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Wednesday, 29 August 1973
Page: 571

Mr GRASSBY (Riverina) (Minister for Immigration) - The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) in his Budget speech devoted 11 lines in Hansard to the immigration program and to all the problems which have been uncovered in recent times in connection with the settlement of people in this country in recent years. The Leader of the Opposition last night indicated that there was a high availability of high quality migrants to come to Australia to do the jobs which are presently available. He capped this 11-line reference to immigration with a sad attempt to create further divisions in our society by talking about people disliking migrants - surely a strange phrase in a nation of migrants. It was an unworthy end to a most inadequate reference to the migration program and the problems which exist at the end of the 25 years of population building which Australia has undertaken.

As a former Minister for Immigration I would have thought that the Leader of the Opposition would have attempted to give some attention to the very real inadequacies which exist in Australian society at the present time in relation to the people who have come here recently. I would have thought there would have been at least some token of sympathy for the people who have to come to feed the industrial machine with their labour, their hopes and their aspirations. I would have thought that he at least would have had a word of sympathy for the children who are crammed into cloakrooms, cellars and other makeshift meeting places to learn the language of their new country. I would have thought too that if he believed that there is at present a great international queue of people waiting to come to Australia to fill the vacancies to which he referred he would have done the House the honour of sharing his sources of information. To brush off the whole of the problems of settlement of citizenship in our country with 11 lines is hardly adequate.

Perhaps I should not have been surprised because he shrugged off the 5 years and more of rural recession with the shallow alibi that in 6 months or 7 months 'his Government has neglected the rural sector when he knows that the overall allocations in the Budget are higher than they were last year under his Government's administration. But more important he virtually forgot the betrayal of rural interests by his own Government which resulted in 30,000 farmers and their families being run off from the. land, including families from my own electorate. Today the Australian Wheat Board is touring the world to ration customers following the endeavours of the previous Administration to ration wheat growers. The concern about food shortages is a concern born of the fact that the neglected rural sector in the past was forced to kill breeding stock which raised not even enough to pay debts but simply to subsist. So the legacy of the last Administration is a huge debt structure, shortages of every grain, lost opportunities for new forms of production - I mention only one, soya bean, just as an example. Yet with it all there is not a moment's regret, not an acknowledgement of shame or responsibility for the hardship of past years.

It was pointed out today eloquently by the honourable member for Cook (Mr Thorburn) that for the Leader of a party which ruled for a generation and which forced more people into the cities than we have ever had in our history to talk about decentralisation is a mere exercise in double talk. We have inherited the Augean stables and it will take a lot to clean them up. The countryside today, I am pleased to say, is on the high road to prosperity again. In my own area there are $30m worth of new projects dedicated to the production of food and fibre with every encouragement. There is no doubt in the minds of the investors about the future and the confidence which we have at present.

The pretence of helping the countryside in the past is gradually being stripped away. We have seen in the past millions of dollars made available ostensibly to help wool growers, but they never received it. We saw how $25m. was allocated in the past to fruit growers and they received less than $5m. We have seen dairy subsidies that failed to correct the poverty in the areas it was supposed to assist. We have seen indeed a huge outpouring of money which never reached the people that it was purported to be for. There must be a total examination of the position of. those who should have been getting amounts from the Australian taxpayer but which went to vested interests and did not reach the people that it was supposed to be destined to help.

Perhaps the greatest inadequacy of the speeches not only of the Leader of the Opposition but of nearly all the honourable members that I have heard on the other side of the House has been the lack of recognition of the divided nature of the country the Government of which they so reluctantly handed over on 2 December 1972; the divisions in the community, the divisions among citizens, the education gap which exists - not the generation gap but the education gap.

