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Friday, 10 November 1905

Mr DEAKIN (Ballarat) (Minister of External Affairs) . - I move -

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of (this measure is, first of all, to remove the many misapprehensions that have clustered1 around the application of the contract. labour sections of the Immigration Restriction Act. The present Act, as originally drawn, was to apply only to the general exclusion of coloured races. But, during its consideration in Committee, a new clause was inserted which was aimed at ali races whether they could assimilate with ourselves without injury to our institutions and standards or not. Dealing with immigrants solely from the economic standpoint, it applied to people of our own race, and even to those of our own country, who might happen to be outside the Commonwealth. Consequently, the original provisions in relation to coloured peoples have affected British citizens who seek to enter the Commonwealth under contracts to perform manual labour. A great deal of misapprehension has thus occurred which ought to be removed. This Bill recognises, first of all, the difference between these two classes of immigrants, since it deals with contract labour, and contract Labour only. It will, of course, cover contract labour without respect to colour or race. Coloured labourers under contract would be subject to both measures. They would first of all be prohibited immigrants under the Immigration Restriction Act, but if they, were exempt they would still be subject to the conditions imposed by this Bill. For all that this Bill is very unlikely to be applied to them. No circumstances Have arisen in Australia to lead to a proposal to introduce coloured labour under contract. This Bill, though applying to all persons coming here under, contract to perform manual labour, will really affect Europeans, and, so far as one can see, them only. The United States has lately taken steps to modify the strict law which they originally enacted, excluding all persons under contract. Under recent amendments, I believe, professional people and certain persons engaged in mental pursuits are admitted although under contract.

Mr Higgins - The restrictions imposed by the original Act are largely evaded.

Mr DEAKIN - I dare say. But the United States Act has been so amended as- to bring it more into conformity with our own law on the subject, which deals with persons seeking to enter the Commonwealth under contract only to perform manual- labour. Judging by experience, there is no reason to suppose that either under the existing law. or the amending Bills now submitted, there is likely to be any considerable influx of contract labour into Australia. It would appear that there are not many employers who desire to introduce labour under contract,, and that the number of men whom they wish so to introduce is very small. I doubt if, since the passing, of the original Act, there have been more than a dozen applications, covering altogether two score contract labourers. There is always a possibility, however, that changed conditions, may lead to a. greater demand for contract labour.

Mr Hutchison - In the eyes of some employers, arbitration laws will constitute " changed conditions."

Mr DEAKIN - Arbitration- laws, and, indeed, all other laws passed by the S'tates, will remain unaffected by this measureNothing that can- be done under it will add to or take away from the States control of all employes within their own. areas.

Mr Hutchison - Where the workers are organized.

Mr DEAKIN - This Bill will not interfere with the existing laws of the States. The point I was about to make when interrupted was that it is necessary, in our,, own interests, that we should let it be clearly understood that this is . not an. Immigration Restriction Act. This is a measure to deal with intending immigrants who are under restriction. Neither this nor any proposed Bill, nor any Act, excludes an uncontracted man who wishes to come to this country from Great Britain or from Europe. No free- man of the British race,, or of allied races, nasi ever been prevented under the Immigration Restriction Act from! entering. Australia, and I do not believe, that any such man ever will be prevented.'

Mr Robinson - Is a man who has- a position waiting for him- not 'a> free man ?

Mr DEAKIN - I will deal with that point presently. The immigration for which we are most anxious, taking our experience as a guide, will be free immigration - not, to any noteworthy extent, immigration of persons under contract. In the great bulk of cases those- who come here, like those who go to Canada and South Africa, will be men whose desire in coming to a newland will be to obtain that which has been denied them, in the crowded countries of the old world, men whose ambition it is to make some spot of land their own, to settle upon and to cultivate. The stream of immigration which- we need, for which we hope, and which we ought to assist, is a stream of men who do not wait for a contract or obligation. The immigrants who go to the United States and to Canada in thousands are immigrants of this kind, those who are under contract being, in comparison, a mere handful.

