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Thursday, 3 October 1901

Senator DOBSON (Tasmania) - The committee are placed in a very unfortunate position in regard to this question. I would call the attention of the representatives of the Government to the situation in which they have helped to place us if we are now going to pass the clause with this amendment in it. I think the Prime Minister has given way very weakly upon a question which he must know vitally affects the Empire. I read with very great annoyance and disappointment that my right honorable friend the Prime Minister had decided- to support the amendment moved in another place upon the clause as it originally stood, though that amendment, or a similar one to it, was opposed conscientiously and from conviction by the representatives of the Government in the Senate. I am happy to say that on the last occasion the members of the Government in this Chamber assisted in defeating Senator Glassey's amendment ; and I think that constitutionally and in hon our they are not bound to follow their leader, who has changed the policy of the Government in another Chamber. After the Prime Minister had made, as I believe he did, a most admirable speech about the relations of Australia to the Empire, he changed his policy in the direction of preventing the employment of British subjects upon vessels where they have been employed for 50 years. The policy of a white Australia every one of us admits to be a true policy, and we are all in favour of it. But the whole point lies in the application of that doctrine. Do not my honorable friends know that all through their lives there are doctrines which have to be applied with discretion? Do they not recognise that it will be a cruelty and an injustice to vote simply for a craze regardless of its consequences ? Honorable senators recognise that we are a part of the British Empire. We are proud of being members of the British Empire. That being so, are we going to follow a cruel course that will take the livelihood from men who are our own fellow subjects t Honorable senators know that our King is Emperor of India. Is it not a fact that only recently it cost a million of money to keep people in India from starving from famine, and that, notwithstanding that, 800*000 of them died ? Is it not a fact that some years ago a million and a half of people in India died from famine, and that oil 'a previous occasion some two or -three millions died from the same cause ? Yet, in view of those facts, because only 36,000 of these people ave employed by British steam-ship companies throughout the world, it is desired to take away their livelihood, and to force our Ministers not to enter into any contract with any steam-ship company on whose vessels black labour is employed. This policy will -make Australia the laughing-stock of the thinking people of the world. Another question arises in connexion with the defence of the Empire. There may come a time when the Empire will have to fight for its life, and when the people of this country will have to fight for their commercial and industrial freedom. At such a time the black crews employed on British merchant vessels may be the saving of the British navy. It is proved beyond a doubt that there are not sufficient English seamen in the British mercantile marine and the British navy to man the ships. Is that denied ?

Senator McGregor - We all deny it.

Senator DOBSON - Then all I can say is that I shall be happy when the debate is over to obtain some of the superior knowledge that my honorable friends appear to have. But, from the papers I have before me, let me inform them that the British navy and the British mercantile marine are increasing by leaps and bounds ; their vessels are becoming more numerous, and there can be no doubt that in the future there will not be enough British sailors to man the ships.

Senator Sir Frederick Sargood - There are not enough now.

Senator DOBSON - Let me put this point to my honorable friends. I suppose - although 1 hope it will never happen in my time - that a great naval war is bound to take place some time. In that event, the 36,000 lascars employed in our ships may be the very saving of the British Empire ; because 10,000 or 15,000 of our own seamen may be drowned or killed, and then the men of the mercantile marine will have to come forward. We may then be glad of the services of these sober, worthy, and industrious lascars. The paper I hold in my hand shows that the Royal navy will, in the near future, inevitably have to get additional men, and that the men they are now able to obtain are not sufficient for the requirements of the service. In this paper, which deals with Iascar crews, I find the following passage : -

I have also pointed out that the bulk of our foreign seamen are down from the Scandinavian countries, and it is not within the bounds of possibility that we shall ever be at war with those countries. Again, large numbers of lascars are employed. They are our Indian subjects, and therefore our fellow subjects, but as we are not likely to war with them, their employment in the merchant lines tends again to release a number of British seamen for service in the navy.

Lord Dudley, speaking in the House of Lords upon the- subject, said -

It was obviously impossible to rel3' upon the merchant marine as a reserve for the navy in anything like the same proportion as in days gone by, but 30 years ugo the figures were 197,000 and 48,000 respectively. If all the merchant seamen were British, they would not constitute a source of supply to meet the wastage of a great naval war in anything like the proportion of past times. He could not agree that the employment of fo.reign seamen in the merchant marine necessarily constituted a source of danger in time of war, because the seamen were drawn from so many nationalities. Even during the pressure of the great French war in 1803, the navigation laws were partially suspended to allow threefourths of the crews of British ships to be foreigners.

I do not hesitate to say that when this miserable attempt at legislation - this poking of our noses into matters that do not concern us - comes to be applied four or five years hence, when the present contracts expire, the Postmaster-General of the day will enter into contracts with British ship - owners for the carriage of mails, whether they employ lascars or not. I should like to see the set of men who would move a vote of confidence in a Government that adopted that course. Day after day the question of Empire becomes more important. My* honorable friends know that, and if some of them are not proud of the Empire now, they will, perhaps, be proud of it in four years' time. I heard one honorable senator laugh at the idea that the Empire should be put first and Australia nowhere. I put the Empire first always, and Australia second. Any one who talks to me of putting Australia first, of putting the interests of our little Commonwealth before the interests of the mighty Empire, loses my respect for his politics. What did one of our admirable morning journals tell us the other day 1 It showed that the whole Commonwealth is girdled round with the fighting ships of our Empire, that the very confidence with which this clause has been inserted, is due to the fact that we are British subjects, and have a British navy to protect us, and that we have lascars doing their duty on British ships as well as any others. It is because of our connexion with the Empire, which some honorable senators desire to slap in the face, that we have the confidence and the strength to propose the insertion of this clause. If the Empire were to raise its hand and allow us to act for ourselves, we should no more dare to pass a clause like this than we should dare to jump into a fiery furnace.

