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Tuesday, 14 September 1971
Page: 1249

Dr FORBES (Barker) (Minister, for Immigration) - Ever since the postwar immigration scheme was launched by the right honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Calwell), to whom I pay tribute, it has been accepted as axiomatic by both sides in this Parliament that the national interest requires the effective control of the size and structure of the migrant inflow. Similarly, it has been accepted that this control, if it is to be exercised effectively, necessitates suitable provision for the encouragement by the Government of the types of migrants which Australia needs and who either could not or would not come here without this encouragement and assistance. I say has been accepted' because the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) in his speech on the Budget with his penchant for trimming his policies to the prevailing fashions of the patio intellectuals, has become an advocate not of control but of laissez-faire in immigration, because this is what natural migration, open migration or sponsored migration is. The Leader of the Opposition who would introduce controls and planning into virtually every aspect of our economic and social life, has become an advocate of laissez-faire in immigration. 1 have no hesitation in rejecting such an approach as totally opposed to the best interests of Australia. Such policies wrongly assume that the sum of migrants' individual interests necessarily equate with Australia's national interests. No responsible Australian Government could accept this. No responsible Australian Government could abrogate its responsibilities by allowing the size and structure of the immigration programme to be determined by the unco-ordinated decisions of thousands of individuals here and overseas. And this essentially is what advocates of natural migration and similar policies would have us do. These objections apply even more strongly to proposals that we confine ourselves to the sponsored migration of relatives and close friends of persons already here, as the Leader of the Opposition has suggested. Migration of this kind is important, but our national interests cannot be treated as an occasional byproduct of consanguinity.

What in fact would be the effect if proposals of this kind were to be adopted? The result would be to cut assisted migration from Britain by more than 60 per cent and virtually to eliminate migration from Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, France, Switzerland, the United States of America, the countries of Latin America and other sources of what are, by any standards, first class immigrants. That would be the effect of what the Leader of the Opposition advocates.

Had assisted migration been restricted to sponsored cases in 1970-71, instead of 120,000 assisted migrants, Australia would have received fewer than 33,000 assisted migrants. Of these, 23,000 would have come from Britain, some 5,000 from Yugoslavia, fewer than 1,500 from Italy, fewer than 1,000 from Greece, perhaps 800 from Malta and only isolated cases from other countries. We would have gained only 12,500 migrant workers compared with the 55,000 who actually arrived. The proportion of dependents to workers would have been significantly higher than in a more broadly based assisted programme. Instead of 100,000 assisted migrants this year, we would, under these circumstances, be fortunate to receive 25,000. We would gain 30,000 fewer workers than provided for in our present programme for 1971-72, including a large proportion of professional workers, tradesmen, and others with occupational skills needed in Australia. AH this would be the result of what the Leader of the Opposition advocates on behalf of the Australian Labor Party. In fact, the greatest single reduction in assisted migration in 1971-72 will be from Britain, but this reflects that Britain continues to be our major source country, and the overall reduction in the programme will be spread fairly broadly across all countries.

We have decided quite deliberately against proportionate reductions. Instead, we have been careful to ensure scope for the sound growth of new migrant sources - particularly the Americas - while at the same time maintaining viable levels of activity in the traditional migrant countries. These are responsible decisions made by a responsible Government. They are aimed at meeting present circumstances and present needs without prejudicing our future prospects. To suggest that the role of the Commonwealth Government should be confined to assisting migrants sponsored by friends or relatives already here, or even to abandon assisted migration totally, is worse than foolish. Indeed, the intemperate nature of some recent attacks on immigration, and even particular migrant groups, can be described adequately only in terms of the legal definition of fraudulent misrepresentation. These attacks have involved statements made 'recklessly, carelessly, not caring whether they be true or false'. Other, honest, criticism sometimes arises from misunderstanding. But where criticism has substance - and whatever its source - the Government will act on it, as it has in the past.

To advocate, as the Leader of the Opposition has done, a totally passive role for the Commonwealth Government in the field of immigration is completely unrealis tic. lt would be inconsistent with the spirit and intent of our agreements with other governments. It would " effectively preclude the broadening of our migrant sources. It would, as the figures 1 quoted earlier showed, restrict the flow of migrants in source, in numbers and in skills. It would effectively deny Australia the opportunity, so vitally important today as in the past, of making good serious deficiencies in our own work force. The proposal of the Leader of the Opposition has about it all the warm hearted, logical appeal of a policy of national economic euthanasia. Parenthetically, I make the point that to confine our immigration programme to sponsored cases would effectively preclude Australia from accepting refugees who, with few exceptions, are wholly Government sponsored. Critics of the Government's policies also forget that immigration is not an end in itself. But, as in the past, the immigration programme - and particularly assisted migration - will continue to be directed towards our major national objectives through its influence on the size and structure of our population.

Immigration is only one part of an overall population situation, only one of several components of population change. It is, however, the factor most effectively influenced by Government action and for this reason provides the principal means of giving effect to population policies. But the social, economic and demographic effects of the components of population change - births, deaths, immigration and emigration - vary quite substantially. Changes in the immigration programme cannot entirely offset the consequences of changes in other population, and work force, factors. Neither is natural increase and immigration the mutually conflicting possibilities which they are sometimes represented to be. Indeed, an increased birth rate as an alternative to immigration, as sometimes advocated, is neither feasible nor relevant to Australia's needs.

