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Thursday, 13 October 1983
Page: 1785

Mr WEST (Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs)(9.17) —The previous speaker, the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Hand), is absolutely right. I do not have anything to answer. The very few points that Opposition speakers and shadow Ministers made during the debate have already been dealt with. It is amazing that, with the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of appropriations in the estimates for the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, they have not been able to find anything to criticise in policies and programs. As has already been pointed out, there has been a 14 per cent increase in monetary terms in the vote for the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. I have already dealt with the allegations that the intake under our family reunion program is not as high as it might be. I pointed out that it will be at least double the figure the previous Government allowed into Australia. I pointed out how the refugee program had been diversified and how we had corrected any imbalances that remained in the program inherited from the previous Government. I have given the reasons why we will not reinstitute the United Kingdom Big Brother Movement migration program.

All our efforts in government and all my efforts as Minister have been to remove division and discrimination from migration policies. All I have heard tonight from the shadow Minister, the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) , and some of the other speakers on behalf of the Opposition have been attempts to stir up more discrimination and more division. We are removing discrimination from the Migration Act. As I have already pointed out, the amendments are now before the Senate. We will continue to amend that Act when we get the report from the Human Rights Commission with regard to the civil liberties position. The Aliens Act may be repealed in the near future because it is discriminatory. The Citizenship Act will soon be amended and I will come to that in a moment.

We are doing this because we know that Australia-this is one of the few correct points to which the Opposition referred-is a nation of immigrants. It is true that we are the second greatest migrant nation today. We have been a nation of immigrants for 200-odd years but even more so since the policies instigated by Arthur Calwell as our first Minister for Immigration after the Second World War. That imposes a great many responsibilities on us. We are a multicultural society , as I have been pointing out to migrants groups all around Australia. We are a multicultural society by virtue of the fact that these policies have produced for Australia over four million people born overseas and at least six million people who were born overseas or who have a parent born overseas. If we are to prevent that very multiculturalism from becoming an instrument of class repression in itself, in the sense that it creates certain disadvantages in some migrant communities, we have to put special programs in place to combat that. We recognise that. I do not think the previous Government did. We will do that in two ways-by mainstreaming, by making sure that migrants know about what is available under general programs, be they employment services, social security, education services, health services or whatever. We must use the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs to create special policies to overcome the disadvantages for a disadvantaged group.

Let me briefly give honourable members some figures which they failed to address during the debate. We have increased the grants-in-aid program by sixty additional grants. That was the one policy honourable members opposite referred to in the debate on the appropriations. We are giving an extra $1.6m a year for that purpose, lifting the total outlay to $5m. The adult migrant education program is very important; so we are allocating $1m extra in these appropriations this year to create teacher permanency. We hope that over the next two years at least 65 per cent of the teaching hours in the service will be met by permanent teachers. That is how it ought to be.

Mr Hodgman —That is good, but you are still not paying them what you promised you would pay them.

Mr WEST —We are saying that this year-I have already asked the State to give me the figures to show that this money will be spent-we will employ, as a starting point, all those who have two years service as full time casuals. That is the starting point and I intend to see that over the next couple of years our campaign promise is implemented. But the former Government of which the honourable member was a member did nothing. The teachers have been correctly complaining about this for years under the former Government and nothing was done. We are making an attempt to give justice to the Teachers Federation and its migrant education service. We will also expand the courses in industry so that workers can learn English on the job. We have allocated an extra $1m for courses in industry. So much for the migrant education service.

The appropriations give a great deal of attention to the problems of migrant women. We have allocated $550,000-odd to allow child care services within the adult migrant education classrooms. We have allowed $200,000 through the women's emergency service programs for the employment of ethnic social workers in women' s refuges. The migrant resource centres which, of course, emanated from the former Galbally report, were pegged in financial outlays for several years. Since this Government took office, we have increased the outlay for migrant resource centres by 45 per cent. The final top up is in this Budget.

We think that interpreter services inside State departments to provide services for migrants are very important. There has been a huge increase in finance available to the States to employ interpreters because they had been in a very run down position. Under the former Government no agreement had been formulated at all for Western Australia, Tasmania or the Northern Territory. The honourable member for Denison should take note that I have already written to the State Premiers who do not have the agreeements. I have offered them money and asked them to join with us in an agreement to allow their interpreters to be employed in order to provide a service that they did not have before.

Mr Hodgman —I will support you.

Mr WEST —The honourable member should get on to Gray and tell him to sign an agreement with me. There is some money there. There is 100 per cent in the first year from the Commonwealth and 50 per cent on a dollar for dollar basis thereafter to employ translators in the State departments such as health commissions and so on. But they have not signed it before. The Western Australian Liberal Government never signed it before. I hope that the new Labor Government will. I have already had discussions with it and I know that it will soon sign an agreement with me. I have tried to address some questions that honourable members failed to address in the debate on the Appropriation Bill. I might put on the record that in some of the more peripheral areas of immigration policy we have already set up a review of the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs. I expect that report soon and I intend to act upon it. We have already set up a review of private overseas students. We have already devolved the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters to industry and the States. They are now paying some finance towards this. We intend soon to set up a national population council. In relation to other areas of policy which were deficient under the former coalition, we intend to adopt a more liberal policy on spouse entry to this country, on health entry requirements, on de facto relations with regard to change of status and on income requirements with regard to aged siblings entering Australia under family reunion provisions. In these summing up remarks I say that we will not miss the need to implement legislative reform. As I have said, we may repeal the Aliens Act. We will amend the Migration Act even further to remove all discrimination and all assaults against civil liberties from that Act. Finally, I want to put on the line what we will do with the Citizenship Act because there are 1.2 million people in Australia who are eligible for citizenship but who have not applied.

Mr Dobie —You have broken all the arrangements about time. You have broken them all.

Mr WEST —I have been very patient in listening to some of the honourable members opposite put up their absurdities as the evening wore on and without hearing anything that had much to do with the appropriations. In the Citizenship Act we will make it easier for people to get citizenship by reducing the English language requirement to a basic English requirement. We will exempt people over 50 years of age. These are the things we are considering at the moment. There is a possibility that we can reduce citizenship grants from three years to two years residence in Australia. Certainly the oath needs changing to make it more Australian in flavour and character.

I do not see any reason why the Australian Citizenship Act should refer to and give a definition of Commonwealth citizens as British subjects. As the Minister for Finance who is in charge of public service affairs has already pointed out, when we amend the Citizenship Act to take all reference to British subjects out of it and amend the consequential legislation under the Public Service Act, we will create a situation where the permanency in the Public Service will no longer depend upon a requirement for British subject status. Australian citizenship status will mean that all migrants, from wherever they come, as long as they have had permanent residence and become Australian citizens, will still be eligible to join the Australian Public Service. That is our record. We will not resile from it. If members of the Opposition still want to say that we have created division, that policies have taken a radical and dangerous turn to the Left and there is no longer any bipartisanship in migration policies, all I can say to the shadow Minister is: That is your affair and not mine.

Proposed expenditures agreed to.

Department of Foreign Affairs

Proposed expenditure, $910,031,000.