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Wednesday, 4 September 1901

Mr DEAKIN - Clauses 14 and 15 as the committee are aware were postponed in order that the honorable member for West Sydney might have an opportunity of moving an amendment, which raises a very important question. In the first place it is material to notice the purpose of these clauses. They are to empower the Governor Genera] and the Postmaster-General or any person authorized by the Governor-General to make contracts. Clause 14 empowers the Governor-General to make arrangements with the Postmaster-General of the United Kingdom or with the proper authorities for the transmission of mails, the collection of postage, and various other matters. The transmission of mails constitutes the important feature of that clause. Clause 15 empowers the Postmaster-General or any other person authorized by the GovernorGeneral to enter into contracts on behalf of the Commonwealth in respect of the carriage of mails by land and sea, or for any other purpose incidental to the carrying out of this Act. Both these clauses are therefore empowering clauses. Their object is to enable the mails of the Commonwealth to be carried within its own territory or between the Commonwealth and other countries. In connexion with this very necessary power - an "absolutely essential power in the administration of the Postoffice, and a power which must be conceded - the honorable member for West Sydney proposes to set out on the face of the Bill an addition which limits it, in regard to the persons employed in the carriage of mails, whether within or without the Commonwealth. Now, the question which above all others has interested the public mind of the citizens of the Commonwealth has been the determination of the future citizenship of Australia. I think that we interpret the universal feeling correctly, if we describe it as a determination that the citizenship of the Commonwealth shall be extended only to those who by blood, birth, and breeding are qualified to discharge all the duties of citizenship, and to intermix and blend with the other elements of the Commonwealth, so as to form one people, who shall be a whole, not divided by marked distinctions of colour, nor by greater differences than those which everywhere obtain between men of the same race, using that word in its broadest sense. Consequently no complaint can be made to the proposal even in the consideration of a measure which has been described, perhaps inadequately, as a "machinery Bill." It does deal with the machinery of an important department, it is true, but in connexion with the working of that machinery, touches our national and social life - as we have proved during the course of these debates - on a great many issues, some of which are critical issues. We cannot be surprised that in this measure there should be soughttobeimposed a restriction upon the employment which the Commonwealth will give by the disbursement of its moneys - moneys collected from the people of the Commonwealth for the purpose of the maintenance of its post and telegraph offices and kindred services. Within the Commonwealth there will be comparatively little difference of opinion as to the course to be pursued, and little difficulty in following that course. It is only reasonable that the carriage of the mails of the Commonwealth shall be in the hands of its citizens, or of those who are qualified to become its citizens, and that we shall not have introduced, in the employment of the Commonwealth, what may be termed a servile element - an element which must fall short of the full rights of citizenship. But, whilst we are perfectly agreed as to the end to be gained, there may be some difficulty regarding the means to be adopted to secure it. That will appear even more manifest in connexion with the other great branch of the mail service in which the Commonwealth, probably with other partners, will be concerned in contracts with great shipping and steam-ship companies for the conveyance of mails from the Commonwealth to other parts of the world, and vice versa". Here we are confronted with the same desire, namely, that the taxpayers of the Commonwealth shall feel that by their expenditure they are assisting to build up their own country and to support their own race, and that they are showing - as they naturally, and I think properly desire to do - a preference for people of their own race gaining the benefits of conducting the commercial business of the Commonwealth so far as it consists in the carriage of mails. Here, however, we have had in the past and are likely to have in the future partners who are entitled to consideration. If we are to act independently of those who have been our partners, it will call for a reconsideration of the cost as well as of the conditions of our contracts, not only in regard to the persons employed. What this House desires is that the determination as to the persons to be employed in either of these mail contracts shall rest with this Parliament. The object of the amendment which the honorable member for West Sydney desires to submit is, that the Commonwealth shall in this matter promptly declare its policy. We have already called attention to the fact that to place on the face of the Bill and in set terms, a disqualification of certain classes of persons whom it is not desired to employ in connexion with either class of contracts - either within or without the Commonwealth - would be obviously to place certain obstacles in the path of our legislation, which may or may not be removable. These may require some time for their removal, and may possibly postpone the operation of this measure so important to every State of the Union, and fraught with such possibilities of improvement in the services which are to be controlled under its clauses. This Bill is not only a very important Bill ; it is a very urgent Bill, and anything calculated to delay its operation will be and should be avoided. Consequently, to come direct to the point at issue, we have to ask ourselves whether it is not possible to deal with this problem of providing as to the class of persons to be employed in connexion with our mails, without expressing it on the face of the Bill ; and yet as effectively putting the matter absolutely under the control of the House, and achieving that end almost as promptly as if it were put on the face of the Bill. If Such a course as I have suggested can be taken, there is obviously much to recommend it. There is the whole of this Bill to recommend it ; there is all the urgency that rests on the difficulties occasioned by six distinct Acts and six distinct systems of administration of the Post-office, and which must continue until some such Bill as this is placed on the statute-book. There is the advantage of obtaining this without delay, and there is, possibly, the greater advantage of achieving the end which the honorable member desires, more rapidly than if he placed his clause on the face of the Bill, since the operation of this Bill might be postponed for any time by the fact of its appearing there.

