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Thursday, 11 November 1976
Page: 2645

Mr CORBETT (Maranoa) - I rise to associate the National Country Party with this Christmas Island Agreement Bill. I was very surprised when I heard the speech by the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Innes). It seemed that he was not over-anxious about the Christmas Islanders coming to Australia and wondered what had been done over there. His Party, the Labor Party, was in Government for 3 years and had ample opportunity to do something about Christmas Island. There was no need for him to come into this House tonight and say what should have been done and what sort of working conditions should have applied there. Those things could have been handled at any time previously. It has taken the Labor Party a long time to decide that something is wrong on Christmas Island.

This Government has brought in this Bill which is designed to assist the long term residents of Christmas Island in establishing themselves in Australia in accordance with a long-standing agreement which the Labor Party accepted when it was introduced in the first place in 1972. It was endorsed in 1973. The Labor Party has had ample opportunity to do what it felt should be done regarding Christmas Island. I think that some crocodile tears have been shed. As to what might be done regarding Christmas Island, not so long ago as a member of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Public Works, I was at Christmas Island investigating the possibility of establishing an offshore quarantine station there. The Committee decided against this proposal because of various factors involved. But at least we showed that we had an interest in the Island. My colleague, the honourable member for Canning (Mr Bungey), who spoke previously, has made a good point. He suggested that we should retain Christmas Island even though the phosphate deposits will certainly be worked out. There is no doubt about that fact. The Australian Labor Party in government and in opposition has had ample opportunity to voice its opinion on what should be done with regard to Christmas Island.

It is clear beyond any doubt at all that this Government has an obligation to resettle long term Asian residents presently on Christmas Island. That is accepted. The fact that there is no opposition to this proposal indicates that the Opposition accepts it too. The proposal is introduced in accordance with an undertaking which has been given by both sides of the House. The Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Withers) recently gave an assurance that legislation would be introduced when the necessary amendment to the Christmas Island Agreement was agreed to by the Australian and New Zealand Governments. That was the only delay in recent times from our side. That has been done. I point out that the resettlement scheme applies only to long term residents. At the present time, as residents leave Christmas Island they are replaced by restricted term workers who will return to their homelands at the end of the term of employment for which they have been engaged on the Island. It is with those long term residents that we are concerned.

I believe it is very pleasing to note that those people who have already come here from Christmas Island- this was mentioned by my colleague, the honourable member for Canning, in the speech which he has just delivered- have settled in very well. There is no doubt, as I saw when I was there, that these people are prepared to work. I believe that they form a very well ordered community. They seem very satisfied with their surroundings. Perhaps those surroundings could be improved. I do not know the industrial conditions under which they are working or under which they came to Christmas Island. Nevertheless, I did not see any degree of concern about the way in which they were living in the area at that time. There is no doubt that, if the conditions needed improving, there was a responsibility to have a look at what was being done. As I say, there was plenty of opportunity for the Opposition to have looked at that aspect if it felt something should have been done. Another point is that these people are Australians. We have a responsibility to them as such to see that they are cared for. It will be necessary for them to move out. They do not seem to be over anxious to move out. But they will have to move out when the phosphate deposits are exhausted. As the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) stated in his second reading speech, there will be no occupation or employment to enable them to continue working on the island.

I will limit my remarks on this Bill with the object of expediting the passage of legislation which has yet to come before the House in the few weeks we have left. I repeat that there is an important obligation on the Australian Government. The obligation has rested on governments for some considerable time. This Government can take credit that at least it has reached agreement with the New Zealand Government. The Government has brought this Bill forward to enable its obligation to be fulfilled. I do not believe that the people on Christmas Island deserve the criticism which might have been levelled against them. Judging from the record of those who have preceded them, I believe that they will make very worthy citizens of this country when they come out to Australia. The Australian Government will do its duty by those people on Christmas Island. I am sure that it will look at the future of Christmas Island after those people have to leave because, as I say- and it has been said before- it is quite clear to anyone who has been there that it will be extremely difficult to try to build up a viable industry, other than working the phosphate deposits. I have much pleasure in supporting the Bill. Having been to Christmas Island and having seen people, I am very pleased that they are to get the justice to which they are entitled and will be relieved of the worries which have occupied them over recent times. When the Minister for Administrative Services was there, he demonstrated that they would obtain justice. This is something which we, as a Government or a Parliament, have been somewhat slow to provide. But at least it is being done now. I commend the Government for that fact.

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