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Thursday, 12 April 1973
Page: 1440

Mr MORRISON (St George) (Minister for Science and Minister for External Territories) - by leave - I wish to inform the House about certain decisions that the Government has made concerning Christmas Island. The only commercial activity on Christmas Island is the extraction and export of rock phosphate and phosphate dust. The life of the commercially usable portion of the phosphate deposit at expected rates of extraction is about 20 years. When the phosphate industry ceases to operate there will be no economic future on the Island for the Asian residents that would be appropriate to their experience and skills. There are no indigenous inhabitants of Christmas Island. Asian workers brought mainly from Singapore have been employed in the Island's phosphate industry since mining by the Christmas Island Phosphate Co. began in 1899. Most of the present Asian resident population came to the Island since World War, II or were born there. Since 1966, almost all workers brought to the Island have been on 3-year terms of employment and have been repatriated at the end of their contracts. Prior to this, Asian workers were recruited for an indefinite stay.

Most of the people who came to the Island as adults had little formal education but have acquired useful skills as a result of their employment in the phosphate industry. Those who came as children or were born there have had the benefit of primary and secondary education. The curriculum is based on the Singapore curriculum with .some modifications and senior students sit for the University of London General Certificate of Education. A technical training centre provides apprenticeship courses for school leavers and technical training for secondary school students. Those who successfully complete the appren ticeship course gain qualifications conferred by the Western Australian authorities. Various improvements to the educational system recommended by an educational adviser in 1970 are being made as rapidly as possible. Under the agreement entered into in 1958, the phosphate operations are controlled by the Christmas Island Phosphate Commission on behalf of the Australian and New Zealand governments, each of which has a 50 per cent share in the enterprise. This agreement superseded a similar agreement entered into in 1949, the year after the Australian and New Zealand governments acquired the mining rights from the Christmas Island Phosphate Co. The Commission employs the British Phosphate Commissioners to manage the mining and other operations and it is the Commissioners who employ the majority of the Asian workers on Christmas Island.

Phosphate from Christmas Island is of high grade and is the cheapest source for both Australia and New Zealand. Christmas Island supplies about one-third of the 2 countries' total requirements of phosphate rock. In addition about 150,000 tons of phosphate dust are exported annually to Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. Christmas Island has been an Australian territory under the control of the Commonwealth since 1st October 1958 when Australia took over control from Britain. Under the agreement with the New Zealand government, the net expenditure of the Territory's Administration is met by the Christmas Island Phosphate Commission. Under the Christmas Island Act 1958, adults who were British subjects and ordinarily resident on the Island on 1st October 1958 could opt for Australian citizenship within 2 years of that date. Those who were not 21 years on that date could opt for Australian citizenship on turning 21 years and up to 2 years thereafter. People born on Christmas Island on or after 1st October 1958 are Australian citizens by birth. At 30th June 1972, 497 Asian residents of Christmas Island were Australian citizens by birth or exercise of an option.

Because there will be no economic future for the Asian residents of Christmas Island when the phosphate industry ceases to operate, the Government has decided that such, residents who are not on fixed terms of employment should be given the opportunity to resettle progressively elsewhere at a rate that will noi adversely affect the operations of the phosphate -industry and will enable replacement to be made by recruitment of contract - fixed term - workers. Many of the Asian residents have greater ties with Singapore or Malaysia than with Australia and are likely to opt to go to those countries if they are accepted. Some 12S0 appear to have clear rights to go to Singapore, Malaysia or Indonesia through their possession of the citizenship of those countries. The remainder have Australian citizenship - about 500 - or undetermined citizenship - about 90. Those Asian residents who are not contract - fixed term - workers and who are Australian citizens will be entitled to residence in Australia on application. Such applicants will be counselled to arrange employment and accommodation before coming here. Those Asian residents who are not contract - fixed term - workers and who are not Australian citizens will be accepted for residence in Australia on application subject to availability of employment and accommodation and to health and character checks where deemed necessary. Those who did not qualify for residence in Australia under these provisions but who were not able to go to another country would be regarded, in principle, as acceptable for residence in Australia.

Resettlement will be a gradual and voluntary process. Every effort will be made to equip the people for resettlement through education and training on the Island, scholarships, resettlement grants and appropriate reception arrangements. This will be done for all permanent Asian residents, irrespective of the country in which they settle. A resettlement committee comprising officers of the Departments of Immigration, External Territories and Labour, will oversight the arrangements. Subject to negotiations at present being carried out with the New Zealand authorities, the Christmas Island Agreement Act 1958 will be amended to permit the Christmas Island Special Fund to be drawn on progressively to finance measures to facilitate resettlement. As the Act now stands the fund can only be used immediately prior to the Christmas Island Phosphate Commission ceasing to function. This fund is being built up by a levy on each ton of phosphate rock exported from the Island and now stands at approximately $2m. The Christmas Island Act will also be amended to enable young people on the Island who may now under that Act opt for Australian citizenship at 21 years, to opt from 16 years with parents' consent. This would bring Christmas Island into line with

Australia, where young migrants may become Australian citizens at 16 years with parents' consent.

These people have rendered a service to Australia by helping to operate an industry that has been and still is extremely valuable to Australia. The decisions are also in keeping with the spirit of an undertaking given in 1958, when Christmas Island was taken over by Australia, that any applications for entry to Australia by Asian residents of the Island would be given sympathetic consideration. The Australian Government accepts that it must look ahead to the time when the phosphate industry will cease to function and the Asian residents will no longer have a source of income on the Island. It is confident that by giving the Asian residents the opportunity to resettle off the Island in a planned, gradual way. the Government will be discharging Australia's obligations towards these people and will be acting in their best interests. The Government for its part will be making every effort to ensure that resettlement proceeds smoothly without disruption to the phosphate industry or adverse effects on the people concerned. I am happy to say that this policy was endorsed by the former Government, and this ensures a bi-partisan approach to the human problems involved.

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