Mr Hutchison - The American law does' not do what the Bill proposes to do:

Mr DEAKIN - We will consider that matter when we come to it. Our circumstances are different, and necessarily the treatment may be so. What we wish to do first is to show that no restriction is placed on the 'admission of free immigrants to Australia, and to emphasize the fact that this measure deals only with those who propose to come here under some restriction as to employment In regard to intending immigrants who are under contract, there is to be perfectly free entrance if the contract is submitted beforehand! to the Minister. Having been submitted, it will be considered first in the light of the intention of the contract labour provision in the Immigration Restriction Act, to ascertain if it has been made with reference to industrial disputes here, to displace Australian workmen by imported labour. It is universally recognised, I believe, that this is a proper precaution to take, because it is felt that no settlement of an industrial dispute by such a method could be permanent, or would contribute to the prosperity of the community. Industrial disputes arising in connexion with local conditions should be settled in accordance with those conditions, instead of 'by the importation from abroad of men ignorant of them, or perhaps belonging toraces allied to our own, who have not reached the same stage of industrial development. I think that honorable members generally agree that the importation of labour to take part in strikes should be prohibited, and it will continue to be prohibited. The first point to which consideration will be given in connexion with any contract submittedwill be whether itwill affect any existing, or contemplated industrial dispute. Sub-clause b aims at the same end. The intention is to prevent an irruption of contracted persons in such cases, and I believe that will be preventible by the Bill. The next point that will be considered in connexion with a contract is whether the remuneration, terms, and conditions of employment provided for are those which obtain in the place to which the contract labourer is to be sent. We can thus protect intending immigrants from being bound by misrepresentations. I believe the Bill to be sufficient for this purpose. If the contracts fulfil the conditions which I have outlined, no more will be said. But, while every contract of any magnitude will, doubtless, be submitted beforehand, in compliance with the requirements of the jneasure, it has been thought necessary to make provision for other cases - practically the only ones with which we have so far had to deal - in which one, or two, or three men are brought unexpectedly to Australia under agreement, because of their special proficiency in some particular trade or calling. It is thought that there may be some oversight in regard to the submission of contracts covering the immigration of such units. and it is provided that they will be void if those brought out under them land before the contracts have been approved by the Minister, unless he is satisfied that there was a good reason for not previously submitting them. Security must be given, and an opportunity allowed for the scrutinizing of the terms. If the Minister is satisfied that the omission to obtain his approval in advance was unimportant, and the transaction, bond fide, it will hold good.

Mr HENRY WILLIS (ROBERTSON, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Is it not sufficient to declare the contract null and void, allowing the man imported under it to remain ?

Mr DEAKIN - A. man brought out under such a contract might find that there was no place open to him. In the bulk of cases it is skilled, and often highly skilled, labour which is brought out in this way, and there are not too many opportunities for the employment of such labour.

Mr Henry Willis - I suppose that if the man who was imported" had£10 in his pocket he would be allowed to remain?

Mr DEAKIN - If a contract is cancelled, the employer who has made it will be liable to be called upon to pay£50 for the maintenance in this country of the man who has been imported, until he has obtainedemployment here, or to defray the cost of sending him back to his own country. It is our desire that the man who is imported under contract shall not suffer, but that all responsibility shall be cast on the employer who has brought him here, without taking the steps necessary to obtain an open door for him.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Will the man who has been imported be allowed to stay here ?

Mr DEAKIN - Yes. The Minister will see that he is not victimized by the contract.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - He will be allowed to remainhere, but he will not be allowed to get work to do.

Mr DEAKIN - He will be allowed toget work, and the employer who has brought him here will have to maintain him untilhe has a chance of getting work.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - At his own trade or calling ?

Mr DEAKIN - Yes. I have little, doubt that, when the provisions of the measure are understood, all these small contracts will be submitted in advance, and., therefore, no difficulty will arise. No difficulty would have arisen in the past had. the contracts been so submitted. Butit has been pleaded that the Immigration Restriction Act does not tell employers that application for permission to import labour should be made in advance, though that is the natural and common-sense deductionfrom its orovisions.

Mr Hutchison - Is it not likely that contracts will be made which will not be submitted ?

Mr Batchelor - That may happen now.

Mr Hutchison - At the present time it is an offence.

