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Tuesday, 16 September 1958

Mr COUTTS (Griffith) .- Mr. Speaker,you know from the remarks of previous Opposition speakers that members of the Australian Labour party do not oppose this measure. This debate affords honorable members a good opportunity to voice their opinions on immigration generally. I subscribe wholeheartedly to, and loyally support, the policy of the Australian Labour party on immigration.

I am pleased to say that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) was the architect of the grand scheme that has been in operation in this country since 1945. So well was it designed, and so well has it worked, that none of the Ministers in this Government who followed him has been prepared to alter it in any way. It is to the credit of the honorable member that he initiated this scheme in 1945 with the full approval of the Australian Labour party and of Mr. Chifley, the Prime Minister of the day, and that the scheme has worked so well. The work of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in this connexion has been to the advantage of the nation. Tt is primarily because of his work, which has been supported by his successors, that we have received more than 1,000,000 migrants since 1945. More than one-tenth of the Australian population to-day is composed of migrants who have come here since the cessation of hostilities.

They have been brought here for various reasons. First, displaced persons were brought here with the idea that we should apply to them the principles of Christian charity and provide a home for them. Secondly, we brought here from the United Kingdom people who were desirous of getting away from the threat and fear of war in the future. These people have come here primarily from Europe, and it is our boast that our Australian population comprises mainly people of British and European stock. These people have played a great role in the development of this nation. In the early days they were directed to various places of employment. They came -to a land which was strange to them in every respect and they shouldered their responsibilities very well. I know that they went to the centre of Western Australia and the far western plains of Queensland. They worked under extreme difficulties but they discharged their obligations to the Com monwealth in designated labour for two years. After having done that, they were permitted to be absorbed into the normal population of Australia.

I speak with knowledge when I say that J know that the citizens of Brisbane who are to-day enjoying some of the modern amenities of life, such as a water supply and, to some extent - I am sorry to say only a minor extent - sewerage extensions, are indebted to the new Australians who were brought here under the scheme designed by the honorable member for Melbourne, who is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to-day. These new Australians were handed over to the local authority and instructed to do certain work for two years under the direction of that authority. The citizens of Brisbane are indebted to these people for the grand work they have done.

The Labour party believes that we need more and more people in this country. We are an outpost of European civilization on the outskirts of Asia. Whilst honorable members might dispute this matter, I still claim as a fact that Australia is, geographically speaking, an Asiatic nation, but we are an Asiatic nation with a European civilization and a European culture. We have a great role to play in this peculiar position in which we find ourselves. We can do this best by increasing our population and bringing more and more of European culture and civilization to this country.

Mr J R FRASER - What do you believe the average family should be?

Mr COUTTS - I would say that I am very optimistically hopeful of being able to do as well as the honorable member for Moore. Admittedly, the opportunity must present itself. We need the population. Figures prepared by the former Minister for Immigration completely refute the figures of the honorable member for Moore. They show that migrants brought into this country at the adult stage effect an enormous saving in money to the nation. They have been educated, and education, as we all know is costly to the nation. I should like to see more and more of the population of Australian birth, but let us not sneer at those who come to this country completely educated and prepared to play their part in its construction and development. In a monetary sense, anyway, they have saved the various governments of this country a . considerable expenditure. When I speak of the various governments being saved money, naturally I mean that this Commonwealth Parliament has been saved considerable expenditure, because in the expenditure of money all things come back to this Parliament. There is only one thing on which the Premiers of the various States are united. That is, in asking the Commonwealth Parliament for more money.

We want more and more immigrants, but there is a responsibility devolving on the Parliament. The Australian Labour party believes that every immigrant should be sure of a job when he arrives. No man in his senses would say that this country cannot ensure that every immigrant can be placed in useful work.

Mr Duthie - If the right government is in office.

Mr COUTTS - Of course, there is that obstacle that the people are inflicting upon the nation. We have the wrong kind of government, which is apparently agreed that some section of the community must be unemployed. It is our party's policy that immigrants who come here should be provided with employment. We should not bring immigrants here only to put them into migrant hostels, or see that they have a job merely for a while and then become competitors on the employment market with those Australian-born people who are out of work.

Mr Hulme - Do they?

Mr COUTTS - Yes. We must see that those people who come here are, in their own interests, and in the interests of the rest of the Australian population, assured of employment. If that state of affairs is brought into being, I shall most wholeheartedly support a policy of continued immigration from European countries.

