Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 8 July 1926

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) (Vice-President of the Executive Council) . - I move-

That the bill be now read a second time.

This, one of the most important bills that Parliament has been asked to consider since it assembled, is designed to enable us to deal with two great fundamental problems calling for solution, namely, migration and settlement upon practical and scientific lines. Let me refer to some of the reasons that have rendered its introduction imperative. Australia is the greatest undeveloped country in the world, and the eyes of the people of all nations are upon us to see what we intend to do with it. I direct honorable senators' attention to a discussion which occurred at the recent international conference of Labour organizations, at which two Labour representatives from Australia were present, and which was not in any way associated with the League of Nations. I am not exaggerating the position when I say that the deliberations of that gathering came as a rude shock to many enthusiastic labourites in Australia. There had been a tendency on their part to think that the rest of the world calmly acquiesced in the attitude of some Labour leaders in this country on the question of immigration; but they learned for the first time that their comrades of the same political thought in other countries do not lookupon this question from the' same viewpoint as they do. Other nations, whose populations are increasing beyond the ability of their economic resources to maintain them, are looking for outlets for their surplus peoples. During the last twenty years we have increased our population by some 2,000,000, but the rate of increase should be greater. Taking the percentage increase in population, we, of course, compare very well with other nations; but our population twenty years ago, for instance, was only 4,000,000 as against America's population of between 80,000,000 and 90,000,000. Universal peace is not yet secured, and to he forewarned is to be forearmed. Our very national existence is at stake. Australia is part of the British Empire ; our people are proud of our British origin and connexion, and know that our future safety depends upon the British Empire maintaining its position in the world. A factor that will ensure this is the better distribution of the white population of the Empire, and Australia, with its great spaces, offers the opportunity to a greater degree than any other land can offer. The better distribution of the white population of the Empire will benefit us more than any other part of the world, and it will also tend to solve the great economic problems with which Great Britain is faced, namely, the maintenance of her commercial, industrial, and financial position. In adding to our population and developing an ever-expanding production, we must have markets, and Great Britain will be our best market in the future, as she has been in the past.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - We shall have to take something in return from Great Britain.

Senator PEARCE - I know the honorable senator wishes to draw me into a discussion of fiscal questions; but he will have an opportunity of ventilating his views on that interesting subject on some other occasion. Australia's problem of development can best be solved by the migration to Australia of persons of our own race. Every Australian welcomes a member of the British race, and if we keep Australia a British community, we shall keep it free from the racial problems which have afflicted many nations. Therefore, the fundamental fact that we have to recognize is that the interests of Australia can best be served by promoting a flow of migrants from Great Britain. For many years Australians have spoken of the necessity of migration, provided that the migrants were of our own kin.

The only way to solve the migration problem, it is admitted, is by progressively linking up the development of this country with the absorption of migrants. That was the basis of the scheme arranged between the British and Commonwealth Governments, and it has now been accepted by all the States except New South Wales. The scheme recognizes that, while we can absorb only a limited number of migrants, we can increase that number by carrying out useful and wise developmental works. In this measure we have the first well-considered scheme for tackling these two problems through, the one agency. The commission to be appointed under the bill is not merely to assist migration, but also to encourage developmental projects, whether conducted by governments or by private enterprise, to establish new industries, and to increase -the productivity of those already established, as well as to increase the facilities for developing our potentialities of industry generally.

Senator Kingsmill - There is a wider field in the latter.

Senator PEARCE - It is easier to bring migrants to Australia than to provide suitable employment for them when they arrive. It is generally agreed that there is hardly a limit to the number of migrants we can absorb if we create new industries and add to our national wealth, but we must find more population and develop the country concurrently. In carrying out such a scheme, we must make sure that we do nothing to lower the standards we have created for ourselves. We must increase our efficiency, bring science to our aid, and do many other things with a view to increasing our power to absorb migrants. Parliament has approved of the proposals of the Government for bringing science to its aid in the development of this country. I venture to say that the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, which is now at work, will prove a very useful factor in the development of Australia.

