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Tuesday, 16 September 1958
Page: 1265

Mr LESLIE (Moore) .- The bill before the House is one which, obviously, will serve an excellent purpose in helping to straighten out many of the tangles that have impeded the officers of the Department of Immigration in carrying out the policy that not only this, but also previous governments, have desired should be applied with regard to our immigration activities.

On all sides of the House the Minister has been complimented on bringing down this measure. I wish to commend the Minister on having given honorable members an opportunity to study the provisions of the proposed legislation. Because of the length of the bill and the many subjects that it deals with, the debate on the measure, which was introduced early in the year, was adjourned to allow honorable members time to study it very carefully and, if they wished, to make inquiries in appropriate quarters and ascertain how the bill would operate and whether it would be satisfactory. During the months that have elapsed I have taken the opportunity to do this. I have discussed the bill with officers of the department who are charged with the responsibility of directing our immigration activities. I have discussed it with persons who have come to Australia as immigrants, and I have discussed it with other persons who have been concerned with the welfare of our new Australian population. Tn every case the bill has been highly commended, although here and there there have been suggestions as to how the bill might be improved slightly.

I wish first to deal with the question of immigration on a broad basis. Australia is generally conceded to be still a young country, but I believe it is unfortunate that at this period in our history we have to resort to such an extensive immigration programme as has been pursued during the post-war years. The blame for this lies entirely at the door of the Australian people of earlier days. I am going to suggest that the Minister for Immigration should also be Minister for Population.

Mr Downer - I have made my own personal contribution.

Mr LESLIE - Although it is not an original remark, let me say that the best immigrant we can have is a baby born in our own country of our own people. No one will deny the truth of this statement. Let me emphasize that it is necessary for us to encourage, in every way we can, our own people to populate our country.

Mr Downer - May I remind the honorable member that, whilst agreeing with him up to a point, I have the honour to be the father of four children.

Mr LESLIE - I commend the Minister for it, but may I suggest in all humility and respect that he still falls short of my record of six children - but there is still time for the Minister to make up the deficit. I do, in all seriousness, however, suggest that encouragement of natural population increase should receive just as much attention by this Government as should the immigration programme. I also suggest that the department most fitted to carry out these duties is the Department of Immigration. The departmental officers should undertake to inquire into the reasons why there is a short fall in the natural increase in population.

It is true that if we wish to increase our population and to maintain a young population we have to have an average family of five. Continuing surveys in this country and in other countries have confirmed that, in order to maintain a population young enough to look after people as they get older and to make sure that we will not have on our hands, first, an aged population, and then a diminution of population, an average of five per family has to be maintained. I do not see any reason why we cannot preach that as a gospel to our people. The standard of living in this country and the opportunities available in this country are so good that there is no reasonable excuse for any one to escape their responsibilities. That is a fundamental necessity. If people kept that idea in mind the problems associated with a shortage of labour would disappear.

One aspect of the bill which, I think, will provide satisfaction is the abolition of the dictation test in connexion with our immigration policy. Those who have read the history of this test will recall that it was a dishonest subterfuge which was endorsed by the National Parliament out of respect for the dictates of the good people at Westminster. The subterfuge was adopted in an attempt to be selective in our immigration policy and to make sure that, in laying down the standards we would apply, we would not offend anybody outside. I believe that the dictation test and the constant use of the words "White Australia" have done more harm to this country than we can calculate.

The irresponsible attitude indicated by the remark of the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly), who is interjecting, has also done a great deal of harm to Australia. Every country is selective in its admission of immigrants and, in controlling the admission of people to this country, wherever they come from, we exercise the same right as that which is exercised in their native land. We should be honest about this matter; I believe that will pay us in the long run. The dictation test was a dishonest subterfuge for which this country has had to suffer the consequences since it was introduced. I am glad that the Minister has had the courage to remove it and to replace it with provisions which will enable us honestly to be as selective as we were under the old provision. The new provisions will enable us to deal with undesirables who may be admitted to this country through an error of judgment and who require to be sent away. We shall be able to deal with them honestly, fairly, and with justice.

Another very welcome addition to this bill is a new system of special permits for people who are coming to this country or for people who are already here and who want to bring in those who, in the ordinary way, would be excluded from receiving an entry permit. The new provision will remove some of the limitations which attach to the system of certificates of exemption. The Minister for Immigration, in his second-reading speech, referred in particular to the human aspect of the problem of aged persons overseas whom their family may wish to bring to Australia and whom it will be possible to bring out under the special permit arrangement. This is a very laudable objective and it will be greatly welcomed. I hope that this policy will be applied to cases which have come before my notice during the past few years.

Young people have been admitted to this country under a certificate of exemption for a specified period and then have been obliged to go back to their own country. I refer to people who have come to us from the islands to the north. Some of these people have suffered unfortunate incidents. Some families have been permitted to bring children here - adopted children in some cases - for educational purposes under a certificate of exemption. The parents were eligible to remain in Australia, being British-born. The children, however, could only come here under a certificate of exemption. When their period of education had expired, the Government was obliged to tell the children that they had to go back to the country in which they were born.

