Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 7 November 1901

Mr BARTON (Hunter) (Minister for External Affairs) . - I think the proposal in the Bill is reasonable, and if that be the sense of the House, I do not see why the clause shouldbe altered. I do not want to make a long speech, because I desire to see this Bill sent to the Senate as soon as possible. Certain specific dates are mentioned in its provisions, and it is important that the Bill should be passed into law before the1st January, otherwise amendments will have to be made in the dates in order to keep faith and adhere to the same specific periods. The honorable member for Oxley has charged me with not having kept faith with Queensland, but I am quite suremy conscience is clear on that point. At any stage of any of my speeches I never gave Queensland to understand that there would be any Bill except some such measure as this. It was impossible at that stage to say whether three, four, five, six, or seven years would be fixed by the Cabinet, who had not then agreed on the dates, and who must have known, as a Cabinet, that they had so to arrange dates as to command public approval.

Mr Fisher - The Prime Minister was perfectly plain at Bundaberg.

Mr BARTON - I was plain in saying at all times that a reasonably short period would be fixed. I used the words " reasonably short " in nearly every speech, pointing out that no long term of years would be proposed. I am sure the honorable member for Oxley is mistaken in saying that I gave the people of Queensland to understand that I would visitthat Stateagain before I dealt with the question. The honorable gentleman is suffering from mistaken identity, and is thinking of the leader of the Opposition.

Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - I never heard the leader of the Opposition in Queensland.

Mr BARTON - It was the leader of the Opposition who said he would visit Queensland again, probably in April ; and that he would not make up his mind until he did so. I never wavered in my statements from beginningto end of the campaign. The honorable member for Oxley says that Queensland has a right to ask for some extension ; but an extension has been granted.When, in 1892, the Premier of

Queensland put forward his manifesto, to the effect that a term of ten years would be sufficient - a term which will expire next year - there did not seem to be any who thought it was not a liberal offer to make. But in order that, if possible, the time might be shortened, and might not extend so long as ten years, the right honorable gentleman who was then Premier of Queensland said he would not put any term in the Bill, because that would go far to create vested interests. The Bill was therefore passed in the form suggested by the Premier, in order to prevent the creation of vested interests, yet an extension is now asked for largely on the ground that vested interests exist. I do not think that such a position is within reason. I admit that when we are dealing with an important industry we ought to give those engaged in it an opportunity of turning round and making other arrangements without unnecessary loss to themselves, and that is why the term of five years is fixed for agreements, and a little over two years for the purpose of licences. It must be recollected that in Queensland there is a force of something like 9, 000 kanakas available for employment until the expiration of the period named in the Bill. I do not admit that Queensland is asking for a further extension than that which this Bill proposes to grant. Queensland does not ask for an extension, as the Federal elections showed beyond all doubt.


Mr BARTON - The honorable member is entitled to his opinion, as I am entitled to mine ; but I venture to say that the result of the Federal elections, so far as elections can prove anything, proves the fact that probably seven-ninths of the population of Queensland are in favour of the termination of this traffic in a reasonably short time ; and " a reasonably short term of years" were the very words I used. If the elections show what I have indicated, I do not think it would be fair to the electors to make the term unduly long. We know that there are a number of honorable members in the House who would gladly vote for the instant abolition of the traffic, and who are taking a moderate and reasonable course, from their point of view, in supporting the proposals of the Bill. We know also that extensions of time have been proposed and carried from time to time, sometimes by those who, there was reason to expect, would support further extensions when the time came. Looking at the matter from that point of view, I think we have done fairly and reasonably by providing the time mentioned in this clause and in the other clause dealing with the licences. There are those who say that the industry can never be carried on without black labour, and yet, when these people are making a request for something other than this Bill, they point to five, seven, or ten years - I dare say some would like it to be 100 years - as a reasonable period to allow.

Sir Malcolm McEacharn - Not because it is reasonable ; but because it is all they can get.

