Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 4 October 1956

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) (Minister for Labour and National Service and Minister for Immigration) . - If I may, I shall speak first in my capacity as Minister for Labour and National Service by way of courtesy to my good friend, the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey), who has been giving us, as usual, a thoughtful contribution, this time on the subject of employment in Australia. 1 am afraid he did not really have his heart in the job, because he remembers only too vividly the less happy periods of Australian history when we had a very different employment situation from that which has existed in Australia over the post-war years. I certainly share his view, in common, I think, with honorable members of all parties in this Parliament, that we should so organize, if we can, the national economy to ensure that jobs are available for all who are willing and able to work in this country.

When the honorable member for Bendigo tells us that no less an authority and economist than Sir Douglas Copland, who the honorable member stated was regarded at the time as one of the leading economists in Australia, said that 10 per cent, unemployment would be a normal thing, then I believe the experience of our post-war years shows now we have succeeded as a government and as a nation in pioneering this new type of post-war economy where full employment is substantially guaranteed. Sir Douglas Copland is to-day, in my opinion anyhow, probably the outstanding economist of this country. Certainly he ranks among the top economists. The fact of the matter is that even putting the employment position on the basis which the honorable member for Bendigo recommended we should - that is going beyond the recipients of unemployment benefit, although I will say a word or two about that in a moment - and considering the people actually registered for work, which I agree with him gives a much more realistic picture of those actually out of work at a particular time, then on our latest figures some 35,000 people in Australia were registered at the offices of the Department of Labour and National Service. That does not give the full picture either, because of those 35,000 people, a considerable number might have registered on the day, or during the week, before that check was taken and by the time the information came to me many of the persons so registered might have transferred to some other employment. In a buoyant economy such as ours, with a great deal of employment of a seasonal nature in which people change from job to job, many people, either because a particular job has come to an end or because they feel they would like to be doing something different, go along to the employment office and register for employment. As I say, on the latest figures, 35,000 people have so described themselves; but that is not a picture of chronic unemployment in this country. A great proportion of those 35,000 might very well be placed in jobs and their places in turn taken by others who were also seeking a change from the employment in which they found themselves.

That 35,000, if one takes that figure as a more accurate indication of the position than the number of unemployment benefit recipients, works out at something less than I per cent, of the work force of this country. Any industrial country that can maintain employment on a basis of jobs available for all but a fractional degree of I per cent, of unemployment has given its people full employment in the substantial sense of that term. With the exception of a short period in 1952, that has been the experience of this Government since it took office. I remind the honorable member for Bendigo that in the census of 1947 - a time when the government of which he is a supporter was in office - the figure for unemployment on the day the census was taken was 83,000. Nobody at that time imagined that we had a serious unemployment problem. On the contrary, we were in a situation of prosperity and 1 am quite certain that honorable gentlemen opposite felt at that time they were maintaining substantially a full-employment situation. I think it could do a good deal of harm in a very real sense if we became unduly alarmed as this frictional unemployment developed from time to time. 1 have pointed out before that we are now in what i» generally regarded as the slack period of the year, in an economic sense. It is normal for employment opportunities to decline to some degree during the winter months in the southern States. But then, when the spring comes in and we move into the Christmas trading period, the demands for labour increase and more people are absorbed into industry. The latest figures that I have lead me to believe that that is happening again. Far from rushing downhill, far from there being a substantial increase of the number of persons recorded as being in receipt of unemployment benefit, I find that there has been a reduction of the number of such people during each of the last three weeks for which figures have been supplied to me. As at 22nd September, 412 people less were recorded as being in receipt of unemployment benefit. Even in Western Australia - where, admittedly, there has been proportionately more unemployment in recent months than in other States - each of the last five weeks has shown a decline in the number of recipients of unemployment benefit.

