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Wednesday, 4 September 1901

Mr BARTON (Hunter) (Minister for External Affairs) . - I am not wholly impressed by the argument that everything is always opportune, which is what the speech to which we have just listened amounts to. Nor shall I follow my friend who has just sat down into the poetry of the situation. We must deal with the fair and reasonable aspect of it. I think there are difficulties in this matter. I pointed them out on a previous occasion, when a motion for adjournment was under discussion. Those difficulties would perhaps have been better met by the proposal suggested by the Attorney-General. No proposal was actually made, but there was a suggestion, and upon that it was thought it might be better to take further time for the consideration of this matter. However, I am quite content that a decision should be arrived at now. The honorable member for Maranoa always puts one in such a good humour that one feels rather a pleasure in saying that he is going to do something to meet him half-way. The honorable member for Wentworth made a very good and' reasonable speech, if I may venture with all respect to say so, and advanced arguments in that fair manner which always characterizes him. In point of fact he nearly convinced me in one part of his speech that this is not a question of a white Australia. But he has also gone far to convince me that a Bill containing such a provision as this is not one which we may anticipate will fail to receive the assent of the Crown. Notwithstanding that there may be difficulties founded on the distinction we have spoken of, I think that on the whole the difficulty in this proposal does not amount to one which is on the same footing with those we are trying to avoid in another Bill. I think that the question whether we shall allow, under certain circumstances, certain persons to land, is not the same question as whether we shall spend our money on one class of labour or another. The debate, however, and the speech of the honorable member for Wentworth. have gone far to make me think that we are not in such danger of a refusal of the assent to the Bill as I at one time thought we were. The honorable member for Wentworth asked why, if the Government did not approve of this amendment, they did not honestly dissent from it. But the Government showed in a prior discussion, to which I have referred, that they approved altogether of the principle of the amendment, and they say that now.

Sir William McMillan - I meant the introduction of such a provision into this Bill.

Mr BARTON - Into a machinery Bill ? I understood the honorable member to mean that we were against the principle of the provision, so far as regarded the class of employment under the contract.

Sir William McMillan - No; I said that the Government were against the introduction of this provision in the Bill, although the Government were willing to take the view of the House in practically dealing with it.

Mr BARTON - I showed on another occasion that the chief reasons advanced against the introduction of this principle, was the danger called " Downing-street " : but I want to say that that danger is not so large as I at one time thought. I also desire to say at once that I do not concur in the comments on what is called " Downing-street,'"'" when those comments imply that there is any hostility to the aspirations of this country in that quarter, or attempts of any kind to place obstacles in the way of our adopting any policy we choose, so long as we do not interfere with Imperial obligations, or make more difficult the responsibilities of those at the seat of government of the Empire.

Sir William McMillan - That has been stated by Mr. Chamberlain himself.

Mr Wilks - Then why deal with this matter by regulation ?

Mr BARTON - The regulations ' proposed by the Attorney-General would have made the matter more easy ; but, thinking that that obstacle is not so great as it was taken to be at first, I propose, under certain conditions, to assent to the direct course. In doing so, I want to say that I do not accept the argument that this matter stands on anything like the same footing as the Immigration Restriction Bill, which is wholly within the arguments used in Mr. Chamberlain's despatch, while the present proposal may, I think, reasonably be held to be outside those 'arguments. Let nothing, therefore, I do, in taking this course to-night, be held to prejudice the position I assume in regard to the Bill on the noticepaper.

Mr Hughes - That is entirely different.

Mr BARTON - It is entirely different, and I do not think this is a " white Australia " matter. It does not relate primarily to the employment of Australians at all, because these crews are not shipped here. It is rarely a sailor comes on to a ship's articles in Australia, because the men are shipped in England, as any one who has travelled knows. There is employed on these vessels a class of labour which we, from our point of view, consider is not one on which we should spend our money. That, I think, is the sum and substance of the whole matter. Are we to spend any money on the employment of that class of labour ? I have given an opinion in this House before, and I certainly think we ought to make strenuous efforts to avoid spending money on this labour. But let honorable members understand that there is one responsibility which the House and the Government must share. It may be more difficult and more expensive to conclude the contracts.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Does the Prime Minister not think it would absolutely be more expensive ?