A word may be said here regarding the agreement which now exists between the British and Commonwealth Governments. That scheme was not, as some would have the people think, merely the creation of the British Government. It was drawn up by representatives of the British and Commonwealth Governments, and submitted to the various State Governments for their criticism. Some of their suggestions were adopted. In its final form it has again been submitted to the States for their consideration and acceptance. Most of them, I am glad to say, have adopted it. The migration agreement provides that if the whole of the loan moneys to be made available under that agreement are taken up by the Governments of the States, 450,000 migrants will be absorbed within the ten-year period over which the agreement operates. It is realized that to increase the existing numbers to 45,000 per annum immediately might cause some congestion, and it has, therefore, been suggested that the increase should be gradual, the total for the first year advancing to 31,500, and the annual increase thereafter to be 3,000. The agreement, which involves the expenditure of £34,000,000 of public money, will require ability, knowledge, and. experience to secure its efficient, and faithful execution. This will be entrusted, subject to ministerial and parliamentary control, to a board of commissioners, to which I shall refer' later. The necessity for' a closer concentration on the question of migration to Australia is obvious when the conditions and results of to-day are compared with the conditions which obtained and the results secured during the period immediately prior to the war. During the three years ending the 31st December, 1913, 124,000 assisted migrants were introduced into the Commonwealth. The annual average for the three years was over 41,000, the record year being 1912, when 46,712 migrants were introduced and satisfactorily settled. Since the Commonwealth assumed control, in 1921, of all oversea activities in relation to migration, the average annual number of migrants introduced has been approximately 25,000, while it is anticipated that during this year the figure will be slightly in excess of that average. Since the firstmentioned period, Australia has expended huge sums of money in creating additional facilities in the way of transport, water conservation, and other works, which to-day provide conditions which should enable this country to absorb a larger number than when such extended facilities did not exist. The opportunities for development are greater than those that existed immediately prior to the war. The latent wealth of this country must be exploited. The continued development of the resources of the Commonwealth will, it is believed, enable us to demand from the Mother Country a flow of migrants at least equal to the flow during the years immediately prior to the war, and the increased production and the increased wealth thereby secured will encourage us to increase that number to the total aimed at under the terms of the migration agreement.

Senator McLachlan - That agreement is somewhat involved as to our financial obligations.

Senator PEARCE - I do not think so, but I shall refer to that later. When the United States of America was the same age as Australia is to-day, its population was about 4,500,000 compared with our 6,000,000. It is realized that that country developed very rapidly as a result of more or less indiscriminate immigration, to which her industrial progress was partially due. It is not suggested that the resultant problem in the United States of America to-day should be repeated in Australia; we have a policy which precludes that possibility. Protest has been frequent to the effect that, in an alleged endeavour to relieve conditions in the United. Kingdom brought about by trade depression and unemployment, Australia, by her migration policy, is merely transferring the trouble and difficulties of one part ' of the Empire to another, and that unemployed persons are being selected and brought to Australia to swell the ranks of the unemployed in the cities of the Commonwealth. The facts are that of the assisted migrants who arrived in the Commonwealth from the 1st January to the 15th May of this year, only 15 per cent. were unemployed at the time of selection and approval, and that the arrivals during that period were possessed of a declared capital of £162,640, which was transferred to the Commonwealth through the official banking institutions. The experience of migration experts is that the " declared " capital of migrants does not represent the actual cash at their disposal. Again, fears have been expressed that migrants are being brought to swell the ranks of the unemployed, and that the result will be to reduce the standard of living and the social conditions generally. That is not possible under our policy and our political safeguards. As many loose statements have been made about the number of unemployed in Australia, and the percentage of unemployed, I asked my officers during the day to obtain from the Commonwealth Statistician (Mr. Wickens) some figures bearing on that point. The figures supplied by him show clearly that many of the statements which have been made are the wildest of wild guesses. They show also that it is very difficult to estimate accurately the number of unemployed, for the reason that while trade unions are expected to submit returns showing the number of their members who are unemployed, the returns which they make are of. a very meagre character, and, in most cases, do not disclose any information at all in that regard. Mr. Wickens states that any figures available through him represent the proportion of unemployment in unions which have reasonable facilities for furnishing information. These represent from 50 to 60 per cent. of the total workers in Australia who are members of unions, but. do not include workers engaged in official activities, or outsiders who d.o not belong to any unions. The figures employed by the Government Statistician are merely to suggest the trend of unemployment, and cannot be accepted as indicating the actual position. While the figures for the four quarters of 1925 showed an average of 8.9, the figures for the March quarter of 1926 were 8.2, as compared with 9.3 for the same quarter of 1925.