Mr Hughes - How would it be postponed?

Mr DEAKIN - I think the honorable member knows.

Mr Hughes - I do not know anything at all about it, and I am asking the Attorney-G eneral.

Mr DEAKIN - I prefer to answer by means of an illustration.There was a measure passed in Queensland in relation to the Central Sugar Mills, which failed to become law.

Mr McDonald - Why? Because the Attorney-General advised the Governor to withhold his consent. He would not do that in the case of the syndicate railway Bills, which have exactly the same clause.

Mr DEAKIN - I do not make this reference for the purpose of attempting to discuss State politics with which I am not familiar ; but whatever may have been the initial step, the decisive action was taken outside Queensland, and the reason for it is explained in a despatch which has been made public.

Mr Crouch - We would not submit to it.

Mr Page - How does the AttorneyGeneral account for an exactly similar clause appearing in the Queensland Postal Act?

Mr DEAKIN - This particular clause?

Mr Page - Yes; prohibiting coloured labour from being employed on any ship which carries His Majesty's mails.

Mr DEAKIN - I am not charged, happily for myself, with reconciling the inconsistencies of anybody but myself, and I find that hard enough occasionally.

Mr.Fowler. - Then the AttorneyGeneral's illustration is inapt.

Mr DEAKIN - It is not inapt, because I take it the later incident has to be borne in mind. While I do not suggest that there is a parallel between the two cases, it is a matter to be borne in mind.

Mr Glynn - It was in 1897 that Mr. Chamberlain refused assent to the Coloured Labour Bill.

Mr DEAKIN - The case I mention is within the last few months.

Mr Glynn - I know ; but the Queensland Postal Act may have been passed before 1897, since which year the Royal assent has been refused.

Mr DEAKIN -The honorable and learned member for South Australia indicates that there has been a change of policy, and that since a certain date objections have been taken which were not previously taken. Practically, the question I want toput is this : Are we not in a position as a Parliament to find a means of attaining our end without running the risks which this amendment will certainly run ? Whether these risks be great or small, each honorable member can form his own opinion. Can we attain the same end without running the risks we must necessarily run judging by recent experiences, if we put this clause in the forefront of our Bill ? I venture to suggest one means by which it can be done. I have proposed an amendment in clause 93, which is the clause which gives power tothe Governor-General to make regulations. That in itself would be comparatively harmless. It was as a preliminary provision that I proposed to insert a new paragraph in clause 93, giving the Governor-General power to make regulations for the purposeof providing for the conditions in regard to the employment of persons in or about the carriage of mails under any contractentered into by or on behalf of the Commonwealth.

Mr Wilks - That only confers a power, and does not express a policy.

