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Wednesday, 25 September 1901


Mr REID (East Sydney) - I really must express my regrets to the committee that I was unable to take part in the debate on the second reading of this measure. I shall speak now, important as the matter before us is, only if I can have the assurance of honorable members that they will not resent the fact that I wish to make some remarks on the question generally. Although my speech should have been addressed to the second reading of .the measure, I feel that the matter before us is of such a grave character that honorable members will pardon me if I take some part in the debate on the clause and the amendment before the committee. .There is no doubt that in a way quite unusual, the spinal marrow of the matter before us is containedinthe clause or in the amendment to the clause which is to be submitted by the honorable member for Bland. I suppose there is not a single member of this Chamber who does not honestly desire to prevent the influx of a large number of the coloured races of the world. Even my honorable and learned friend, in spite of the philosophical manner which often does him great injustice, must, I am sure, in his inmost heart be capable of feeling as strongly as other .honorable members in this matter, if he Gould realize as vividly as others the gravity of the question. I do not think that any honorable member who views this as an urgent measure of legislation can justly be termed hysterical. I think that if ever there was a subject during the years that have gone by, or during the first election for this Commonwealth Parliament, which excited more strongly and more universally than any other the feelings of the electors of Australia, it was the subject we are now dealing with. . I do not think I go far wrong when I say. that the Federal Government, realizing the strength of the feeling on this subject -which, existed throughout Australia, took care to put this matter in the very fore-front of their appeal for the support of the people of Australia. From that time down to the present, the Federal Ministry have lost no opportunity - and no one can blame them - of emphasizing the position which they then took up. The Attorney-General has assured us that no question has occupied the attention of the Cabinet more frequently or more closely than this measure, which is so important that I wish as scrupulously as I can to avoid any remark which might seem to bear a tinge of party feeling. Honorable members on this side of the House know - every one of them knows - that I have never dropped the slightest remark calculated to influence them as to any vote which may be .given or any views which may be expressed. I feel that upon these higher matters of national politics the less the sound of the party whip is heard the better. The fact that so honorable and learned a member of the Opposition as the honorable member for Parkes made the speech which he has just made, is, I suppose, one of the strongest proofs we can give that there has been no party concert in connexion with this matter. The speech made by the honorable member for Wentworth was made entirely without any sort of consultation with me. I had not the slightest knowledge of the line which the honorable member proposed to take, and, feeling as I do that I should endeavour to suppress any sort of party action, I never sought to influence his views in the matter at all. His speech was one which he delivered entirely on his own responsibility. I would like to ask the committee to remember that after all we are dealing with no new question. Fifty years ago this question was just as keenly to the front in our political agitations as it is to-day. When the gold-fields of Australia were discovered those of us who -were then in this country can remember the thousands of Chinamen who swarmed here. Do we not remember the legislation which was then passed 1


Mr Wilks - In the Victorian Parliament.


Mr REID - In Victoria-first of all, and again in New South Wales and Queensland. In those days this legislation excited the strongest displeasure of the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Then the friendly ally of Great Britain was not Japan, but China ; and the Secretary of State in a despatch in 1877 expressed his deep regret that a colonial legislature should feel called on to pass an Act excluding the subjects o a friendly power. I have the greatest possible feeling of indulgence for the spirit which animates British Ministers in viewing measures of this sort with disfavour. If our lot were cast in the mother country, we should feel more fit liberty to indulge the larger feelings of philanthropy than we feel here in Australia under the actual conditions of the future as they lie before us. Let us imagine for the moment that in the United Kingdom nearly five per cent, of the population consisted of coloured races from Asia, that some 2,000,000 of Asiatics were settled in the United Kingdom. It strikes me that the feeling in the mother country would then become very much in touch with the feelings which we express in Australia to-day. Those who in Australia seem able to view this matter with much calm indifference would, I think, if the matter were brought closer home - -if they were living near some Chinese den, and their children were exposed to any sort of contact with the persons to whom I refer - find that all their stoicism would gave way, and that it was not altogether a matter of "climate and sunshine." We may be an inferior race - we may, compared with the Chinese, be a most uneducated and vicious people - but whatever we are we have fully made up our minds that the current of Australian blood shall not assume the darker hues. This is not a matter on which there is any room for discussion. That has been the feeling of the people right through, and no man can misunderstand it. There is not a single man who can sit in this House and say that he is a representative of the people of Australia while he does not share these sentiments. That being the state of the case, I come to the Bill which the Minister has submitted. I cannot sufficiently express in guarded language the indignation I feel at the method adopted by the Government in making this matter wear an aspect which it should never be made to assume. We may find it right some day to draw this line sharply ; at present it is only a colour line. There is no man at present who wishes to ban the races which inhabit the continent of Europe, because some of the best settlers throughout Australia are men who have come from these European nations. But the Government have put this Federal Parliament in what seems to me a most odious position before the world, when by this measure they have proclaimed to the world that their policy is that not one of these highly civilized nations - who share our blood, after all, to a very large extent - are to be allowed to come to Australia ; that unless they can satisfy some Custom official as to the degree of knowledge they possess of a language which is not their own, Australia is debarred to them. I cannot too strongly deplore the fact that the Federal Government have taken such an extreme course. There is, I believe, an Act in Western Australia in which such a provision is contained.


