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Wednesday, 30 November 1960

Mr DOWNER (Angas) (Minister for Immigration) (12:15 PM) . - in reply - Mr. Deputy Speaker, I appreciate the support that the Opposition has given to this measure and I am glad that in its general terms it has commended itself to both sides of the House. As I said in my second-reading speech, although it was not intended to be anything more than a machinery bill, I and my officers feel that if the Parliament agrees to its passage it will achieve some of the objectives which it sets out to achieve. In the debate which has taken place, a number of honorable members have spoken on quite a number of matters not connected with the bill, but - quite properly, if I may say so - on the subject of the Nationality and Citizenship Act. Without taking up too much of the time of the House, because the hour is now fifteen minutes past midnight, I would like to make a few observations on some of the points raised.

The honorable member for Cunningham (Mr. Kearney) in a vigorous speech made what I thought was a strong plea for migrants to learn more English; but I think he rather overlooked the fact that for years now we have had quite substantial English classes on migrant ships. I was instrumental, two years ago, in instituting a series of pre-embarkation classes in English in the various countries of origin, and I refer to parts of Germany, Italy and Greece. When I was in Greece eighteen months ago, I saw these classes in operation; and very effective they were, from my own observation of them. I think my honorable friend rather played down the very signal educational services which are being performed by the State Education Departments, by the radio classes that every honorable member must be aware of and must have heard and, of course, all the excellent work done in the teaching of English through correspondence classes. I, and I suppose many of us, have had experience in our dealing with migrants - I have had long experience of these problems, long before I was asked to take on the responsible office of Minister for Immigration - and all of us have been most impressed by the highly successful and diverse way in which English has been taught for years in this country and, I repeat for my friends opposite, the way it is now being taught before migrants leave their countries of origin and while they are still on the water coming here.

I would say that our European settlers have many facilities to learn English if they desire to do so. I am quite convinced that if a European living in Australia really wants to learn English he can do so with a minimum of trouble. The real limitation - this applies to all of us in dealing with a foreign language, and it would apply to me and perhaps to some other honorable gentlemen in this House - lies in the varying capacity of people, especially when they are older, to absorb and acquire proficiency in a foreign language; and as we know English is not an easy language for a foreigner to learn.

The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard), in leading for the

Opposition in this debate, quoted a number of figures of registered aliens, particularly from Austria, Germany and Italy. I only mention this point in passing because I think, with all respect to him, that he rather overstated the argument he was trying to make, since not all of these people are eligible for naturalization as they have not resided here for the requisite five-year period and some, indeed, as a further examination of the figures will show, are comparatively recent arrivals.

I want now to turn to some of the criticisms made by honorable members opposite concerning those who have been refused naturalization. As I have listened to this debate - I repeat, with great interest - the fact has been impressed upon me by speaker after speaker that there has been an extraordinary tendency to overlook the specific terms which are binding on the Minister for Immigration of the day under section 12 of the principal act - a section, let me remind the House, that was passed by the Labour Government in 1948 substantially as it now stands. This section states quite specifically that an applicant for naturalization - I apologize to the House for restating one of its own statutes, but I think it is very relevant to the argument to-night - must be of full age and capacity. He must be resident in Australia for five years. He must intend to remain here. He must be of good character. He must have an adequate knowledge of English or, as an alternative, he must have resided in this country for at least twenty years. Finally, he must have an adequate knowledge of the responsibilities and privileges of Australian citizenship.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - If he has been here twenty years, does he have to pass a language test?

Mr DOWNER - No. Special consideration is given to a migrant who has been here for twenty years and the standards for English are relaxed. Then the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson), and before him the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) spoke at some length, as one or two other honorable members also did, about the number of applications for citizenship which has been refused. As they quoted and as I gave it to the House earlier in reply to questions, that figure is 8,300. When all is said and done, surely any dispassionate observer must admit that when we have naturalized to the 30th June - again in round figures - 256,000 people, the refusal of 8,300 is a very small figure, a fractional figure indeed. With the greatest respect to those honorable members, whose support for this measure I appreciate, I think they have been making too much of the matter.