There may be some force in the comments of the honorable member for Bendigo that the figures showing the number of recipients of unemployment benefit do not show the full degree of unemployment that exists. I have never claimed that they do. I have merely argued that, taken in conjunction with the other figures that I make available to the Parliament, they assist us to analyse trends as they develop in the Australian economy.

Mr Ward - They show only about onesixth of the actual number of unemployed people.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - Rather less than a quarter.

Mr Ward - I think about one-sixth.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - That indicates the normal degree of inaccuracy of the honorable gentleman's assumptions. Mine happen to be official figures, but his have been just taken from the air. I want to correct the honorable member for Bendigo on a relatively minor point. He has said that a person with an income of £1 a week is ineligible for the unemployment benefit. That is not correct. The rate of employment benefit for an adult is £2 10s. a week. There are further payments of £2 a week for a dependent wife or a housekeeper, and of 5s. a week for one or more children under the age of sixteen years. Therefore, the total benefit for a man with a wife and one child is £4 15s. a week. In addition, he is allowed to have an income of £1 a week from other sources, not including child endowment. The benefit is reduced in accordance with the amount in excess of £1 which the wife or the husband earns or receives as rent from property, &c. I do not challenge the general proposition that there is some limitation of eligibility for the unemployment benefit, but I point out that the statements made by the honorable member for Bendigo were incorrect in that point of detail.

I have said that during recent weeks the number of people in receipt of the unemployment benefit has shown a tendency to decline. I do not attach great significance to that fact at this time, but it does appear to confirm our experience that there is an increased demand for labour as we move out of the winter months towards the Christmas trading period. I said a little earlier that undue alarm over the present degree of frictional unemployment could cause some harm. I believe it could lead to a distorted view of the economic problems ahead of us. There is a quite serious inflationary pressure on the economy which, as a government, we have been trying to subdue, with a view to bringing the economy into better balance. The task of keeping supply and demand nicely balanced on the razor's edge is not an easy one. If we have erred since we have been in office, we have erred in one direction. There has been a demand for more labour than could be supplied, although we could have adopted policies that would have taken us in the other direction. Undoubtedly, that has contributed considerably to the inflationary pressure. I do not know of anything more inflationary than a scarcity of labour when the pressure of demand is mounting steadily. We found that out in 1951, when we were at the peak of unsatisfied demand in this country.

We have been planning and organizing the economy to get, not the pool of unemployment that honorable gentlemen opposite are disposed from time to time to say that we want, but a reasonable balance between the supply of and the demand for labour. It will be very interesting for all of us to see what happens during the next few months. The Government watches the position very closely. I get the official figures each week. In addition, the employment situation is reviewed periodically by the Ministry of Labour Advisory Council, on which the trade unions are strongly represented, as are the organizations of management. That representative and significant body is able to make a frank analysis of the employment situation from time to time.

Mr Ward - On what? On figures that you supply?

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - I hope the honorable gentleman is not going to make the charge that the Public Service wilfully distorts the facts of the economic situation. It is hardly necessary for me to assure the committee that that is not the case. Certainly no responsible trade union official whom I have encountered has challenged the authenticity of the figures that we have presented.

Mr Ward - What did Mr. Chamberlain say about them?

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - Mr. Chamberlaindid not challenge the authenticity of those figures.

Dr Evatt - He challenged them in relation to Western Australia, and the Minister denounced him in the Parliament for doing so.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - What he was saying was that there were more people unemployed than were recorded as unemployed by the department. That may well be so at any given point of time. We do not claim that every person who becomes unemployed rushes in to register as unemployed with us. It is probable that quite a number of people in the country districts to which the honorable member for Bendigo has referred look for work without bothering to come near us. That is true of some of the people, anyhow, if not of a big proportion of them. However, to the extent that we are able to get the information on an official basis, we supply it to the council. I think that the present picture of the employment position is one of supply and demand very close to a balance. As the demand for labour increases between now and the end of the year, it is likely that we shall see a reduction of the number of persons registered as unemployed. If we do not, the Government will have to consider what action can usefully be taken to redress any unbalance which has manifested itself.