The methods of selection and the medical examination imposed, have attracted the attention of critics, and attention has been directed to the odd cases where unsuitable migrants have slipped through thetightly drawn system in operation in the United Kingdom. Everywhere, except in Australia, the complaint is that our methods are too stringent; that we are seeking only the best, and that we should be satisfied with an average standard. We want the best we can get. The efficacy of the system in force is perhaps best indicated by the fact that less than 2 per 1,000 are repatriated at Commonwealth expense as unsuitable, and, in the majority of cases, their disabilities were such as to preclude any possibility of detection at the time of approval. From time to time, there has been some criticism regarding the alleged influx of foreigners; it is felt that our responsibility is first towards those of our own people who are seeking an outlet in a country which has the capacity to absorb them. To those who have referred to the arrival of foreigners, I would say that, assuming that the arrival of Britishers in Australia during the next ten years was limited to 20,000 per year, and that the present annual flow of foreigners was doubled each year for that period; and further, assuming that the natural annual increase in Australia was limited to the present number over that period, the proportion of Britishers in Australia at the end of the ten years would still be 96 per cent. The- figures employed, so far as the British migrant is concerned, are very low, and those for the non-British exceptionally high ; but in spite of this the result would be as already stated. There is a feeling in the minds of many persons in Australia that if more migrants are brought here the quantity of work available will be lessened. That is not so, if we, at the same time, extend our productivity, and move forward by creating new industries, and opening up new country. Every man placed in useful employment requires the services of others to supply his wants. Let me mention my own experience in this connexion. As a young man, I went to Western Australia in 1892, before gold was discovered at Coolgardie. I went there just after Western Australia had obtained responsible government, when Mr., afterwards Lord, Forrest was Premier. He introduced a comprehensive public works policy. It is a mistake to think that the influx of population from the eastern States commenced only with the discovery of gold at Kalgoorlie. That influx began about 1891, the people being attracted to Western Australia by the public works policy of that State. I was at that time working for my living as a wage earner. After gold was discovered at Kalgoorlie, there was a great rush of population from the eastern States, as well as from other countries ; but never in the history of that State was work so plentiful, prosperity more general, and unemployment so inconsiderable as at that time, when Western Australia's small population of 40,000 persons was added to almost daily by thousands. The experience of Western Australia at that time is sufficient to show that an influx of population does not create unemployment.

The United States of America, which is smaller than Australia, contains more than 110,000,000 people; but the cry in America is not that they have too many people, for whom they cannot find work, but that they have not enough people to handle the great industries they have created, and to develop their vast natural resources. The regulated immigration in the United States is directed towards getting the right class of people.

