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Thursday, 24 March 1966

Mr CLEAVER (Swan) .- Mr. Speaker,the statement on immigration by the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Opperman) is a most significant one. J suggest that it reveals a mature assessment of the particular situation as we see it in Australia and the need for flexilibity according to changed circumstances in respect of our immigration policy. It so happens that policy statements on immigration have not been made very frequently. Perhaps we can suggest that we are the poorer for this because if policy statements had been available to us on more frequent occasions in the past it is quite probable that much of the misunderstanding both at home and abroad may have been removed. I say that because the Minister in his policy statements, no doubt, would have re-enunciated the principles and procedures which the country has embraced from time to time.

This Government has followed a restricted migration policy. I believe that within this charter it has embraced a wide range of nationalities, indeed, and that it has done so without departing from the principle of building a homogeneous population in Australia. The Government and the Opposition have not been widely divergent in this area of immigration and this very debate has demonstrated that this afternoon. There has been a unanimity of view from both sides of the House. As we look back upon previous discussion on immigration we have to recognise the tributes that flowed freely from the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) to successive Ministers for Immigration. I believe that the Government has been just as generous, if not more generous, towards the Leader of the Opposition who has been the subject of genuine praise from time to time because of the sound foundation which he laid in the early post-war years as Minister for Immigration. These were the formative years of the plan that this Government has embraced. I believe we have been generous. There has been a two-way traffic between the Government and the Opposition as the years have gone by.

But much of the misunderstanding of our country's attitude was implanted on us by the Australian Labour Party platform which has carried down through the years. It was the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr.

Daly) who, with his associates, did some very sound work in this respect in the interests of his party and 1 have been most interested, not only in his speech of today, but in the very sound speech which he presented to his party's federal conference last year, about the month of August, lt was the honorable member for Grayndler who said then that part one of the Labour Party's platform commenced with the words -

Maintenance of a White Australia shall provide the basis for immigration policy.

He pointed out that the term "white Australia " which was used in his party's policy had no place in official vocabulary but that it had become a popular though not official way of describing Australia's immigration policy. I believe that he said that it was shown in Labour's platform in that way because of the difficulty in finding appropriate terms to fit the policy whilst maintaining the principle involved. He and his associates said that the term " white Australia " should be eliminated from their platform. Whilst it was removed it was considered that Australia's immigration policy should be based on the principle of avoidance of different racial, economic and social problems. I believe that he and his colleagues were fully justified when they underlined that the term " white Australia " had become a major reason why objection is taken in some quarters to our immigration policy rather than the policy itself. The fact that the term has no official basis is evidently not known or is overlooked. He pointed out that the term was invented about 40 years before Federation and that it had found no place in any of Australia's law. It was a popular, but not a legal, term. I pay tribute to the good work done by our friend the honorable member for Grayndler. Because of his strong presentation to his party's conference, at long last it amended the wording of its policy and this term " white Australia " which has plagued the country for so many years has been dropped.

It is rather significant that the Press of Australia so presented this action by our friends of the Opposition that it was widely applauded. But what should not be overlooked, I suggest, is the fact that it was the policy of the Opposition party which down through the years brought to us some of this misunderstanding. We ought to place on record again and again that no Australian legislation has embraced this expression.

I turn now to the official record of recent naturalisations in this country. The return for 1964-65 was presented to the Parliament by the Minister for Immigration. The first section of the return deals with the number of naturalisation certificates presented in that 12 months period. My colleague the honorable member for Ryan (Mr. Drury) referred helpfully to some of these statistics this afternoon. Because they are so enlightening I would like to go back and deal with a few of the nationalities concerned, and then I have an additional reference to bring forward upon which my colleague did not touch. I believe that there are many people in Australia and abroad who are not aware that within a 12 months period Australia issued certificates of naturalisation to 299 people from Chinese background, 11 from Indonesia, 31 from Japan, 10 from the Philippines, two from Thailand, 29 from Tunisia and four from Vietnam. Regarding fellow member countries of the Commonwealth, we find that certificates of registration were issued to a very large number of people who also have come to Australia. I believe that you must add to the certificates of naturalisation these figures for they reflect a substantial number indeed. Citizens of Ceylon numbering 382 have obtained registration certificates. There have been 156 from India. There have been 61 from Malaysia in this same period of 12 months and 28 have come from Pakistan. Of the large number of 2,455 certificates issued to citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies, 43 related to people who were previously resident in Hong Kong and 23 to people from Fiji.

I believe that if many of the critics of the Government's immigration policy were made aware of these figures they would perhaps drop their criticism. These figures are not only significant, they are most impressive. It would not be surprising if the number of critics were quickly and substantially reduced if they made a proper analysis of these figures and the additional figures available in the record to which I have referred. I believe that the Minister, his departmental officers and all of us who are supporters of this splendid immigration policy would be justified in giving these figures a wider publicity. I believe that the public relations of the Department of Immigration would be greatly enhanced if this were done over a period of time.

