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Thursday, 24 November 1927


Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) (Vice-President of the Executive Council) [3.35].- The honorable senator evidently thinks that if he continues to bring this matter forward from time to time he will succeed in creating the impression throughout the country that the Government is in favour of the unrestricted immigration of Italians and other Southern Europeans. Nothing could be further from the fact. The Government is not in any way encouraging the immigration of aliens to Australia. On the contrary, it has not only strictly regulated such immigration, but also discouraged it. In connexion with the migration of aliens, checks are in operation, which do not apply to British migrants. Every alien migrant is required to hold a landing permit showing that provision has been made for his employment and maintenance. Otherwise he must possess at least £ 40 on landing. Unless he is thus equipped, and, moreover, is guaranteed by some one of good reputation residing in Australia, he cannot land. Those checks were imposed by the Government when it realized that the inflow of Southern Europeans was likely to increase. With the imposition of those restrictions there was an immediate falling off in the number of Southern European migrants, and a corresponding increase in the number of British migrants. Taking the years 1924-25, 1925-26, and 1926-27, the migrants who entered Australia were respectively: British. 32,765, 33t297, and 39,831; Italian, 6,414. 2,046, and 4,902; other Southern Eupropeans, 3,591, 574, and 2,697; other Europeans, 1,916, 1,847, and 2,858. For the three years menmentioned the total migrants from all sources were respectively 44,686, 37,764, and 50,288. It will be observed that Italians comprise the majority of the non-British European migrants. The Italian Government, with its highly organized immigration department in Italy, and its efficient Consular service in Australia, has exercised great care in ensuring that only desirable migrants are permitted to proceed to Australia, and that those who come here have a reasonable prospect of obtaining useful employmentIn most cases, Italian migrants have been nominated by relatives or friends who undertook to look after them on arrival, and consequently without any assistance from the Government they have been absorbed. A new regulation recently introduced by the Italian Government took effect from the 1st September, 1927. Probably that is why the honorable senator has thought it wise to raise the matter at this stage. That new regulation will have a marked effect in reducing Italian migration, because it provides that Italians shall not be permitted to migrate to Australia unless they are nominated by very close relatives or have been engaged under definite contracts of employment. I point out that in connexion with contract migrants under engagement to perform manual labour, it is necessary for the terms of the contract to be approved by the Minister for Home and Territories. The Contract Immigrants Act further requires that in cases where it is proposed to introduce foreign contract migrants the Minister must be satisfied that there is difficulty in securing workers of equal skill and ability in Australia. This requirement would practically debar the introduction of foreign farm workers or unskilled labourers under contract. Next to Italians, Greeks and Jugo-Slavs comprise the majority of southern Europeans, but it has been arranged with the British Consular authorities to limit the number of visas granted to these classes to within 100 a month for each class. It was observed recently that an excess of visas had been granted to Greeks, but the matter was brought to the notice of the British Consular authorities, who have arranged to watch the position closely in the future. Maltese are British subjects whose migration to Australia is most carefully regulated by the authorities in Malta: As only 331 Maltese arrived during the nine months ended the 30th October, 1927, it will be seen that their numbers are well below the rate of 100 a month.With regard to alien, immigration generally, it must be remembered that Australia is a country of vast unpeopled areas. It is as large as the United States of America, but with only one-twentieth of the population of that Republic. The Commonwealth would not, therefore, be justified at this stage in practically closing the door against foreign migration. To attempt to do so would be to raise delicate international questions, unless it could be clearly shown that the country could not absorb these migrants.


Senator Needham - That is an old gag-


Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE - As a result of what I saw and heard at the recent meeting of the League of Nations, let me say in all seriousness to all parties, that if there is one question that we in Australia should be careful to keep out of the arena of international discussion, it is that of immigration. We in Australia regard immigration as a domestic question, but the people of soma other countries do not so regard it. A number of other countries have a direct interest in this question, and we must be careful that any action which we take will not cause them to join in a movement against our attitude in declaring it to be a purely domestic question. As long as we can maintain our position that immigration is a domestic question we are on safe ground; but assoon as public opinion throughout the world supports the contrary view we shall be on exceedingly unsafe ground. Therefore, let us not by any foolish attempt to score party points or to make party political capital of the question - allow it to assume an importance which is not warranted by the facts. If we do we shall some day pay a price that will be a very dear one for a petty political gain by one political party over another. It has already been pointed out that the population of Australia is approximately 98 per cent. British. That is due to the fact that, in addition to the net increase by British migration, there is a natural increase of 80,000 a year. Statistical records show that 98 per cent. of the children born in Australia in the last few years, were born of British parents. If the present proportion of alien migration continues or even slightly increases during the next few years, the dilution of our population at the end of that period will be less than 2 per cent. The actual dilution since the census on the 4th April, 1921, to the 30th July, 1927, has been only . 18 per cent. In the light of these figures what is the use of attempting to make it appear that non-British European migration is a serious threat to Australia? I assure the Senate and the country that the Government is, and has been, closely watching this question and has taken the necessary action when the need arose. But the best that we can do to maintain or even increase the preponderance of British born and British people in our country is to increase British migration. What have our friends opposite to say to that?