Migrants add immediately, and disproportionately, to the work force, whereas births represent a deferred addition some 15 years to 20 years hence. The 1966 census showed that migrants had added 38.3 per cent more to the work force than they had added to the population served by that work force. In contrast, natural increase imposes an immediate net charge on the community, while its reinforcement of the economy is, of necessity, deferred. This does not mean that natural increase is not important to Australia. It is. But natural increase and immigration are not mutually conflicting alternatives. They are not identical substitutes. They are desirably and essentially complementary elements of population growth. I could give many other examples to illustrate this point. Migrants particularly reinforce the younger working age groups. In 1969-70, the latest year for which detailed figures are available, 47.4 per cent of settled arrivals were aged between 20 and 39, compared with 27.6 per cent of the Australian population. They are a significantly young group; overall, the average age was only 23.3 years compared with an average age of 30.9 years for the Australian population Migrants in fact contribute disproportionately to the support of both the youth of Australia and our aged. They have no' received the full credit which is due to them for this. Indeed, some critics would have us believe that migrants are 'costing' us more than they contribute and that migrants lower our living standards. Yet we are traditionally a country of immigration and. on recent international studies, both our achievements and our prospects in terms of living standards are amongst the highest in the world.

Turning from these particular points to broader issues 1 point out that the fact is that a population with the best possible combination of social, economic and demographic features is something of an illusory objective. The most that we can reasonably ask of immigration is that it improve the situation which otherwise would exist. We cannot expect improvement in every specific respect and must always assess the overall balance of advantages and disadvantages. It is foolish, and indeed dangerous, to regard immigration as some kind of economic and social 'wonder drug' which will overcome all our problems. But it is, of course, just as foolish - and just as dangerous - to regard immigration as the sole or principal cause of these problems. One group seeks to resolve problems by bringing in more migrants. The other seeks to resolve them by bringing in fewer migrants. In fact, the essential purpose of the immigration programme is, as I said before, to contribute towards our major national objectives through its influence on the size and structure of our population and work force. To date, our population objectives have been conceived essentially in terms of rates of growth. This is an entirely valid concept, and important for many purposes, particularly in the field of economic planning.

More recently, we have added to the objective of desirable rates of population growth, the additional criteria of desirable population levels for Australia. We do not see these desirable population levels as constants, as the old ideas of an optimum population implied, but as variables over time. Moreover, we consider it essential that they should be related to the structure of future Australian populations and, in particular, take into account their concentrations and distributions. It is against this background that Australia's immigration programmes are being developed. To provide this information, the Government last year commissioned a population study at the Australian National University. The purpose of the study is to provide the clearest possible indication of the effects on Australia of various levels of population growth, ft will examine the economic, social, ecological and other effects of various levels of population at specific points between now and the end of the century. This information will be used by the Government, together with other considerations, in determining the size and structure of future immigration programmes.

The purpose of the study wil not be to determine a specific rate of population growth or specific levels of population towards which the Government's policies should be directed. The responsibility for a matter of such major importance will remain - and very properly remain - vested in the Government. The study, which is being financed by my Department, is of such complexity that it will take 3 years to compete. Another major study is being carried out at the university of Sydney under the aegis of the Commonweath Immigration Planning Council. This study is concerned with establishing the costs and benefits of immigration under existing Australian conditions. It involves the application of recent advances in econometrics and the use of computer technology on a quite substantial scale and is expected to take 2 years to complete.

A third study - a longitudinal survey of the experience of some 10,000 migrants during their first 3 years in Australia - is being undertaken by the research staff of my Department. Like the cost benefit analysis, this survey is being carried out in association with the Immigration Planning Council. By any standards, these are substantial and important undertakings.

In conclusion I would remind the House, that as previously announced and for reasons then given, the Government has decided on an immigration programme of 140,000 for 1971-72. This is 30,000 fewer than actually arrived last year and 40,000 fewer than originally planned for 1970-71. I would stress that the programme for 1971-72 has been shaped to meet present circumstances without prejudice to future needs. The advantages tend to be fairly immediate; the disadvantages long-term and less apparent. The Government, unlike the critics, has taken both into account. Even in the short term however, a smaller immigration programme is not going to be some kind of universal panacea. It does not provide a solution to the whole broad range of economic, social, demographic, ecological and other issues currently under public discussion. Most certainly, also, the decision to set a smaller immigration programme this year was not, and is not, intended by the Government as a convenient substitute for action by others in their particular fields of responsibility.

There have been calls for a breathing space. But nations are not built by deep breathing exercises. Had it been their decision, our cautious critics, amongst whom apparently must be numbered the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) and some of his colleagues, would have abandoned the first settlement of Australia, if they had ever possessed the courage to attempt it. In determining the immigration programme for 1971-72, the Government has acted with the courage of responsibility. It has taken full account of present needs and given clear recognition of its obligations to the future of the nation.

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