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Thursday, 8 October 1936

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister for External Affairs) . - by leave - In the House of Representatives on the 13th March, 1936, the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), in answer to a question by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin), indicated that no approach had been made by the Government of the United Kingdom on the subject of the resumption of migration, and gave an undertaking that, in the event of negotiations being entered into with that Government, the Governments of. the States would be fully consulted before any decision was arrived at. That statement correctly . indicated the position at the time, and the promise contained therein has not been departed from in any way.

On the return from London of the Minister for Commerce (Dr. Earle Page) and the Attorney-General (Mr. Menzies) during August last, it was ascertained that discussions had taken place with British Ministers regarding the conditions that exist in Australia in relation to migration and land settlement, and migration generally. During the course of these discussions my colleagues indicated that, if the States were agreeable, it might be possible to resume limited migration in respect of the following categories: - (a) Domestics; (b) farm boys; (c) the Big Brother Movement; and (d) the Fairbridge Farm organization. My colleagues made it clear that the resumption of migration on any substantial scale dependedupon the improvement of Australia's economic position, which, in turn, depended largely upon the expansion of markets and the improvement of prices for Australia's export commodities.

In addition to the Commonwealth Ministers mentioned, the Premiers of New South Wales and Queensland were also present at these discussions in London.

The subject of migration was informally discussed at a meeting of a subcommittee appointed by the conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers held in Adelaide in August last. Following the decision of members of the subcommittee that definite proposals should be sent for consideration to the various States, a letter was addressed to the Premiers on the 16th September, 1936. A copy of this letter has been laid on the table of the Library. A perusal of it will make it quite clear that the Commonwealth was not attempting in any way to force migration upon the States. The purpose of the letter was to ascertain whether any State considered itself in a position to absorb migrants and, if so, whether it desired Commonwealth assistance.

At the present time, assisted migration is restricted to the granting of passages ro wives and minor children of migrants who arrived in Australia prior to the 1st January, 1930, to fiancees of migrants settled in Australia, and to children introduced hy the Fairbridge Farm School in Western Australia.

The State Governments have transmitted from time to time many requests by Australian residents for assistance to enable relatives from England to join them in this country. Reports which have been received from voluntary organizations in several States indicate that the demand for boys for farm work and of girls for household duties exceeds the supply. In the circumstances, the Commonwealth deemed it advisable to give to the States an opportunity to indicate whether the present limited scope of assisted migration was considered irksome.

It will be observed that the action taken by the Commonwealth Government i3 entirely in accord with the promise made by the Prime Minister on. the 13th March last. Co-operation by the States is most important, and they are being fully consulted as to their views. Apart from one formal acknowledgment, no reply has been received from the Premiers. The Government considered that, while the matter was under consideration by the Governments of the States, any disclosure of the contents of the letter of the 16th September might be ;i source of embarrassment to them. It will be appreciated, moreover, that" it is not, generally the practice to make public a communication addressed to any party until that party has had an opportunity to consider the matter. No reason is apparent why that procedure should have been departed from in this instance.

Honorable senators may have observed that this matter was given publicity in the press over the week-end. No statement has, however, been made by or with the authority of the Commonwealth Government. Any information obtained by the press must have been received from other sources.

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