One of the tragedies of government in Australia and indeed one of the tragedies besetting the Australian people is that the high hopes of the founding fathers of Federation have not yet been realised. It is not a bad idea and it is not a bad exercise for us in Australia in the 1970s to go back to the rhetoric of the constitutional debates - the Federation debates. Should we become a nation? Should we become a united Australia? Should we become a country in the South Pacific with a high destiny or should we remain - I cite debates of 80 years ago - a collection of petty provinces. It is not a bad idea for honourable members who have not been interested to attend to their duties to try to understand to re-read the speeches made not even at the turn of the century but before then, to find out what the high hopes of the founding fathers of our Federation were. One of the. things they wanted to do was to end the position of Australia being a collection of petty colonies, of petty provinces. I cite speeches that are now 80 years old and which portray the high hopes that have not yet been realised. There is indeed less co-operation between the States of Australia in the 1970s than there is between the sovereign nations that comprise the European Economic Community in the 1970s. But of course some of us are content to wallow in colonialism and to wallow in the hangovers of the last century.

The absurdities of these colonial hangovers are still with us. Australia is the only country in the world where the wild duck changes its sex life when it crosses a river.

Mr Edwards - How do you know?

Mr GRASSBY - I do not know that at all. I am indebted to the honourable member for interjecting. As a matter of fact I doubt very much whether it is a fact. The laws of the sovereign States of New South Wales and Victoria solemnly say and set out that the duck is different on the 2 sides of the river. Australia is the only country in the world in which these petty provinces can solemnly rule that the fruit fly is viable only between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. and on certain roads. These absurdities live with us after 70 years.

Just a few days ago a group of young Australian women at the Barham High School, which is right on the Murray River - there were about a dozen of them - wrote to me to protest against discrimination. The discrimination that they protested about was that a few yards away is an area which has tertiary institutions that they would like to attend. The area is within a stone's throw of where they live, but because of the colonial boundaries drawn in the last century by clerks in another country who were not too well up on what they were doing, these girls are precluded from going to their natural centres for tertiary education. They said to me in 1973: 'Why?' I give the Opposition full credit - I mean this and I direct my remarks to the distinguished member of the Opposition who is at the table, the honourable member of Berowra (Mr Edwards) who is at the moment representing the Opposition in this debate - for saying: 'We accept it'. 1 was glad. But let us see just what happened.

Members of the Opposition accepted the great principle of wiping discrimination but allowed the whole thing to be held up because of a gaggle of words involving a term which is hurtful and which has no legal significance, but which indeed would lend hurt to 1 million people in our country who have not yet applied for citizenship. These are the real things in relation to building national unity which I have been concerned enough to mention. (Quorum formed) The reason is that we have been ruled for too long by little men dedicated to yesterday. That was the reply I gave to the young women concerned.

I refer now to the Committee on Overseas Professional Qualifications, which was established, incidentally, by my predecessors. I very much doubted whether the Committee was doing good work until I met its members and understood their problems. I discovered that the Committee on Overseas Professional Qualifications had been labouring mightily and well to try to get some understanding of other people's qualifications. Its members were trying to do this very sincerely and well but I discovered that their greatest single obstacle was not in trying to relate what was happening to migrants coming to Australia but in trying to work out what happened between so-called Australians - between the Victorians and the New South Welshmen, between the New South Welshmen and the Queenslanders and so on. In 1973 it is an indictment of the discussions of the last century on our national unity that we have not yet established in any shape or form national qualifications. They do not exist.

This Committee is trying very hard to develop what is called national accreditation, lt is trying to develop screening methods whereby it would be possible to say to people from the 60 countries that send us people at present: These are some national standards'. Actually, we do not have any at present but we are trying to develop them. Some professions, notably the physiotherapists are co-operating extraordinarily well and they have high hopes that the architects, the dentists and the medical profession will follow. But these are the first steps in the 1970s; 72 years after Federation we are trying to achieve some simple unity on professional qualifications. I commend the Committee warmly for its work because in the process of trying to give a new deal to migrants it has also set out of course to bring some unity in the professional sphere to Australians generally.