Mr BARTON - If the industry cannot be carried on without black labour, the position taken up by those persons to whom Ihave referred does not seem quite consistent. From their position, this would seem rather a case for a straight-out fight between those who say that black labour is indispensable, and those who say that it is not. I do not wish to dwell on that point, but only to urge that I think we are acting fairly and reasonably in this clause, and, therefore, are not called upon to accept the amendment. I should like to say a word on the question which has been raised concerning New Guinea. I do not want to anticipate the debate on the motion of which notice has been given ; but if New Guinea is taken over, and becomes a territory of the Commonwealth, a resolution carried by us would merely be a justification by Parliament of the intermediate administrative Action by the Government. The matter of New Guinea cannot be finally settled without an Act of Parliament, or, perhaps, more than one Act, in which all questions of this kind can, and will be, strictly defined.We have not yet taken over New Guinea, and I do not think we need complicate the discussion by references to that subject. The Government's policy in regard to New Guinea will, I think, be appreciated by those who have followed what the Government are doing in this matter.

Sir Malcolm McEacharn - Is New Guinea not included amongst the Pacific Islands affected by this Bill ?

Mr BARTON - That is a question which need not trouble us now, because, in a Bill dealing with New Guinea, we shall have to pay attention specifically to that question. As to the appointment of a Royal commission, which has been so much spoken of, I agree with the argument used by the honorablemember for Maranoa, namely, that public opinion has shown clearly what its direction is. Public opinion, in Queensland particularly, has proved that no Royal commission is expected by the majority of the people of that State. There are before this House reports, pamphlets, and every other kind of information to a greater extent than was ever before the Queensland Parliament when this question was dealt with. There has not been shown throughout the debate one reason for expecting that facts, which are not already in printed documents,will be discovered by any such inquiry. If that cannot be shown, then I think there is no case for a Royal commission. It is absurd to say, as some honorable members have said, that I have boasted of an inordinate degree of knowledge on this subject. I claim no knowledge on this or any other subject, but this Parliament has the means of obtaining knowledge in a greater degree than any Parliament which has previously dealt with the question. The time is ripe for action, and I see no reason to depart from the provision in the clause.

Mr. V.L. SOLOMON (South Australia). - I thought that when the Prime Minister commenced his speech he intended to suggest some compromise or middle course. The right honorable gentlemen said that he did not intend to absolutely fight the question, though he thought the proposals of the Government were satisfactory.

Mr Barton - I did intend to fight the question; I said the proposals of the Government were not unreasonable.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - We have already dealt with the question of a Royal commission, and that matter is not before us now.

Mr Barton - I was only answering what an honorable member had said.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The question before us is, when this Bill shall come into operation. It is all very well for the Prime Minister to say that in Queensland he did not pledge himself to anything except some indefinite quantity.

Mr Barton - I never said that.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The right honorable gentlemen spoke of, I think, " a reasonable time." What is a reasonable time?

Mr Barton - What is a " reasonably short time ?"

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - A reasonably short time may mean one thing under some circumstances and another thing under other circumstances. I think that if the balance of opinion on the Queensland side had been for an extension, the attitude of the Prime Minister would hardly be so stiff-necked as it is.

Mr Page - The honorable member is speaking feelingly.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I am speaking from six months' experience of the present administration.

Mr Fisher - The same attitude will be observed after a longer period.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Perhaps so. All that the honorable member for Oxley asks is that the period during which island labourers may be imported shall be extended from 1904 to 1909. I should like to point out that if this clause is not altered it will be very difficult to amend clause6, which says that after 1901 kanakas shall be imported only according to a certain scale. Clause 3, as it stands in the Bill, is utterly misleading. It makes it appear that kanaka labourers may be imported up to 1904, whereas under clause 6 it is provided that during 1902 the number imported shall not exceed three-fourths of the number who have been returned in 1901, while in 1903 the number to be imported is to be reduced to not more than one-half of the number who have been returned during the previous year. We shall not have done with this question when we pass this clause. There are still a large number of steps in the procedure which must be observed in getting the Bill through, and honorable members who are anxious to see it passed will not do well to prolong the debate by being too stiff-necked. No doubt a certain section of the committee have the Government fairly under the whip. Were it not so, the discussion of the Tariff, which is a matter of vital interest to every commercial man in the States, would not have been postponed to enable this Bill to be brought forward.

Suggest corrections