Senator DUNCAN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - They will not have it.

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE.While they protest against non-British European migration, do they answer in the affirmative the question - Should British migrants come into this country.


Senator Sampson - No.

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE.They are almost as strenuous in their opposition to British migration as they are to their opposition to foreign migration, and they base their opposition on the allegation that immigration means unemployment. Here again the facts are against them. In 1924-25, the total immigration to Australia was 44,686. In that year, according to the figures furnished by the Trades Hall, unemployment was 9.4 per cent. of the population. In 1926-27 the immigration was 49,977. The unemployment during that period, according to the figures supplied by the Trades Hall, was only 6.8 per cent. Thus with an increase of immigration amounting to 5,000 there was yet a diminution of 3 per cent, in the unemployment figures. When we are talking of unemployment we ought not to exaggerate the position. We must recognize the fact that we have in Australia genuine, honest, decent workers who, for the time being, are unemployed, and every honorable senator on the Government side of the chamber sympathizes with such men as much as do honorable senators opposite. But when we find that attempts are being made, apparently for political purposes, to use the unemployed - attempts by humbugs associated with them - is it not better for this country that we should strip these humbugs mercilessly, from these people and show what they really are. The Sydney Morning Herald of the 16th inst. contained the following : -

There was a demonstration by the unemployed at the Premier's office, Sydney. Force was used, and one or two persons forced themselves into the building. One man named Laidlaw, one of the leaders of the procession, who was interviewed by Mr. Hay (Under-Secretary to the Premier's Department), said that women and children were starving, and that they insisted upon the Government taking action. Mr. Hay very properly asked the man to give him the names and addresses of women and children he knew were starving, and said he would personally see that relief was given at once. Laidlaw then said that his wife and three children were starving. Mr. Hay asked him for the address of his wife and children. He replied that they were staying with his wife's father and mother. On being further pressed for the address he replied that they had no address; but merely called at the post office for letters. When Mr. Hay pointed out that it was impossible to grant them relief unless their address was given for the purpose of investigating the truth of the statement, Laidlaw still stated that they had no fixed address. Mr. Hay found it impossible to get any particulars from him.

Mr. Laidlaw.

Mr. Bavinsaid that he had inquiries made with regard to Laidlaw, and found that he was very actively connected with the unemployed. He was residing at a hall in Campbellstreet, with about fifteen or twenty, other unemployed. The shelter was controlled by Mr. Spillman, a well-known leader of the unemployed. Laidlaw was a Scotch migrant, and arrived here about the beginning of 1925. He was a miner and worked at the Minmi colliery, and later with the Main Roads Board, Blandford, for two months. Although the work was not finished, he left- it of his own accord.

Mr. Millar.

The other leader, said Mr. Bavin, was a man named Millar, who interviewed him at Parliament House last week. Millar was well known to the State Labour Exchange as a leader of the unemployed. In 1916 he was sent by the exchange to work for Messrs. G-. and C. Hoskins, at Lithgow, and. in a report received by the department, the employer stated that Millar left the district without paying his board. The Vale of Clwydd colliery reported that he had also been employed by them, and that his record was not satisfactory. On 28th May, 1921, he was given a ticket to go to employment at Maroubra; but it was found later that he sold the ticket for 6/ to J. Neddwell. On 28th April, 1921, he was found guilty of riotous conduct in a mob of unemployed in the streets surrounding the Premier's office, and was fined £3 or a month. In the same year he was sent to employment with the Railway Commissioners at Lidcombe; but left the employment. In May, 1923, he was sent to the Public Works Department, Burwood, and left within a fortnight. He refused to go to employment in 1923, demanding tram fare. In 1926 his landlady called at the department and stated that Millar had left her owing a considerable amount for board' and lodging. In September last he was sent to employment at Maroubra, and left the work on strike. He was now registered with the Labour Exchange.

Mrs. Mathias.

One of the women, Mrs. Betsy Mathias, was a well-known Socialist. She was not registered on the Labour Exchange. Three years ago she was convicted of conducting a " sly grog shop " in Wilmot-street. She was last working at the Technical College as a domestic, but only worked three days.