I should like to comment very briefly on some of the points made by the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) in relation to immigration. I must confess to some disappointment at the statement made by the honorable gentleman. After a period during which the immigration programme had been carefully and, on occasions, critically analysed by many people, one would have hoped that the opening speaker for the Labour party when the Estimates for the Department of Immigration were under consideration would have made a thoughtful and useful statement of the views of his party on this important subject. I have listened to the honorable member for Parkes on many occasions. On this occasion, he made the most woeful statement that I have heard him make since he came into this Parliament. It was a hash of ill-considered and ill-digested propositions. I do not believe that his heart was in the story that he put forward. At one time, he was a member of a delegation which went overseas and did useful work in ascertaining sources of suitable immigrants and for many years he gave strong support to the immigration programme. I am somewhat concerned to form the belief that the comments he made proceeded, not so much from an objective analysis and dissection of the immigration programme, as from the political motives allegedly involved. I was astounded to hear the honorable member for Parkes tell us that we give some sort of instruction or lead to selection officers overseas to make their selection of immigrants on such a basts that the political support of the immigrants after coming to this country would be likely to go the way of this Government.

Mr Ward - That is well known.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - I am not surprised that the honorable member for East Sydney is concerned, because we do seek to keep out not, as the honorable member for Parkes said, the left-wingers in the countries where we make our selection, but persons who are known to have been active in Communist organizations and Communist political work. That is treated as one of the grounds of objection. Similarly, in a general sense, persons who have been members of nazi or fascist organizations are not regarded by us as being suitable immigrants for this country. So far as the general basis of selection is concerned, to the best of my knowledge it has not altered in principle from the basis and criteria of selection that were laid down by my predecessor when he was in office.

Dr Evatt - Not at all - you have altered it!

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - I invite the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) to tell me of one way in which we have altered the basis of selection. I can well understand his uneasiness on this matter because, you know, he has something of a persecution complex, and he has convinced himself that a great proportion of the European immigrants will never vote for him to become the Prime Minister of this country. That may, or may not, be so. Curiously enough, the sort of people the right honorable gentleman so regards as being unlikely to support him are, in the main, people who are not assisted by the Government to come here. They come out here as full-fare paying passengers, nominated by their friends and relatives, who have already settled here.

But he should not be surprised that people in Australia, irrespective of their political beliefs, have come to the conclusion that they will not support him politically. That is not only true of European migrants; it is true of tens of thousands of Australian native-born trade unionists - people who formerly had a traditional allegiance to the Labour party. Not only do they not intend to see the Leader of the Opposition placed in a position to be able to govern the country, but they have given the Labour party away. It must be quite baffling to the immigrants who come here from other parts of the world to understand just what labour party they are being invited to support. Almost weekly, the confusion increases as some new splinter group establishes itself and seeks support.

Again, here is a consideration, I think, which might well influence an immigrant to support a party which believes in free enterprise, expanding principles, and in the greatest measure of individual freedom. Many of them come from countries where they felt the heels of the Communists on their necks. Many of them come from countries in which socialist forms of government restricted the opportunities that they might otherwise have enjoyed, and that depressed their living standards. They come to Australia, and what a contrast! Here they find a land of wealth, opportunity and freedom. Having experienced a degree of happiness which they had never found at any time in their native countries, it is small wonder that they are determined to support governments and policies which will ensure a continuance of the conditions that commend themselves so strongly to them. So, I myself deplore the attack by the Labour party, which was based on a belief that we, as a government, had so manoeuvred and contrived as to attract to this country only people who are likely to support us.

