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Thursday, 25 May 1972
Page: 3105


Dr FORBES (Barker) (Minister for Immigration) - The approach of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) to this question all through has been shallow, crude and ill thought out. This was well demonstrated by my colleague, the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth), in his second-reading speech.


Dr J F Cairns (LALOR, VICTORIA) - That is asserted.


Dr FORBES - The honourable member for Lalor can make his speech later. The Minister, in his second-reading speech, pointed out some of the crudities of the Leader of the Opposition's own Bill which repeated the shallowness of the Labor Party's approach to this problem, and the Leader of the Opposition has not chosen to answer those charges. He has not chosen to answer today the charge that he brought into this House a Bill purporting to be in the interests of migrants, which sought to confine the granting or the portability of pensions to Australian citizens, thereby excluding a large number of very good migrants to this country who have made a substantial contribution to it. The Leader of the Opposition has not answered the charge made by the Minister for Social Services that he brought into the House a Bill that would have precluded this country, through the mechanism of reciprocal agreements, from doing what it could in relation to Australian born residents of this country who wanted to go and live in other countries, and in relation to new migrants to this country, to get through our negotiating position the best possible deal on the rights that those migrants accrued in their countries of origin..

The Leader of the Opposition has not answered that charge. In fact, in the very amendment he has moved he has stood firm on the same position. Of course, the fact is that the whole approach of honourable members opposite to this matter has been a result of their general attitude to migration. They suddenly woke up to the fact that they have offended, and deeply offended, a large proportion of our migrant population, and that many of our migrant population, because they have chosen to become Australian citizens, have votes. That is the reason for this exercise, which has been a rather crude, shallow attempt to retrieve the position and reach out for the migrant vote. However, in this process, as I have said and as the Minister for Social Services has said, the Opposition has advocated policies which even the migrants themselves will see are against their own best long term interests.

If I may say so, it is characteristic of the Leader of the Opposition that the facts do not appear to matter if he thinks he can achieve his objective; the damage he can do to our migration programme does not appear to matter if he thinks he can achieve his objective; the damage that he does to Australia, to our own country, does not appear to matter if he thinks he can achieve his immediate objective. Every argument the Leader of the Opposition used in this debate today, and when introducing his own Bill, and every statement he has made at naturalisation ceremonies - misusing ceremonies of naturalisation around the country - has been a distortion or a bending of the truth, as I will now proceed to demonstrate.

The Leader of the Opposition has claimed that negotiations for social service agreements with migrant source countries have dragged on for many years. In fact, our migration agreements with those countries did not and do not constitute a commitment to enter also into social service agreements with those countries, as the honourable gentleman well knows. We undertook, firstly, to study the possibility of reciprocal social service agreements and, secondly, to make efforts towards reaching agreements. Logically, a study of the possibility of reciprocal social service agreements must precede efforts towards reaching agreements. As the Minister for Social Services has already stated in this House, following consideration by Cabinet an inter-departmental committee was established as long ago as December 1969.

It is indicative both of the complexity of the issues involved - something that the Leader of the Opposition has not even begun to understand - and also of the importance attached to them that the departments concerned, including my own Department, appointed very senior officers to work on this committee. The report of the committee went to Cabinet in December 1971. So much for the grandstanding of the Leader of the Opposition when he said that, somehow or other, he fixed this up on his trip overseas last Christmas. Although I cannot be quite certain of this, I would say that almost certainly the Minister's first submission to Cabinet reached the Cabinet office before the honourable gentleman ever left for overseas. As I said, it was followed by a submission to Cabinet in December and in January this year the decision was announced by the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon).

Two months have elapsed since the study of the possibility of reciprocal social service agreements was completed and the findings endorsed by Cabinet. In that short time we have indicated generally to our migrant source countries that Australia would be happy to consider reciprocal agreements on portable pensions and we have specifically approached 13 governments of migrant source countries. All the Leader of the Opposition can talk about is that, in the process, we have not approached or been approached by representatives of the governments of what he called the captive nation countries. He cannot have had much contact with the representatives of the captive nations who have come to this country if he believes that any migrants from those countries will return to them, with or without a pension, while those countries remain under their present regimes.

The Leader of the Opposition has placed great emphasis on the words:

.   . the fall in the number of migrants from countries from which we received a significant number of migrants since the last World War..

The Leader of the Opposition used that expression in his introductory speech to his own Bill earlier this session and he repeated it in his speech this afternoon. He claimed on both occasions that 'Australia is failing to attract migrants'. They were the exact words used by the Leader of the Opposition. He said - I repeat the phrase - that 'Australia is failing to attract migrants'. Yet the immigration policies of the Australian Labor Party advocate and require that the Commonwealth Government should withdraw from the search for migrants. The Leader of the Opposition has also said that, under a Labor government, fewer migrants would come to Australia. So far as our traditional source countries are concerned, this certainly is true. As 1 have pointed out on a number of occasions recently, the new policies of the Australian Labor Party in relation to our traditional sources would cut assisted migration from Britain by more than 60 per cent and virtually eliminate migration from such countries as Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, France, Switzerland, the United States of America and the countries of Latin America. In addition, the immigration policies of the Australian Labor Party would mean significantly fewer migrants coming to Australia from such countries as Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia and Malta. Indeed, it is because migrants from those countries realise this - and the Leader of the Opposition has woken up to the fact that they realise it - that he has begun to become concerned about the migrant vote in the coming election. This is the reason why he has rushed in with these ill-thought proposals in relation to pensions - because the migrants know that this will be the effect of the approach of the Australian Labor Party to migration.