Mr DEAKIN - I am coming to that. It confers a power to make regulations in regard to all classes of mail contracts, whether relating to the conveyance of mails within or without the Commonwealth. That by itself is no more than a power conferred. But I proposed to supplement it by the further statement, if this power were granted, that directly the Bill was passed and had received the Royal assent in the ordinary course, the Government would be. prepared to bring down to the House certain regulations under which all contracts would be required to be entered into by the Commonwealth so far as they affected the employment of persons. It would then be open to this House to accept the regulations as proposed, or to amend them, in order to attain the end which we all have in view. I further proposed that when the regulations had been amended, if necessary, or when they had been adopted by this House with or without amendment, they would be applied to every contract let under this department, and, by that means, practically without any delay or risk whatever, the conditions which this House desires to see imposed upon employment in either class of contract would be secured.

Mr Glynn - There is no power to amend the regulations under clause 93.

Mr DEAKIN - There is no power, but there is always the power of the Government to amend regulations, and they can take instructions from the House.

Mr Glynn - There is no power for Parliament to amend the regulations.

Mr DEAKIN - Exactly. But there is al ways that power in the Government, and always power on the part of Parliament to indicate its wishes. That, however, is immaterial.

Mr Higgins - In what way has Parliament power to express an opinion as to regulations except by motion?

Mr DEAKIN -The regulations would be brought forward and discussed.

Mr Higgins - And left on the table?

Mr DEAKIN - In the ordinary course the regulations would be merely laid on the table ; but in regard to these regulations, the Government would take the sense of the House upon them.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - A Ministerial promise ?

Mr DEAKIN - Exactly ; a Ministerial undertaking to do so.

Mr Isaacs - Of course, the regulations will have the force of law directly they are gazetted.

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - But some other Government may alter the regulations in what we should consider a bad way.

Mr DEAKIN - The publication in the Gazette would not take place until the regulations had been discussed. The interjection which the honorable member for Bourke has made indicates one, and possibly the only serious difference between legislation, so to speak, by regulation, capable of repeal at any time by the same authority making the regulations, subject of course to their being laid before Parliament, and a provision in a statute which can be amended only by another statute. One advantage of carrying the amendment of the honorable member for West Sydney, in the way he proposes, would be that it would then become part of a statute to be altered only by another statute passed by both Houses of Parliament. By the proposal I had thought of submitting, it would have been possible for the authority who made the regulations to have unmade them, if at any time it felt it had the support of Parliament in so doing, or even if it had the support of this House. Of course, this contingency has to be recognised, and, it seems to me, can be provided for. But it will no longer be possible to secure this safeguard by simply making an addition to the powers conferred under clause 93. It will be necessary to go further. It seems to me that, under all the circumstances, it is important enough for this committee to consent to its being dealt with in a special clause and by a special further provision. We can, of course, follow in a general way the same first steps. We can pass a clause which shall empower regulations, not only to be prepared, but in this instance to be drafted rather than prepared, and to be laid on the table, and require them to be discussed and approved by Parliament ; that is to say, by both Houses of Parliament.

Mr Higgins - Before they become law ?

Mr DEAKIN - Before they become law. Regulations proposed in the ordinary way have the force of law, but we can go further and provide that these special regulations when adopted shall be, to all intents and purposes law, inasmuch as they can be made alterable as if they formed part of the law only by statute passed by both Houses.

Mr Hughes - How then would they differ from law?

Mr DEAKIN - They would not differ from law in any respect except this : What would appear on the face of this Bill would be a power to make regulations in regard to the employment ofpersons, which regulations are to be submitted in a special way to Parliament, and which, when approved, can be altered only by statute ; but as to what will be in those regulations or conditions nothing would appear on the face of the Bill. It would show simply a grant of power, but power of a particular kind in regard to a particular subject.

Mr McDonald - Suppose one House objects to the regulations ?

Mr DEAKIN - Suppose one House rejects the Bill as it is ? It is the same contingency.

Mr McDonald - It is different in the case of regulations.

Mr DEAKIN - No; my suggestion is that they shall occupy exactly the same position. The same regulations will pass through both Houses.

Mr McDonald - If 'the Senate refuse to pass the regulations they cannot become law.

