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Wednesday, 9 October 1901

Sir MALCOLM McEACHARN - On the islands the death-rate is often so great that the population of whole islands are wiped out. They enjoy much better health on the cane-fields, where the death rate is very low.

Mr Mauger - That is not what the Rev. Mr. Grey says. He says it is 12 per cent.

Sir MALCOLM McEACHARN - The above statement is prepared from the Queensland immigration agents' Pacific Islands Immigration Reports. The physique of the kanakas is not such as to enable them, wherever they live, to show the same death rate as Europeans.

Mr Watson - And yet they are taken to a dangerous climate.

Sir MALCOLM McEACHARN - It is a dangerous climate to work in, but not dangerous to health. The white man cannot do the work, whereas kanakas can. Honorable members who have seen the kanakas in the cane-fields must have observed that the majority of them are strong ablebodied men. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports, who has interjected more than once, paid a short visit to Queensland, and seems to have come back a perfect authority. He reminds me of somebody who once induced me to read a book of 250 pages entitled A Peep into Russia. It was an extremely interesting book, but I learnt that the writer had gone three miles across the border of Russia, and not having a passport, had been turned back ; but, of course, he had a lively imagination.

Mr Fisher - Before the honorable member leaves the statistics, has he got the deathrate of the white people?

Sir MALCOLM McEACHARN - I have not; but I should say it is somewhere about 23 or 24 per 1,000.

Mr Fisher - For men, women, and children it is about 10. Queensland has the best climate in Australia.

Sir MALCOLM McEACHARN - I now want to refer to the distribution of the money which is produced from the sugargrowing industry. The crop of sugar at present is about 150,000 tons, which at the 1900 price of £10 15s. per ton, including freight to the refinery, would realize £1,612,500. Out of that total, aliens receive one-eighth, or £200,000, and, therefore, white labour must receive seven-eighths. These figures are very important, as showing that the amount which goes to the kanakas is very small compared to the great good that is done by the distribution of the rest amongst the white labourers.

Mr McDonald - That is £262 10s. per head. I worked it out this afternoon.

Sir malcolm mceacharn -Ihave given the figures which have been prepared. Those who look at Dr. Maxwell's report will see that the kanakas are paid more than similar workers in France, Germany, and Russia, taking only the wages paid ; and also that that white labour is paid much more in Queensland than in any other place where sugar is produced. I contend that I have pro-wed, as far as any one can prove, from the evidence of the Royal commission, that it is utterly impossible in Mackay, and north of Mackay, to carry on this industry without kanaka labour. I think I have shown that the industry must die - these are the words of Sir Samuel Griffith - unless there is kanaka labour, and that something like £1,000,000 of money will cease to be distributed amongst white labourers. If the industry be destroyed a great deal of labour will be thrown on other markets. Our commerce will Gertainly be lessened, and a great injustice will be done to a State with which, I am sure, we all desire to be on perfectly friendly terms. I am convinced that if the reverse of what I have stated had been the case the Prime Minister would have laid before us some facts to show that white labour can carry this industry on. I do not know whether he is aware that the Queensland Government advanced a considerable sum of money for the establishment of the Eton Race-course Mills. The contract contained a stipulation that only cane grown by white labour should be crushed by the mills. They were forced, however, to alter those regulations, and to allow kanaka grown cane to be sent there. That shows clearly that even the Queensland Government have failed to bring about that which honorable members desire, and which I am as anxious as any one to secure, if it is possible to obtain it without entirely destroying the industry. The Prime Minister referred to the possibility of some machinery for cane-cutting being invented. That consideration must have been put forward, because he feared that, unless something in that direction did occur, there would be more than a prospect of damage being done to the industry by the passing of this Bill into law. Why did not the Prime Minister, with this idea in his mind, propose some further relief for the industry until such time as machinery is invented which will enable the grower to carry on without black labour ?

Mr Higgins - It will never be invented until we put a stop to black labour.

Sir MALCOLM MCEACHARN - I am told there is a machine now being patented which will do the work. I feel as strongly as any one that the kanakas should be kept in their own islands if they are going to keep white men out of employment. We all know, however, that the sugar mills are not doing well ; the plantations are struggling, and are heavily in debt to the financial institutions. The planters are endeavouring to rid themselves of that debt, and why should we, immediately upon the creation of the Commonwealth, which it was thought was going to do so much good for all the States, pounce down upon one State and say - " You are to have this labour taken from you, the only labour by which you can support the sugar industry " ? It is manifestly unfair to bring in a Bill allowing such a short term within which the employment of coloured labour must cease. At least ten years should be allowed ; at the end of that time the industry could cease entirely, if necessary. We should have no concern with what happened after that. We should be able to say we had done what was fair; that on a previous occasion a request was made for more time, and that ten years was granted. It may be said that at the end of the seven years the planters would be urging, for a further extension of time. I do not think, however, that those interested in the industry would deserve any further extension, because in the meantime they should put their house in order, and endeavour by some other means to carry on the industry.

Mr Mauger - Would two years make all that difference ?

Sir MALCOLM MCEACHARN - It would be more than two years. A certain number of kanakas are to be deported in the first year, and a certain number the next, and so on. That makes the difference. If those engaged at present in the industry remained for the time being the industry could go on as it is now, and every one of the kanakas could be out of Australia at the end of the three years. That would be a fair thing, and would help the industry very considerably. At present there is a great feeling of distrust on the part of those who have money invested in industries in Queensland. There is a great feeling of distrust in Queensland itself, and I do hope the Government will consider this matter carefully. I know it is useless to ask for the appointment of a commission to- make further inquiries. The feeling of the House is for a pure " white Australia," but I do say that we should consider the matter very carefully before we pass such a drastic measure as this. The industry is a very important one, and has been carried on under considerable difficulties for many years past. I would appeal to honorable members of the labour party, who are perhaps most desirous of doing away with this kanaka labour, to say whether it is fair to fix such a short term within which the employment of kanaka labour must cease as that provided in the Bill. I would ask them to say whether it is not likely to have a very serious effect upon the white workers themselves, and whether it would not be better to ascertain the correctness or otherwise of my statements before they take steps which must, to a certainty, destroy a very important industry.

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