Sir J ohn Forrest - No, not quite.


Sir Malcolm Mceacharn - South Australia has such a provision.


Mr REID - I understand that the South Australian Bill was not proceeded with.


Mr Glynn - It was thrown out.


Mr REID - The Bill was introduced in South Australia, but was thrown out. The Prime Minister in his speech quoted as a precedent that in Western Australia an Act was passed in 1897 which set out that a prohibited immigrant should include -

Any person who, when asked to do so, fails to write out in the characters of any language of Europe a passage in English of 50 words in length, tait en by the officer from a British author, and append his name in his own language.


Sir John Forrest - It says in the characters of any language of Europe.


Mr REID - My right honorable friend is perfectly right. It does say " in the characters of any language of Europe a passage in English of 50 words." That I presume is a double sort of test. An English official reads an English passage, and the unfortunate Frenchman or German has to put it into another language. That is rather a wonderful, test, lt is what I call a double-barreled prohibition. It is bad enough even for some of us to have to write our own language from dictation, but if we were asked to put into French on the spur of the moment some English read by a Customs officer, I think we should all have to be expatriated. This seems to be the source of the unhappy inspiration which has led the Federal Government to put into a Bill of this sort such a narrow and unstatesmanlike clause. Talk about insulting

Japan ! Is it not a remarkable thing that. Ministers are so permeated with a feeling of delicacy for the susceptibilities of the Mikado of J apan that they flaunt the whole of Europe in. this contemptuous fashion? Is it not singular that they flaunt all the races of Germany, France, Russia, Austria, and Italy, because the Prime Minister has laid it down that a knowledge of English is to be indispensable ? According to Hansard, page 3500, the Prime Minister said -

The chief difference between this Bill and the provisions of the Acts to which I have referred is that the English language is indispensable, and the words must be dictated by the officer. I have had no hesitation in regard to making the English language indispensable.


Mr McDONALD (KENNEDY, QUEENSLAND) -paterson. - There is no such thing as the English language. It is the British language.


Mr REID - I hope that my honorable and learned friend will not celebrate his recovery by interrupting me just now. The Prime Minister goes on to say -

I do not see what claim there is on the part of any one seeking admission, who may be undesirable, to choose the language in which his test shall be taken.