Those are the people put forward in New South Wales to speak on behalf of the unemployed. Of course they are not fair samples of the unemployed of Australia. The great majority of those who are out of work would not be seen in the same street with them. Nevertheless, it is they who protest that they are unemployed and have made all the noise about unemployment. It is true that there is a certain amount of unemployment in Australia. According to some figures supplied by the Trades Hall in Victoria, the great majority of persons who are unemployed in that State at the present time are building trade employees. We know that there are many genuine unemployed in New South Wales, but any one who has read the recent political history of that State, can easily understand the reason for it. It is due to the improvident, lavish, and reckless expenditure of public money on various undertakings in different electorates with the object of sending men there to win the election. But now the day of retribution has come. There is not enough money in the public exchequer to . continue these wild schemes that were started before the election, as electioneering dodges. As a consequence public works commenced in this way have come to an end, and the unfortunate victims of political chicanery have been deprived of employment. Is the country or are the industries of the country to be blamed for that? The people to be blamed for it are the politicians who brought about this condition of affairs, and those politicians are the political comrades of honorable senators opposite. If our friends opposite feel sympathy with the unemployed of New South Wales and any antagonism towards the conditions that have brought it about, their maledictions and their criticisms should be directed, not against the Commonwealth Government, but to the late Labour Government of New South Wales, led by Mr. Lang. I want now to refer to another case quoted by Senator Needham, and I do so in order to show that an attempt has been made to make up a case against the Government. Senator Needham referred to a declaration made in Western Australia regarding Southern Europeans taking work at less than the usual wage. That declaration was sent to the Home and Territories Department, and, after inquiries had been made, a reply was sent to the Premier of Western Australia. The reply is as follows : -

With reference to your letter of the 23rd September, No. 690/24, relative to the influx of Southern Europeans into your State, I desire to point out that, although it would appear from the statutory declaration made by Mr. William Watson on the 7th July, 1927, a copy of which was forwarded with your previous letter of the 2nd August, that he was referring to aliens who had arrived recently in the Commonwealth, the result of the inquiries made by the police authorities shows that the men he particularly referred to, as well as most of the others mentioned in the police report, arrived here during 1924. As you are aware, a large number of destitute aliens arrived in Australia about that time, many being misled by shipping agents as to the conditions of employment in this country: but this Government took prompt steps to counteract the misleading propaganda by communicating with the Governments concerned, and by requesting British Consular authorities to warn all intending migrants as to the restricted opportunities for foreigners to obtain employment in Australia,' particularly if they were unable to speak English or if they had no friends or relatives to assist them until they could establish themselves in suitable employment. All shipping companies affected were also fully advised and cautioned, In addition, the Minister for Home and Territories introduced the regulation referred to in the police report \under which all alien migrants arriving after the 1st July, 1925, must be in possession of at least £40 landing money or hold landing permits issued as a result of their maintenance, or employment having been guaranteed by relatives or friends residing in Australia. If any cases should come under notice where newly arrived alien migrants are found to be securing employment under the conditions referred to in the police report forwarded with your letter, it will be appreciated if particulars can be furnished to this Government so that further investigation may he made.

No particulars have yet been furnished, and I venture to say that none will be. The letter continues -

It may be stated, in conclusion, that the British passport control officer at Athens was recently requested to exercise special care in regard to granting visas for Australia to Greek migrants. The new Italian Government emigration law, under which it has been decided to restrict the issue of Italian passports to intending emigrants who are nominated by close relatives, or who are under definite contracts of employment, is also expected to reduce very considerably the number of Italian migrants coming to Australia.

What further decision does the honorable senator expect the . Government to make? Does he advocate the putting up of the notice, " No Europeans are allowed to enter Australia?"


Senator Hoare - We do not advocate that; but we should be honest and say that at the present time there are 40,000 unemployed persons in Australia.


Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE - Does the honorable senator include in that 40,000 Mr. Laidlaw and Mr. Miller; and does he say that until they and gentlemen of their type are willing towork, no Europeans should be allowed to land in Australia? Honorable senators opposite, by their interjections, show that a stupid economic idea they hold. They consider that every migrant who secures employment here dispossesses another man on the job on which he is employed.

That is a fallacious reasoning. If a bootmaker should be employed, and a carpenter should migrate to Australia and get work here, would he .put that bootmaker out of employment? On the contrary, would he not be the means of providing more employment for that bootmaker? Whilst there may be unemployed in some occupations at certain times, there may be a shortage of workers in other occupations at those very times. The evil of unemployment cannot be cured by putting a fence round Australia and preventing outsiders from coming in. The cure lies in increasing production and lessening its cost. Until honorable senators apply themselves to that problem, I can assure them that they will merely be beating the air by indulging in dissertations such as those to which Ave have listened to-day. We should encourage rather than place barriers in the way of British migrants. It would be a welcome change of policy if the Labour party were to come out and say definitely that it favoured the introduction of British migrants to Australia. Its present attitude appears to be, " No migrants, either British or of any other nationality."







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