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Tuesday, 29 March 1966

Mr BARNARD (Bass) .- I welcome the opportunity of speaking on the statement on immigration that was delivered to this Parliament quite recently by the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Opperman). The Minister announced several changes that will affect the status and the migration of persons of non-European origin to this country. The Opposition does not oppose the Government's intention as announced in the statement. Indeed, the Opposition feels that the changes are both reasonable and, I believe, desirable. They are in line with the improvements that have been effected to our immigration policy which was first introduced into this Parliament in 1945 by the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell). Every honorable member is in general agreement that that immigration policy has brought great benefit to this country.

That immigration policy has been instrumental in increasing the population of Australia to a figure not believed possible prior to the Second World War. Although the policy has served this country very well during those 21 years it was only natural that changes in the legislation would be necessary. Therefore, from time to time those changes have been made by the present Minister for Immigration and by those who preceded him in , that office. So every honorable member in this Parliament finds himself in common agreement on the immigration matters which are placed before us. That has been stated quite frequently during this debate by honorable members on both sides of the chamber.

It is true that on this issue there will be those in this House who will feel that the Government may be moving too far in a certain direction. There are others who will hold the opinion - and I am one of them - that the Government is acting quite wisely and correctly on this issue. The Opposition does not believe that this Government, or any government, ought to open the gates for an unrestricted flow of immigration into this country. Therefore, we accept the assurance of the Minister that no drastic changes in this respect are contemplated at all and that there will be no departure from the traditional principles adopted or incorporated in the original Migration Act of 1945. If that were not the situation, honorable members on this side of the House would not be in a position to support the statement which we now have before us.

The Minister has referred to the unanimity and general agreement that one finds in this chamber on immigration matters. I referred to them myself. What the Minister now proposes is in line, of course, with the previous easing of policies affecting nonEuropeans. It will be remembered that in 1956 the Government made a statement announcing provisions for permanent residence in this country for some people of non-European origin. In 1957, as a result of a further amendment to the legislation, nonEuropeans became eligible for full citizenship rights after fifteen years residence in Australia, subject, of course, to the same conditions as apply under the terms of the statement which we now have before us. Now the Minister has agreed that some changes should be effected so that those non-Europeans who have come to this country and who hold temporary permits, but who are likely to remain here for an indefinite period, may apply for full citizenship rights after a period of only five years. In this respect, they are being accorded the same privilege as is extended to any other person who comes to this country under our immigration scheme, whether from Great Britain or from one of the European countries. We believe that this is a correct approach.

Every honorable member in this House acknowledges that prior to this statement by the Minister for Immigration, as a result of the restrictive measures which applied to non-Europeans, it was extremely difficult for those who had been here for a long time to bring their families here also. Although the Minister did not "make this point perfectly clear, I would assume that those people who may now apply for full citizenship rights because they have resided here for a period longer than five years will be in a position to apply immediately to have their families brought to Australia. 1 hope that this will be the situation. Previously, they have not been able to bring them to Australia, except in certain circumstances. Therefore, if they may now apply for full citizenship rights one would expect - and I hope that this, will be so - that they may now apply immediately for permission to bring their families to Australia. The Minister has just nodded his head; so I can accept that as an indication that what I have said in this respect will apply. Those non-Europeans, particularly Chinese, who have resided in Australia for a long period will now be able to bring their families to this country. The Opposition, as I have already indicated, believes that this is a humane approach. We believe it is an approach which should be incorporated in the legislation and we welcome the opportunity of supporting it on this occasion in this chamber. Some Chinese were admitted to Australia prior to 1956. We understand from the Minister's statement that if they were to leave this country they would be obliged to return to mainland China. The Minister quite correctly, in my opinion, believes that these people should be given the right to remain in Australia. If the Government believes that there is a satisfactory and sufficient reason why a large section of the Chinese population should be entitled to remain in Australia, then the Opposition agrees that in the circumstances it would be better to confer on those people full citizenship rights. It does not seem to me to be the correct approach to allow non-Europeans to remain in Australia because they are not able to return to the country of their origin, and yet at the same time refuse to grant them full citizenship rights. The Opposition concurs with the Minister's approach to this problem.

The Minister in 'his statement outlined two further changes in the immigration programme which the Opposition does not oppose. Since the Minister has given an assurance to honorable members on this side of the House, that although the immigration laws will be broadened to provide that ' people of non-European origin with special qualifications will be permitted to come to Australia this will not mean an unrestricted flow of people into this country, the Opposition does not oppose the change in policy. We can accept this assurance because the Minister in his statement said -

No annual quota is contemplated. The number of people entering- [hough 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 Opposition accepts the Minister's assurance that this change in policy will not mean an unrestricted flow of people of nonEuropean origin into Australia. We asked for. that assurance. because we do not believe, as I have already said, that an unrestricted flow should be allowed. One need only consider the difficulties experienced by other countries. I refer to difficulties now apparent in the United States of America, to which my colleague the honorable member for Scullin (Mr. Peters) referred earlier this afternoon. Those difficulties and that situation ought not to be allowed in this country.

