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Tuesday, 4 May 1971

Senator McMANUS (Victoria) - I have listened with great interest to what Senator Mulvihill has had to say. I support what he has said because I have had comparable experience. Some years ago the Government announced that there would be a liberalisation of our immigration policies in regard to non-Europeans. That liberalisation was received with a considerable amount of approval both inside and outside this country. For some years a liberalised policy was operated by the Department of Immigration, but in the last 2 years or so I have noticed a hardening of the attitude of the Department or of the administration, whichever it may be. I have spoken to other members of the Parliament belonging to the Liberal Party, Australian Country Party, my own Party and the Australian Labor Party and have found agreement that there has been a hardening of our immigration policies against Asians and non-Europeans over the last couple of years. I do not think that this has done Australia's reputation in Eastern countries any good. Every week or so a story appears in the newspapers about somebody being driven out of this country. I have had publicity sent to me by friends of mine in Asian countries indicating that such stories are not doing Australia any good.

I receive, as other members do, long letters from the Department of Immigration. I have a lot of respect for the Department, but lately I have been getting long letters from the Department couched in administrative terms to the effect that this is a rule and that is a rule and the person concerned must go home. There have been times when I have received a different type of letter, when there has been more of a tendency to be liberal and humane than I have noticed in the last couple of years. I will cite an example similar to that given by Senator Mulvihill. It concerns a nurse of Chinese origin who came here from Singapore and became most highly qualified. She was here for 7 or 8 years and was well assimilated. A position was available for her in the Preston and Northcote Community Hospital, the administration of which was very anxious to have her services. However, she was informed that she must go back to Singapore because of the policy that Asians should go home and place their services at the disposal of their own countries. She produced letters after she went home, and I forwarded them to the Department, saying that in her case a position commensurate with her qualifications was not available there. I presented the evidence but the Department insisted that she had to go home.

There is quite a number of such cases. I have recently received a letter from a missionary who has lived for years in Hong Kong. He points out that in a considerable number of categories positions are not available there because educationally a good part of Hong Kong is advanced; in certain accountancy spheres positions are not available. Apparently after these people are sent home from Australia their services may be needed in some areas, but in other areas they are obviously not needed. They are ordered out of the country. Canada, which has a much more liberal policy, may take them, but in other cases they go over the border to Communist China which gets the advantage of their services.

Some years ago we adopted a reasonably liberalised policy. It was being implemented with humanity and reason, but over the last 2 or 3 years for some reason of which I am not aware, there has been a change and the strict letter of the law is being applied. I believe that that is unnecessary and is gravely damaging Australia's reputation in Asian countries which we would want to be friends of ours. As to the argument that people should go home and serve their countries if there is a shortage in their' particular vocations, I point out that there is a shortage of doctors in country areas in Australia. There is a grave shortage of doctors, is there not? Does our Government propose to ask the Government of the United Kingdom to send home to Australia doctors who qualify over there because their services are required in their own country? Not a bit of it. I simply say once again that we ought to have a good hard look at our immigration policies. If we want to be friendly with Asia, as we say we want to be, our immigration laws ought to be implemented with humanity and reason. We should not continue the unfortunate trend of recent years which I believe is damaging us in the eyes of Asian people.

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