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Tuesday, 29 March 1966

Mr OPPERMAN (Corio) (Minister for Immigration) . - At the outset I wish to express my thanks to all honorable members on both sides for their support of the Government's new policies. I include the last speaker, the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard), and other honorable members who have spoken this afternoon. It has been with gratification that I have noticed the intense and deep interest in this vital and important subject and the amount of research and study to which honorable members have applied themselves. The subject is one that is so totally in contrast to any other that I believe every honorable member must feel what could be termed a patriotic duty towards it. Any errors in judgment and discretion, as has been proved so regrettably in other countries, can be serious because, after all, they are self-perpetuating through future generations. Therefore, if honorable members have felt this to any great extent, I as Minister, with the responsibility of ultimate decision, must feel too that the interpretation of the regulations must be done with what Opposition speakers have referred to as knowledge, understanding and tolerance. But in the final analysis any decision must never be to the detriment of our own peace and harmony as a nation, at this stage or in the future.

I regret that time will not allow me to comment in detail on all of the speeches. Incidentally, as a matter of interest, I mention that this is probably the only formal debate that has been held in the past 60 years on our traditional immigration policy, except in isolated instances or on bills to amend acts. The honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) gave a clear exposition of the attitude of the Opposition to immigration. I join with honorable members on this side of the House in expressing appreciation of his comprehensive speech. There were some specific points raised by him and I wish to give an assurance that the possession of wealth, for instance, will certainly not be the sole basis of admission to Australia. In other words, the right to settle in Australia cannot be bought, although it must be added in justice that, if a man and his family are eligible under our policy to settle in Australia, it would, of course, not be a disqualification if they were well off. The honorable member can be assured, however, that wealth alone will not entitle anyone to join the Australian community.

I was glad to hear the honorable member for Grayndler note with approval various specific points about the new policy that I announced in my statement to the House on 9th March. They are worth reiterating. We are determined to be most careful not to deprive underdeveloped countries of the skills and talents that are needed by them much more than by Australia. Many honorable members have referred to this aspect. We do not intend, either, to admit workers to meet labour, shortages. We will not admit persons on the basis of special training and experience if suitably qualified Australians are available. I think, though, that there can be no better sense of achievement than to witness the acceptance of suitable settlers into Australia. This contributes materially towards the development and progress of Australia and I assure the House that, as the Minister concerned, it is much more pleasant to accede than to refuse. However, where this country's interests are concerned and where one's policy of guide lines, as they have been termed, are laid down and accepted, there can be no hesitation in making one's decisions based on a complete understanding by the House and by the Australian public. No immigration policy can possibly succeed unless it has the support of those amongst whom any new settlers come to live.

The honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Collard) on Thursday and the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Birrell) today dealt very thoroughly with the question of who should be accepted for entry. Perhaps the honorable member for Kalgoorlie asked more precisely about this subject. They both expressed concern lest the new decision authorised the Minister to admit workers to meet specific shortages. The honorable members dealt at some length with my phrase " general labour shortages." I did not give the word the meaning which perhaps they feared. I meant labour shortages that are common in various parts of Australia, and thus used the word " general ". I assure them without hesitation that the new decision does not authorise the Minister to admit skilled workers and tradesmen, such as fitters, turners and electricians, to use the classifications that the honorable member for Kalgoorlie gave. Nor does it contemplate the admission of non-European workers for particular projects, such as he instanced, in the absence of a clearly demonstrated need for special workers who are not to be found in our own work force.

As an example of the steps we already take in relation to requests for the admission of highly skilled non-European personnel by contractors for limited periods, the honorable members for Kalgoorlie and Port Adelaide and other honorable members may be interested in the matter of the dredge at Port Hedland. I was advised that the dredge in question was the only one of its kind in the world capable of undertaking the dredging of the required channel. The nature of the operation was of such complexity that it would be impracticable to train a complete Australian crew in the use of the specialist equipment and concurrently achieve the target that has been set for the completion of the dredging project. Because of the tight programming of the various components of the project, any delays in one area could prejudice seriously the project as a whole. Consideration initially was given to the possibility that the dredge should be manned by an all Japanese crew under the supervision of American engineers and specialists. Subsequent investigations suggested, however, that a suitable crew proportion would be 20 American engineers and specialists, 27 Australians and 20 Japanese. It was therefore on this basis, and - this is most important - after consultation with the Department of Labour and National Service and the unions that authority was given for the entry for a limited period of the 20 Japanese specialists, subject to their being admitted with temporary residence status and to their being employed under the same conditions as those applying to the Australian members of the crew.