Whilst the Australian Labour party supports a policy of bringing more and more Britons to Australia, I should like to say a word in favour of those who come here from southern Europe. I represent an area which has in its population a very considerable number of persons who come from Greece. They are a very worthy and lawabiding section of the community, and they have played their role very well in the development of Australia. So far as Brisbane is concerned, these southern Euro peans certainly tend to congregate in the city, but nobody can point a finger at them. I refer particularly to those who come from Greece. Those who come from Italy have an outstanding monument to their credit in northern Queensland. They have played a commendable part in the development of what is possibly Australia's second most important primary industry, namely the sugar industry, and they have been assimilated very well into the Australian community. I do not think that we should be critical of these people who have behind them very proud traditions of art, culture, and European civilization, and who are being absorbed into this nation to the great advantage of its development.

I wish to make some reference to that part of the bill that deals with the very controversial issue of the dictation test. I am very pleased that the Minister has proposed that this be eliminated. He is very concerned with the situation as it stands, and it is to his credit that he proposes that an alteration be effected. He feels that persons whom we consider to be not desirable have been humiliated in the past by having the dictation test applied to them. We all know the case of a couple of people who were asked some years as>o to recite the Lord's Prayer in Gaelic and were unable to do so. The Department of Immigration thought that this was a complete triumph, but the High Court ruled that they were no' to be excluded on this ground. The Minister has taken a very humane stand on this very important issue. I have in my hand a booklet which contains the history of the dictation test and the reasons for its introduction in Australia. Its origin was primarily Queensland. A situation arose there during the period of great imperialist expansion from 1870 to the close of the nineteenth century. All European nations were trying to expand their colonial empires and Great Britain was no exception. This booklet, ' " Australia's Fight for Independence and Parliamentary Democracy ", states -

The White Australia Policy was almost from the beginning a racist policy which by the 1890's had descended to the lowest levels of racial bigot. While not a working class policy, the majority of the workers were deceived into it. The squatters had attempted to bring in cheap Asian labour in the Forties and later. Chinese were made the scapegoats of the declining gold yield in the Fifties. Chinese were used as strike-breakers in the Sixties and Seventies and in Queensland in the Eighties and Nineties indentured South Sea Islanders, torn from their homes by " blackbirders ", were the cheap labour on which Queensland sugar planters based a semislave plantation economy.

Those people were secured in raids by captains and crews of ships who were sent to the islands with the full approval of the Queensland Government. The natives were brought to Australia under the most horrible circumstances and were indentured to the Queensland sugar-growers. That is the basis of the successful Queensland sugar industry to-day, but, thanks to the pressure of the Australian Labour party, thi? system of semi-slave plantation economy was abolished ultimately.

However, great embarrassment was caused to the United Kingdom Government. Just before and after federation, this Commonwealth and the States were merely colonies of Great Britain and everything that happened here was subject to the veto of the British Secretary of State for the Colonies. There was a move in Australia to stop the blackbirding system, and I am proud to say that it was led by the Premier of Queensland whose name has been conferred on the electorate I represent. He was the first Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, Samuel Walker Griffith. He led the movement to stop the importation of kanakas into Australia. This was repugnant to the United Kingdom. The booklet to which I have already referred contains this comment -

Britain was reluctant to agree to exclusion - that is, of all people of Asian or African birth - because it was difficult to explain in terms of her own colonial empire which contained hundreds of millions of people of the kind that Australia sought to exclude. Britain was also engaged in building an alliance with Japan designed to strengthen her own position in relation to her European imperialist rivals. Thus she refused to sanction Australian legislation to exclude all people of African and Asian origin. The hypocritical compromise reached with the new Commonwealth Government after 1901 was prohibition by the dictation test, a procedure that had already been tried out in the British colony of Natal.

This was the unjust and hypocritical test that has survived since 1901 until the present. It is to the credit of the present Minister for Immigration that provision is being made in this bill, the first he has presented to the Parliament, to abolish this false method of excluding people from Australia. The basis of the test has been that if an intending immigrant could not say the Lord's Prayer or something else in a language completely foreign to him, he was prevented from entering the country. The Minister is prepared to act as a gentleman in the administration of his department, just as he does in private life, and is ready to inform persons in appropriate cases that they are considered to be undesirable immigrants.

There is nothing in this bill upon which we can criticize the Minister. I have spoken principally of the dictation test, and I am happy to know that a change is to be made in that connexion under the direction of the Minister.

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