Mr DEAKIN - Such contracts will be null and void, and those making them will be liable to penalties. All laws may be defeated by fraud, but fraud when detected is punished. Still the area of Australia is so enormous that we shall not be vitally injured if occasionally a man is imported contrary to the provisions of the law. Personally, I have no fear of any abuses of this Contract Labour Bill. The problem is, why the work-people of the mother country do not recognise that the law which has been so much attacked is intended to benefit them when they come here, and operates in their interest ?

Mr Hutchison - At the present time persons found to have been imported contrary to the Act are deported.

Mr Lonsdale - Is it not an encouragement to a man to come here to know that . he has certain work awaiting him?

Mr DEAKIN - I shall deal with that aspect of the case directly. At the present time we have no reason to fear any influx of prohibited coloured immigrants. All the precautions that common sense can suggest are being taken to prevent it. But there is all the difference in the world between dealing with an economic safeguard inthisBill and having our legislation in regard to it confused with provisions of an Immigration Restriction Act. In this Bill we deal only with the immigration of persons, otherwise suitable, who come here under contract, probably without a knowledge of the local conditions prevailing, and possiblv imported to take part in some industrial dispute. Having safeguarded ourselves against these dangers, we have done everything that is necessary. We have to remember that all contracts of importance are certain to be submitted - I think that all contracts will be - and when these are scrutinized we shall have ample guarantees that the introduction of the proposed immigrants will be to the advantage of Australia. I am quite unable to agree with those who regard with alarm the prospect of an influx of people of our own race- and standard. Let them come as fast as we can absorb them. If there be any risks it must be due to con ditions and restrictions obtaining, here, and which prevent people from taking advantage of the opportunities presented. The natural opportunities of Australia are admitted to be boundless, and if they are not made available upon whom does the blame rest ?

Mr Lonsdale - Upon the politicians.

Mr DEAKIN - Let my honorable friend take his full share of that blame.

Mr Lonsdale - No, I decline to do so, because I have always been in favour of making available to the people of our own race the opportunities presented for profitable employment here.

Mr DEAKIN - Many of us have been operating in the same direction, but that does not relieve us of our present responsibility, nor does it justify us in ignoring the fact that, notwithstanding our boundless natural opportunities, we have not yet succeeded, and are not succeeding, in attracting a sufficient population. I entirely sympathize with the aim the honorable member has in view with regard to unlocking the lands which ought to be, but are not, available, for settlement here-. I go the whole distance with the honorable member.

Mr Lonsdale - The Prime Minister talks, but does not act.

Mr DEAKIN - I have done at least as much as the honorable member in that direction. I say that our lands must be thrown open before we can hope to encourage any considerable immigration to this country. We need it, but weare not getting it. The necessity for taking action in this direction should have been brought home to the people of Australia most clearly and irresistibly by the offers recently received from the old country of a large number of desirable settlers, to which vague replies were sent, and those only from certain parts of Australia. We ought to have been able to reply: "There are no landless people in this country who desire to make their homes upon the soil, and there are boundless lands for others who desire to settle upon them." We had to admit that some of our own people were vainly seeking land, and that wehad no such efficient organization as exists in Canada, whereby the settler is enabled to at once proceed to the place where his choice of land is already marked out for him, and practically establish his home without delay. Hardly any of our States offer suchopenings for suitable immigrants coming here.

Mr Higgins - The Dominion Government has the control of the land in Canada.

Mr DEAKIN - Yes, that makes an enormous difference. When I am asked why the Commonwealth Government does not submit a proposal to foster immigration, I reply that whilst .this Parliament is in favour of such a policy, we feel that it can be carried out only when the people who come here can be settled upon the land of which; we have vast areas idle, or provided with employment at their own trades and callings by the encouragement of the manufactures and the development of the resources of the country. Until we are able to offer immigrants employment either in the cities or in the country, what inducement can we give them to come here ?

Mr Hutchison - We want a good graduated land tax.

