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Thursday, 24 March 1966

Mr FOX (Henty) .- So much has already been said during the course of this debate, and said so very well, that I think little of an original nature remains to be said. I wish to join with previous speakers in congratulating both the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Opperman) and the Government on a decision to put nonEuropeans on the same footing as Europeans with regard to naturalisation. I believe that this decision will remove long-standing resentment which exists in some Asian countries against our present policy. I believe that it is a very good change for two main reasons: First, on humanitarian grounds in that it will help to unite some families which have been separated for a considerable number of years; and secondly, because Australia, geographically, is situated in

Asia.I think that commonsense demands that we do what we can, where it is possible to do so without lowering our standards, to live in harmony with our Asian neighbours.

I am quite sure that in making this change the Government has gained in goodwill. Further, this subject is one on which I hold very strong personal views. Nearly four years ago in this House I asked the Government to give consideration to reducing the number of years set as the qualifying period for naturalisation of non-Europeans. I believe this change not only to be just and sensible but also to be logical because at naturalisation ceremonies speakers representing the Government are fond of pointing out to the candidates for naturalisation the advantages of Australian citizenship. They tell the applicants that Australian citizenship confers on them the right to the full protection of Australian laws and the right to permanent appointment in the Public Service, should they so desire it. We point out to them that they will have the right to vote. In other words, they will have a say in who shall govern this country. If they wish, they may even offer themselves as candidates for Parliament. We point out to them that Australian citizens of appropriate age - they must be 60 or 65 years of age and have been resident for 10 years in Australia - have a right to receive the age pension. Finally, we tell them that if they wish to travel abroad they are entitled to the privileges of an Australian passport. These are some of the tangible advantages of Australian citizenship.

I believe that some of the less obvious advantages are more important. For instance, there is the ability to grow up in a community knowing that one is really part of that community. All of these privileges have been denied to many people who have been residents of Australia for periods up to 14 years. This relaxation must result in these people becoming even better citizens as they will have a real and personal interest in seeing Australia develop and progress because it will now be their own country. I believe that their doubts and uncertainties will be removed.

Many non-Europeans have been really worried in the past not particularly for themselves but mainly for their children who will grow up as Australians. Their children may be different from other Australian children in appearance but certainly not in language and interests. These children will be able to contribute very greatly to Australia's prosperity and future progress. I know that there are many people of nonEuropean origin who have been living in Australia for 10 years or 12 years and who have had very real fears that a change of government might result in a change of policy and that they might not have the opportunity, even at the end of 15 years' residence, to apply for naturalisation, after working hard to establish themselves here. Many of them fear that, through change of policy, they might have to go back to the country from which they came. Many of these people are excellent citizens. I believe that they will be even better citizens now that they know that they are here to stay with the same rights and privileges as Australian born citizens.

Many previous speakers have pointed out that Australia's immigration policy is nothing to be ashamed of or to apologise for. It is a great deal more generous than many people realise. I believe that the present Minister for Immigration has nothing to apologise for in regard to the manner in which he has administered the present immigration policy. At the same time, I congratulate both the Government and the Minister on the introduction of this humane, sensible and progressive measure.

In conclusion 1 ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to allow me sufficient latitude before I sit down to pay a tribute in this discussion on immigration to Australian immigration officers overseas. Unfortunately, I have been unable to participate in the last three or four immigration debates that have taken place. From personal experience, I have found these officers without exception to be efficient, courteous and helpful. I have found that invariably they are held in high regard by the people with whom they come in contact in the countries in which they reside. 1 feel that the people of Australia should know this. For that reason, I place this tribute on record.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Peters) adjourned.

Sitting suspended from 5.54 to 8 p.m.

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