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- Start of Business
- PACIFIC ISLANDS LABOURERS BILL
Tuesday, 5 November 1901
Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - When speaking during the debate on the second reading of the Bill, I intimated that it was my intention at a later stage to move that this Bill be referred to a Royal commission, with the object of obtaining more information upon the kanaka question and upon the sugar industry in Northern Queensland. I think honorable members of this House are very much in need of more information with regard to the sugar industry, which has been flourishing for a good number of years past in Northern Queensland, and I cannot understand why the Government should be afraid to grant the request for an inquiry.
Mr Page - They are not afraid.
Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - They are afraid that they will not find things as bad as they have tried to make out.
Mr Page - They are worse.
Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - I think the honorable member for Maranoa is in error in stating that things are worse than they have been represented. The only objection that could possibly be urged against granting an inquiry is that a few months delay would be involved, but there would be no danger in that, and it would be much better to incur the delay of a few months than to run the risk of destroying, or even injuring, one of the most important industries that Queensland possesses. I am only asking what is reasonable, and what the sugar planters have a right to expect from the Commonwealth Government. It is a principle of British law that no criminal can be convicted without an inquiry being held into the charge against him, but apparently Queensland is not to be allowed the same rights and privileges as the greatest criminal in the land. Queensland has already been convicted in the minds of honorable members, who have come to the conclusion that that State has been guilty of something very serious indeed.
Mr Page - Why did the honorable member fight the question on the platform at the last election?
Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - I shall be able to justify the attitude I am taking up. As I say, Queensland has already been convicted, and now this Parliament is about to pronounce sentence, without extending British fair play and common justice. If this Bill is carried it will inflict a great injustice on Queensland, and will create a bitter feeling against federation and the Commonwealth Government for a generation to come. I am personally very anxious to avoid any cause of irritation.
Mr Fisher - The honorable member is acting in the right way to cause irritation.
Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - I would ask the Government to appoint a commission before any decisive steps are taken with regard to the kanaka question in Queensland. I am quite sure that the Queensland Government will undertake that the number of kanakas shall not be increased during the time that the inquiry is proceeding. Honorable members know very well that provisionhas already been made in the
Immigration. Restriction Bill to prevent the admission of any other alien races to our shores. By forcing this Bill through, against the wishes of Queensland, we shall be exhibiting a most unfriendly attitude towards a sister State, and doing a serious injury to many industrious settlers. Had the kanakas been as numerous, or had they belonged to a country as powerful as is Japan, the Prime Minister would have hesitated before displaying such an unfriendly attitude towards them. Personally, I am inclined to think - and I have heard a good deal about this matter during the past two or three weeks - that the Government have been forced to introduce this drastic measure by a section of this House. To my mind, the provisions contained in the Bill were dictated by the Queensland labour party. In support of this view, I may mention that in other States there is reason for thinking and saying this. In one of the Tasmanian papers, published at the beginning of last month, I find the following : -
Some members of the labour party were anxious to insist that the traffic should cease in three years, and not in five years, as the Ministry proposed. But in view of the fact that the deportation was to begin practically at once, a general agreement was arrived at that the party should give its united support to the central provisions of the Bill, with the reservation that the alterations of detail and not of moment, which might suggest themselves, should be considered later on.
Mr Barton - Who said that?
Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - The Weekly Courier of 5th October. It is published in Launceston. The article continues -
There are indications that the Kanaka Bill will go through the House of Representatives practically unaltered, as it is understood that the Government consulted the Queensland labour party as to the general character of the measure.
Mr Barton - Is that a statement to the effect that the Government consulted the labour party upon this question, because, if so, it is absolutely false?
Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - I have no knowledge of the paper.
Mr Barton - I should think not, because the honorable member is an honest man.
Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - I think that those who know mo will say that I am equally honest with the Prime Minister. When I make a promise I adhere to it. In the last issue of United Australia I find the following, under 'the heading of "The Voice of Queensland " : -
If Mr. Barton and his colleagues were not wholly given over tothesixteen ortwentylabour representatives who siton the Oppositioncorner, and to whom at least two-thirds of the Prime Minister's speech on the introduction of the Kanaka Bill were addressed, they would pay more heed than they appear to be doing to the powerful appeal which has been addressed, by the Premierof Queensland, to the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth. "The State Government," saidMr. Philp, " was totally unprepared for legislation of so summary and drastic a nature as contemplated in thepresent Bill." Naturally, they had trusted to some attention being paid to the opinions of authoritative persons, and especially to those of Br. Maxwell, arecognised expert, who was commissioned by theCommonwealthGovernment to -report upon the whole sugar industry. It must bo assumed that Mr. Philp represents the Queensland people ; for otherwise there would be some counter expression of opinion, either in or out of theState Parliament ; yet,though Queensland speaks through the highest political authorityin the State,the federal Government is adamant - why? because the legislation is being demanded by the labour party, and 'the Commonwealth Government has notthe resolution to do what it must know to be just.
