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Wednesday, 14 September 1983
Page: 761

Mr WEST (Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs)(3.11) —I have detected no alarm in the migrant communities. As I have moved around Australia I have detected only support of the warmest kind for all that we are trying to do for the migrants and permanent residents of Australia and for those people who have joined us from other lands and have taken out citizenship. In the short time available to me I want to quickly tell honourable members of a much broader scope of policies that I have not yet had the opportunity of explaining in the House. The Opposition's view has been concentrated on several issues of a most narrow kind. The first decision that I and the Government had to make was whether to continue with a large scale migration program during a time of high unemployment and depression. Of course, because over four million people, who were born overseas, were already in Australia, I knew that we had to continue with the migration program.

We are a nation of immigrants, whether we like it or not. We have been a nation of immigrants since 1788, but particularly since the Second World War. So we opted for a program of some 90,000 visaed migrants this financial year, which is slightly more than the former Government achieved in 1982-83. There will be more family reunions-some 57,000-and 20,000 refugees. The reason we were able to attain that number is that we knew it was not viable to continue bringing here people who were allegedly skilled for jobs that no longer existed. That is why I have toned down employer nomination and occupational demand as separate categories. The former Government had commenced winding that down. This financial year we expect about 6,000 in that category to immigrate.

I was concerned that, on the instruction of the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations, last year we were receiving schedules of 80-odd different categories. The previous Government had reduced the number of categories to 20 and I am in the process of reducing it further. We found belatedly that boilermakers and stenographers were coming to Australia, when employment collapsed last year, for jobs that no longer existed. In that situation of course I make no apologies for turning the emphasis back on family reunion. I repeat: This year some 6,000 people will immigrate under the business migration, employer nomination and occupational demand categories-about 2,500 workers. The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) and I are now working on a revised schedule, a revised approach, towards ensuring that if an employer really needs a person will skills which are in demand in Australia we can meet that requirement. But we are not going to bring people here when they know that jobs no longer exist.

I addressed another issue: The trans-Tasman problem. Everyone seemed to be saying that we have to interfere with the free flow. We looked at that matter, examined the trade implcations, the employment implications, the social and historical implications and, of course, we took the right decision. The Prime Minister of New Zealand congratulated us on it when he was here. What about that decision? Has it not been applauded?

I turn to working holidays which honourable members opposite seem to be so concerned about. First of all, it is a complete mistake to say that we are rigid , that I have no discretion, and I have absolved myself of all discretion, simply because I have cracked down on working holiday makers. Let us look at the facts. Working holiday makers agree to come here for 12 months and to work for three months in one job only. It is a cultural scheme. In 1982 under the previous Government's scheme 18,467 came to Australia but only 7,200 Australians went out. Straight away there was an imbalance that had to be corrected. The previous Government allowed 1,000 people, who had said that they did not want to change residence, to change residence mainly on occupational grounds. I make no apologies for this. I do not think that that action is justified.

Many hundreds of thousands of young Australians and young permanent residents who join us from other lands cannot get jobs at this time. Working holiday makers sign a piece of paper which says: 'I will not seek permanent residence. I will work for three months in a particular job to supplement my working holiday and then move on'. They then come here, get a job and blatantly continue working for up to 12 months. Then, because the employers think that they are good workers, or because they can get their employers to say that they are good workers to suit their own ends, they seek to change their status to permanent resident. There are some very severe implications if we let people get away with that. We are trying to run a tight, firm but fair immigration policy with emphasis on refugees and family reunions and some emphasis on occupational demand. Whatever the shadow Minister says, it is a back door migration scheme if we let it get out of hand. It is not true to say that no one is changing status.

Mr Cadman —But it was not out of hand.

Mr WEST —It was out of hand. It was a side door migration intake scheme for people who in many cases did not get through the normal migration system. I am still allowing ministerial discretion, on compassionate grounds, under section 6A (1) (E) of the Migration Act. We are very tight with people seeking employment but not with those seeking to migrate on compassionate grounds. That is the position with working holiday makers. As every honourable member knows, discretion is still being used to allow in people who may not normally get through the points system.

I now address myself to the much broader scale of migration policies instead of just working holiday makers. I realised that the system which operated under the former Government-that is, one of sponsored entry-benefited those people who were highly educated, English speaking and quite wealthy. Family reunion, at a time of recession, is a humanitarian program. It should not be seen as a program to bring in people to fill jobs. That is what the former Government did. It had a family reunion program when it was not having a family reunion program. Under the points system a lot of people were more entitled than others to family reunion. What I did was revise it. It is not true to say that English speaking migrants are disadvantaged. All we did was ensure that non-English speaking migrants were not disadvantaged, and that is a different thing altogether. As an inventive I have given more points to citizenship than to permanent residence. That is the sort of thing we are doing in that area. I am quite proud to say that it is now easier for people from the lower end of the socio-economic scale, from non-Commonwealth countries, to get into Australia than it was. However, we are trying not to make that to the disadvantage of English speaking people.

