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Wednesday, 9 October 1901

Mr WATSON (Bland) - I am glad that the Government have introduced this measure at a comparatively early period of the session. I for one am hopeful that it will become law before the session closes. I must say that the speech made by the honorable member for Melbourne was couched in very moderate and fair terms, but in regard to the words just uttered by him as to the wisdom of honorable members refraining from taking a step which is so drastic, I should like to say thatIdo not consider this measure a drastic one. I look upon it from a contrary direction altogether. The feeling that I entertain upon this question is that even if it means the absolute annihilation of the sugar industry, I am prepared to vote for the abolition of the kanaka. In my appeal to the electors of my constituency I expressed that opinion in no uncertain terms, but I am convinced that there is no likelihood of the annihilation of the industry because of the action proposed to be taken. So far as the general question is concerned, I think that the people declared very distinctly upon it on that occasion. With regard to the statements put forward this evening by the honorable member for

Melbourne, and advanced a few days ago by the Premier of the State of Queensland-

Mr Fisher - Only on hearsay.

Mr WATSON - Yes. The statements made by those two gentlemen were to the effect that if the people of Queensland had known of the treatment likely to be meted out to them in this respect they would not have joined the federation. I desire to say that the man who, being a resident of Queensland and knowing the feeling of the southern states - which has been for years past against coloured labour - was not aware at the time of the federal elections that all the probabilities, almost the certainties, were in favour of the abolition of kanaka labour, must have been politically and commercially, very simple indeed. It seems to me that those of the sugar-planters of Queensland who voted for federation were quite alive to the probability of the kanaka traffic being stopped ; but they thought that the opening up of the large markets of the south would be worth more to them than the retention of the kanaka. I do not say that their votes alone were sufficient to carry the Constitution Bill, because we find that there are only some 2,600 white men engaged in growing sugar cane. Their votes would not be an exceedingly large factor in the determination of the matter, but so far as they did cast a vote for federation, it seems to me that they had their eyes fully open to what was likely to occur. They reckoned on getting a market for their sugar, with protection against the outside world, and on being placed in a better position commercially than they were before. Now, having got the market secured, with the probability of some protection against imported sugar, they desire to keep both the market and the black labour. I have always shown a leaning towards the protectionist side of the fiscal question ; but if the planters do not get rid of black labour, they will get no protection from me. I have no ambition to pay more for the sugar that I consume, or to force others to do so, in order to keep in employment a number of degraded individuals such as these kanakas. These gentlemen in the North are rather overreaching themselves in the demands they are putting before the country at the present time.

Mr Isaacs - Protection is to maintain the standard of white labour.

Mr WATSON - Precisely. That is the only justification from my point of view for the contention of the protectionist. It does not seem that we can get these gentlemen to view the matter from anything like a reasonable stand-point. Another aspect of this question is its industrial bearing. While I believe that the white man is not likely to be employed under present conditions in the general field work of sugar growing - although I understand that a large proportion of Queensland sugar is grown by white labour, and white labour only - I would point out that it is useless to refer to the scarcity of white labour while the rates of pay now being offered obtain. According to Dr. Maxwell's report, I find that in the Cairns district, which admittedly has the worst climate, the wages given to white labourers working in the sugarfields amount on the average to £1 4s. 71/2d., or, roughly speaking, 25s. per week, and rations. In these southern districts, with all the advantages of a good climate, men cannot be got to wort on stations for less than £1 per week and rations, and yet the honorable member for Melbourne expressed his horrified surprise to find that white men would not undertake work in the Cairns district at this low rate of pay. I do not suppose that if the honorable member for Melbourne, himself were able to do the work ten times over in that climate he would be anxious toundertake it at that remuneration, and I should be sorry to ask any white man to do such work unless I was prepared to pay a much higher rate of wages than that. The whole question is one of wages and general conditions, and if white men are offered fairly good wages, and have a reasonable prospect of steady employment, there is no doubt that in the greater portion of Queensland they will be found to do the work reliably and well. White men will go wherever they can get good pay, and will perform their tasks in all extremes of heat and cold, from one pole to the other, much more efficiently than any black men. It is stated that, unless we are prepared to allow the kanakas to be employed in Queensland or in the Northern Territory generally, a large proportion of our resources there will remain undeveloped. We have toconsider not only the probability of the contamination of our race, but also what work of development can be carried on by means of kanaka labour in the Northern Territory; that is to say, how many of our own people will find profitable employment. I do not desire to see a development which means only the encouragement or the bringing into existence of a number of Legrees, who take advantage of the slave labour which is, practically, at their command ; but I would rather see a development there under conditions which will permit of our own people living in comfort, and allow them to bring up their children in the proper way. It has been argued that the kanaka is able to stand his work in the cane-fields a great deal better than the white man ; but, with regard to that point, I should like to direct the attention of the honorable member for Melbourne to some inconsistencies in his own speech. He said that the black man was much better able than the white man to carry on this class of work, but, in explanation of the large death rate among the kanakas, he stated that their physique was bad.