We heard some criticism from the honorable member for Parkes about the inadequacy of the intake of British immigrants. I shall take this opportunity to say a word in that connexion, because this Government takes considerable pride in the manner in which it has attracted British immigrants, and has gone on maintaining in the United Kingdom interest in settlement here in Australia. One would think, to listen to some of these criticisms, that we are lagging far behind our competitors in the immigration field - lagging far behind the other dominions of the British Commonwealth. The contrary is the truth. During the period from October, 1945, to December, 1955, of 1,031.508 permanent arrivals in this country, 496,614, or 48.2 per cent., were of British nationality, and most of them came from the United Kingdom itself.

Dr Evatt - How many came from the United Kingdom?

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - I shall give the right honorable gentleman the picture. Figures for the post-war period until June, 1955 - the latest date for which such figures are available - show that, of the number of persons who departed from the United Kingdom to settle overseas, Australia received 48.1 per cent., compared with Canada 33.9 per cent., South Africa, 5.6 per cent., and New Zealand, 12.4 per cent.

Mr Ward - What percentage of the total number of immigrants to Australia came from the United Kingdom?

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - It is very difficult to present these figures, with interjections coming from all sections of the Opposition benches.

Mr Daly - Do not run away from the question.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - Although the figures I have cited do not suit honorable members opposite, they are accurate. I invite honorable gentlemen on the other side to study them. Even in the latest period, which the honorable member for Parkes said was a time of great decline of British immigration to Australia, this country has received a proportion of British immigrants broadly equivalent to the total number received by the other three Commonwealth countries that I have mentioned.

As further evidence of our activity and good faith in this matter, I should like' to refer to an aspect that troubled us when we came into office and looked at the immigration programme. I remind the Leader of the Opposition who, I know, thinks that the current level of intake is too high, that in the last year in which he was the Deputy Leader of the Labour government, the total intake was 169,000. I say, more credit to him and his government for seeing that Australia got such a considerable influx of people. But, at that time, as the right honorable gentleman will recall, our immigration programme was dominated by the intake of displaced persons from certain countries of Europe - people who had had the misfortune to be involved in the tragedy of war and, having been displaced from their homeland, were living in camps in great numbers. They were brought out to this country to settle here. No fewer than 169,000 displaced persons were brought to Australia during the right honor.agle gentleman's last year of office. We found, when we looked at the kind of immigration programme that honorable gentlemen opposite had established at that time, that the British intake- was not, in proportion, nearly high enough. But here was the problem: We had a very generous and liberal provision of assisted passage money for prospective British immigrants, the immigrant being required to find only £10 for himself, £10 for his wife and £5 for each of his children, the remainder being provided mainly by the Australian Government, although a small proportion was found by the Government of the United Kingdom. Those people came here after having been nominated by friends, relatives, government instrumentalities or other prospective employers.

Despite these liberal arrangements for passage money, the intake was not, in our view, sufficiently high, and British immigrants did not form a sufficiently high proportion of our total intake. We therefore established a scheme of Commonwealth nomination, under which we, as a government, became, in efFect, the nominator of the person concerned. It was not simply a matter of saying to a prospective immigrant, " You come out here and we will see that you get a job ". Although such an undertaking was part of the obligations that rested upon the Government, in addition we undertook to find accommodation for these people when they came to Australia. For this purpose we had to construct hostels all over the country. By this means we have been able to increase very considerably the intake of British immigrants beyond what it would have been had we left it to relatives, friends and employers in this country to nominate immigrants. That policy has helped to put Australia in the favorable position that I have indicated, by comparison with other dominions. If honorable gentlemen opposite are deeply concerned about this matter, I would welcome their assistance in encouraging our fellow citizens in all parts of Australia to nominate people to come here from the United Kingdom. Many thousands of them are eager to come. They are quite suitable immigrants from our point of view. Our own hostel accommodation is taxed to the practicable limit, and if we are to have more of them then more Australians must nominate British people. I hope that they will do so, and here is an opportunity for honorable gentlemen to exercise their powers of advocacy, if they choose to do so, in the national interest.

Mr Ward - Where will they find a place in which to live if the Government reduces its expenditure on housing?

