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Thursday, 18 May 1972
Page: 2843


Mr GRASSBY (Riverina) - I rise tonight to raise a matter because of my long association with the Good Neighbour Movement of Australia and also because some of the people concerned have spread to areas as far as the electorate of Riverina. I had previously mentioned to the Minister for Immigration (Dr Forbes) that I would be raising this matter tonight and I am glad to see him in the chamber. Migrants from 60 countries are still coming to Australia and in the past year or so nearly 2,000 of the flower nf South American single womanhood have come to Sydney and Melbourne from Peru, Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay. They have come in circumstances which have earned Australia a bad name, particularly in Peru. About 1,000 attractive, well educated and well raised senoritas have come from Peru and are currently in Sydney. About 700 have gone to Melbourne. I rise tonight to draw attention to their plight, to the inadequacies of the immigration programme and to propose immediate corrective action by our authorities both here and in the South American countries concerned.

It is the opinion of the girls themselves that the Australian Government has brought them to this country as marriage fodder. They point out that of the 1,000 Peruvians in Sydney there are about 3 males. So they note Australia has recruited this large number of single girls and encouraged them to come here while finding visas for only a small number of men. These single girls find when they get here that there is a big imbalance in migrant intake - they meet more migrants than they do Australians - in favour of single men from many countries. Rightly or wrongly they feel that the Government has looked upon them as marriage fodder to correct an imbalance in the Australian community.

A meeting of a representative group of young Peruvian senoritas and Australians who have been trying to help them took place in Sydney recently. I raise this matter tonight following that quite informal meeting at the request of both the girls and their Australian friends. A uniform complaint is that the picture they had of Australia and opportunities here has proved false. Almost all of these girls have had tertiary education. They left Peru in most cases because of unrest at university and uncertainty about graduate job opportunities. They came here with a picture in their minds of a wealthy country, a wealthy people and boundless opportunities for work commensurate with their education. They believed that they would be able to take a 3 months crash course in English which would be adequate. They believed that positions would then be readily available at good salaries that would enable them to have reasonable accommodation and a reasonable life. They were told also that they would have good hotel accommodation on arrival and no language difficulties. Remember that we are dealing with girls from sheltered homes in most cases, a high standard of living, speaking no English or very little English, knowing nothing of Australia and having no kinship links here. So they arrive and find that they have a week's hotel stay. That is arranged. But after that they have been moved to inner city accommodation shared with many who are very nigh destitute. In all this time there has been no provision - so they complain - of Spanish speakers, and they have had to stumble along alone but for tenuous contact with other girls from their home country as and when they could get together.

They report that eventually an officer arrived with the anxiously awaited news of employment. One girl with 2 years university training in public administration was put on a machine in a factory to make trousers. She had never been in a factory before. She found it impossible to follow the instructions. Not surprisingly she ruined 3 pairs of trousers. After that a very tolerant employer - the employer has my deep sympathy - put her to work in the pressing room, where she remains. I think that is where the trousers end up before their eventual dispersement. Another girl, a fully qualified teacher in her own country found herself a domestic in a hospital. Yet another was given an unskilled hospital job, although on slightly better status. Another fully qualified teacher found refuge in the office of Catholic Welfare in Sydney. I have been writing to State and Federal authorities on her behalf to try to get her back into her profession.

I draw attention to what they have reported in connection with the crash language course. They had pinned their hopes on this. They discovered that there is a 3 months crash course but there is a waiting period of about li years to get into it, with migrants and Colombo Plan students all trying to participate. Some of the girls fondly imagined wealthy Australians with big houses and complements of servants in the best tradition of the Deep South or the deeper south of the Spanish Americas, and they ended up as suburban skivvies. This is rather different from what they had in their minds. Naturally they have written home, and their experiences and disappointments have made the front pages in Peru. One mother was so distraught that she called her son in the United States and had him fly to Sydney to take his sister home. Ironically enough this was a girl who had survived the initial difficulties of the settlement period and wanted to stay. But such was the influence of a bad Press. The fact is that our national image is being smudged in the southern Americas. There is no doubt that very many of these nearly 2,000 senoritas believe that they have been imported as marriage fodder.

So we need action. I ask the Minister for Immigration to review urgently the briefing given in South America to single girls applying to come to Australia, to ensure that they do not leave Peru and other countries with the wrong picture of Australia and the conditions here. I am not saying that anyone in the Embassy deliberately sought to mislead, because this would be rubbish. But there is no doubt that what Embassy officials are saying and what the girls are taking in is not a right and proper communication of the situation here. So the officials have to improve their communication with the prospective migrants. I also ask the Minister to arrange for a Spanish speaking task force urgently to ensure that these girls are not being exploited. 1 do not need to stress the point to the Minister. There are considerable dangers for large numbers of pretty, well educated but lonely girls in a big, strange foreign city with all sorts of temptations and predators. I think that the Minister with his sensitivity will recognise the need to do something in this regard. This task forces could be made up of personnel retained by the Department of Immigration - very able and skilled personnel - and also representatives of the Good Neighbour Council in the 2 cities of Sydney and Melbourne.

I also ask him to explore the proposal being advanced by a welfare officer with the Catholic Migration Office in Sydney to establish some improved and continuing hostel accommodation. Above all there is an evident need to inquire into the situation in regard to language training. There is no doubt that the promises about the language seem to have been pretty definite. They were probably made in error, but promises they were, and we should try to redeem them. I would stress that these girls are not $20 tourists at the Australian taxpayers' expense, but have raised their own fares and paid their own way. If the nation is to continue to recruit some of the flower of South American womanhood I want to be sure that we need them; that there is a place for them; that we fulfil our promises, and that we do not by either accident or design recruit marriage fodder. I seem to recall that in the last century *.he colonial government ran female factories from which single males selected their mates. That system is a century out of date. I do not think we ought to revive it in 1972. I do not think that the Depart ment set out deliberately to do that, but I suggest that there is a need for action in this regard. I am grateful to the Minister for Immigration for being here tonight to listen to the report compiled after a full and extensive discussion of the problem with a representative cross-section of the girls concerned.







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