Now, as to the main objects of the bill itself. The Government proposes to create a commission of four members, whose task will be to deal with the problems of development and migration. Those two problems are linked together and are inseparable. We cannot develop unless we have more population, and we cannot absorb more migrants unless we develop. The powers and functions of the commission include : " The consideration of matters in relation to the development of the resources of the Commonwealth, whether by co-operation between the Commonwealth and the several States, or otherwise." The commission will consider all schemes submitted by the State Governments, or that come before it from other sources. Generally, it will advise the Government in relation to all questions of developmental policy, in order to ensure the best utilization of our resources, and the most- effective and rapid method of dealing with them. It will also consider Australia's requirements. Those requirements have never yet been analysed. We have not yet determined to what extent we are able to produce many of the things which we' now import. Another function of the commission will be to examine Australia's labour needs. Hitherto, no steps have been taken in that direction. There is nothing to guide us as to the labour requirements of our various industries, or the extent to which we are endeavouring to supply them. That position should be cleared up. Save for that floating proportion which cannot be absorbed under any system, namely, the " unemployable," the genera] policy of development provided for by the bill will ensure that Ave shall have no unemployed. The commission will also be required to keep in touch with those who are controlling industries in Great Britain and other countries, with a view to discussing with them the possibility of the establishment of branches of their business in Australia. In this regard the commission should be able to give valuable information and advice based on a first-hand knowledge of the local conditions and requirements. During the last visit of the Prime Minister to Great Britain, a considerable portion of his time, and that of those who accompanied him, was taken up in answering inquiries by British manufacturers and others who contemplated establishing branches of their businesses in Australia. As a result of the negotiations which took place on that occasion, some important British firms have since established industries in Australia. The various schemes which may be suggested under the migration agreement with the British Government will be submitted to the commission. Honorable senators are aware, for instance, of the experience of Australia in connexion with the doradilla grape. To prevent a repetition of su'ch happenings, the commission will necessarily have to keep closely in touch with the Minister for Markets and Migration, and advise him as to the possibility of obtaining a market for the things which it is contemplated shall be produced in Australia for export. Many of the problems which during the past few years this Parliament has been asked to solve have arisen bv reason of the introduction of schemes to extend our production before proper steps were taken to ensure a market for that increased production. The task of investigating all undertakings or schemes proposed by the States under the main migration agreement, and the supplementary agreements entered into between the States and the Commonwealth, will rest with the commission. Under those agreements, it is contemplated that the States will submit to the Commonwealth schemes for the development of Australia. Those schemes are subject to approval by both the British and the Commonwealth Governments. As the British Government has its representative in Australia, no delay will be occasioned through the schemes having to be referred to Britain for consideration. Already a number of schemes have been submitted by Western Australia, South Australia, and Victoria. The British Government looks to us for a lead regarding the desirability or otherwise of such schemes, and an exhaustive examination of each scheme is necessary before a conclusion as to its practicability, or the justification for its being approved by the Federal Government can be arrived at. That work in its initial stage is not work for the Cabinet ; and it is proposed to entrust it to the commission, which will submit reports to the Government. The final decision rests with the Government, but the Government will not approve of any scheme concerning which the commission has reported adversely. While the Government can reject a scheme approved by the commission, it cannot go on with any State scheme which the commission has rejected unless each House of Parliament gives its approval by resolution.

Senator Sir Henry Barwell - Has Mr. Bankes Amery full power to approve on behalf of the British Government?

Senator PEARCE - I cannot say that he has, but no doubt he will advise the British Government from time to time, and if they express their disapproval of any scheme they will refer the matter to the Commonwealth Government. All the work in connexion with the schemes will be undertaken by the. individual States. Under the migration agreement it is contemplated that schemes shall be initiated by the States; but that, with regard to developmental questions generally, the commission shall advise the Commonwealth Government. It is desirable that the commission should have the power of initiation, because one of the handicaps from which we are at present suffering is the lack of personal touch so far as the Commonwealth and State Governments are concerned. It is also proposed that the commission shall take control of the migration office, and handle the whole question of migration on behalf of the

Commonwealth Government. The Government desires to make the commission representative of the whole of the people of Australia, so that they may have the utmost confidence in it, but its principal task will be to show the people that the problem of migration is wrapped up in and part of the problem of development. The commission will not have control of any land. The Commonwealth itself controls only the lands of the Northern and Federal Capital Territories. It will be quite open to the commission to initiate and submit to the Commonwealth Government a scheme relating to land settlement in the Northern Territory; but the States must initiate schemes for the settlement of people within their own borders. The clause in the old agreements made between the Commonwealth and Imperial Governments, which required the settlement of only British migrants with the money advanced by the Imperial Government has been withdrawn, and it is now competent for us to provide for the settlement of Australianborn so long as 50 per cent, of the farms created are given to British migrants who arrive within a specified period. As to the money mad? available to the States for settlement purposes, the rate of interest payable by the States is 1 per cent, for five years, and one-third of the effective interest rate for a second period of five years. The British Government has agreed to pay half the interest charges for the first five years; and one-third of the interest charges for the second five years. In addition, it will bear one-third of the cost of the farm training depots established in pursuance of the old land settlement agreements, and of similar institutions established during the currency of the new agreement. The Commonwealth Government accepts a similar responsibility in relation to training depots. For the first five years it meets the interest charges, representing the difference between half the interest and the 1 per cent, payable by the States. In the second five years it pays one-third of the interest. The agreement requires that for every £75 of loan money issued to the State Government one assisted migrant shall sail direct from the United Kingdom, and that in every 10,000 assisted migrants there shall be a number of migrant families, without capital, aggregating 3,750 persons. The commission will also deal with' such important matters as the passage money agreement between the British and Commonwealth Governments, and will advise the Commonwealth as to the desirability, or otherwise, of amend- ing that agreement with a view to providing further financial assistance to migrants towards the cost of their passages to this country. There must be the closest linking up of the activities of the States, the Commonwealth, and the commission in connexion with migration. Under this bill the question of the submission of estimates does not arise, for the reason that the commission will have no funds other than those Parliament makes available. The proposed expenditure of the commission will be placed upon the Estimates under a developmental and migration commission vote. The details of this bill can be fully discussed in committee. I have only attempted to give a general outline of the proposals and of the reasons for introducing the measure. We have to face the problem of' migration and development, and, difficult as its solution may be, I invite honorable senators to join in an earnest attempt to arrive at that solution by passing the bill now submitted.