The concluding words of the Minister in the statement which is under debate were most acceptable to me and I should like to express my gratitude for the fundamental principles inherent in the final paragraph, which reads -

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 principles decided by the Government, with justice to individuals and for the future welfare of the Australian people as a whole.

The Minister concluded his speech by saying -

These will continue to be the main elements in Australia's immigration policy.

The whole of the statement reminds us that the policy on the admission of nonEuropeans was reviewed and liberalised in the years 1956, 1957 and 1964. Now in 1966, without departure from the Government's basic principles to which we have been making reference, these two further measures are approved. Other speakers have dealt with the two major amendments but in relation to the ' fifteen years rule ' I should like to make my own few comments. 1 want to point out that this is an amendment that is somewhat overdue, because we have been concerned over its adverse effect on individuals and families. I put on record my own affection for a very fine friend who came to this country some years ago from the sub-continent of India. He came to us admittedly as a student, and he expected to do his studies here and then to return to India. But whilst in Australia he came under the influence of groups that appealed to him and he underwent a change of faith. When ho returned home on study leave it was only to find that his action had brought upon him excommunication by his family. He was ostracised, and he came back to complete his studies in

Australia, wondering what his future might be.

Hiscontribution in church life and in the community was so outstanding and so appreciated that some of us did not hestitate to ask an understanding Minister for Immigration, backed by a government with a flexible policy when it comes to a point of humanity, to allow this man to stay in the country, perhaps indefinitely. He carried on his studies, he engaged in college tuition and in Christian leadership responsibilities, and the Mnister of the day agreed to allow him to stay in Australia, subject, of course, to the 15 years residence rule to which we have made reference. It so happens that the period of 15 years has almost elapsed, but had the current liberalisation been introduced earlier my friend would probably have been granted naturalisation and security, his service as a trained professional could have been stabilised, and the door could have been opened to him to establish his own home life in this country if he so desired.

Although I have given this illustration, do not for a moment let it be thought that I would be an advocate for a breakdown in our system of temporary permits for students, because I happen to be one who feels that it is morally sound for those thousands of young people who have been here and who are here at present as students under the Colombo Plan or as private students to return to their homelands. The very basis of the Colombo Plan student scheme and also our acceptance of so many other students - private students number about 11,000 - is that the benefits gained from our educational institutions should be taken back and employed in their own countries.

The Minister's statement refers very soundly to the strain placed upon our educational facilities because of this helpful policy, and I express confidence that our friends in Asian countries from which we have been so pleased to accept students appreciate the help that Australia has offered and our policy that their young people should return home when their courses have been completed. We should, therefore, I suggest, be quite clear that the new decision by the Government to reduce the 15 years residence qualification to five years will apply only to non-Europeans who have resided here for a long time or who are for a variety of reasons likely to stay, as the Minister has put it, indefinitely. Separation of families will be rectified in many cases under this amendment, and this is wholly desirable.

The second point in the statement is that well qualified people, with their families right from the time of acceptance, will be considered for entry to Australia, subject to these essential and simple fundamental requirements: First, they must be considered to be suitable as settlers; secondly, they should demonstrate an ability to integrate readily; thirdly, their qualifications which we would be prepared to recognise should definitely be useful to our country. This should assist Australia, surely, by absorbing some talents in which our established communities have demonstrated deficiencies.

As the Minister brought his statement to a conclusion, he indicated again very wisely, in my assessment, that care should be taken, first, to engage in discussion with the governments of the countries from which people might be expected, to ensure that we do not impair our good relationships by accepting people in excess of the numbers that those friendly governments might indicate to be a fair thing. Secondly, because of the strain and the stress upon the educational institutions to which I have made reference, with some 12,000 students from Asia here, the Department will endeavour to see to it that students maintain a good standard in their educational programmes and that they do not unnecessarily extend their stay here, because naturally if this was allowed to continue the number of available places within the educational institutions would be lessened.

I like the reference by the Minister to the continuance of the handling of each individual case on the basis of understanding and humanity. It is perhaps important in these final minutes of my allotted time to point out that overall the officers of his Department have earned a very fine reputation for their co-operation, their kindliness, and their understanding of the cases brought to them.

The Government's policy, therefore, is not based upon any thought of racial discrimination. The statistics which have been cited by some other speakers in the debate and which I underline surely indicate that in Australia there is no place for thought of racial discrimination. Under the Colombo Plan up to last year some 5,749 trainees had benefited and the Australian taxpayer had paid out willingly for this purpose some £55 million. In the last 10 years almost 3,500 non-Europeans have been granted Australian citizenship and in the past five years more than 22,000 visitors - nonEuropeans - have been in our country for varying periods of 12 months or more. We are always glad to welcome visitors of this kind. There is a place for them within our naturalisation programme. Without embracing a large number of them we can accept them under our restricted immigration policy.

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