Yet, in the face of the proposals of the Australian Labor Party in relation to migration, the honourable gentleman has the hide to say that he is now concerned that Australia is failing to attract migrants. How well founded is that concern? To justify the assertion that Australia is failing to attract migrants, the Leader of the Opposition quoted statistics by which he sought to compare the number of migrants from various countries last year with what he described as the peak year. Logically, one would expect migration in any other year to be less than migration in the peak year. Quite apart from this exercise in logic, the figures quoted by the Leader of the Opposition are very seriously misleading, as are nearly all the figures quoted by him in every field. The peak year statistics which he has quoted relate in every instance to permanent and long term arrivals, whereas the figures he has quoted for 1970-71 relate to settler arrivals. Settler statistics are available for the period from January 1959 onwards. They show a quite different picture to that presented by the Leader of the Opposition. For example, in his speech on the second reading of his Bill, the Social Services Bill (No. 2) earlier this session he claimed that:

The number of migrants from Lebanon has fallen from 5,669--

He loves to be precise - in the peak year to 4,005 last year.

The figure of 5,669 relates to the number of long-term and permanent arrivals from

Lebanon in 1969-70.


Mr Kennedy - You really are very clever.


Dr FORBES - That is very good, coming from the honourable member who interjected. However, the number of settler arrivals from Lebanon in 1969-70 was 4,083, only 78 more than the 4,005 settlers from that country in 1970-71.

Similarly, the Leader of the Opposition said that the number of migrants from Germany had fallen from 63,982 to 4,872. In fact, the figure of 63,982 relates to the number of long-term and permanent arrivals, including displaced persons, who came to Australia in 1949-50. He referred also to a fall in migration from Cyprus. la fact, the 1,054 settler arrivals from that country in 1970-71, are the largest number recorded since settler statistics have been kept. He also said - without quoting from any statistics - that there was also a drop in the number of migrants from Yugoslavia. In this, the Leader of the Opposition was mathematically precise; there was a drop. In 1969-70- the peak year - 14,097 settlers arrived in Australia from Yugoslavia. In 1970-71, 14,096 settlers arrived in Australia from Yugoslavia- one fewer than in the previous record year.

The year 1970-71 was not, however, the period of unrelieved gloom which the statistics quoted by the Leader of the Opposition might suggest. Settler arrivals in 1970-71 from such countries as the United States of America, Canada and other countries In the Americas, Switzerland, Portugal and the Union of South Africa were the highest ever recorded. However, this did not suit his argument. He could not misquote those figures so he did not mention them at all. The Leader of the Opposition also referred to the number of former settlers leaving Australia. He returned to that again this afternoon and quoted statistics to show that these numbers had increased. But the fact is that the number of overseas-born persons living in Australia has increased also. In December last an estimated 2.6 million people living in Australia had been born overseas. Measured against this very large settler element in our population and the fact that in the 3 years ended 30th June 1971 Australia received more than half a million migrants, the figures quoted by the Leader of the Opposition retreat into their true perspective. He stated also that 311,952 migrants were eligible for naturalisation but had not been naturalised. This is essentially a reiteration of a previous statement by him which I described at the time as a clear misrepresentation of the facts. In publicly correcting the statement on that occasion I said:

That truth is that at 30th June 1971, the latest time for which statistics are available, there were 228,700 people eligible to seek naturalisation who had not applied for it.

I pointed out also that the experience of the Department of Immigration gauged over 25 years of immigration was that migrants generally waited more than 8 years before deciding to apply for citizenship. The

Leader of the Opposition ignores this. He also ignores the fact that the proportion of eligible migrants who seek naturalisation in Australia compares more than favourably with the experiences pf other migrants - receiving countries. Furthermore, there is no evidence to support his speculations as to the reasons why a percentage of migrants hesitate to seek citizenship. To apply for citizenship is one of the most significant steps taken by a migrant in his new country. It is also a step which every migrant should undertake voluntarily of his or her own free will, without any suggestion of coercion.

The Leader of the Opposition has stated also that there is hesitation in recognising migrants' professional or trade qualifications. He has given this as one of the reasons why they go home or do not come here in the first place. As to trade qualifications, a tripartite mission in 1968-69 visited 17 migrant-source countries and, following its report, new criteria have been introduced which are working very well. The position in regard to professional qualifications is far more complex. The role of the Commonwealth in this sphere has been limited, in the words of my colleague the Treasurer (Mr Snedden), a previous Minister for Immigration, to vigorous advocacy. Nevertheless, the Committee on Overseas Professional Qualifications established by the Commonwealth Government has, with the co-operation of the various professional associations and registration boards, been making a solid attack on the problems involved.

Finally I want to put in its proper context the suggestion that in providing for a 20-year residential period for portable pensions the Government is denying this facility to the great majority of migrants. The Leader of the Opposition quoted figures intended to establish that the great majority of Italian, Greek, Dutch, Yugoslav and German migrants had been in Australia for less than 20 years. From this he concluded that the 20-year residential requirement for portable pensions would stop them from returning to their homelands with an Australian age pension. There is, I must admit, an even more fundamental reason why they cannot do this. The fact is that the great majority of migrants to whom the Leader of the Opposition refers are some 30 to 35 years too young to receive an Australian age pension, either here or in their homelands. By the time they are old enough to qualify for an age pension they also will have met the residential requirements for portability.







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