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Tuesday, 29 March 1966

Mr COCKLE (Warringah) .- It is my pleasure to contribute to this debate, which has been carried on at a high level and which has been free of party politics. The Government's liberalisation of the restrictions on non-European migration will be and has been accorded universal support. The acclaim accorded the Government's intention to effect this liberalisation arises from the fact that the Government does not intend to depart from the long standing and fundamental principles of its immigration policy. It is most gratifying to note that the Government does not intend to introduce an open door policy - opening the flood gates to let all and sundry into Australia. I should like now to refer to a statement made by the Honorable A. R. Downer, as he then was, in 1959, because it epitom- >es graphically our immigration policy. He said -

To describe our immigration policy in such a sweeping generalisation as "White Australia" is misleading. It imparts an innuendo of racial superiority, which in truth is absent from our natural attitude to foreigners. Few people are less conscious of differences of race and colour than contemporary Australians.

Our policy, as we are well aware, is based on sound economic foundations. We should note particularly that it is based also on the assurance of continued racial peace. Both objectives have been worthily achieved and are being worthily maintained. Since the passing of the Immigration Restriction Act in 1901 our policy has not failed; and it will not fail. We can be proud that our policy is not directed against colour and is not based on any sense of racial superiority. It is not concerned with differences of race, creed, tradition and custom.

For years I have been particularly interested in claims made for the introduction of annual quotas of immigrants. This is a system to which I am strongly opposed. I am pleased that in the liberalised policy no provision has been made for a quota system. Time and time again scientists, journalists, students and even clerics have argued for the introduction of a system of quotas for Asian immigrants. Such arguments do not take account of the realities of life. Of course, we can be misled by sentiment and by shallow thinking, but to be so misled could have disastrous social and economic consequences for Australia. For these reasons alone we must never favorably consider introducing a quota system. For the 178 years of its existence, Australia has drawn its migrants from Britain and other European countries. This has enabled us to become a nation of remarkable homogeneity. The advantages of our racial uniformity are clear to be seen. If a quota system for Asians were adopted, then, no matter how meagre the quota, it would completely disrupt our policy which, as I have stated already, has stood the test of 178 years. It would also create bitter and endless arguments as to what should constitute the quota to be admitted from any non-European country.

No doubt some people would argue that if a quota system for the admission of Asians were adopted it would earn for us the goodwill of the Asians and also be the means of relieving the population pressures in the heavily populated Asian countries. In my view, and in the view of many other people, history shows that, as a means of appeasement, a quota system can accomplish little. On the contrary, it would be both discriminatory and selective. In fact, I believe that if we did have a quota system for the admission of Asians it would lead to our taking from the Asian countries the very people whom those countries must keep to effect their own domestic stability. Instead of appeasing racial feelings, the quota system would actually increase them, not only in Australia but in the other countries concerned.

It is interesting to note that the agitation for the adoption of a quota system of immigration for Asians is sponsored mainly by Australians, not by Asians. We should direct our energies towards making our Asian neighbours realise that our immigration policy is founded on economic not social grounds, and that it is not intended in any way as a slight on our Asian friends. To sum up my opposition to claims for the introduction of a quota system, I express the belief that these claims are purely rhetorical and indeed hypocritical.

There are some - perhaps they constitute a quite considerable body - who advocate the open door policy. Such a policy, of course, would only lead to chaos and certainly would not serve to ease the Asian population problem. In fact, I agree with the honorable member for Scullin (Mr. Peters) who pointed out that the immigration policies adopted by non-European countries themselves are fairly strict. We should never overlook the fact that when Australians go to Asian countries they meet with immigration barriers as strict as, if not stricter than, our own barriers. They are so strict that it is extremely difficult for Asians themselves to move from one country to another in Asia, even for a short visit. I understand - T believe it to be true - that it is easier for an Asian to visit Australia than it is for him to visit another Asian country. Therefore, it is quite obvious that an open door policy would only lead to the creation in Australia of chaos such as I have outlined.

So I hail with general approval, as do many honorable members, the provision to reduce from 15 years to five years the resi dential qualification required of nonEuropeans who wish to receive Australian citizenship, for I believe that the proposal meets so many of the points raised by previous speakers. I am particularly pleased to note that the Minister for Immigration is to be given the right to exercise a discretion when a worthy person of non-European origin is presented to him as being one on whom Australian citizenship should be conferred. Since coming into this House, I have been very critical of the restriction hitherto placed on the Minister. I have supported the claim of a very highly respected Indian gentleman and businessman to become an Australian citizen. Because the Minister had no discretionary power, he was obliged to refuse this man's application for citizenship. This case is a good illustration of the reason why discretion must be vested in the Minister.

This gentleman of Indian birth is, as I have already mentioned, highly respected in the community. He has devoted a good deal of his time to public activities, seeking to assist those who are his fellows in every sense except that he is not an Australian citizen. In the course of his public activities he was elected president of a Lions Club. Although his skin is dark, he was elected president and filled that office with a high degree of efficiency. He was extremely popular amongst all members of the club. When I saw that it was possible that he would become president of the Lions Club, I felt that it would be a nice gesture if Australian citizenship could be conferred upon him before his election, but, because of the restrictive nature of the law, nothing could be done even though my representations were supported with references from leading citizens, bank managers, the mayors of two councils, Rotary, the Chamber of Commerce and the Lions Club. How ridiculous was a law which prevented a man of his high integrity and calibre from achieving his ambition to become an Australian citizen merely because the pigmentation of his skin was different from that of ours. Thank goodness he can now join us as an Australian citizen. The only sad part of it is that he has waited 14 years and 8 months before Australian citizenship could be achieved. He has waited calmly and quietly without ostentation. If his case had been known to the Press it would have been given a lot of publicity. That is one very good reason why I welcome the relaxation of this particular law.

At this stage, I want to pay a tribute to the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Opperman), for the very efficient manner in which he has administered the acts committed to him and to his departmental heads and staff generally. They have humanely administered the rules and regulations of this most comprehensive Immigration Act. At all times, members of the Department have been very co-operative and understanding in their assistance to honorable members of this House with immigration problems which, as we are well aware, are very numerous.

In conclusion, I want to draw attention to the fact that geographically we Australians inhabit a continent which is an entity as separate from Asia as it is from Africa. Racially, we are of European origin and predominantly British. Our history and culture have their roots in Europe. We are entitled therefore to our own immigration policy, as are other countries of the world. We are entitled to our policy regarding nonEuropeans, but I fully support the liberalisation of this policy as announced by the Minister and I congratulate the Government for it.

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