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Wednesday, 17 September 1958

Mr DOWNER (Angas) (Minister for Immigration) . - in reply - I will not detain the House very long on this matter. I am glad that the Opposition concurs with the Government's point of view in bringing this legislation forward. Personally, I feel that it will fulfil something which a great many of European settlers in Australia have desired for quite a considerable time. If we are really sincere - as I assume all of us are - when we say that we wish to bring about the quickest assimilation possible of our new settlers now that they have come to dwell among us, this is an earnest on the Government's part of one of the many ways in which this can be accelerated.

As the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) pointed out, this bill is designed primarily to remove the grievances of our new Australian settlers. It is in that context that I wish to address myself to what my friend the honorable member for Isaacs (Mr. Haworth) has said. I take this opportunity to explain to him publicly what circumstances have prevented me from doing privately: That while I appreciate his private conversations with me some time earlier on the matters that have been troubling him regarding nationality legislation, I did not anticipate that the bill would come before the chamber so soon. Therefore, through no fault of my own, I have not been able to conduct my negotiations with him. However, that will not preclude us, I hope, from continuing our discussions in the future.

The matters that the honorable member raised in his very lucid speech merit discussion and careful consideration. I do not feel, however, at this stage that I would like to commit myself one way or the other. The points that the honorable member has raised involve some intricacy. If they are to be treated seriously, they deserve some study. I hope that he will not press his objection just now to the point of moving an amendment, because I think if he did so, it would be rather outside what is the primary scope of this bill which, as I said a few moments ago, is concerned with removing from the minds of new Australians any impression that they are being discriminated against.

Of course, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it is always possible, as the honorable member for Isaacs has said, to quote exceptional cases. I think he used the old phrase that hard cases make bad law. As one who, in my youth, studied the law - although, alas, I confess I have forgotten most of it now - I always thought that that was a very good maxim and it is one of the few maxims that have stuck profoundly in my memory. The honorable member's contention that the grandchildren of Australian residents abroad would necessarily be advantaged in having every facility possible made available to them to become Australians is arguable. Even people of the first generation, after many years of residence in a foreign country, however emotional and sentimental they may feel towards their native land, nonetheless tend to become assimilated, perhaps unconsciously, to the country of their adoption. I think the honorable gentleman will concede that that argument is inevitably multiplied many times in the case of grandchildren, most of whom, I would take it, might not have seen Australia at all or, if they did, would see it only on transient visits.

Further, it seems to me, in the short time that I have had to consider the honorable member's complaint, that it is not unreasonable that Australians abroad should be asked to register their children so born. That, after all, is an elementary duty. For the life of me, I cannot see any reason why they should be absolved from having to perform that office. After all, there must be limitations in the way the legislature could be invited to protect the subject - the ordinary citizen - against his own carelessness or even his own folly.

However, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I do not want the honorable member for Isaacs to think that I have a closed mind in this matter. I do not want him to feel that I have animadversions to his opinions and that I have dismissed this matter from my consideration. That is far from the truth. I shall give it the due care and investigation that it warrants, and if I find myself still in this office in another year and if I become convinced on inquiry and further study that his case is sound, I shall be quite prepared to consider afresh some amending legislation.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.

Bill - by leave - read a third time.

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