Here is an indispensable test - an English test; - which, it seems to me, offers an unnecessary insult to the nations of Europe. I do not suppose that they will take the slightest notice of it. I do not suppose that they will ever hear of it. I do not suppose that the Mikado will ever hear of some of the speeches which have been made against the Japanese. I really think there is a trace of hysteria in the awful diffidence which His Majesty's Ministers feel in legislating against the influx of Japanese. It strikes me that Japan - like every other power - in carrying out its policy, views large measures of national interest from the stand -point of national advantage. Why is there this friendly alliance between England and Japan, or between any other two nations ? Is it a matter of sentiment ? Nothing of the sort. The fact is that it is supremely to the interests of these two great powers to keep a joint eye upon the movements of Russia in Asia. To talk about the friendship between these two great powers as being at all imperilled by any legislation that we may pass with reference to the management of this Commonwealth is to intrude into the realm of hysteria. Great nations do not come to great resolves except for great things. Japan is the ally of England to-day on high grounds of national interest, just as if the interest of Japan changed to-morrow, she might not be the ally of England but the ally of Russia. It seems to me that the hysteria of this matter is to throw over this momentous epoch in the history-making of Australia the shadow of these references to possible consequences to the might and interest of the British Empire. The treaty arranged between Great Britain and Japan seven years ago is an absolute exposure of the utter hollowness of all this talk. Notwithstanding all the hysterical fear which overshadows the minds of Ministers regarding the sentiments of the Mikado of Japan, there is a solemn treaty in existence between Great Britain and Japan, and in that treaty Japan expressly recognises the right of the -self-governing colonies of the British Empire to be exempt from its operations. In that treaty it was further provided that they should be open to make treaties for themselves with the Mikado of Japan. What does that mean? It means the recognition by Japan herself that these colonies are self-governing communities, that they have the right to fashion their destiny as their Parliaments decide, and that if Japan wishes to have a treaty or understanding with Australia or Canada - and the smallest dependency, Newfoundland, is not omitted - in reference to matters of mutual concern, such treaty is to be arranged between the British selfgoverning colonies concerned and the Government of Japan. There is thus in the Japanese treaty a recognition of a sound broad constitutional principle, which ought never to be forgotten. What did the grant of self-government mean to the colonies of Australia 50 years ago? It absolutely meant that the moment Parliaments were erected in these southern lands, they carried with them all the ordinary rights of legislation in matters within their own province, which are possessed by the Imperial Parliament. Of course, there is the Royal assent needed to our measures just as the Royal assent is required to the measures of the Imperial Parliament, no more and no less. Therefore, we know that our legislation is subject to the risk, as is the legislation of the British House of Parliament, of being vetoed. But we have the assurance of the Attorney-General that there will be no difficulty of that sort. We have his assurance, and 1 think it is founded upon a proper knowledge and principle, that if we are in earnest and mean what we say, the British Government will not take the responsibility of interfering with our legislation. If we are not - if we think as matters stand that some other method should be adopted - well and good. Let it be done. Exactly that course was taken, and I was a party to it, only a few years ago. I wish to do full justice to myself in regard to that matter, and I think it is a proper subject for me to refer to. As these States grow, different phases of the same great trouble arise. Until ten years ago, the great danger which Australia apprehended was in regard to an influx of the Chinese. Events have travelled since then, and we have come to see that it is not enough to exclude the Chinese, and that the principle must be pushed further. At the Sydney conference in 1896, over which I presided,- it was unanimously agreed that the legislation with reference to the Chinese should be extended to all coloured races, and a Bill was introduced and passed in the New South Wales Parliament upon those lines. After the session of the Federal Convention in the early part of 1897, some of us went to England, and there had a conference with Mr. Chamberlain. There is no doubt whatever that the result of that conference was that another measure was introduced into the New South Wales Parliament some little time afterwards providing as a test the knowledge of a European language, and passed. But now let me draw a distinction between the position then and the position to-day. We were then on the brink of the Federal union - the convention had met, although it had not concluded its labours. Queensland, the colony where this problem was and always will be the most serious, although it joined with us in the declaration I refer to, stood out. The Premier of Queensland was not at the conference, but his colony was represented by other Ministers, and he practically disowned what his colleagues had done, and entered into some treaty with the Japanese Government. He thus exercised a sovereign right, because the right to make a treaty is the prerogrative of independent communities. That right has been recognised by the British Government and by the Japanese Government, in connexion with the instrument 1 have referred to. This treaty was passed. So far as New South Wales was concerned, the problem was a comparatively simple one. I go absolutely with the Government in saying that proper loyal statesmanship should induce us to proceed as nearly as we can on the lines of Imperial convenience in our legislation. I do not blame the Government for trying to do that, and as far as I was concerned I recognised that obligation. It was not a matter of grave urgency to New South Wales, because Queensland had made its own arrangement with Japan, and as we were within reach of a federal union,, which alone could deal with this matter in a national way, I felt no sort of difficulty in giving way so far as New South Wales was concerned.


Mr Watson - The New South Wales measure was only tentative, any way.