Mr DEAKIN - I do not know whether I am in order when referring to another place, but judging from a discussion which took place there at no distant date in connexion with much the same issue, honorable members ought to be re-assured that they are quite as certain of a majority in another place as in this House.

Mr Crouch - The Government were against the clause then.

Mr DEAKIN - No, the proposal was that a particular thing should be done at a particular time, instead of being done in the ordinary course by legislation. In the course of that debate practically the whole of another place declared themselves in favour of the principle embodied in this proposal.

Mr Higgins - Does the honorable gentleman say that the regulations will not require the Governor- General's assent, or cannot be reserved for the King's assent ?

Mr DEAKIN - The regulations are not in the statute, and will not require special assent.

Mr Wilks - How would that affect the partnership ?

Mr DEAKIN - The partnership is another issue ; it is a matter of pounds, shillings, and pence, and when the question of partnership or no partnership has to be taken into account, this House or another House, whichever it is, will have to face the question, deciding on the steps to be taken if the partners refuse to act with us, or, for acting on our own behalf. But these are questions with which at present we need not concern ourselves. They will not arise for two or three years, and when they do arise will require to be dealt with in a practical way. There is nothing to prevent the safe and speedy attainment now, by the means I suggested with regard to the contracts we are about to enter into, of the object which the honorable member for West Sydney has in view.

Mr Poynton - If we accept the, Government proposal, may we not be shunting the responsibility of saying whether black labour shall or shall not be employed on to some future Government?

Mr DEAKIN - No responsibility in regard to the matter will be put on any future Government, unless they bring down a Bill to repeal this

Act, and to undo what is done under it. That is a course which may be taken by any Government in regard to any matter of legislation. I feel, however, that it would be unfair to ask the honorable member for West Sydney to pronounce upon my proposal without consideration. I am quite prepared, therefore, if he wishes it, to allow these clauses to be postponed, so that he may have an opportunity to consider whether he can accept my proposal or any amendment of it, or suggest any means of attaining his object other than the insertion in the Bill of the clause which he has drafted. I do not desire to offer any objection to his proposed clause on its merits. What I ask him to consider is whether we cannot agree as to the method we should adopt in order to attain the end that we all desire to reach, either by the means I suggest, or by some other means which some more ingenious member may devise.

Mr Glynn - The other means would be for the Government to have a policy in regard to coloured labour. Why not apply the same principle all round?

Mr DEAKIN - We are applying the same principle all round. The Immigration Restriction Bill is drawn upon lines parallel to those upon which my proposal is framed, so' far as it aims at avoiding all friction and delay. I desire to attain the end in view without the adoption of means which some honorable members hope may lead to the rejection of the Bill.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - That is not fair. We want to see the object attained in a straightforward way, not by a sinuous course.

Mr DEAKIN - We all prefer the straightforward way, and it is not possible in parliamentary matters of this character to attain anything by a sinuous course. It is impossible for us to put our heads in the sand, and pretend that no one sees us, because it is certain that what we do by either of these means will be equally well understood. No one will be deceived.

Mr McDonald - Then, why not do it in the way proposed by the honorable member for West Sydney ?

Mr DEAKIN - Because, by doing it in the way I suggest we are much more likely to attain our end without delay and difficulty. No one can fail to understand the object and purpose of this proposal.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - It is to mislead the Imperial authorities.

Mr DEAKIN - They are better informed than the interjection of the honorable member would lead us to suppose. They know what the programme of this Government has been, and what the platform of Australia as a whole is. It is a white Australia. It is simply the choice of the best and most expeditious means to attain that end, and to secure the employment of men of our own race in the transmission or conveyance of mails to and from Australia that we have to make. Honorable members have to decide which course they will adopt to give effect to our principles in this respect. I do not think we differ at all in regard to our object. The question is, can we not be united as to the means to be taken to win the goal which we are striving to attain. I do not think that this will prove to be a party matter. I leave it to the honorable member for West Sydney either to proceed or to suggest a postponement.

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