Sir Malcolm McEacharn - No, I said their physique was good. They send over a great many who are sickly, but I stated that on the cane-fields you will find strong men.

Mr WATSON - Dr. Maxwellmentions that, in the first year of their employment in Queensland, the kanakas lose about six weeks through ill-health, and the death rate amongst the kanakas should be compared with the death-rate amongst whites of practically corresponding ages. The deathrate amongst the kanakas quoted by the honorable member for Melbourne was 30 per 1,000. By reference to Coghlan's Seven Colonies I find that in Queensland during 1898 the total deaths amongst whites numbered 3,771. Of these 1,353 deaths occurred below the age of 15, and 1,285 over the age of 50. I think that if we take the age of the kanakas as ranging between 16 and 49 we shall be quite within the mark. The figures I have quoted include females, so that I am giving the honorable member for Melbourne all the benefit of the comparison. Out of the total of 3,77 1 deaths, we have to exclude 2,638 as being outside the ages which we have selected for the purposeof comparison, and that would bring the deathrate of the white people in Queensland between the ages of 16 and 49 to between 6 and 7 per 1,000. This is to be compared with 30 per 1,000 among kanakas, and is a very considerable improvement upon the death-rate quoted by the honorable member for Melbourne. It may be that a large proportion of sickly people are introduced there, but if so, what becomes of the regulations under which these kanakas are supposed to be imported ? The regulations state that no islander shall be allowed to land unless he is physically fit to perform the work.

Sir Malcolm Mceacharn - I was speaking of my experience when I was up there years ago.

Mr WATSON - If physically incapable men are introduced into the State in spite of all regulations, serious questions must arise as to the efficiency of the regulations, and we must conclude that in a traffic such as this, where we have on the one hand the human being who is only considered as a beast of burden, and on the other hand the person of superior intelligence who is placed in control over him, we cannot by any regulation bring the two parties into the relative positions they ought to occupy from the point of view of humanity. There is not only a strong probability, but almost a certainty of our being unable by regulation or inspection to prevent unjust, unfair, and inhuman treatment of people occupying such a subordinate position. The honorable member for Melbourne spoke of the comparatively small danger of racial contamination from the kanaka as compared with the Asiatic. I admit that, so far as the present position is concerned, there is not quite the same danger to be feared in that respect from the kanaka as from the Asiastic, but official returns show that quite a considerable number of kanakas marry white women in Queensland.

Sir Malcolm Mceacharn - We can stop that by law.