Mr Barton - Is that the same rag?
Mr.R. EDWARDS. - No ; this is another rag, namely, United Australia.
Mr Deakin -It is the same class of paper.
Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) -I think that honorablemembers haveseensome very valuable articles which were written by the Attorney-General published in that paper.
Mr Deakin - I did not write that.
Mr Barton - Perhaps the honorable member f or Oxley will allow me to say that that paper has assumed a partisantone - notwithstanding the assistance which my honorable and learnedfriend the AttorneyGeneral and myself have given to it - which rendors it unworthy of credence.
Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - There is some very good reading in it Still.
Mr Mauger -But itis very one-sided.
Sir Malcolm McEacharn - It is like the honorable member's speeches.
Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - It continues-
Another argument - and a strong one- is that thereare in existenceState laws by which the black labourwill be gradually got rid of ; yet the Commonwealth has stepped completely over it to satisfy this reckless demand for almost instantaneous suppression, and now proposes to handicap the industry (so far as black labour is concerned) to theextent of £2 a ton on its products - beginning in July next.
In answer to the superficial contention that the senators of Queensland, as representatives of that
State, are in favour of instant abolition, Mr. Philp answersthatthosesame senators represent only 29,000 but of 104,000 electors. He further says that the State of 'Queenslandwillbe " victimised" ; and there can beno doubt that if that State had, at the last moment, consented to join the union, only on condition that the block labour question should bo reserved for the local Parliament, the concession would have been immediately granted. The Queensland people may well feel bitter.
They will feel more bitter still if this Bill becomes law.
Mr Fisher -From what newspaper has the honorable member : been quoting ?
Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - The extracts which I have read are taken from United Australia,one of thepapers to which the Attorney-General has been writing.
Mr Deakin - It is now a partisan paper.
Mr Barton - I altogether disownthe opinion of thatpaper, although I have been connected with it.
Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - Those extracts confirm my opinion that the provisions containedin this Bill have been dictated to the Government by the Queensland labour party. Possibly that -party believe that they aretaking the proper course to bringabout a white Australia. But I believethat,by forcing the Government to pass this measure against the wishes of Queensland, they : are doing a serious injury to the verypeople whom they particularly desire to 'benefit. The passage of this measure will result in many thousands of white workers being thrown out of employment. We had that experience in Queenslandten years ago. I mentioned this 'fact some three weeks back, in speaking aboutthe number of -white men who were thrown out of employment in 1891, when the sugar industry nearly collapsed. The state ofthe industry at that particular period was such thatSirSamuel Griffith, who was then Premier of Queensland, sawthat a very serious error hadbeen made, and that if this industry were to be saved, labourwould haveto be got in some wayforthe planter. Theright honorable gentlemanat that timesubordinated his own opinions forthe benefit ofQueensland. I donot saythatthe right honorablegentleman changed his mind, because I believe that atthattime - and atthis day -nornan was moredesirous thanSir-Samuel Griffith for a white Australia. However, -seeing that a large number of white workers were thrown out of employment because of the legislation he had introduced and passed through the Queensland Parliament, Sir Samuel Griffith decided on changing his policy, and issued the manifesto which I shall have the pleasure of referring to later on. The result was that kanakas were again allowed to come into Queensland, and planters were supplied with all the labour they required. The industry then went forward by leaps and. bounds until the manifesto issued by the Prime Minister at Maitland; and now the planters are getting into difficulties similar to those they experienced about 1890. Financial institutions and banks will have nothing to say now to any sugar securities, and planters are beginning to seriously think not of putting in any more cane, but of getting rid of their properties as quickly as they can.
Mr Page - How many properties have changed hands since the Maitland speech?
Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - I am afraid that none as yet have changed hands. I said I would justify myself in the stand I have taken in reference tothe sugar industry of the State from which I come. I shall do so by reading what I said at public meetings when I was before the electors in March last. I was reported as follows : -
Thelast sentence brought him to the question of a white Australia, a question which was just now so very prominently before Queenslanders, although he did not think there was much more in the cry than to catch votes. (Applause.) But this question was closely related to the well-being of an industry in Queensland - that of the growing and manufacture of sugar. (Applause.) Queensland could not afford to sacrifice an industry such us this. (Applause.) -This industry was the means of providing employment to over 20,000 white people, andhe was prepared to support any measure having for its object the gradual abolition of coloured labour. There were 50,000 men, women, and children who derived a benefit from or were interested in the sugar industry, and he would be no party to agree to any hasty or reckless legislation that would bring ruin and disaster to an industry which provided directly or otherwise a living for such a large number of persons. (Applause. ) Bather than destroy he would build up and establish other industries, so that they might have abundant and regular work for all their people. He would urge that a Royal Commission of independent men be appointed to take evidence as to conditions of labour on sugar plantations before he would imperil this important industry. There were in our midst Chinese, Syrians, and Japanese, who were a far greater danger to Queensland, together with the Hindoos, than the few thousand kanakas who were entirely employed on the sugar plantations.
He had not known during his 32 years in Queensland the kanaka to become a tradesman or a storekeeper.
A Voice. - Have you known them to become coachmen ?
Mr. EDWARDSsaid he never had one for a coachman. (Applause.) He objected to kanakas being employed at anything outside of the sugar industry, and did not want them to be in Queensland permanently, but only until the planters could do without them. A number of years at any rate must be giventhem. As to Chinese, Syrians, Japanese, and Hindoos, they were or became here expert tradesmen, or they opened shops, and were keen competitors with all the white workers throughout the State. Those were the people who became a great danger to Queensland. They had increased in Australia something like 100 per cent. during the last ten years. There had been some 7,000 or 8,000, and now there ware between 15,000 and 16,000. Something ought to be done to restrict those people in particular. (Hear, hear. ) He only wished them to use their common sense in the matter. Those whose cry was the loudest for doing away with the kanakas were the people who were quite prepared to consume sugar grown in other countries by people who were, it might be said, nothing else but slaves. It was said at one time that the planters employed kanakas because of their cheapness, but a white man had told him the previous night that a white man could do as much workas that of four kanakas. If that was the case, it could not be for the sake of cheapness that kanakas were employed, and they might depend upon it that if the planters could get reliable white labour they would be only too glad to doaway with the kanaka. Let them not, however, ruin the industry which had done so much for the colony. If they did so then 20,000 white workers would become unemployed, and nobody wanted that. (Applause.)
I am rather afraid that if this Bill becomes law there will be a much larger number than 20,000 white workers thrown out of work, because the industry is much more extensive now than it was ten years ago. What I have quoted is what I said to the electors of Oxley in March last, and I think I said something to the same effect at nearly every meeting I held during that month. The electorate of Oxley is one of considerable extent, comprising.no fewer than half-a-dozen State electorates, which return seven members to the Queensland Parliament. All classes are represented in the electorate, including working men, shopkeepers, merchants, manufacturers, and a very large number of farmers, none of whom are directly, but all of whom are indirectly, and largely interested in the sugar industry. As I explained in the House a. few months ago, thefarmers are interested in the industry indirectly, because it gives them a more extensive market and better prices for their dairy and farm produce. I should like to give honorable members as much information as I can upon this question, which I feel is one of very great importance - of very much more importance than the Federal Tariff - to Queensland. I have had conversations with honorable members of this House, some of whom have readily admitted that they know nothing about the kanaka question or much about the sugar industry, and who, under the circumstances, are under the impression that the safest course for them is to follow the Government. Other honorable members who do not know anything about kanakas, whose colour they hardly know except by hearsay and who know nothing about the sugar industry, regard themselves as occupying a judicial position. They listen to the arguments for and against the Bill, in the sincere hope of being able to arrive at a right conclusion before the division takes place. Of the latter honorable members I have some hope, but as to the honorable members who are as much in the dark as the Government themselves, 'and yet are ready to follow whatever course the Government may take, I have very little hope of converting them. I should now like to read the opinion of the people of Townsville as expressed soon after the provisions of this Bill were made known -
The opinion at Townsville is that the Bill is simply a means to ruin the industry earlier than was expected. The assurance that the Tariff proposals will compensate planters impresses nobody, as the conviction is strongly held that the industry cannot be conducted in the tropics without special labour, and that the labour market is incapable of providing white labour, even if it were suitable.
That report is taken from the Argus of October 7.
Mr Bamford - Subsequently a public meeting censured the council for passing the resolution.