Mr BARTON - I think, perhaps, it would be, though I am not sure..I know that there are mail steamers crossing the Pacific to Vancouver and San Francisco which do not employ this class of labour.

Mr Watson - And the Orient Company do not.

Sir Malcolm McEacharn - They do on the San Francisco steamers.

Mr BARTON - The Orient Company did not employ this class of labour until a resolution was passed the other day. So far as the Pacific companies are concerned, they have been much more lightly endowed with subsidies, and 1 do not take it as absolutely certain, although it is probable, that the cost will be enhanced. We all know that the subsidies, at least for some time past, have been very much less considered in ocean carriage than they were fifteen or twenty years ago, and no doubt the competition which has led to great results without subsidies of late years on the Atlantic Ocean, will lead to similar results on the steamers between Australia and England. Therefore, this danger about greater financial responsibility, while it is not nonexistent, is not an enormous one. It may have to be faced, and I want the committee to understand that in taking this course we may have to meet a considerable responsibility, but not, I think, for very long.

Mr.G. B. Edwards. - It is a diminishing factor.

Mr BARTON - It is a diminishing factor, and that is what I have been trying to illustrate. There is another thing I want to guard myself against. The Commonwealth will have to undertake vast responsibilities in the future. It will have to undertake the government of places not within its boundaries at the present time, and places largely inhabited by the class of people to which objection is raised. Let me be understood not to assent in any way to any proposal that these inhabitants are not to be allowed to earn their living in their own country. That is a matter I want to separate from that now before the committee. If I saw any danger of their confusion, I would go to a division in order that that confusion might not arise. But I do not see any danger, if I say quite clearly that in any future responsibilities we undertake it must be understood that we are not to deprive the denizens of those countries, who have beenthere from the beginning of our history and for ages before, of the opportunity of earning their living in those countries. The honorable member for Maranoa has referred to my WestMaitland speech. I declared there, in terms which many remember, in favour of the proposal for a " white Australia," but I said nothing in regard to matters of the kind now before the committee. These did not arise on that occasion, and I wish my action now to be quite dissociated from any promise I made at West Maitland, because that action has been determined on since, upon a consideration of the whole circumstances of the case. I want to say one thing more about the matter. I am not in favour of the proposal of the honorable and learned member for Corio, because I think it would be rather a piebald proposal to speak of crews the majority of which shall be British subjects. I think a fair and reasonable proposal,and one that most removes the difficulty, of which we all have some conception, is to speak of '" white labour " and " white persons."

Mr Crouch - My proposal was that it should beall white labour, but that the majority of those employed should be British.

Mr BARTON -I think the proposal of the honorable and learned member for Corio would lead to more confusion than benefit ; and, with regard to any anticipated difficulty we may have to face, the danger will not. be so large if we use the words "white labour" as it would be by any differentiation between subjects of the Empire and those of- foreign civilized white nations. Having made this explanation and on this understanding, I am prepared to accept the amendment. I shall endeavour, if the amendment is carried, to secure that the Bill shall receive the Royal assent, andI want it to be clearly understood that if it does not, the difficulties in the way, whatever they may be, will have been pointed out, because I shall be anxious to remove them, and shall strive to do so.

Mr. HUGHES(West Sydney). - The statement of the Prime Minister, so far as it affects the principle of the amendment, is so satisfactory that I am quite prepared to accept an alteration of its verbiage. In my opinion, the Prime Minister has in no way departed from the attitude which he assumed the other evening, when it was fairly and fully stated by him. The question was so important that he thought that the clauses should be postponed for the purpose of bringing down a proposal which would meet the case. Furthermore, there is no reason for the statement that the AttorneyGeneral this evening did more than put forward an alternate proposal which had very much to recommend it, and only this to its detriment, that it did in a roundabout way what the committee considered should be directly accomplished.

Mr Deakin - If the honorable member for West Sydney does not object, I should like to redraft his amendment.

Mr HUGHES -I have no objection to that. What I want is to enforce the principle ; the verbiage is a matter of indifference to me.

Mr Crouch - I regret that I was unjust enough to say just now that the AttorneyGeneral had threatened the committee with the veto of the home authorities. I made that statement under a misapprehension, and I apologize to the honorable member.

Mr Deakin - I feel sure that the error was unintentional, andI am obliged to the honorable member for his handsome apology.

Progress reported.

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