Let me be quite frank, as honorable members would wish me to be with the House, and as any applicant would desire. In our eyes every applicant is considered without prejudice, irrespective of the country from which he comes, and is regarded as a prospective, entrant to Australia. If he or she fits into our wellconsidered and considerate policy, we welcome them, but if they do not meet the criteria on which we all agree as a Parliament, refusal becomes a matter of policy and is not directed at a singular individual racial category. I remarked earlier that we do not intend to deprive underdeveloped countries of skills and talents which they may need. This applies to students also. As honorable members on both sides of the House have said, it is essential that students should return to their own countries. When their country gained independence, I would expect that every one of them, young and old, would have experienced a sense of national uplift and pride, with the thought that they were about to construct a fine new nation. Yet, having come to Australia and having gained knowledge and education in their chosen professions, it appears to me to be a direct negation of all that they have been trained for if they remain here. Let us put it bluntly; in doing so they are turning their backs on their country's needs merely for the extra salary and emoluments that they can receive here. To my mind, without being thought presumptuous towards so many cases of first class, well behaved, highly intelligent, personable and attractive students, I feel that they have a duty to their new independent countries to assist them to gain, with their leadership, better standards of living and a higher average national production.

The honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. - R.- Johnson) perhaps went a good deal further in some of his assertions than most honorable members would regard as either necessary or desirable in the administration of our policy. Without canvassing those points of difference which the debate shows to be mainly points of emphasis and not fundamentals, I share his view that responsible people- should make a determined effort to refer to our immigration policy as just that and not to use the colourful and increasingly misleading phrase which has given unnecessary offence over the years. I feel that I would be remiss if in recapitulating the debate I did not say that- the House is indebted to the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) for a very refreshing and outstanding speech. He gave some interesting historical notes on the origin and thoughts which underlay the early Australian immigration, policies. I- would add! that this debate will, be valuable to me in the administration of the policies under discussion in that it has illustrated important truths about immigration in Australia.

One of the reasons for the quality of the debate was that many who took part in it show their interest in the subject, year in and year out, in various ways - through their contributions to the study undertaken by Government and ' Opposition committees, by participating regularly in the Citizenship Convention,' by assisting migrants in their constituencies, by encouraging naturalisation and so on. At this point I should mention that the honorable member for Port Adelaide asked whether the policy with regard to nonEuropeans had been discussed by the Commonwealth Immigration Advisory Council in recent years. It has been discussed on several occasions. In 1964 a sub-committee of the Council considered questions which

I had referred to it. Although the Council's recommendations are, naturally, confidential, I can state that the Government's recent decisions are entirely consistent with the recommendations made by the Committee. I can state also that honorable members by their requests for assurances reflect an attitude very similar to my own. The Government as a whole reached its decisions on the questions under debate after very careful consideration of the issues that had been raised by various honorable members. I can assure the honorable member that these are decisions of the Government as a whole.

The honorable member for Sturt (Sir Keith Wilson) and the honorable member for Ryan (Mr. Drury) are making special contributions as chairmen of the Immigration Advisory Council and Immigration Planning Council respectively.' After a debate such as this, one can express special gratitude to honorable members for their support in this and in other ways. There is a parallel to the efforts of honorable members in the efforts of the community as a whole. If the public as a whole did not have a sympathy with immigration, it simply could not be a success. I acknowledge the debt which I and the Department of Immigration over the years have owed to the many thousands of public spirited Australians who, through the Good Neighbour Councils', the Churches and countless public, and voluntary ..organisations, have played their part in the process of migrant integration. Integration is the keynote and it has been mentioned by honorable members in their references to various countries, It is the keynote of the latest adjustments that we have made to policies which ,have been historic. Like every country, we have the right and duty to choose who will form part of our population. We will choose those who can readily become part of our community and take part actively in our future progress. We will try to see that all who join our march forward are treated alike and become Australians in thought and outlook, in law and in fact, in reasonable time and without artificial pressure.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Mr Fairbairn - Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation. I have been misrepresented.

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