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Wednesday, 31 July 1946

Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) (Minister for Immigration and. Minister for Information) . - by leave - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

This bill is intended to serve a dual purpose, namely, to enable the Minister for Immigration to continue to act as the legal guardian of overseas children who remain in Australia after the National Security (Overseas Children) Regulations cease to have effect and to enable the Minister to act as legal guardian of all children who will- be brought to Australia in future as immigrants under the auspices of any governmental or nongovernmental migration organization. Under these regulations legal guardianship of British children, who were evacuated to. Australia in 1940 for the duration of the war, was vested in the Minister for Immigration and through him in the various' State child welfare departments. The children were placed by those departments with custodians, who accepted responsibility for their welfare and care. Originally 577 children came to Australia under the overseas children scheme and the majority have now returned to the United. Kingdom. There are, however, over 100 children still in Australia. Some are remaining temporarily to complete educational courses or apprenticeships and others permanently. The National Security (Overseas Children) Regulations will cease' to have effect after the 31st December, 1946, and the bill now introduced will enable the same arrangements as were made under those regulations to be continued in respect of the overseas children remaining here.

The bill also covers children who will be brought to Australia under the auspices of any governmental or nongovernmental migration organizations when migration is resumed. The overriding responsibility of the Commonwealth in respect of all migrants, including the application of its social service legislation, applies in greater force perhaps to children. It is believed that the Commonwealth Government, in encouraging and financially assisting child migration by way of contributions towards passage money and payment of child endowment to organizations caring for the children, accepts a responsibility which does not end with the children's arrival in Australia. It is, therefore, incumbent on the Commonwealth to see that child migrants are properly accommodated and cared for until they reach 21 years of age. The only way in which this can be achieved is by vesting in the Minister for Immigration an overriding legal guardianship in respect of all such children. Whilst under the provisions of the bill, the Minister will be the legal guardian of immigrant children, it is proposed to utilize the services of the State authorities in the same manner as has been done with overseas children under the National Security (Overseas Children) Regulations. State authorities may, under delegation from the Minister, exercise control and supervision of the children, who will be cared for under the auspices of voluntary migration organizations introducing them, such as the Fairbridge Farm Schools, Dr. Barnardo Homes, Northcote Children's Farm School, and church bodies. These organizations can be appointed custodians of the children brought out by them.

It will be observed that the proposed legislation does not apply to immigrant children who come to Australia with, or for the purpose of living under the care of, their parents or relatives. At a conference held in April, 1946, attended by representatives of the Commonwealth and States, it was agreed that there was need for uniformity of procedure with regard- to the legal guardianship of child immigrants and that the Commonwealth should assume responsibility for their guardianship until they attain the atn of 21 years. The State authorities agreed to exercise control and supervision over these children as delegates for the Minister for Immigration. The measures con tained in the billwill enable this to be done.

Debate (on motion by Dame Enid Lyons) adjourned.

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