Mr Page - They were censured before that at the elections.
Mr Barton - Has the honorable member any report of public meetings of citizens in Queensland which have condemned this Bill?
Mr Page - Even in Brisbane no such meeting has been held.
Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - I shall place some reports of such meetings before the House before I have concluded. I shall be able to put before the House reports of public meetings held in various parts of Queensland to consider this Bill. The following report is taken also from the Argus of 7th ult.: -
Dismay at Cairns.
A feeling of utmost dismay prevails amongst planters, shippers, and merchants in the Cairns district in regard to the Pacific Island Labourers Bill. In the event of the measure becoming law there will, it is said, be an absolute depreciation of property. No hope is entertained of palliating the effect by any remedial provisions of the Tariff. A feeling of insecurity predominates, and the collapse of the whole industry is foretold, because other aliens may be treated in the same way as is proposed to be done with the kanaka.
I quote again from the Argus of the 7th ult., an extract giving the opinions voiced by the BrisbaneCourier:-
The Brisbane Courier, of Thursday, says - ' Mi-. Barton asks that the Kanaka Bill be read along with the Budget and Tariff presently to be introduced. His faith apparently is that the sugar duty about to be proposed, will enable the planter to can y on the industry with white labour. This faith rests on the assumption that the difficulty in the utilisation of white labour is a difficulty of wages only. It is nothing short of astounding that, after all the representations made by those who know, after the reiterated illustrations to the contrary, produced by this and other journals, after the report of Dr. Maxwell himself, which, if it proved anything, proved that the desideratum was racial adaptation rather than wages, the Government of the Commonwealth should cling to this assumption, and make it the basis of legislation."
Mr Barton - The Brisbane Courier has expressed every possible opinion in regard to the question of black labour.
Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - It gives very correct opinions.
Mr Barton - But all of them cannot be correct ?
Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - I find that in his report Dr. Maxwell sets forth that in 1885 there were 38,557 acres of cane crushed, 55,796 tons of sugar made, and 10,755 Pacific Islanders employed in the industry in Queensland. In 1899, however, there were 79,435 acres of cane crushed and 123,289 tons of sugar made, yet the number of kanakas had been reduced to 8,826. That is, in proportion to the whole of the Queensland sugar industry, the employment of kanaka labour had been reduced by about 60 per cent, during that period. At the date of the making of the report the average area under sugar cane, per grower, was 42 -6 acres. It has been pointed out that this indicates that as the number of small growers has increased kanaka labour has decreased, and that the kanaka is not a source of much danger to a white Australia. It is the Japanese and other coloured races we have to fear. A few days ago I received a letter from a working man in Brisbane, inwhich he criticised the Tariff as well as the provisions of this measure. I ought to inform the Prime Minister that this gentleman's criticism of the Tariff was not altogether unfavorable, although he acknowledged that there were some items which might be very much improved.Referring to the working men, he then went onto say : -
With one part they are not satisfied - that is the Kanaka Bill - and they are all of one mind. It means destruction to the sugar industry in the north. And a strange thing : I was talking yesterday to some labour men, that is, wharf labourers, and they don't want the kanaka to go. They wish to keep him. They say if he goes the Hindoo will come, and he will be worse. I mentioned the Immigration Restriction Bill. "Oh !" they replied, "the British Government will have something to say on that point."
I have also received a letter from a sugar planter residing at Gerald ton. That gentleman writes -
Many thanks for the Kanaka Bill, though at the same time we most heartily wish the measure had never been conceived. Things are indeed gloomy in North Queensland now, and business is at a stand-still. Land security is absolutely valueless, as we know only too well. Banks and other financial institutions refuse point blank to do business in tropical securities, and the farmers - ourselves amongst them - working on borrowed capital, feel the pinch most acutely. Of course, existing crops will be harvested*, but further planting will be represented by the minus sign, in view of the early extinction of our labour supply.
The opinion amongst all classes here, save the socialists, is that Queensland, and especially North Queensland, has been most criminally sold by Mr. Barton for the support of legislators who seek to secure a monopoly of all wages work in Queensland at an impossible rate - men who would cheerfully witness the ruin of an industry in which ?7,000,000 of money are invested, to say nothing of other smaller investments in the tropics.
Yours, &c. ,
F. and W. Harding.
I have reports of a number of meetings held by associations in various parts of Queensland to consider this measure. The first that I will quote is the report of the National Agricultural and Industrial Association of Queensland.
Mr Page - Where does that association meet ?