Senator McGregor - Nonsense.

Senator DOBSON - I read in the Times a most interesting speech made by Lord George Hamilton in delivering the Indian Budget, and I was perfectly astounded to learn of the prosperity of that portion of the Empire in view of the severe famine, through which it has passed. In the report of the debate I caught sight of the name of Sir M. Bhownaggree, a native of India, who has been educated in Britain, and for the last eight or ten years has been a member of the House of Commons. We might say that he is an educated English gentleman, except that by birth he is an Indian.. He said -

With regard to the unfair treatment of Iascar seamen he submitted that it was in the power of statesmen here to adopt measures to give justice and deserved rights to those poor people. If lascars were to be employed at all on board British ships, it would be because it was profitable to the owners to employ them. He did not see why men whose frugal habits and hardy pursuits adapted, them for such service should not be employed on terms which they themselves were willing to accept. To deprive lascars of this opportunity of employment robbed the industrial classes of India of one of the few means of livelihood left to them. He believed that those placed in office were not wanting in sympathy -

I hope that applies to my honorable friends iri the labour corner - and were doing their best to safeguard the interests of the people of India, but that all the people knew what were the results.

In conclusion he said - and I would call the attention of Ministers to this last paragraph -

If Imperial statesmen were to throw up their hands and say that, because they had given selfgovernment to the colonies here and. there, those colonies could not be touched when they trampled in the dust the great traditions of the British rule, then the right to govern India from here would be to a large extent modified in the eyes of the natives of India and other foreign countries.

No words of mine could put the matter stronger than that. When I spoke on this subject before, I called the attention of the Senate to a statement made by Sir Thomas Sutherland, who pointed out that upon the opening of the Suez Canal the P. and O. Company tried to do away with lascars, because there was a prejudice against them, many people thinking they were not good seamen in a storm. The company tried most persistently to do away with them ; but owing to the desertion of white crews, and the fact that the great strain attendant upon working in a stoke-hole engendered habits of drunkenness in white men, it was found impossible to make the change. The company had to take back the lascars. Within one week of the debate in which I drew attention to this fact last July, the Orient Company, whose passengers and clients had always boasted that no blackfellows were employed on the line, announced that they had decided to employ lascars in the stoke-holes of their vessels, because the work was not fit for white men to discharge.

Senator DAWSON (QUEENSLAND) - That is absurd.

Senator DOBSON - Will my honorable friends in the labour corner, who profess to represent the true opinions of labour, listen to me t Men who have had years and years of experience say that in hot weather and in tropical parts a stoke-hole is not a fit place for a white man. All the evidence goes to show that when white men are sent into stoke-holes in such places over one-half of them become more like beasts than human beings.

Senator McGregor - That is a libel.

Senator DOBSON - It is out of consideration for the white man, and because of the appalling strain attaching to this work, that lascars are employed in the stoke-holes of these vessels. I asked the manager of the Orient Company the meaning of their change of front. He said it was absolutely forced upon them. "If you would go down to the wharf," he remarked, " and see the Orient steamers waiting there to get off, and see the white stokers dragged down to the ships by the police, looking more dead than alive - if you could see the looks of the wretched beings - you would recognise that we are driven to employ lascars." I ask Ministers in the Senate, whether they are going to vote against their conscience in, this matter ; whether they are going to commit an act which, I think, would be most unwise and unstatesmanlike, simply because one of their colleagues in another place has changed his mind. I know that this is a delicate subject ; that it gives rise to a constitutional question ; but it has been said, that the Senate is going to stand up for its rights, and I think we have a right to insist upon our first proposal. Ministers here should stand up for the opinions and convictions honestly expressed by the Senate. This is not a party question, and I do not think that

Ministers in this Chamber are going to vote against their deliberate judgment on an Imperial matter of this kind, simply because in another place a certain proposal has been carried. I cannot state more strongly than I have, that this is a most cruel and unjust application of a very right principle. We are turning that very' right principle into a wrong one. lt is a sin to say, that after GO years' training on the P. and O. mail steamers the lascars are to be sent adrift. Some honorable senators seem to think that lascars are employed solely because they are cheaper than white men. In the papers which I quoted on a previous occasion, but which I have not got with me now, it was shown that one of the officers of the Orient Company, which did not employ lascars at the time, denied that it was cheaper to employ them, but asserted that the shipping companies were compelled to utilize their services. He pointed out that far more lascars than white men had to be employed to do the same amount of work, and the companies had to keep the families of these coloured men going. He said it was not a question of expense - but rather one of getting the work done ; of carrying the mails according to contract, and of keeping their ships clean - -that was involved. It is a matter of looking after their own business in their own way, without any interference on the part of this young Commonwealth. I hope the amendment will not be agreed to, and that the whole matter will be thrashed out. 1 trust that honorable senators in the labour corner will do me the honor of answering my arguments, but that they will not do me the dishonour of sneering at my remarks when I say I feel that they are making a blow at the Empire, and certainly proposing to do something which will be a disgrace to our legislation.

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