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Wednesday, 11 April 1973
Page: 1340

Mr LAMB (La Trobe) - I rise to support the Social Services Bill (No. 2). My interest in the Bill probably stems from the fact that there is a large percentage of migrants in my own electorate. Of course the concern goes wider than that. It is a concern for those who are eligible and who have qualified for social security and have satisfied the qualifications to take that social security with them overseas. My particular interest in the electorate stems from discussions with Italian, German and Dutch, but particularly British migrants in my electorate who have informed me that they are reluctant to take out Australian citizenship because they feel that they are not getting a fair deal if they do not. first of all, come from a country that has reciprocity with Australia or if they have not served their 20 years qualification period.

But before we discuss the qualification and the reasons for shortening the qualification period for portability we should know something about those people who leave this country in their retiring years and particularly those migrants who have returned to their former countries. It is informative to look at a progress report on an inquiry into the departure of settlers from Australia compiled by the Immigration Advisory Council's Committee on Social Patterns. This states that 4 important things have been happening with those people who have departed from this country after migrating here. The report states:

First, arrivals in Australia between 1947 and 1952 have had a relatively low rate of loss and will probably finish up losing well under 20 per cent of the original intake: arrivals between 1952 and 1964 seem to be heading for a loss of 20-25 per cent, while more recent arrivals may finish up with even higher loss rates.

Examination of this shows that it reflects the lower proportion of refugees in current immigration - that is, refugees tend to stay more than other migrants - the greater ease of travel in recent years, the strong economic attraction of western Europe, and the growing number of skilled and highly qualified persons who, as part of an increasingly mobile international community, often move from Australia after a few years.

Basically those are the reasons why people return to their country of origin. We should examine why we are losing more and more of those people who have served not only the 20 year qualification period which previously existed but also the 10 year qualification period proposed in this Bill. During citizenship ceremonies I am reminded that the reluctance of migrants to take out Australian citizenship stems from the fact that they do not feel justly rewarded for the contributions they have made in this country. This is one reason for their departure and points to the desirability of recognising the contributions that migrants make in this country in 10 years. We should acknowledge that they should receive the same benefits as those residents who were born here. The main reasons why they return to their country should also be examined for it will be found that the most often mentioned reasons are homesickness, loneliness or the lack of health services available in this country compared to those in their home country. This may well be an indication that we are lagging behind similar industrialised countries. When we consider the contribution that residents of this country have made we realise that social security is not just a question of how much tax we pay to finance our social security system but also what one receives in return. I put that in as an aside. It does underscore one of the basic reasons why people return to their mother country and reminds the House that one of the reasons for bringing in this social security Bill is a recognition that we must update and improve our social security and provide better value for each dollar spent on it so that it can stand comparison with the social security systems in the countries from which most of our migrants come.

This Bill recognises that there have been many changes occurring in respect to mobility between countries. The Committee on Social Patterns in its progress report estimated that the rate of settler loss in Australia lies between 21 and 24 per cent. This estimate is related to the arrival and departure movement over the past 6 years. These figures indicate that, as anticipated by the Councils Committee on Social Patterns in its report following the 1967 inquiry, the loss of settlers from Australia has been increasing and some further increase can be expected. The report states:

The Committee concludes that, while there is an increasing tendency for migrants to leave Australia, this is in keeping with patterns of movement which were already in evidence during the previous inquiry and which conform with those being experienced currently by other migrant receiving countries throughout the world.

It seems to me that the previous Government was remiss for not noticing the results of this inquiry into the increase in mobility and for not as a result reducing the 20 year qualification period to 10 years. An indication of the tremendous growth in the movement of people to and from Australia over recent years, and the relatively small proportion of those people who are settlers, is shown elsewhere in the Committee's report. However, the report reflects a general trend towards mobility now in evidence throughout the world. Even if this Bill were not designed to stem the departure flow of migrants it does recognise the increase in mobility that has taken place throughout the world. The Committee in its report stated also:

In the interim, however, we stress that the problem of settler loss must be seen against the background of world-wide high mobility of labour and the steady improvement in economic conditions and social services in several countries of origin. It must also be seen that Australia's ability to retain its migrants depends to a large extent on the opportunities available here and elsewhere and the acceptance of settlers by the Australian community.

So, as fast transport telescopes the distance between Australia and the country of origin and telescopes the travelling time between the 2 countries we must recognise the increasing trend towards mobility and consequently reform and adapt our present legislation to take this factor into account.

As the legislation now stands there is discrimination against those people who desire to spend their later years overseas rather than in this country. It is time we restored the parity between the benefits provided and the contributions that were made in this country. I mention one case in point in my own electorate. I was informed by a lady from Holland who had settled here but had decided to go back to her home country for family reasons that she would be deprived of a pension because she had been here only 191 years. When we realise that she and her husband, while he was working, gave so much to this country in that 19i years of residence it seems not only anomalous but also a shame that the previous Government did not recognise that a period 6 months short of 20 years, let alone 91 years over the qualifying period now proposed, was surely something which should have been accepted for the purpose of the benefits.

Mr N H Bowen (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - What about 9± years?

Mr LAMB - The honourable member for Parramatta (Mr N. H. Bowen) asks: What about 9i years? There must be an arbitrary cut off point and if he recognises the arbitrary cut off point, in terms of that 19* years I mentioned, either his mood has changed now by a decade or in 4 months he has come to recognise that the qualifying period should be reduced by 10 years. This shows a cognisance on the part of the honourable member of what the situation is and I congratulate him. It must be remembered that even if migrants spend only a few years in Australia they contribute to our national development while still more is contributed by those whose departure from Australia does not take place until they reach retiring age. It would seem that those who have been here 19i years are even more qualified to take with them their portable pensions than those who have been here for only 9i years. In other words, they are twice as qualified at 20 years.

In conclusion, this Government aspires to achieve the position where no Australian citizen is disqualified from receiving a social service pension on account of his period of residence in Australia or because of residence abroad. All Australian residents who have qualified to receive any Australian social service benefit should continue to enjoy that right wherever they choose to live. This concerns principally the aged, invalid or widowed migrants who choose to return home. It should, of course, apply to all Australians. Furthermore, we believe that entitlement should not depend on the negotiation of reciprocal agreements with other countries or upon a 20 year residence in Australia. For many of our migrants this is an urgent matter. It is pleasing to note that the provisions of the Act will apply from the date on which this Bill receives Royal Assent. It cannot come soon enough. I commend the Bill to the House.

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