for providing extra money for the housing of every migrant unit that comes to this country.

The unions are assisting. I believe that the Federated Ironworkers Association is negotiating with Australian Iron and Steel and other companies absorbing migrants to induce them to make money available for home construction. Migrants are sent to the steel industry on the south coast. They are certainly needed in that industry, but also needed are houses on the south coast in which to put them. The newcomers should not be thrown into the district to be maintained in hostels for many years or else to pauperize themselves or work themselves into the ground in order to obtain finance at very high rates of interest to provide the essential basic requirement, a home. On the south coast one can see literally thousands of migrants living in premises which are not much more than glorified garages. This is possible only because the council looks at its own housing regulations with a blind eye and permits these conditions to continue. Parklands are filled with migrants living in tents, caravans and other sub-standard accommodation. Others are living in conditions of turmoil in over-crowded houses shared by several families. If the local authority were to enforce immediately its housing regulations, there would be chaos. This is a matter that is basic to the speeding up of the naturalization of eligible new Australians.

Thursday, 1 December 1960

Suggest corrections