Furthermore, what the same honorable gentlemen have said is misleading, because of those rejected quite a number are, in fact, subsequently approved once they qualify for citizenship under the act which I have quoted to the House. Last week my colleague, the honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn), stated that of this total, 4,000 applications had been deferred because the applicants had an inadequate knowledge of English or of the responsibilities of citizenship. That, Sir, is quite a substantial proportion of the total number of refusals or deferments. For the life of me, I cannot see how any reasonable person can expect a European settler to be clothed with all the panoply of the privileges of Australian citizenship and of being a British subject if he cannot satisfy the elementary criterion of having a reasonable knowledge of the language, particularly as not a very high standard is insisted upon.

From time to time we have heard about the deferment of applications for security reasons. As the House well knows, only 195, compared with the total number of 256,000 persons who have been naturalized, have had their applications deferred for that reason. Honorable gentlemen may be interested to know that 44 of the 195 applications which were deferred were later approved by me. Because honorable members have shown absolutely no recognition of the fact in the criticisms they have made, I should like to tell them that no application is deferred or refused for security reasons without very careful consideration by me personally in my capacity as Minister for Immigration. I do not think honorable gentlemen have given sufficient weight to the part that has been played not just by me but by whoever else has administered the Department of Immigration, and to the very considerable amount of time that is devoted to an examination and consideration of these cases. Moreover, honorable gentlemen opposite have not made allowance for the number of cases that are reconsidered on the provision of further evidence. As I have had some complaints from honorable members opposite about their not being told the reasons for deferment, it is only fair that I should remind them of the quite large numbers of confidential letters they receive and which give them a pretty fair idea of the reasons for the rejection of particular applications. I believe that, for the sake of the record, I should direct attention to the practice. It is one that I myself have enlarged upon and which, as every honorable member knows, I have followed liberally.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - It is very helpful.

Mr DOWNER - I am glad that my friend, the honorable member for Hindmarsh, acknowledges it. I feel, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the honorable member for Bass and the honorable member for Hughes both overstated the effect of deferments and rejections on the general naturalization rate. I, quite frankly, have made no bones about saying that I share the dissatisfaction of honorable members probably on both sides of the House about the general progress of the rate of naturalization. Although, in round terms, 52 per cent, of the total number of migrants have been naturalized, no one could possibly throw up his hands with wonderment and say, "This is the criterion which we wish to establish ". But I put this point to the House: Even on the supposition that the entire 8,300 applications which have been rejected had been approved, that figure in itself is so small in proportion to the total number involved that it would have made very little difference indeed to the overall position. Therefore, I say to my friends opposite that what some of them have said in this respect does not really go to the heart of the naturalization problem.

Sir, thereis another thing that I should like to say in this respect. I believe that we should be aware of it and should think seriously about it. As I see the situation, there is a danger in bestowing too much sympathy on those who cannot fulfil the requirements of section 12 of the principal act. Australian citizenship, as has been stated many times - it cannot be emphasized too much - is a valuable prize. It carries privileges, but it also, as a concomitant, entails obligations. The Government certainly does not see why those privileges should be granted to people who, being aliens, are Communists, who are ignorant of our language, or who are of unsound mind. 1 ask those who urge, both inside and outside this chamber, a relaxation of the law to consider a more important aspect of the problem - the welfare of the totality of the Australian people and the undesirability of investing anti-social or ignorant individuals with full civic authority. Hitherto, as I understand the situation, that has been the point of view of honorable members on both sides of the Parliament. I believe that one should try to rise above party politics in considering this matter. I would be very sorry if some members of this House or of another place started to have second thoughts about that aspect of the problem. The Government has not changed its opinion. It will not deviate from its objectives of trying, on the one hand, to do justice to the individual and, on the other hand, to safeguard the welfare of this nation.

Before I resume my seat I want to deal in the briefest possible way with a question that was asked by the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley). I do not intend at this stage to go into the intricacies and the possible application of the Crimes Act. That is a highly legalistic matter, and it would not be pertinent or appropriate for me to go into it at this juncture. All I want to say is that, under our nationality laws, once an alien has been clothed with the rights of an Australian citizen and a British subject, his naturalization can be revoked only if he has obtained it by fraudulent means. In every other respect, under the legislation that has been passed by this Parliament within the last two and a half years, an alien who has qualified for and has accepted Australian citizenship is in exactly the same position as a person who is Australian born. I believe, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that that point cannot be stated too clearly or too strongly when we are considering a measure of this nature.

I repeat that I appreciate the support the Opposition has given to the bill, and I hope that it will have a speedy passage.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.

Bill - by leave - read a third time.

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