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Wednesday, 12 September 1973
Page: 931


Mr Lynch (FLINDERS, VICTORIA) asked the Minister for Immigration, upon notice:

(1)   When did the Government publicly announce its withdrawal from the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration.

(2)   What were the reasons for the Government's withdrawal.

(3)   Was the decision to withdraw approved by Cabinet.

(4)   Did the Government consult with each member government of ICEM before reaching its decision.

(5)   Is it a (act that Australia's withdrawal has been widely interpreted as a rejection by the Government of the concept that refugee migration is a common responsibility to be shared by the international community.

(6)   What was Australia's financial contribution to ICEM during 1972-73.

(7)   What percentage of ICEM's 1972-73 budget was contributed by Australia.

(8)   Is it a fact that Australia had the opportunity of re-negotiating membership status as a sympathising member which entails a reduced financial contribution.

(9)   Does he recognise the importance of ICEM; role in promoting increased multi-lateral co-operation by serving as a forum for the discussion of common migration problems.

(10)   Will the Government reconsider its decision.


Mr Grassby - The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1)   In a letter dated 7 March 1973 the Minister for Foreign Affairs formally notified the Director of ICEM of Australia's intention to withdraw from

ICEM membership on 31 December 1973. The Director of ICEM subsequently advised all member governments.

(2)   The Government considered that with the changing pattern of immigration into Australia and the Government's own initiatives in immigration policy giving priority to family reunion and sponsored' migration it should attain self-sufficiency in respect of movement of migrants and that it was no longer appropriate for Australia to remain a member of ICEM. <3) The decision was taken after consultation between the Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Immigration.

(4)   No. The decision was one for the Australian Government. Those member governments from whose countries migrants chiefly came were informed of the decision coincidentally with notification to the Director of ICEM.

(5)   I am not aware of any such interpretation. Withdrawal from ICEM will not impede Australia's capacity to provide resettlement opportunities for refugees. We have informed the Director of ICEM that following withdrawal Australia will give sympathetic consideration to any request made by ICEM for the resettlement of refugees for which that organisation may be responsible in future, including the provision of assisted passages where appropriate.

Moreover, Australia will continue to play an active role as a member of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. It will also retain its association with the principal voluntary agencies in Australia whose counterparts in Europe have been deeply involved in refugee resettlement.

(6)   and (7) ICEM's accounting is on a calendar year basis. Its financial transactions are in U.S. dollars. Australian contributions for 1972 were:

(i)   Administrative Budget SUS28 1,211, percentage 9.8.

(ii)   Operational Budget $US3,889,675, percentage 24.2.

(iii)   Total Australian Contribution $US4,170,886.

(8)   This course would presumably have been open to us but withdrawal from membership was considered the appropriate course for the reasons described in the reply to (2) above.

(9)   ICEM's potential in this context is recognised but changing circumstances in Europe have altered its relevance to Australia. <10) No. Correspondence passed between the Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Mr John F. Thomas, Director of the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration is relevant to the Honourable Member's questions. I attach copies of that correspondence.

File No: 932/6/3 Min. No: Canberra, 7 March 1973

Dear Mr Thomas,

I understand that my representative in Geneva, Mr Corkery, has already conveyed to you my Government's decision to withdraw from ICEM membership. I am writing to you now to confirm that verbal advice and to amplify the reasons for our decision.

I am aware that you have been working towards a mutually satisfactory resolution of the question pf ICEM services for migrant movements from Europe to Australia and I want to assure you that our withdrawal from ICEM does not reflect any dissatisfaction with the progress of your discussions. Nor does it indicate any lack of confidence in ICEM's financial buoyancy. Indeed, it would seem that thanks largely to your own efforts most of ICEM's previous budgetary difficulties have been successfully eliminated.

You will probably be aware that my Government is introducing a number of changes in Australia's immigration policy and that we shall in future be giving priority to family reunion and sponsored migration. It is in keeping with these initiatives that we should attain self sufficiency in respect of movement of migrants from Europe. My Government considers, therefore, that with the changing pattern of immigration into Australia it is no longer appropriate for Australia to remain a member of ICEM and to participate in activities that are outside the scope of our own immigration objectives.

I realise that for many years ICEM has lent considerable support to Australia's immigration programs and I wish to express our sincere gratitude for all the services that your organisation has extended during the period of Australia's membership.

I am anxious that Australia's withdrawal should cause as little administrative inconvenience as possible to ICEM and member governments. As Mr Corkery will have explained, we envisage that the effective date of withdrawal should be 31 December 1973 and that we will have ceased to use ICEM transport and pre-embarkation services by 30 June 1973. We wish to continue to avail ourselves, on a cost reimbursement basis, of ICEM assistance in conducting training programs for single women in Greece and language training in other countries beyond the end of 1973, until satisfactory alternative arrangements are made for these programs. I believe that these and other administrative implications of our withdrawal can be conveniently discussed through the Australian Mission in Geneva.

Mr Corkeryhas reported your wish to visit Australia after you have visited Hong Kong at the end of March. Unfortunately, as both my colleague, the Minister for Immigration, and I have heavy other commitments at that time, we will not be able to extend you a formal invitation. However, if you should see advantage in having talks at the official level on the transitional administrative arrangements, you will of course be most welcome.