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - I do not want to open up the housing question. We have had plenty of opportunities to discuss that matter. As the honorable member knows, so rapid has been our progress in overtaking the housing lag that developed during the war years, and so far have we proceeded beyond the rate necessary merely to keep up with our own natural population increase and the net intake of new immigrants, that it is quite on the cards that home-building activity will decline considerably in the near future, because we will have completely overtaken the lag that had developed previously.

I shall now turn to two other matters, one of which was dealt with by the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen). He referred to the incidence of the criminal offences among immigrants in this country. I should have thought that this slander against our immigrants had been fully scotched by now as a result of the two reports published by the committee set up to investigate the conduct of immigrants in Australia. I remind honorable members that a representative group of people, a responsible body, examined this matter on two occasions. The committee was chaired by Mr. Justice Dovey, its other members being Mr. A. E. Monk, the federal president of the Australian Council of Trades Unions, Mr. J. C. Nagle, the federal secretary of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia, and Mrs. J. G. Norris, the president of the National Council of Women of Australia. Those people constituted a representative group, and I think no one will challenge my statement that they were a responsible group and well able to examine this problem. They did not rely only on facts that they were able to elicit for themselves. They sought information from the police commissioners of the various States, and their findings revealed quite convincingly that the rate of incidence of crime amongst aliens is considerably less than it is in the whole of our population.

Mr Haylen - The Minister knows that that is a futile sort of analysis.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - The honorable gentleman may have his own standards of futility. 1, for one, knowing the calibre of the persons concerned, and knowing that they sought the advice, observations and statistics that could be provided by the police commissioners of the various States, believe that we are fully justified in accepting their reports as authoritative statements of the position. Some recent confirmation has come to my notice in the findings of Associate Professor Norval Morris, of the Department of Criminology at the University of Melbourne. He has reached the following conclusions as a result of his own studies: -

The crime rate amongst recent immigrants to this country ... is lower than amongst any control group of " Old Australians " i.i similar financial and living conditions. The crime rate amongst recent immigrants to this country is likely to be lower than the crime rates in the countries from which each particular national group came.

Mr Whitlam - We pick them!

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - Of course we do, and we select them with considerable care. It is no reflection on the Australian community to say that the crime rate amongst immigrants is lower than it is amongst our own people, for the reason mentioned by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam), but at least let us not go on saying, quite unjustifiably, that Australia's crime rate has been enhanced by the presence amongst us of so many people from various European countries.

The final matter to which I wish to refer in this connexion concerns an aspect that was mentioned by the honorable member for Leichhardt (Mr. Bruce), relating to the unbalance between the sexes in this country. It is not novel for Australia to find that the males in the community have quite considerably outnumbered the females. This is, in fact, a familiar pattern in young, developing countries, and the excess number of males in rural areas in Australia has always been particularly marked. If honorable gentlemen care to study the picture revealed by the census figures for the years from 1881 onwards, they will notice a steady decline in this excessive proportion of males. In 1881 there were 117.35 males for every 100 females; in 1891 the comparative number of males was 115.89; in 1901 the figure was 110.14; in 1911 it had fallen to 107.99; in 1921 it was 103.37; in 1933 the figure for males was 103.20, and in 1947 there were 100.46 males for every 100 females. In 1954, which is the first year for which the figures show the effects of the immigration programme, there were 102.38 males for every 100 females. If honorable members study later the figures that I have cited, they will see that over the long period during which census figures have been taken, there has been only one period in which the proportion of males to females was lower than it was in 1954.