Mr DEAKIN - I desire to avoid controversial issues, but contend that if we introduce immigrants at random, and merely throw them on the labour market, or upon the land - knowing, as we do, that in the latter case they will probably be kept waiting for six or twelve months, or even longer, before suitable holdings can be allotted to them - we shall be guilty not only of cruelty to the immigrants, but of conduct which must result injuriously to Australia as a whole. What we need to do is to make opportunities for settlers. Then we shall attract a large proportion of enterprising people, whose operations will enable us to still further augment our numbers. I do not share any alarm with regard to contract labour. As the honorable member for New England has remarked, it has its advantages. The man who knows that he has work to come to, and where it is, has a greater attraction than a man who has merely speculative prospects of employment. By the introduction of immigrants under contract, we ought to obtain excellent settlers, first because the employer will try to select good men, and secondly because others who would not otherwise be tempted to come would be inclined to throw in their lot with us if they could be assured of situations or homesteads. Moreover, contract immigrants would he introduced without expense to the State. Neither during my previous term of office, nor since I last assumed the position of head of the Government, any overtures been made to me by any person desir ous of bringing in any large number of contract immigrants for any purpose whatever. Still, it has been suggested that if the large fertile areas still unoccupied in Queensland and elsewhere are to be settled, it is quite possible that some contract proposals will have to be made with the object of introducing settlers and giving them a good start on land which those States rich in territory are both ready and anxious to offer. I can only say that proposals of that kind ought to be most sympathetically received. If we are satisfied that immigrants are able to take part in new developments of production, trade, commerce, or industry, it seems to me that they should be welcomed. We should give our fullest assistance to proposals of that kind. They are among, the means to which we must resort if we desire to make this really a White Australia. As I have said, over and over again, an empty Australia is not a White Australia. Until the Commonwealth is peopled, and its resources are utilized, we shall neither reap advantages in which its present population are entitled to share, nor shall we see' this country protected by settlers whose interests will be bound up with it, and who belong to our own race. The purpose of this measure is to set out clearly and distinctly-

Mr McCay - The Prime Minister means " shut out."

Mr DEAKIN - I do not. The purpose of the measure is to set out clearly and distinctly those whom it was intended to shut out under the original Act. Those whom it was designed to exclude are still prohibited.

Mr Henry Willis - Does not that depend upon the administration ?

Mr DEAKIN - It always will. The Bill expresses the policy adopted in the original Act, which I think ought still to be maintained in regard to contract labour. First of all, what we- look to is free labour; in the second place, we look to labour the contract in respect of which has been submitted before the immigrants land.- The residue will be very small, and will consist of labour the contracts in respect of which will be submitted after the immigrant has been brought to this country. The object of the original Act was to prevent the introduction of contract labour in connexion with any industrial dispute, and provision is made for that in the Bill. The second purpose of the measure before us is to insure that people who are brought out under contract shall be engaged upon - terms and conditions such as prevail here. The Bill provides that the contract shall relate to the place where the immigrants are to be employed. We shall thus be able to ascertain easily the proper rate of remuneration. Having provided for the exclusion of contract labour engaged in connexion with any industrial .dispute, and having provided also that those who make contracts shall be fully acquainted with the terms and conditions of employment in Australia, we have, I think, adopted sufficient safeguards. We are not imposing any unnecessary .restriction nor any condition which would operate unjustly either to the men who are to be brought here, to employers, or to the persons engaged in the particular industry in which the contract labour is to be employed. No question is or will be raised with regard to immigrants of the class who constitute the majority of those now flowing into the United States and Canada, who desire to settle on the land and make homes for themselves. I have already stated that any contracts in regard to such immigrants should be favourably regarded. But care should be taken that the agreements entered into are fair, and are designed to accomplish the end ostensibly in view. Under these circumstances, the Bill represents what I believe to have been the intention of the House when the original measure > was introduced, and what I trust will prove to be the present desire of honorable members. It will have the effect of removing misapprehensions which have existed in the past, and will make provision for the coming of many more desirable people when they learn from their friends who settle here what this country offers them. It provides means by which immigrants can be introduced into Australia readily and without difficulty if the contracts are open and above board, and it also provides for careful control if there is reason to suppose that labour is intended to be introduced with an undesirable object. We have separated the existing Act into two parts, and are now providing for contract labour separately, thus accomplishing what was intended in the first instance, and in such a manner as to merit the approval of our own people and of those we wish to see numbered among them.

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