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Immigration policy

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IMMIGRATION POLICY Speech, E. G. Whitlam, 13 July 1974 The following are extracts from a speech by the Prime Minister, Mr Gough Whitlam. at the official opening of the 25th Anniversary Celebration of the Good Neighbour Council of South Australia held in the Adelaide Town Hall:

.. . Much remains to be done if we are to meet our objectives. We also need to ensure that as a Government our organisational structure is the most appropriate one. To ensure just that we have in fact moved in the last month to make some important· administrative changes in relation to migrants and migration. On 11 June I announced the creation of the Department of Labor and

Immigration. I announced that certain functions would be transferred from the former Department of Immigration to other departments, such as Education, Social Security and Foreign Affairs. I know that there have been a number of criticisms of this decision. My good friend, Mr Evasio Costanzo, wrote in La Fiamma that Labor had “killed immigration" with this action. The executive committee of the Good Neighbour Council of South Australia has also written to me to oppose the move. So I would like to explain our reasons for making the change and to tell you why I believe it will help migrants.

The criticisms that have been made involve a number of points. One is that there is a need for a central department to meet the special needs of migrants. It is argued that any fragmentation of functions will lead to inefficiency and dehumanisation. The need for migrants to have a single point of contact has been stressed. Fears have been expressed about the loss of expertise and morale among migration officers that might flow from the decision. There have been statements of concern for the future of community involvement in activities related to migrants.

Some of the 48 migrant welfare officers appointed last year have written to me to say that they do not believe that they will be able to carry out their functions adequately as a result of the reorganisation. An argument has been advanced that, by merging a large part of the old Department of Immigration with the Department of Labour, we have indicated that we see migration merely as a matter of manpower, that we are guilty of a kind of up-dated version of the old “industrial Cannon fodder" attitude. Finally, running through all of these criticisms is an assumption that we have ceased to recognise the special needs

and problems of our migrant community. I can assert that all of these fears are unfounded. More than that. I assert that migrants will benefit from the changes and that the Australian Government will be better equipped to meet their needs.

Let me deal with the first group of criticisms that have been levelled against the reorganisation, contrary to the argument that we needed to retain the old Department of Immigration as a centralised body, I would suggest that its continued existence in its previous form was resulting in over-centralisation. Mr

Grassby pointed out in a report tabled in the House of Representatives on 11 October last year that the Department of Immigration had a total staff of just over two thousand to deal with the problems of migrants as well as having the responsibility for the control of some 2.2m arrivals in and departures from Australia annually. That is two thousand people out of a total of 257,000

Commonwealth public servants. It was becoming impossible for such a relatively small number of men and women to deal with such diverse matters as immi­ gration, emigration, settlement, welfare, education, citizenship and population. In saying this I do not mean to criticise the officials of the department. The department simply did not have the physical or financial resources to deal with

all these matters. It also necessarily lacked the power to perform many of these functions adequately; social security benefits for migrants or the in-school education of migrant children were essentially functions of other departments.

Yet migrants were encouraged to see the department as the dispenser of Govern­ ment benefits. At the same time, although they had at least some of the responsibility, other departments did not pay sufficient attention to developing programs for migrants. It was too easy to fob off migrant questions as matters for the

Immigration Department. This applied to both State and Federal departments. This confusion of roles became even more inappropriate with the advent of the present Government. One of the great changes to which we have been committed since coming to office 19 months ago haS been to involve the Australian Government in new areas of governmental activity in Australia.

largely as a means of giving pensions and other welfare benefits^ In all of these areas its role has now changed radically. In education we are seeking to areas of disadvantage, to provide equal opportunities for a 1 Australian not just to hand out arbitrary per capita payments. In social security, through

Social Welfare Commission and the Australian Assistance Plan, we ar® to establish community welfare· facilities for all Australians. In short moved into the role of a initiator, an activist in these fields in a way in which no previous Australian Government had done. .

It is only logical that, in line with this expanded role, that migrant affairs should be accepted as coming within the purview of the relevant Australian r.nvpmment departments. If the Department of Education is to tackle genuinely the problems of the disadvantaged in our schools it cannot ignore migrant education. If the Department of Social Security and the Social Welfare Com­ mission are to restructure our welfare system effectively they cannot ignore the welfare needs of migrants. The sooner we see migrant needs as part of the overall needs of the whole community, the sooner those needs will be met by the bodies with the appropriate staff, facilities, finances and responsibilities.

This is not fragmentation. It is specialisation. This is not inefficiency. This is the most efficient way in which to deal with the problems. The expertise of immigration officials will not be lost to the public service or, for that matter, to migrants. There will remain a significant immigration unit within the Department of Labor and Immigration. This will still serve as an established centre of contact for migrants. Thus if a migrant is unsure of which department to approach with a problem he will still be able to use the Department of Labor and Immigration as a first point of contact. If his problem is a specialised one, the officers of the department will be able to ensure that he is referred to the right person in the right specialist department.

A number of officers of the old Department of Immigration will of course be transferred to other departments. The migrant welfare officers, for example, will go to the Department of Social Security. This certainly does not mean that they will be submerged and lost within a bureaucratic monolith. Rather they will be able to draw on the expertise and more comprehensive resources of the Social Security Department. Indeed the Minister for Social Security, Mr Bill

Hayden, has already said that migrant welfare services will be greatly enlarged and improved as a result of the reorganisation. We will ensure that the special needs of migrants will not be lost sight of in the specialist departments. As an earnest of our intentions, I can announce tonight one result of discussions I have held with the Minister for Social Security. He has agreed that a person involved in migrant welfare will be appointed to the Social Welfare Commission. The appointee will provide a vital influence on policies and activities of the commission. . . .

I turn now to the criticism that we have “killed immigration" or that we now see it merely as a matter of manpower. Our critics are wrong on both counts. If this were not so we would have abandoned our new system of family reunion at the time of reorganisation. We have not abandoned it. Australia will continue to welcome migrants who satisfy the humane criteria which we laid down last year. We believe, however, that it is pointless, indeed damaging, to bring large numbers of people to Australia unless there are jobs for them.

The new Department of Labor and Immigration will have the expertise to ensure that migrants can gain employment. The days of “Cannon fodder” are past. Migrants will also benefit from the Department of Labor and Immigration’s new national employment and training system, N.E.A.T.—as Mr Cameron has called it—will ensure that migrants, along with other Australians, who lose their jobs through technological change, economic circumstances or other factors can be retrained for other satisfying jobs.

Finally I want to assure you of the Government's continuing commitment to two vital goals: the abolition of all forms of discrimination on the basis of race, colour or creed in Australia and the program to enable the Australian community to benefit from the rich cultural and linguistic heritage we have. The man who

brought those commitments to life was Mr Al Grassby. Last Sunday I announced a new appointment for him so that he could continue to pursue those goals. As a special consultant to the Government on community relations Mr Grassby will continue to be keenly involved in the needs and aspirations of migrants. His involvement will be further enhanced if the Government can succeed with legis­ lation to eliminate discrimination. He would be appointed as Commissioner for Community Relations under that legislation.

His role in helping to preserve the cultural and linguistic heritage of all Australian citizens will be particularly important. We do not want migrants to feel that they have to erase their own characteristics and imitate and adopt completely the behaviour of existing Australian society. We want to see that society enriched by the cross fertilisation that will result from migrants retaining

their own heritage. The old approach of individual assimilation is no longer Government policy. We are concerned with the integration of ethnic communities into the broader Australian society. By strengthening those communities we strengthen the whole society.. . .