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Wednesday, 14 March 1973
Page: 547

Mr LYNCH (Flinders) - by leave- The Opposition welcomes the statement by the Minister for Immigration (Mr Grassby) on the progress report of the Immigration Advisory Council on its inquiry into the departure of settlers. I acknowledge the Minister's consideration in foreshadowing the tabling of the report and providing me with a copy of the report before it was brought down in this House. This is a practice which obviously leads to a far more effective and better informed debate, and I thank the honourable gentleman for the courtesy which he has extended to me.

The House will recall that the Immigration Advisory Council submitted a similar report to the then Minister for Immigration in 1967. That report provided the basis of a number of policies adopted by the previous Government. In 1971 the Minister called for a further report and the progress report tabled today is the initial result of that request. The major reasons for the departure of migrants from Australia which have emerged from this report are, as I interpret the interim comments of the Committee, similar to many of those reported by the Committee in 1967. They include problems of employment, homesickness, accommodation, language, education, cultural difficulties and, of course, the question of loneliness for those newly arrived in this country.

The problem of settler loss has to be seen against the contemporary background of world wide high mobility of labour and the steady improvement in economic conditions and social services in a number of countries from which the migrants have come. In spite of this, the report concludes that the permanent residence in Australia of four-fifths of all migrant arrivals is a remarkable achievement. As the Minister has stated, a reduction in the rate of settler loss is a major challenge to him as Minister, to his department and to all of those in this Parliament who, of course, recognise the tremendous impact which migration has had on Australia.

The Opposition welcomes the Minister's recognition of the task before him. We recognise that it is in this country's interest both for social and economic reasons to reduce the settler loss. The report points out that there are many factors influencing departure, some of which relate to the general economic and social structure of the country as a whole, and others which are of a personal nature and relate to the particular needs of individual migrants. The report clearly advocates that remedial action concerning the factors which influence the departure of migrants should take into account the relative importance of these factors.

The final report of the Committee will provide information which will assist the Minister in assigning priorities so that departmental resources can be more effectively utilised in reducing the major problems associated with departure. The Minister has outlined in his statement a number of proposals which he indicated have been introduced. The Opposition and the Parliament have received no direct information in terms of a parliamentary statement from the Minister as to the details of the proposals which have been adopted. Without knowing the nature and extent of the new proposals it is impossible for the Opposition parties to assess what impact they are likely to have in the solution of the problems associated with migrant departure. I would ask the Minister to consider making a ministerial statement which would set out the full details of the new Government's approach to immigration, the basic principles which it is following, the determining factors which influence the total number of migrants which the Government intends to seek to bring to Australia this year and their impact upon the whole migrant program.

The courses of action mentioned briefly by the Minister as evidence of his actions to reduce the migrant departure rate are, as I am certain he would acknowledge, not new initiatives although some are extensions of the previous Government's policies. As the Minister for Immigration, I stated that migrants' contributions to Australia's economic growth are important by any standards. But migrants are not just economic units in a program of massive development. They are people with the hopes, aspirations, satisfactions, fears and uncertainties of men and women everywhere. We on this side of the House are deeply conscious of this and of our responsibility to those who seek our counsel concerning migrating to Australia.

Consistent with this philosophy, the previous Government extended and intensified - on a continuing basis - the training of migration officers to better equip them to counsel and advise prospective migrants. We employed specialist officers to develop progressively counselling facilities such as those for wives and single female migrants. We worked towards a fuller recognition of migrants' professional, technical and trade qualifications by establishing such organisations as the. Committee on Overseas Professional Qualifications. The previous administration moved progressively into the fields of pre-arranged employment and considerably improved the standard of initial accommodation. We introduced new methods of language training, reinforced our integration activities and generally broadened and improved our post-arrival services. We paid particular attention to the problems associated with migrant education and we intend as Opposition parties to place a continuing emphasis on the necessity for further developments in this critical area.

Naturally the Opposition welcomes the Minister's desire to extend the range of migrant welfare services. However, we are at the same time concerned and anxious to examine what in fact is the substance of the Government's proposals. At this stage, as I mentioned before, we have only been able to examine the Minister's Press releases which are notable for their frequency - I say this without any sense of offence to the honourable gentleman - rather than for the depth of their content. This may be one of the problems of issuing Press releases. But we invite the Minister, through his Ministry - 1 am sure he will be anxious to do this - to provide the House with an opportunity to debate the whole question of the Government's immigration program.

In addition, the Opposition parties will be submitting positive and constructive proposals and we hope that those initiatives when put to the House will be seriously examined by the Minister in no sense on party political comment but in the context of what can best be done in this country for migrants and the extension of migrant welfare services.

The Minister's commendable desire to stem the departure rate of migrants is presumably based on the belief that Australia remains reliant upon a continuing level of migration. The Opposition believes the Government's reduction in the level of migration to Australia is inconsistent with the Minister's statement outlining the economic and social benefits of migration. The fact that the migrant program is now to be based upon the sponsorship by migrants already living in Australia is in our judgment a retrograde decision. No responsible government should abrogate its responsibilities by allowing the size and structure of the immigration program to be determined simply by the uncoordinated decisions of thousands of individuals here and abroad. The Government's policy apparently assumes that the sum total of the individual wishes of relatives of migrants will always equal the sum total of Australia's migration needs.