While we are prepared to concur with the Minister in his contention that certain people of non-European origin who can make a contribution to the development of Australia because of their special qualifications ought to be admitted, we say most emphatically that the Opposition is opposed to any policy that would allow an unrestricted flow of people of non-European origin into Australia. We need only to think of the problems applying in other parts of the world. I have -already referred to the problem which has affected the United States for some years. Great Britain also brought upon itself a problem, only in recent years, when it provided for almost unrestricted immigration from Commonwealth countries. Subsequently it had to change its immigration policy to prevent large numbers of people from coming into Great Britain. Even at present it has a problem which it is finding difficult to solve.

Great Britain and America are not the only countries which have found themselves in such a situation. Countries as close to Australia as India and Pakistan are faced with problems because of racial, religious and other differences, and the Opposition is of the opinion that Australia should be determined to prevent a similar state of affairs from occurring in this country. I have said on other occasions in this House, and I do not hesitate to say again, that Australia has the very grave responsibility to apply the kind of immigration policy that is best suited to meet the needs of its population. I believe that successive governments, both Labour and Liberal, have maintained the correct attitude which is the only one that should be maintained.

The Opposition does .not disagree, as I have already indicated, that certain changes can be effected without overriding the essential principles to which I have referred. The Minister for Immigration has dealt with at least two of these changes in the statement that we are now debating. I have already referred to the change which will allow certain people of non-European origin to be admitted to this country because of their special qualifications. We have the Minister's assurance that this will not be done on a quota system. I do not believe that it should be done on a quota system. Australia has a perfect right to decide the kind of immigration laws best suited to Australian conditions and it is not alone in adopting such an attitude. Other countries apply far more stringent immigration laws than we in Australia do. Malaysia, for example, is very careful about its immigration programme. Thailand, if I remember correctly, allows an annual quota of about 200. India and Pakistan both have restrictive immigration policies, even between themselves. An Indian can reside in Pakistan for no more than three years and a similar situation applies to a Pakistani residing in India. Ceylon has a restrictive immigration policy. In Indonesia the immigration laws are far stricter than they are in Australia. It would be extremely difficult for anyone from Australia to gain full citizenship rights in Indonesia on a permanent basis unless he had some special qualifications. If it is good enough for these Asian countries to have strict immigration laws it is good enough for Australia to have immigration laws which it believes protect the interests, social wellbeing and the economic standards of its people.

Our immigration laws are not aimed at any Asian country. Indeed, I think that what the Minister proposes in the terms of his statement indicates that Australia is prepared to accept its full share of responsibility for admitting people who have a special contribution to make towards our development. We have the assurance of the Minister that once they come to this country, if they can satisfy the normal standards applying to immigrants from European countries they will ultimately be given full citizenship rights. I believe that what the Minister proposes under the terms of the statement we are now debating will be of great benefit to Australia. It will enable people who have been in Australia for a very long period, and who have made a contribution to this country, to seek full citizenship rights and to be reunited with their families. It will also allow us to bring into Australia from Asian countries people of non-European stock who have special qualifications and are able to meet the standards normally applied by the Department of Immigration.

I was extremely pleased to read the suggestions made in the Minister's statement for improvements in relation to Asian students in this country. Today almost 12,000 Asian students are attending universities or technical schools or are receiving some other form of education in this country. But I have thought for a long time that many of them have tried during the time they have been here to defeat the immigration laws and to remain here. It is true that this does not apply to the majority of the students. Asian students come to Australia to receive an education that will fit them for a certain class of work in their own country. They have a contribution to make in their own country. If they have not, they would not have been sent here as a result of the representations of their Government or under the Colombo Plan. They should return to their country. Under the terms of the Government's policy now, they will have the right to apply for permission to return to Australia after a period of five years. In my opinion, it is doubtful whether this should be allowed. The Minister said they can apply. Naturally they will be required to meet the normal provisions that apply to all immigrants to this country. I believe that most of these students would do better to remain in their own country where the skills they have acquired would make a more significant contribution than they would in Australia.

As I have already said, the Opposition agrees with the points that have been stressed by the Minister in his statement. We believe that the changes in the Government's policy are worthwhile. We believe that they will make a contribution to the development of Australia and will ease some of the hardships that formerly affected people of non-European stock who have resided in Australia for a long time. We accept the Minister's assurance that the quota will be carefully watched and that there will be no unrestricted flow of people from other countries as a result of the change in policy. Because we accept the Minister's assurance on these points, we support the action he has taken.

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