Senator Sampson - What is the estimated cost of training these British immigrants to follow farming pursuits ?

Senator PEARCE - I shall endeavour to obtain the information for the honorable senator when I am replying. There are no doubt many points that honorable senators may think I should have dealt with, but there is ample time for this discussion of this important bill, and if there is "any matter upon which an honorable senator requires further particulars, I ask him to mention it, and I shall get the information for him and give it in the course of my reply.

This is one of the most important bills we have had before us and I am sure honorable senators will regard it as such. We have one of the richest countries in the world. We have one asset in respect of which Australia stands out above any other country and that is its climate. We abuse our climate frequently, but one has only to sample the climates of other countries to realize what a valuable asset it is to us. We hear a Jot about the tremendous wheat areas of the middle- west of the United . States of

America, the tremendous prairies, ti Canada, and the enormous water resources of either country, which enable farming to be carried on cheaply. I have had an opportunity of visiting those wheatgrowing areas, but unlike ours which are comparatively near the sea coast and close to the point of shipment to overseas markets they are situated in the centre of the continent. Wheat has to be conveyed to the port of shipment over 1,000 and in some cases nearly 2,000 miles of land haulage, the most costly of all methods of hauling. Australians have a tendency to exaggerate their droughts and dry seasons. When I was in Canada a gentleman asked me some questions about Australia. I was praising our country to him and he remarked, " You suffer a great deal from drought in Australia." I replied, " We do have a drought occasionally in Australia, but you have the equivalent of a drought in Canada every year." He looked at me in astonishment and asked what I meant. I told him that a drought as we understood it in Australia meant an absence of feed and sometimes a scarcity of water for stock, and that I had just passed through the prairies of Canada and seen large farms, but not a single head of stock in any of the paddocks. As a matter of fact the fields were covered with snow. That snow was frozen, and when' I asked where the stock were I was shown huge barns, and told that the stock was housed in those barns for the winter. I learned that for periods of from three to five months every year the stock in Canada must be artificially fed, and that there was no water for the stock unless it made available by artificial means. That is to say it was all frozen and so far as the stock was concerned it might have been one of our droughts and the water holes might as well have been dried up. I learned that the barns themselves had to be artificially heated, not only to make water available for the stock, but also to keep them alive. Owing to the absence of timber in some cases coal had to be carried hundreds of miles to the farms, where it is used throughout the winter to artificially heat the barns and melt the ice to enable the animals to get a drink. Thus Canada gets every year what we get in our occasional times of drought, so that when we deplore the fact that occasionally in some parts of