That was very unfortunate. I am hoping that the special permit system will overcomethe inhumanity which attaches to theseparation of aged persons overseas from the young people here, and which forces members of a family here to leave the parents or to compel the parents to go back to a country to which they do not want to return. I should be glad to hear whether the special permit system will overcome that difficulty.

I do not propose to discuss the sections of the old legislation which will be removed by the passage of this bill. The whole idea of the bill is that, by their removal or amendment, justice will be provided for every person who seeks to come to this country. The object of the bill is that they may be certain that the fundamental rules that apply to British people throughout the world will apply here and that, regardless of their country of birth, they will receive justice no less than that which would be handed out to any British-born or naturalized subject.

I ask the Minister to look at the problems associated with proxy marriages. Some good workers who have come here as immigrants may have been engaged to girls overseas for many years. After they have arrived here they have gone through a form of proxy marriage. Then, the proxy wife has made application for an entry permit to Australia and, for health or other reasons, has been found unsuitable to come to this country. That situation presents heart-rending problems, Sir. We face' the prospect of losing a very desirable Australian citizen, because the young man already here may have to return to> his own country if the couple are unfortunately unable to dissolve the marriage. If the marriage stands, the man has to leave his proxy wife overseas and keep her there while he remains here - I suppose as what we could call a grass widower - or else he has to return to his wife in the land of his birth.

I do not know whether any publicity is being given to these problems at present, but they should be publicized much more than at present in order that any one who is thinking of entering into a proxy marriage will realize that he must first make sure that the proxy wife - or proxy husband, if that is the case - can comply with the conditions for an entry permit to Australia. I think it is merely a question of disseminating information to the people concerned. It might be sufficient if the churches in the countries concerned were informed that we have had unfortunate instances in which we have not been able to bring the two people together, and that it is up to the churches to make certain, before they permit a proxy marriage, that the woman will be able to enter Australia, so that the partner already here will not be compelled to return to Europe in order that the couple may be together. We do not want him to leave, and he may not want to return to his own country.

The only other matter that I want to discuss in connexion with this bill concerns immigration agents. I understand from the second-reading speech made by the Minister that the Department of Immigration proposes now to cease the registration of immigration agents. But it will continue to recognize such agents, Sir. I should prefer to see a clause in the' bill forbidding anybody to- act as- a paid immigration agent. Too many so-called immigration agents have not acted with humane intentions, and have been mere moneygrubbers. I suggest that many honorable members could tell of! instances in which migrants have approached members of the Parliament, who have made representations to the department; with a successful outcome, in respect of a minor matter that was not handled in the right way by an immigration agent, the agent then having the colossal cheek to collect from the migrant a substantial fee for services that he did not render.

Mr Daly - - Most of those were members of the Australian Country party.

Mr LESLIE - The honorable member is unable to take any speech seriously. I think we should still see a grin on his face no matter what tragic circumstances were being related. This is a serious matter. It concerns the human problems of people and of their kin overseas. Migrants pay substantial sums to immigration agents, for which they sometimes get results and sometime do not. The migrant very often gets no satisfaction, although he has been compelled to pay a substantial sum to the agent.

I suggest that members of this House have done far more for migrants, in a purely honorary capacity - and have been very happy to do it - and with far better results than have been achieved by immigration agents.

In my opinion, the proper place for a migrant to go for help is the office of the Department of Immigration in a capitalcity, or the immigration office nearest to the district in which he happens to be. I have found the officers of the department courteous, patient, and helpful to all migrants who seek their help. If there is no office of the department available, the migrant can go to the police, who, in most instances, are courteous and helpful. He can be sure of getting assistance from either of these sources.

Mr Thompson - Free of charge!

Mr LESLIE - Free of charge, as the. honorable member reminds me. Service is given readily and kindly by these officers. Migrants can go also to members, of the Parliament. Let me say now, for the benefit of those who may hear or read my remarks, that when a migrant seeks the help of a member of the Parliament there is no question of a fee or even a vote, because most- migrants do not yet have a vote. The services of members of the Parliament are available to migrants at any time and are willingly given. Likewise, the services of officers of the Department of Immigration, are readily available. The officers of the department have given in the past, and I am certain will continue to give, whatever help it is in their power to give in order to meet the needs of a migrant. From my contacts, with them, I am of the opinion that they treat a new Australian as one of their babies, almost literally, in the sense that he is regarded as some one for whose welfare they are responsible, and I have known them to go out of their way to help new Australians to get what they are entitled to have in this country. For the reasons that I have given, I believe that, by continuing even to recognize immigration agents, we shall permit an unremitting injustice to be done to migrants, who, of course, do not know any better.

I am happy to support the bill, and I submit the matters that I have raised to the Minister for his usual generous and sympathetic consideration.

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