Thank you for the invitation extended in your letter of 9 February 1973 for Australia to be represented at the meeting on 22 May to discuss the convening and preparation of a seminar on migrant adaption and integration. I shall be asking Mr Corkery to arrange for Australia to be represented but you will appreciate that the extent of our participation in such a seminar must necessarily be limited by the fact of our intended withdrawal from ICEM.

Yours sincerely, E. G. WHITLAM

Mr JohnF. Thomas, Director,

Intergovernmental Committee for

European Migration,

Geneva.

INTERGOVERNMENTAL COMMITTEE FOR EUROPEAN MIGRATION

Geneva, Switzerland 23 March 1973

Sir,

I have the honour to acknowledge receipt of your letter of 7 March 1973 advising me of the decision of the Government of Australia to withdraw from membership of the Intergovernmental Committee for Euopean Migration at the end of 1973.

It is a matter of deep regret to me that Australia, as one of the founder members of ICEM in 1951 and as such one of its mainstays, should have reached that decision.

The desire of the Australian Government to discontinue the use of ICEM services for national migrants has been well known for a considerable time and negotiations on a bilateral basis between Australia and the European countries concerned for their transfer are now in their final stage. However, to our knowledge, the question of the discontinuation of ICEM services to refugees who might be seeking a resettlement opportunity in Australia has never been raised.

You will understand that the ICEM Administration will require time to study the contents of your letter and will be replying in full in due course. Furthermore, the ICEM Member Governments which, I am certain, will share my regrets, will have to be notified.

In the meantime, I look forward to coming to Canberra during the first week of April and to having discussions at official levels regarding the transitional administrative arrangements. I very much regret that your engagements will not permit a personal visit to you, but it is my sincere hope that, as on past occasions, I shall have the opportunity to meet the Minister of Immigration.

Accept, Sir, the assurances of my highest consideration.

JOHN F. THOMAS

His Excellency,

The Right Honourable E. G. Whitlam, Q.C., M.P.

Prime Minister and

Minister for Foreign Affairs,

Parliament House,

Canberra, A.C.T.

Australia

INTERGOVERNMENTAL COMMITTEE FOR EUROPEAN MIGRATION

Geneva, Switzerland 19 April 1973

Sir,

I have the honour to refer to your letter of 7 March 1973 in which you announced the withdrawal of the Government of Australia from membership in ICEM with effect from 31 December 1973. In my acknowledgement of 23 March 1973 I expressed my deep regret for such a decision.

Since that time I have had the privilege of visiting Australia and meeting with the Minister of State for Immigration, the Honourable A. J. Grassby, and with the Secretary for the Department of Immigration, Mr Robert Armstrong. Meetings were also arranged for me with senior members of the Department of Immigration and other high officials within the Govern ment. In Sydney I had the further opportunity of meeting with several of the voluntary agencies which support the immigration of nationals and refugees into your country.

In all of these contacts I found no reason to differ with the desire of the Austraiian Government to utilise its migration officers for the purpose of recruiting and transporting national migrants from the European countries which are members of ICEM. The resolution of this problem, I found, to remain a matter of bilateral negotiations with the concerned Governments, and the conclusion of these would be willingly complied with by ICEM. As you had indicated in your letter, there is no reason to believe that a mutually satisfactory solution to this question will not be found.

However, I did raise the hope during my visit that because of its long humanitarian tradition of welcoming refugees to its shores and its desire to insure there are no traces of racial, religious or other bias in its immigration policies, Australia might remain a member of the international community in ICEM in support of its program for the resettlement processing and movement of refugees. That ICEM constitutes the only international machinery which is capable of mounting such a resettlement operation is a point which may not have been recognised fully in all circles of the Australian Government.

You mentioned in your letter that you were anxious to cause as little inconvenience as possible to other member governments of ICEM. \ know that countries of first asylum in Europe have advised me that they depend upon the availability of ICEM's resettlement machinery to be able to continue their present generous admission policies. I therefore expressed the hope that Minister Grassby would have the opportunity of studying the refugee aspects of ICEM's operations more closely and that the outcome might possibly be for Australia to continue as a member of the international family of ICEM, with perhaps a different relationship than in the past.

I was most happy to note from your letter that you would wish to continue to utilize ICEM's assistance beyond 1973 for certain sevices in Language or vocational training, and would hope that this might lead to further co-operation of mutual benefit. I was also particularly gratified that you considered Australia could be represented at the preliminary meeting to discuss the convening and preparation of a seminar on migrant adaption and integration. I took the opportunity of my visit to discuss this point further because it would be most valuable if Australia would share its wealth of experience over the years in this field with the less developed countries who are seeking ways to strengthen their own migration processes.

From the foregoing you will observe my sincere hope that your Government might be prepared to continue its support of international assistance for the resettlement of refugees adjusting its relationship with ICEM in such a way as to preclude complete withdrawal. An announcement of consideration of this revised relationship on the part of Australia might be made known at the forthcoming ICEM Executive Committee which is convened in Geneva on 23 May 1973. Such an Executive Committee Session, as you may know, is closed to the public which permits a frank and full exchange of views between Governments.

Accept, Sir, the assurances of my highest consideration.

JOHN F. THOMAS

His Excellency,

The Right Honourable E. G. Whitlam, Q.C., M.P.

Prime Minister and

Minister for Foreign Affairs,

Parliament House,

Canberra, A.C.T.

Australia.







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