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Wednesday, 9 March 1966

Mr OPPERMAN (Corio) (Minister for Immigration) . - by leave - As the Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Holt) has already informed the House, the Government has reviewed the operation of immigration policy affecting non-European people, taking into account the experience and changing circumstances of recent years. I wish to give the House details of the decisions and to discuss their significance. When in 1956 the Government reviewed the policy, which had been followed since Federation, of not admitting persons of non-European origin for permanent residence, it introduced several significant reforms. Those people already settled here became eligible to be naturalised; the admission for permanent residence of immediate relatives of Australian citizens was authorised; and it was made possible for highly qualified people to come here for indefinite stay, though under temporary permits. Then in 1957 it was decided that non-Europeans who had been admitted on temporary permits could be naturalised after 15 years' stay. In 1964, the rules governing the entry of persons of mixed descent were eased.

The Government has now decided upon two further measures which the House will recognise as important but as not departing from the fundamental principles of our immigration policy. First, it has been decided that non-European people who are already here under temporary permits but are likely to be here indefinitely, should not have to wait 15 years before applying for resident status and for Australian citizenship, but should be able to apply after five years' residence, so ending a situation often criticised for its effect on individuals and families. This does not of course mean that everyone admitted to Australia for limited temporary residence is entitled to stay here indefinitely. Every country makes separate provision for temporary entry as distinct from the entry of settlers. For example, I must emphasise it would be quite wrong and most unfair to the development of countries whence they came to offer to the 12,000 Asian students in Australia the right to settle here after five years' study. The objective of admitting these young people, to use educational facilities which are both expensive to the Australian Government and in great demand, is to help the students' homelands by increasing their numbers of qualified people.

The Government's decision, therefore, does not relate to people expected to leave Australia after limited temporary residence but does apply to those who have been here for long periods or who are likely to be allowed to stay indefinitely. The two main examples of people affected by the elimination of the fifteen-year rule are the highly qualified Asians admitted in recent years for " indefinite stay " but on temporary entry permits; and Chinese admitted before 1956 who, if they left Australia, could go back only to Communist China. By a decision of the Government in 1956, they were allowed to stay on but, lacking the status of settlers and citizens, have been unable to bring their wives and children here. I am very glad to say that one important benefit of the Government's decision to abolish the so-called fifteenyear rule will be to enable many families who have been separated for some years to be reunited much sooner than would have been possible under the previous rule.

The second decision is that applications for entry by well qualified people wishing to settle in Australia will be considered on the basis of their suitability as settlers, their ability to integrate readily, and their possession of qualifications which are in fact positively useful to Australia. They will be able after five years' stay on temporary permits to apply for resident status and citizenship. They will be able to bring their immediate families with them on first arrival.

No annual quota is contemplated. The number of people entering - though limited relative to our total population - will be somewhat greater than previously, but will be controlled by the careful assessment of the individual's qualifications, and the basic aim of preserving a homogeneous population will be maintained. The changes are of course not intended to meet general labour shortages or to permit the large scale admission of workers from Asia; but the widening of eligibility will help to fill some of Australia's special needs.

Examples of those who, under the new decision, will be admitted in numbers greater than previously are persons with specialised technical skills for appointments for which local residents are not available; persons of high attainment in the arts and sciences, or of prominent achievement in other ways; persons nominated by responsible authorities or institutions for specific important professional appointments, which otherwise would remain unfilled; executives, technicians, and other specialists who have spent substantial periods in Australia - for example, with the branches here of large Asian companies - and who have qualifications or experience in positive demand here; businessmen who in their own countries have been engaged in substantial international trading and would be able to carry on such trade from Australia; persons who have been of particular and lasting help to Australia's interest abroad in trade, or in other ways; and persons who by former residence in Australia or by association with us have demonstrated an interest in or identification with Australia that should make their future residence here feasible.

Applications by such persons and others in comparable circumstances will be eligible for consideration on an individual basis. Those admitted will be able to apply for resident status and citizenship after five years' stay. Where the Governments of other countries may be concerned over loss of qualified people, there will be appropriate consultation, as Australia must not contradict the aims of the Colombo Plan and other efforts to help such countries' development. With the same objective, the programme of allowing young people to come from other countries as students will continue. Greater effort is to be made to ensure that courses undertaken will be of recognised value to the students' homelands when they return there. In view of the need to ensure most effective use of scarce places at our universities and other institutions, the intending student's ability to undertake his course successfully will be examined carefully at time of application for entry, and his progress will be assessed annually.

Honorable members on both sides of the House have frequently and generously stressed that humanity and discretion have marked the handling of individual cases in the immigration field generally. This, I can assure the House, will be continued, always with Australia's interests in view, always in the hope of showing sympathy and consideration to men and women in difficulty, and always avoiding unnecessary disclosure of private confidences or misfortunes. Representations from any responsible source will be carefully considered.

Every country has not only a right to its own immigration policy but a heavy duty and a vital responsibility to administer it in the interests of its own people. Our neighbours and friends all have immigration policies that are based on their own interests and are intended to benefit their own people and future. All include elements of control of entry and residence, some with strict numerical and national limitations. No government is to be reproached for aspects of its immigration system developed for its needs and derived from its social history, political traditions and constitutional arrangements. No responsible government condones illegality or deceit, which are poor gateways indeed for the entry of new settlers.

Our programmes and policies have likewise emerged from our history, our respect for law and order and our response to our special needs. Our primary aim in immigration is a generally integrated and predominantly homogeneous population. A positive element in the latest changes is that which will admit selected non-Europeans capable of becoming Australians and joining in our national development. Both the policy and the rules and procedures by which it is effected cannot remain static and must be constantly reviewed. Though redefined from time to time, they must be administered in accordance with the law, on principals decided by the Government, with justice to individuals and for the future welfare of the Australian people as a whole. These will continue to be the main elements in Australia's immigration policy.

I present the following paper -

Immigration Policy affecting Non-Europeans - Ministerial Statement, 9th March 1966 - and move -

That the House take note of the paper.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Daly) adjourned.

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