When we examine the difference in the distribution as between urban and rural areas, we find quite marked differences, which arc not peculiar to our present situation, but which again may be traced back throughout the period in which census statistics have been drawn up. In 1933, for example, the proportion of males to females in metropolitan areas was 90 per cent., whereas in rural areas it was 124 per cent, and in provincial urban areas 97 per cent. In 1947, fourteen years later, this very marked discrepancy between the male populations of the rural and urban areas was still present. The percentage of males to females in the metropolitan area was then 92.76, and in rural areas 114.65. In provincial urban areas the percentage was 97.82. It will be seen that the present position is not so markedly different. In 1954 the percentage of males to females in metropolitan areas was 96 per cent. In other urban areas it was 100.5 per cent, and in the rural areas 121 per cent. - approximately the picture presented in the 1933- 1947 period.

I have not given the committee those figures from any wish to suggest that we are not concerned, to some extent at least, with the fact that there is an unbalance. We say that there has been a greater unbalance at earlier periods of our development and that in a growing and developing country we must inevitably have a disproportion. In the first instance male migrants will tend to come in greater numbers so that they can establish themselves and then send for their wives, female relatives, or children. Also, it is both understandable and in accordance with Australian experience that we should find a much bigger proportion of males in the rural, developing areas than in the settled areas of the cities.

Mr Luchetti - Could something not be done to correct that state of affairs?

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - In various ways we attempt to do that. We provide financial assistance to bring out the wife or the fiancee of the immigrant. We have selected, from countries where there is an availability of females, employees who can be placed initially in domestic work, hospitals and other institutions. It is quite remarkable how soon after they reach this country a big proportion of them marry.

Mr Downer - It happens far too quickly.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - I share the honorable member's feeling of regret that some of those whom we have brought into our households, and who have given useful service, have left after a much shorter period than we would have liked. I am afraid that that is one of the hazards that we must accept. I apologize to the committee for taking up so much of its time but I felt that as the honorable member for Parkes, introducing this matter, was apparently speaking for the Opposition, I should attempt to answer the principal points which he had brought out.

In conclusion, I regret the lukewarmness shown at this stage by the Labour party on this important matter. Labour lv s a record in immigration of which it can be proud. It showed considerable energy and courage in launching the programme on such a large scale.

Mr Haylen - It has not changed.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - I should be very surprised if the sentiments uttered by the honorable member for Parkes, to-day, were those of his deputy leader, the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), or, for that matter, of a considerable proportion of the honorable gentlemen who sit behind him on the Labour benches. They are certainly not in accordance with the robust, realistic and national sentiments expressed by a former leader of the Labour party in supporting the establishment of Australia's immigration programme. I would like to put on record, for the consideration of honorable gentlemen opposite, the views put by Mr. Chifley, on behalf of the Labour party, in his policy speech of November, 1949.

Mr Haylen - Will the Minister qualify that by making some reference to the economic circumstances at the time?


Immigration means security. Even more than that, it means the full development of untapped resources. It means greater production of goods and services. It means a better, happier, more prosperous life for every Australian.

The great immigration drive, launched by the present Labour Government in 1945 and carried out with remarkable success, will be continued vigorously until Australia has the population she needs to achieve the development of all her resources and guarantee her security.

I hope that those sentiments still represent the general viewpoint of the Labour party. The honorable member for Parkes says that our immigration programme should be related to our economic circumstances.

Mr Haylen - That is all that we are asking.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - Of course, we are doing just that. This programme is not concocted without regard to the economic situation, lt is based on the best advice that we can get and takes into account the views of responsible advisory bodies on which the industrial movement is well represented - the views of as representative a collection of responsible citizens as we can bring together. In turn, the programme has to run the gamut of the advisers and experts of every Commonwealth department. We also examine attentively and critically any views put forward on the subject by the State Premiers or their officers. Out of all this thinking and planning, we build an annual programme, and this year, as in other years, that programme is related to the capacity of this country to sustain it.

I should certainly hope that no party would wish Australia to do other than proceed with a programme as comprehensive as the economy and the community could sustain. We have been guided by those considerations, and the record of our immigration programme in the post-war years indicates that we have been successful. I am certain that in adopting thai approach we have the overwhelming support of honorable members from both sides of this chamber, and the strong support of the Australian people.

Suggest corrections