Mi'. WATSON.- That would probably lead to worse results. The condition of the kanakas, accompanied as they are by only some 5 per cent, of their own womenkind, must necessarily lead to a state of moral degradation not at all creditable to us, and not at all likely to commend itself to a Christian people such as we are. With regard to the provisions of this measure, I think the Bill is essentially a compromise between those - and they represent no inconsiderable number of honorable members in this House - who think that the traffic should be immediately stopped, and those who think that a fairly lengthy period should be allowed for the closing up of the labour traffic. I am quite prepared to admit that where a large industry has been established under the statute of a State, it is only fair that something like a reasonable time should be allowed in which to bring about a change in the condition of affairs. There is a considerable distinction between the position in regard to the kanaka and that which arises in respect to coloured aliens generally, but no reasonable complaint can be made against the term which is set out in the Bill. If we make the period too long, there will be a danger of the whole matter slipping through our fingers. In Queensland they have fixed two or three periods for the closing up of the kanaka traffic, but on each occasion, owing to the long period allowed, agitation has been worked up which has ended in an extension of the time. I think that we should declare ourselves regarding this traffic in such an emphatic way as to hold out no possible hope to the planters of Queensland of any extension of time being granted. Once this Bill has passed, it should be taken as the final word of the Commonwealth on the subject. I was not in favour of any extended period, but when the Government give us an opportunity of making a clear and definite declaration, I am willing to go to the extent proposed in the Bill. A suggestion was made some little time ago, and has since been given- greater prominence, that it will be possible by differential excise duties as between the sugar grown by white labour and that grown by black labour to make up to the sugar-growers the amount that it will be necessary for them to pay in order to employ white labour. The proposition at present before the country is that sugar grown by white labour shall pay an excise duty of only £1 per ton, and that, as compared with the £6 per ton protective duty, leaves a difference of £5 for the protection of such sugar. It seems to me that 5s. per cwt. is a very fair thing. It ought to be a sufficient protection to enable the sugar-growers of Queensland to be in a much better position than they have been up to the present, so far as the employment of white labour is concerned, because, though there has been a duty on sugar imports in Queensland, it has been absolutely inoperative. Owing to the great production of that State as compared with its local consumption, the duty upon sugar has been absolutely inoperative. As it does not seem likely that, for some years to come, the whole of the sugar production of Australia will be sufficient to cope with the consumption, it is certain that any Customs duty placed upon sugar by the Commonwealth will not only raise a certain amount of revenue, but will materially affect the price of local sugar. It seems to me that whatever import duty is imposed will have the effect of raising the price. Becauseour production all over Australia is not sufficient to meet the demand, it follows that any Customs duty will have the effect of raising the price. Although I do not suppose the price will be raised to the exact extent of the duty, it will probably get within 10s. a ton of it. In that case I anticipate that there will be a difference in favour of the sugar grown by white labour of £4 10s. per ton, which means to the sugar grower in Queensland an increase of twice that amount per ton if he grows his sugar by means of white labour. Of course, to the man who grows sugar with black labour it only represents £2 10s. per ton. There is another feature in regard to this suggestion of differentiating between black and white grown sugar which occurs to me. It is argued that differentiating in that way would be unconstitutional, because only one State would be affected. It must be remembered, however, that New South Wales employs in the sugar industry quite a number of kanakas and Hindoos - more Hindoos than kanakas - but a fairly large proportion of each. The number of these coloured labourers is given by Dr. Maxwell at just under a thousand. I am sorry to say that the backwash of the Queensland black labour traffic is responsible to a large extent for the existence of coloured labour in the New South Wales sugar industry. We always run that risk. It is all very well to say that these men only come here for a year or two, and are then taken back and thus trouble us no longer ; but we cannot prevent leakages. It is impossible under any law to absolutely prevent leakages, and the kanakas in New South Wales are almost entirely the result of leakages from Queensland. They number between 300 and 400. The Hindoos are chiefly direct importations. In any case the fact remains that we have employed in New South Wales at the present time a considerable number of these people - indeed, nearly all the trashing in that State is done either by Hindoos or kanakas. That is sufficient at least to get over the suggestion that any differentiation between white and the black grown sugar would be confined to one State only, and for that reason would be unconstitutional. As a matter of fact, at least two States are involved, and if the sugar industry were extended - as is quite possible - to the Northern Territory of South Australia, a third State would be affected by any such proposal.

Mr Watkins - They are suddenly finding out that the white man cannot cut sugar cane on the northern rivers of New South Wales.

Mr WATSON - They are bound to do that, for wherever there is an opportunity of getting coloured labour cheaply, a variety of excuses is always available to those desiring to employ it. In New South Wales the planters are just as ready as are those in any other section of the Commonwealth to take advantage of an excuse of that character. I do not think it is necessary to say much more on this matter. I have only taken that general interest in the question which the citizens of Australia, outside of Queensland, have so far exhibited. There are, I am glad to say, in this House a number of honorable members who are more closely associated with the industry, and who, at any rate, because of its proximity to themselves, have had a better opportunity of giving it a detailed study than have most honorable members. Therefore, we may expect from them a greater attention to details, and a closer acquaintance with the whole bearings of the subject than has been exhibited by the honorable member for Melbourne. As far as I am concerned, whatever the position of Queensland itself might be, I would still argue for the abolition of the kanaka traffic in that State. Those of us who hold that opinion are at least confirmed in our general intentions by the verdict of Queensland itself. Not only so, but in view of all the circumstances that were likely to arise, and in view of the almost certainty that the Southern States would declare for a white Australia, Queensland entered the Federation. Also, in the election that has since taken place, that State declared by an overwhelming majority in favour of a white Australia.

Sir Malcolm McEacharn - That was on account of the popularity of the candidates.

Mr WATSON - It was on account of the popularity of the cry. The honorable member stated a few minutes ago that he was becoming used to politics.

Sir Malcolm McEacharn - I am beginning to know what they are.

Mr WATSON - The honorable member said that the candidates in Queensland had taken up the popular cry, but he should know enough of politicians to feel assured that they would never have taken up that cry unless the people were likely to support them. The fact that it was a popular cry shows that the people must have been in favour of it. Otherwise it could not have become popular.

Sir Malcolm McEacharn - The honorable member's leader would not decide in Brisbane.

Mr WATSON - The honorable member has no right to refer to any one here as my leader. The leader of the Opposition and the leader of the Government were, I am sorry to say, equally hesitant in Brisbane with regard to the time within which this legislation should become operative. The successful Queensland candidates, however, were not hesitant at all, because they gave the people clearly to understand that they would abolish the kanaka traffic at the first opportunity.

Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - Not all of them.

Mr WATSON - I think that I have a recollection of the honorable member for Oxley declaring himself in favour of the abolition of this traffic.

Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - If it could be done without destroying the sugar industry.

Mr WATSON - I understood the honorable member to say that he was not returned as a supporter of the kanaka in the sugar industry. If I was mistaken I apologize. In any case, the important fact to be borne in mind is that a majority of the members returned to represent the State of Queensland in both Houses - not only a majority in sectional districts, but a majority for the whole of Queensland polled as one constituency - has declared in favour of the abolition of kanaka labour. Every man in the Senate representing that State is opposed to black labour, whether it be in the form of kanakas, or of any other coloured persons In this Chamber I do not know that there are more than two honorable members who were returned in favour of black labour.

Sir Malcolm McEacharn - I said that I would not abolish kanaka labour.

Mr WATSON - But the honorable member was returned for a district where the pressure of the kanaka does not appear on the surface, and where even the Chinaman is kept out of sight. In the districts from which the Queensland representatives come the evil is close at hand,' and is realized by the people. Therefore, it is the more significant that we have had the results to which I have alluded. It has been already mentioned that the recent Darling Downs election affords another instance in which the present State Government took advantage of the opportunity to again raise the black flag. They fought the question there, and yet with all the faggot votes thrown in - the votes of a number of people in Brisbane who did not reside in the district - and with all the other influences in favour of the State Governmental candidate, they did not succeed in winning the seat.

Sir Malcolm McEacharn - That was because the honorable member for Darling Downs had the Federal Ministry at his back.

Mr WATSON - But as the programme of the present Federal Ministry had been disclosed, they ought, according to the honorable member, to have been the most unpopular men in Queensland ; instead of which the more they stiffen their backs upon this question the more popular they become. Then I notice that Mr. Philp seeks to discount the victories of the antikanaka candidates in Queensland by a statement of the number of votes which they received. He says that out of a total number of 90,000 votes on the roll, they received only 29,000.

Sir MALCOLM McEACHARN (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) - The others put too many candidates into the field.

Mr WATSON - If we count all the votes recorded for the pro-kanaka candidates, we find that they are still a long way behind. The fact of the matter is that of those who took the trouble to vote in Queensland there was a very considerable majority against the continuance of the kanaka traffic. There is only another observation of Mr. Philp that requires comment. He states that if Queensland had desired to herself abolish the kanaka traffic, she would have done so through the local Parliament. But plural voting obtains to a far larger extent in Queensland, so far as the actual facilities offered to the plural voter are concerned, than in any other State. There are ballot-boxes at Brisbane for quite a variety of places, some of which are 1,500 miles distant - a state of affairs that never occurred in New South AVales, even in the worst days of plural voting. In view of that it is a wonder that so many men were returned to the Queensland State Parliament pledged against the kanaka traffic. But in addition we know that there is an organization in Queensland known as the " bull-coekers," or some name like that - an association called after the gentleman who is responsible for its existence.

Mr B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - There is no such organization.

Mr WATSON - I have heard it alluded to.

Mr McDonald - It is the National Association.

Mr WATSON - It seems that the special province of the association is to take advantage of the temporary absence of any individual from home to have his name removed from the roll if he is not of the right political colour. The result is that the association boasts every year of the number of unsuspecting voters who have been removed from the roll by virtue of objections raised before the purifying magistrate, as he may be termed.

Mr McDONALD (KENNEDY, QUEENSLAND) -PatersoX. - That is all wrong.

Mr WATSON - My experience in other places teaches me that it is pretty well correct, in all probability. However, I say that under all circumstances, even in New South Wales, it is comparatively difficult for one who is a working man, and who has no home of his own in the ordinary sense of the term - who is not a freeholder, and has to shift about from one place to another, following his employment- to continue on a roll, or to get on long enough before an election to qualify to vote. Under the circumstances in Queensland I can quite understand that it is even more difficult, with the result that a large proportion of the community is permanently disfranchised. Therefore any argument founded on the appearance of things, so far as the success of the State elections is concerned, has to be discounted by facts of this character. I have only to say that, so far as the Bill is concerned, I am prepared to give the Government every assistance in carrying it through. But I trust this House will see the wisdom of not relaxing the provisions of the Bill in the slightest degree. It will certainly be something gained, from my point of view, if at the end of this Parliament we are able to point to the definite date on which this kanaka traffic, in all its various ramifications, will cease. If we extend that period to a too distant time, there is danger always of a successful ad misericordiam appeal on behalf of a number of these planters, or of advantage being taken of some temporary aberration on the part of voters generally, when engaged on some other question, to alter the law. I trust that the Bill will be passed in its present state, and that it will be declared without any possibility of misunderstanding that the people of Australia have determined that this semi-slavery shall end, no matter what the consequences may be.

Motion (by Mr. B. Edwards) proposed -

That the debate be now adjourned.

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