The former Government combined 2 processes in its immigration program - sponsorship programs designed to encourage family reunion and actively seeking migrants under government sponsorsip to fulfil those needs not met by family sponsorship. In our judgment the present Government's program abandons the means of making adjustments to meet the nation's social and economic needs. This is particularly critical at a time when the economic policies of the former Government have caused an acceleration of business activity and confidence and a substantial reduction in the level of unemployment. As members on both sides of this House would, I am sure, acknowledge, industry in many areas throughout Australia is now facing serious problems of labour shortage. Having regard to the increasing shortages, I call upon the Minister to reconsider the level of migration in order to meet those shortages. Unless such action is taken by the Government there will be serious inflationary difficulties of a type which we believe the Government's spending programs have already generated. The Government's failure to continue the process of selective migration at the requisite levels is now seriously exacerbating the problems associated with shortages of labour. The consequent production difficulties can only have the effect of adding to our inflationary pressures at a time when I would hope all honourable members on both sides of the House would be seeking, with a sense of national responsibility, to inhibit and to restrain those particular pressures. The Government's policy is also a disincentive to migrants from North America, northern Europe and the United Kingdom. It is important, in the context of the findings of the report tabled by the Minister, that migrants from these countries should not be confronted by a number of governmentcreated problems clearly associated with the trend in departure rates of migrants.

It is a matter of some concern to honourable gentlemen on this side of the House to learn from recent Press reports of the major increase in the number of migrants returning home since the election of a Federal Labor Government.

Mr Hayden

Mr LYNCH - The honourable gentleman might well make that retort, but it is a matter of fact. The Minister, as I recall it, has described the increase, to use his own term, as Lilliputian. However much I understand his disability in seeking to provide a satisfactory solution, the simple but inescapable fact is that a sharp increase has taken place, presumably as a reaction to the problems created by the inflationary spending pressures of the present Administration. No doubt the concern about inflation which the Government is generating in this country is not just a concern experienced by those migrants who have sought to return home in greater numbers. We on this side of the House believe that the concern is reflected throughout the Australian nation. The irony, of course, is that the inflation generated by the policies of the present Administration adds disproportionately to the problems of those already disadvantaged groups in the Australian community. When a government which has always alleged that it has a monopoly of concern for pensioners, superannuitants and people on fixed incomes, and perhaps marginally those in the rural sector, seeks to exacerbate those problems, this seems to me to indicate that it is really unconcerned about the difficulty and the disabilities which those people are facing and will continue to face unless the present spending spree is inhibited in the short term. In the past Si years half of the settlers in Australia were either Commonwealth or State nominees. Only 38 per cent were privately nominated settlers. The Government's proposal to require all future British migrants to renounce their British citizenship if they wish-

Mr Grassby - That is not true.

Mr LYNCH - Well, foreshadowed, and undenied by the Minister.

Mr Grassby - That is not true.

Mr LYNCH - It is all very well for the Minister to jabber in this Parliament-

Mr Grassby - That is unworthy of you.

Mr LYNCH - The Minister has had his opportunity. It is all very well for the Minister to jabber in this Parliament in response to statements made.

Mr Grassby - The honourable member is not telling the truth. Tell the truth.

Mr LYNCH - Mr Deputy Speaker,is one required to submit to jabbering of this type?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Luchetti)Order!I ask the Minister for Immigration to restrain himself.

Mr LYNCH - The point that is simply being reflected here is that if there is any misconception on this side of the House as to the Minister's intentions and the Government's intentions, the Minister has a clear responsibility to the Parliament, the Australian people and the migrant community of this country to make his intentions clear through the medium of a ministerial statement. Honourable members on this side of the House are sick and tired of the Press statements which are released from the Minister's office with tremendous frequency, but, I have said, never noted for the depth of their content. I would welcome a clear statement by the Minister on this matter. If the Minister can arrange with the Leader of the House (Mr Daly) for the courtesy of a full and extended debate, members on this side of the House would be very happy indeed to find out where the Minister stands on so many critical issues which, as I have said, concern the migrant community very much.

The Minister will know from remarks made by many honourable gentlemen on this side of the chamber that there have been many requests from constituents throughout Australia for a clear and definitive statement as to exactly what the Minister's new-found policy in some areas really means in terms of government administration. We have had difficulty in recent years - I say 'we' as a nation - in recruiting the number of British migrants that we have required for our purpose.

Mr Keogh - You can say that again.

Mr LYNCH - Perhaps the honourable gentleman does not really care about the welfare of British migrants. Perhaps he is unconcerned that they happen to be the largest community of migrants in Australia.

Mr Grassby - I rise to order. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has accused an honourable member on the front bench of not caring about migrants. If the honourable gentleman wants to make a substantive complaint in those terms about a member on the front bench he should name the member and make his charge. He should not make a general charge, which I might say I would be the first to rebut.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Luchetti)The DeputyLeader of the Opposition has had a wide-ranging opportunity to discuss the statement made by the Minister. I suggest to him that if he addresses the Chair he will avoid the problems that he has encountered.

Mr LYNCH - I am sure the Chair would recognise that I always extend to that office the courtesies which it requires. If I may say so by way of a passing observation, no offence was intended to a front bench member. If the Minister had really been listening he would have recognised that the interjection came from another part of the chamber, but not from this side of the House. The Minister seems to be very sensitive about the points that have been taken.

Mr Keogh - On a point of order, as I am the subject of the reference being made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, may I say that the remarks that he heard came from me. They were made as a result of his statement about the problems that have been facing migrants who have come to Australia in the past. I take it that he was referring to a time when his Party was in government.

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