Mr REID - Yes, that was made perfectly clear; and I do not think I need take up much time in showing the vital difference between the position I occupied then as the head of the Government of New South Wales, and the position I occupy now in this Chamber as a member of the Federal Parliament which has to deal with the continent as a whole as well as with that part of the continent where all the trouble and danger lies. The position is absolutely different, and, further, I say that whilst diplomacy and the requirements of diplomacy may often be studied with advantage, there are certain subjects upon which a people that claims to be respected must speak with a straightforward honorable voice. We are young at law-making, we are young at nation-building, but if we, in dealing with the foundation stones of our national laws and institutions, trim with the dexterity of diplomatists, we shall begin a line of legislation upon great affairs which will not enhance the character of Australia before the eyes of the world. What sort of respect can any Japanese Minister haveforthe Attorney-General whenhehashad the honour of reading the brilliant speech of my honorable and learned friend the other evening 1 My honorable friend, in one of those brilliant assaults upon the English language for which he is famous, out-Heroded the honorable member for Bland in the magnificentease which he made out for the honorable member's amendment. There is one thing that my honorable friend, even in his novel surroundings can never lose, and that is that strong democratic instinct which has made his name honoured throughout Australia. It is only fair to say that. We hoard Alfred Deakin, but we do not find him in the Bill - we see him in the amendment. It is not because the Japanese are undesirable neighbours that the AttorneyGeneral objects to them, but because they are dangerous competitors, and why 1 Partly because of their education. Does the Attorney - General not know that the English language is now being taught in thousands of schools in Japan, and if the Bill is passed at it stands what sort of attitude shall we stand in with reference to the Japanese or other coloured races, whose members diligently study perhaps for years to qualify themselves to become residents of Australia ? When the current of those who can pass the Customs test thickens strongly enough, the Government tell us that they will use their prerogative powers to shut them out. We are told that this is one only of a chain of measures. But there is no sort of honorable statesmanship in putting upon our national statute-book a measure providing for admission to Australia upon passing a certain test, with the full intention of destroying that facility if those to whom it is offered take advantage of it. That is a depth of Australian duplicity - and diplomacy - which I hope this Parliament will never descend to. If we cannot emulate all the virtues of the Japanese which have been so eloquently spoken of by the AttorneyGeneral, let us at least emulate them in the one little virtue of straightforward dealing between white, and yellow, and black. If the Government take up this position - that they have no sort of objection to the educated Japanese, or Chinese, or Polynesian - they will be justified in voting for this Bill, because that is the principle they have embodied in the measure. But if they want the House to believe that, although they have put that principle in the Bill, they do not want the educated Japanese, and that they will not let them in if they come here in formidable numbers, then they are asking this House to legislate upon lines that are not usual in civilized Parliaments when dealing with foreign countries. That, I think, is a perfectly legitimate criticism. Do the Government intend to stand by that principle? Do they mean to say that if 5,000 highly cultured Japanese arrived here, and could honestly pass the test under the Bill, the Government would let them in?


Mr Sawers - They would never come.


Mr REID - That is a good way of getting out of obligations. That is like the man who owed money, but said it did not matter, because his creditors would not turn up. If it would never occur, what is the use of the provision in the Bill ?


Mr Sawers - It is aimed at the uneducated - the educated Japanese would not come here.


Mr REiD - Now, I understand that we have a slight rift in the lute - a slight diversity of view of the Japanese as between the honorable member for New England and the Attorney-General. The Attorney-General speaks straightforwardly, because he says, "The Japanese I am afraid of are not the ignorant, vicious, dirty, slovenly members of that race, but the industrious, virtuous, frugal, thrifty men." Now, the honorable member for New England says that the latter class of Japanese will never come here, and between the two honorable members every one ought to be satisfied.


Mr Sawers - Add the word " educated " to the list of qualifications.


Mr REID - Surely my honorable friend knows that the Japanese who can speak and write his own language correctly may be more highly educated than some of us ? Does not the honorable member see that the man who has learnt enough English to pass the Custom-house test may not be an educated man, whilst a Japanese who has not learned a word of English may be a highly educated man in his own country? According to this test no man can be an educated man unless he can talk 50 words of English according to the Custom-house officer's standard. The man who can squeeze through the test may be an uneducated man. But what I want to know is whether the Government intend to admit such of the coloured aliens as can pass the test.







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