Australia we get a drought we ought also to remember that we do not get these conditions as frequently as they do in Canada. But the difference between Australians and Canadians lies in the fact that the latter do not make it known to the world that these conditions exist ; they do not boast about them as we seem to do, about our droughts. They keep a stiff upper lip and talk of Canada as God's own country. When an Australian travels through other countries and sees the conditions under which their people carry on production he must realize what a glorious climate Australia possesses. Over the greater part of this continent for the whole of the year, stock can be turned out in the open and men can work out in the fields without danger to their health, or any discomfort. Australia has many things to be thankful for. But comparing our Country with other lands, no one can travel anywhere in the Commonwealth, even in the oldest and most settled parts, without seeing what an infinite capacity for development there is beyond that which has already been reached. In the north of. Italy for instance, in country no better than most of our coastal areas things are done which would be thought impossible in Australia. There one finds vines trellised on poles with fruit-trees growing below and vegetables beneath the fruit trees, practically three crops on one area of ground. The utmost use is made of the land available. In Australia we would not think of mixing vegetables with fruit trees, nor of planting an orchard in a vineyard. We have only touched the fringe of the irrigration possibilities of our country. I remember a statement made some years ago by Mr. Elwood Mead, one of the world's greatest authorities on irrigation, who was brought from America to inaugurate an irrigation scheme for the State of Victoria. He said that if the capacity of the Murray Valley and the valleys of the tributaries of the Murray River were made full use of that country would support a population of 10,000,000 people. One who has seen what is done by means of irrigration in California must realize that that is not an overdrawn statement. There are infinite possibilities of irrigation in every State of the Commonwealth. Is it too much to say that, in the circumstances, we should obtain the very best men available for the solution of these problems? Parliament is too busy with legislation, and Ministers are too busy with details of administration, to give that attention to detail which is so essential to secure success. The urgent need is for the employment of capable men to survey the whole field in a scientific way and propound schemes for the solution of these problems, so that we may utilizethe resources of Australia to the best advantage. This bill is brought forward with that object in view. I submit it to the Senate in the hope that it will commend itself to honorable senators, and Iinvite suggestions for its improvement. The Government does not take up a dogmatic attitude in regardto its provisions. We believe that the bill contains the germ of success, and in that spirit I submit it to the consideration of honorable senators.

SenatorNEEDHAM (Western Austra- lia [8.47]. - With the Minister, I agree that migration and the development of Australia are subjects of paramount importance; but I should have thought that this Government, which claims to be a business government, would be able to grapple with this all-important' business without adding another commission to the numerous bodies which it has already created. I approach the consideration of this measure with a full sense of my responsibilities and of the importance of the subject. This aspect was stressed by the right honorable the Leader of the Senate. No one will deny the importance to Australia of the successful development of migration schemes, so that we may make the best use of our great natural resources. Last year the Government signed an agreement with the Government of Great Britain with regard to migration. I have yet to learn that Parliament has ratified that document. Unless Iam mistaken, it has not been submitted to members of either House, although it is the basis of the measure which we are now discussing.. This is a remarkable state of affairs. Recently the Government created a new portfolio, and appointed a Minister for Markets and Migration; yet Parliament is now asked to assent to the appointment of another expensive commission togive effect to the triangular agreement between the British Government, the Commonwealth Government, and the Governments of the several States. It would have been better if Parliament had had an opportunity to discussthat agreement before this bill was introduced. The Government, in becoming a signatory to it, without the authority of 1 arliament, adopted an improper procedure. Under this measure the Ministry seeks to increase the population of Australia by migration, and, by the adoption of certain schemes to develop our resources, and to increase production in both our primary and secondary industries. Migration and unemployment are so closely allied that it is impossible to discuss migration schemes without considering also their effect upon unemployment, which is oneof the most serious problems that confronts every country. For some considerable time a royal commission, appointed bv this Government, has been taking voluminous evidence with the object of making a recommendation for the solution of this problem in Australia. I agree with the Minister that the difficulties created by our unemployables are scarcely possible of solution, but it should not be beyond the realm of practical politics to do away with unemployment. This is one of the gravest questions that has ever presented itself to the British Government. In the Mother Country millions of pounds have been handed out in the form of doles to millions of unemployed. Naturally, Britain is anxious to improve the position of her people, just as every wise parent desires to make the position of his children secure. In this matter Britain is looking to Australia, and this bill presents an opportunity to relieve Britain of a certain proportion of her army of unemployed.

Senator PAYNE (TASMANIA) - Does the honorable senatorsay that Britain has no right to look to Australia?

Suggest corrections