I now turn to refugees because that is another significant area in which we have made significant progress. We have held the numbers. We have introduced two programs: The United Nations type assisted passage program of 15,000 funded places with 2,000 in contingency reserve and the special humanitarian program of 3,000 funded places. That is very important. The honourable member for Denison ( Mr Hodgman) mentioned south and central America. I make no apologies for the fact that under the humanitarian program we have provided sanctuary for people from El Salvador amnestyed from prison on civil rights grounds. Almost 100 of them have come here recently. I took action for the Sri Lankans recently. We have made special provisions under the family reunion category and special humanitarian program for Sri Lankans and similarly for the Lebanese. I announced in the House last week how we were ameliorating the entry procedures for the Lebanese. On the other side of the political coin, if you like, I have also approved the entry under an ongoing program-the special humanitarian program-of 400-odd Assyrians who are anchored in, I think, Rome and Athens. They come from the Middle East, from Iraq and Syria, where they have suffered persecution. They will be coming to Australia to join families who are out here. What is more, I intend in the near future to take up the Chilean question once again. If all goes well I may be in a position to announce in the very near future that we will take special measures, taking into account what is going on in Chile at the moment. I make no apologies for all of this.

Recently I went to Honolulu to an inter-government consultation on refugees with the Americans, the Canadians and the Japanese. We agreed we would continue with resettlement. We agreed to continue to internationalise the Indo-Chinese problem and to bring the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees into it more. I pushed a mix of policies, not just resettlement, but the matter of orderly departure from Vietnam, which really means family reunion instead of unorganised departure. I pushed the concept of voluntary repatriation where possible. I then went to the Association of South East Asian Nations and spoke to the Foreign Ministers of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. I also spoke to the Prime Minister of Thailand. Every one of them agreed with our current refugee policy. I admit we inherited some of that from the former Government; we have simply diversified it to a great degree. The ASEAN nations have agreed to continue to be places of first refuge. We have agreed to continue with moderate resettlement. They all agree that we should continue, through the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden), to talk to Vietnam about orderly departure from Vietnam and the possible voluntary repatriation of minors and to tackle finally the problem of voluntary repatriation of Laotians and Kampucheans . If we can work with the Vietnamese Government to achieve that instead of seeing them all flee to Thailand, of course we will do so. There would be no more tragic consequence for Australia's relations with the ASEAN nations than to take notice of the conservatives and the conservative organisations in this country who would urge us to break off from these refugee programs. We are not going to listen to them. These are positive things.

I say this: We live in a multicultural society. We accept that. Whether we like it or not, it is here. What we will do is try to ensure that the multiculturalism which exists does not become an instrument of class repression in the sense that people who cannot speak English very well are downtrodden socially as a result of their ethnicity. The Government will provide programs for such people. The Opposition while in government did the same thing to a lesser degree through mainstreaming and through providing extra programs. The former Government had got into a position whereby funds for migrant resource centres were pegged and grants-in-aid were not increasing. There had been no progress in devolving NAATI-The National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters-to the States.

Let us look quickly at what we have done in the last Budget. We have provided extra funds for creating permanency in the adult migrant education service. We will move towards that as quickly as we can. We will particularly address the matter of teachers who have had two years or more in full time casual work. We have provided extra funds for 60-odd more grants-in-aid. That means that 140 to 200 more grants will be allocated by December this year. We are expanding the number of English courses available on the job in industry through the adult migrant education program. We will also increase child care facilities by providing some $200,000 during 1983-84. The grants-in-aid will cost us $1.6m extra in a full financial year. The finances of migrant resource centres were pegged for several years. We increased the funding by 45 per cent in the last autumn appropriations and in the last Budget. They are some of the things we are doing for programming.

Let us turn to the area of legislation. The honourable member for Denison mentioned the Migraton Act. Yes, we have amended the Migration Act. We removed the discrimination between immigrants and aliens, between Commonwealth and non- Commonwealth citizens. Yes, I have extended the same sort of amnesty on criminal deportation of non-Commonwealth citizens that Commonwealth citizens have enjoyed for many years. In the security area, where it was possible before to deport people at the Minister's whim because he said their character could not stand up to scrutiny, it is now possible to deport only on security grounds people who have had up to 10 years residence, unless they have been convicted under the Act , and then they have a right of appeal. They are the sorts of things we are doing across a whole range of areas-legislation, programming, mainstreaming and the intake program itself.

Finally, before this session is over, we will address the long-standing problems in the Citizenship Act. We will address the problem of complaints about the taking of an oath and the necessity to have a commanding knowledge of the English language. We will have a look at the application provisions. I have decided on and set up a review of the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs. As I have said, we have devolved NAATI to the States. We have set up a review of the intake of private overseas students, which I mentioned this morning in my address to the House. So we reject everthing that the honourable member for Denison said. We are trying to ameliorate the conditions in the prohibited immigrant detention centres, such as Villawood. The Human Rights Commission report will be taken into consideration. Across that whole range of policies I have proved that the honourable member is not correct.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) —Order! The Minister's time has expired.