I notice that the Leader of the Opposition talked about strong national action on inflation. He said that decisions should be made in Canberra that were binding on all the people of our nation - all 13 million of us. He said that it should be done and proclaimed. Those were wonderfully strong words but there is only one trouble with that principle. We are not a nation. Constitutionally, the Leader of the Opposition knows as well as we on this side of the House know that it is not possible. There was one great almighty omission in his speech. He did not say: 'I will support the granting of powers to enable you to do it and if you fail at the next election, I will have those powers and will do it'. I would have respected the Leader of the Opposition for that, because that is the truth of the situation. However, he did not say this. He knows that there is no such thing legislatively as the Australian nation. There is a gaggle of petty provinces which are happy in their colonial hangovers.

Wc cannot do even the simple things that the New Zealanders are able to do. I was a member of the mother Parliament of Australia, which happens to be the Parliament of New South Wales, which had the privilege of administering New Zealand for an entire generation. Yet, that offspring of the mother Parliament of the Australian Commonwealth can do things today nationally that we are unable to do after 72 years of so-called Federation. So, in fact, we are not in a position to undertake national planning and national policies. All we can do is to hope and pray. Every time this principle is put forward, there is some dear old man of yesterday who rises in his place - I do not say in this place, but in some other place - and says: 'That is a terrible centralist speech'. As far as I am concerned, the prospect of centralised decision making in relation to administration is anathema to me. 1 do not want to see all decisions that touch on day to day administration made in Canberra any more than I want to see them made in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth or Brisbane.

As a matter of fact, one of the things that has happened in our country is that we have maintained the third tier of government as a

Cinderella. It has been neglected, deliberately starved of funds and deliberately denigrated. Wc arc trying to do something about it. Of course, there are those who want the present situation to continue. There are those who do not want a change. There are those who, spiritually, should not worry about what happens in Australia in 1973 because they are the spiritual sons of Her Imperial Majesty Queen Victoria and they should have gone to their illustrious rest with her.

I was greatly amused to hear reference to the fact that the Japanese are confused about our present policy because during my recent visit to Tokyo I met the executives of nearly every major corporation headquartered in Tokyo. I found no confusion at all. They recognised that at long last Australia has followed the example of Japan itself to ensure that there are national guidelines for the use of Australia's resources. Japan has been doing this for generations. In fact, they wondered why we had not done it before. They were always so concerned and confused about us that on one famous occasion there was a gentleman, now retired, named Sir Henry Bolte who visited Tokyo. The Japanese were so confused as to who was the Prime Minister of Australia at that time that the emperor gave him an audience as the Premier of Australia. Well, perhaps he was. But the confusion was supreme. The Japanese at that time favoured dealing with either British or American corporations because at least they knew what they were about. They knew what they were talking about and what their interests were. But when the Japanese got a gaggle of petty provinces from Australia going up to talk to them they thought: 'Who are these people?' Obviously, they recognised the inadequacies of our situation when they gave Sir Henry Bolte the accolade of being the Prime Minister of Australia at the time. Perhaps he was; even I was confused at that stage.

What I wanted to point out is that in the barren rhetoric that we have heard from the Opposition in this debate - and I was disappointed in it - we have had no recognition that in 1973, whether we like it or not, Australia is a new nation. Shortly, half the population will be under 25 years of age. There are 3 million new people since World War II and their sons, daughters and grandchildren which means that those who were alive at the time of World War II are now in the minority in Australia. We have a job of building a new national unity based on citizenship and our heritage and on some pride in Australia as an independent nation. I am disappointed that there has been no reference in this debate to citizenship. We had a Bill in this House not so long ago, which went to the Senate, designed to wipe out discrimination in citizenship. Under the old system, people were granted citizenship on the basis of a residential period of 5 years, 3 years or 1 year, depending upon what colour they were or what was their race or religion. We decided to wipe that provision.

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