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Thursday, 4 October 1956

Mr POLLARD (Lalor) .- 1 think that it will be conceded by the listening public that there are differences of opinion in this Parliament on the immigration programme which this Government is determined to implement. During the last few weeks, supporters of the Government have made no secret of their belief that the immigration intake is too large for the absorptive capacity of this country. One of the stars, so called, on the Government side, to wit, the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Malcolm Fraser), who is an economist of no mean stature, has pointed out, not only in this chamber, but also in a recent article in the Melbourne " Age ", that the time has come to call a halt in immigration or, at least, to reduce substantially our intake of immigrants because, at the moment, our economy is not conditioned to deal with the people in a manner that would be fair to them, irrespective of whether they come from the continent of Europe or from the British Isles.

If any honorable member has any doubt that our country is not conditioned for the present large intake of immigrants, I remind him of the reply that was made by the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) this afternoon, when I directed his attention to the fact that two churches in this country had already, if not in words, at least in effect, condemned this Government for not increasing the rates of social services benefits payable to widows and pensioners. The Minister said that the state of our economy was such that we could not afford to increase payments to the recipients of age and invalid pensions. Does not that statement imply that our economy is not able to absorb immigrants at the rate that has applied over the last few years? If we cannot afford to pay appropriate rates of pension to those who are no longer able to work and earn their own living, how can we expect to cope with a too-large immigrant intake?

Honorable members from both sides have commended Labour for inaugurating the great immigration scheme in 1947. However, we must acknowledge that to-day the situation is getting out of hand. If we are to develop this country satisfactorily and provide as we should, not only for the incoming immigrants, but also for the people who are already here, we must have regard to many facets of our economy. Almost daily, leading articles in the conservative press refer to the shortage of schools in Australia. Only to-day, I read that, in Melbourne, many hundreds of houses lack sewerage facilities. The university of Melbourne has not sufficient money to expand its activities in order to provide sufficient educational facilities for medical students.

The situation in regard to immigrant hostels has reached a critcial stage. Almost daily, immigrants who have been in this country for some time are being turned away. T should like to make it clear that I am strongly in favour of immigration, particularly from the United Kingdom. I strongly support the continued application of that part of the Government's immigration policy which provides for a large proportion of immigrants to come from the United Kingdom itself. Of course, I am not reflecting in any way on the immigrants who have come here from other parts of the world.

Let us consider the circumstances that might be militating against a sufficient intake of British, Scotch and Irish immigrants. There has been an immigrant hostel at Brooklyn, in Victoria, ever since the immigration programme was inaugurated in 1947. I do not know whether the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) has visited that hostel, but I should like to say, irrespective of the politicial colour of the government that established it - it was, of course, provided to meet an emergency - the hostel is a disgrace to the Commonwealth. It comprises a series of old wool sheds, and a dining room. I admit that it is equipped with a first-class kitchen. Many English, Irish, and Scotch immigrants, as well as immigrants from other countries, are cramped into Nissen huts of three compartments, where they are destined to remain for periods of from six months to four years. I know of one instance in which an immigrant family occupied one of the huts for seven years.

Mr Freeth - They should not be there for so long.

Mr POLLARD - The honorable member for Forrest says that they should not remain there for that length of time. But will the Government, or any instrumentality controlled by the Government, make available, either through the Commonwealth Bank or the various housing commissions, sufficient money to enable homes to be provided for the occupants of immigrant hostels? As we know, the immigrants from Europe are conscious of the fact that there is nowhere else for them to go, unless they obtain a block of land and erect temporary accommodation upon it, wilh the intention, eventually, of adding additional rooms. The average British immigrant is not prepared to contemplate living in that way. 1 know of an instance in which British immigrants living at the Brooklyn hostel sought, and obtained, financial accommodation from both the State Savings Bank of Victoria and the Commonwealth Bank, to form a co-operative housing society. However, the amount of money that they received for that purpose was insufficient to provide homes for all of them of a standard to which they are entitled. The end result was that a great many of these people were forced to remain at the hostel.

As I said a few minutes ago, the state of affairs at the Brooklyn immigrant hostel is a disgrace to the Government. I ask honorable members, and the listening public, to visualize, if they can, row after row of Nissen huts, the back of one separated by only a few yards from the front of the next, and the sullage from all the huts running into a drain situated only a few yards from the doors. The sanitary facilities are located not far away. Honorable members can imagine what can happen in those circumstances, even with the best behaved people. Of course, I cast no reflection on the management of the hostel: indeed, I take my hat off to the men who have carried on despite the conditions that I have described.

Amongst the British immigrants are a few good agitators who have, during the last few years, organized protest meetings and advised the Commonwealth Government of the state of affairs at Brooklyn. 1 sometimes wonder whether it is because good radicals amongst the British immigrants at Brooklyn have protested against the bad living conditions at the hostel that this Government is not enthusiastic about encouraging additional British immigrants to come to this country in appropriate numbers. But, before the Government encourages British immigration to Australia, it should make quite sure that adequate housing will be provided for the immigrants within a reasonable time of their arrival here. Sufficient money should be provided to enable the immigrants to build houses of suitable dimensions, in which they can rear their families under good Australian conditions. I know that the advisory committees do good work. The immigration council does its best, but it should ascertain why the British immigrants at Brooklyn have held protest meetings and agitated for better conditions. 1 recently attended one and endeavoured to smooth out difficulties, but I must say that I supported wholeheartedly the protests of the British immigrants, directed not against the management, but against the Government, for expecting our kith and kin to live in the hovels that I have described.

The CHAIRMAN - Order! The time allotted for consideration of the proposed votes for the Department of Immigration, Department of Labour and National Service, Department of National Development, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization and Australian Atomic Energy Commission has expired.

Proposed votes agreed to.

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