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Wednesday, 13 December 1905

Mr FISHER (Wide Bay) - It is no fault of honorable members that this question is being discussed from a narrower stand-point than it should be. One would think, from the arguments which have been employed, that the producers of sugar by means of white labour are deriving some special advantage from existing legislation. One would imagine that if all the sugar produced in Australia were grown by white labour, the white growers would be paying an Excise duty upon sugar - an agricultural product - whilst no other product of a similar character was subjected to taxation qf that kind. Even the honorable member for Gippsland states that the consumer pays the excise. That is true in a measure. As a matter of fact, the consumer pays ali increases in- prices.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does he not pay everything ?

Mr FISHER - In the last resort, the consumer pays for everything.

Mr McLean - It is simply a question of whether Queensland shall get her revenue from this source or from some other.

Mr FISHER - I was hopeful that before the honorable member resumed his seat he would have declared - seeing that he is favorable to reducing the bounty - that he would also support a reduction of the excise.

Mr McLean - That depends upon whether we give the producers of sugar a corresponding import duty.

Mr FISHER -There is no justification either for the excise or the bounty, except the factthat white men are struggling in an industry which is not carried on by white labour in any other part of the world.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Then it is an unnatural experiment.

Mr FISHER - But it is an experiment that has been well considered by the people of the Commonwealth. They have laid down the principle that they intend to populate every portion of the Commonwealth with white races. In the tropical parts of Queensland an earnest and extremely satisfactory effort has been made in that direction, and just when it has achieved success honorable members are disposed to indulge in carping criticism regarding the expenditure of the few pounds which it involves.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The increase which has taken place in the number of kanakas employed in the north of Queensland does not indicate that the experiment has been a success.

Mr FISHER - I say that to me the legislation passed by this Parliament for the purpose of encouraging the production of sugar by white labour has been' an almost incomprehensible success. Some honorable members appear to forget that the legislation which we enacted in regard to the deportation of kanakas will not come into operation until the end of next year. The bounty payable upon sugar was originally called a " rebate," but that word was dropped, because it did not accord with constitutional usage. The bounty is actually a rebate to the very men who pay the excise.

Mr Lonsdale - The excise is paid by the general community.

Mr FISHER - If the honorable member had been present a few minutes ago he would have heard me admit that in the last resort the consumer pays for everything. Every increase in. the excise duty upon sugar diminishes the price paid to the labour engaged in its production. Every additional£1 per ton that we impose by way of excise means that£1 per ton less is paid to the producer of the raw material. If we remove both the bounty and the excise we shall revert to the state of things which existed prior to Federation, when the white man had to compete directly with the coloured man in producing the same commodity. We have always strenuously resisted that. Many men have spent the best part of their lives in endeavouring to secure for Queensland what was secured for her by the legislation of this Parliament. It is quite a mistake to suppose that the sugar bounty is offered to that State by way of compensation. I venture to say that the action of this Parliament was not regarded in that light by a majority of honorable members. It was looked upon as part of a great policy to which the people of the Commonwealth were pledged. It was a portion of the White Australia policy. I justify differential treatment being meted out to Queensland in connexion with the sugar industry, upon the ground that, according to the statement of Dr. Maxwell, sugar can be produced by black labour for £2 per ton less than it can be grown by white labour. If we are not prepared to pay the price that is necessary to enable the industry to be carried on by white labour, we may very reasonably say to the white growers in New South Wales and Queensland. "You must compete locally with the cheapest coloured labour in the world without any protection whatever."

Mr McCay - They have the advantage of an import duty.

Mr FISHER - I admit that, but does not the honorable and learned member see that to force white men into competition with that class of labour is tantamount to saying to them, " You shall no longer continue in the sugar industry ' ' ? The whole point of my argument is that the competition is absolutely unfair. Surely the honorable and learned member would not ask a white man to rear his family under conditions similar to those under which kanakas and Chinamen live? Surely he would not ask him to live under similar conditions to those under which Japanese live? This Bill is intended to enable the sugar industry to be carried on by white labour. I believe that ultimately white labour will produce more sugar than will suffice for the requirements of Australia, and it will produce it as cheaply as it can be grown by coloured labour.

Mr McWilliams - But if black labour did not increase, there would still be a good market for white labour. The duty would regulate the price.

Mr FISHER - The honorable member seems to overlook the point that there is a class of labour engaged in producing the same commodity whose standard of living is such that it is absolutely impossible for white mento compete with it.

Mr McCay - Is all the available coloured labour in Queensland now employed?

Mr FISHER - There are about 70,000 coloured adult persons in Australia.

Mr McCay - But is not alt the coloured labour formerly engaged in North Queensland now employed ?

Mr FISHER - I should like to make a precise reply tothat question.

Mr Poynton - What is the basis of the honorable member's calculation as to the difference between the cost of white and coloured labour engaged in producing a ton of sugar ?

Mr FISHER - If the honorable member takes Dr. Maxwell's figures and makes a fair calculation, he will find that! the wages paid to kanakas engaged in producing a ton of sugar amount to a little more than£2 less than wouldbe paid to white men receiving a reasonable rate of pay. In reply to the question put by the honorable and learned member for Corinella as to the number of coloured labourers in Queensland. I desire to read the following telegraphic message from Brisbane, which appeared in yesterday's issue of the Melbourne daily newspapers: -

Brisbane, Monday.

A return issued by the Government Statistician shows that the estimated number of coloured aliens in Queensland on September 30th was 21,530, of whom 20,008 were males. The Chinese number 9,457, Pacific Islanders 7,085, Japanese 2,055, natives of India and Ceylon, 983, and other Asiatics 1,950.

These are all adults, and a number of them have a tendency to drift into the sugar industry. Honorable members should seriously ask themselves whether their purpose is to encourage white settlement in the production of a commodity that! is most valuable to Australia - whether they are prepared to encourage white people to engage in an industry that will build up in the North of Queensland a race of men who will be able, not onlyto defend a part of our coast-line, but tosuccessfully produce a tropical product. This is the first experiment of the kind of which the world knows. I am aware that the honorable and learnedmember for Parkes holds very different views from those which I entertain upon this question. He has frequently said that white men will never be successful in producing any commodity in the tropical parts of Australia.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Without destroying their physique.

Mr FISHER - The honorable and learned member suggests that white men are physiologically incompetent to labour in the tropics. I am not in agreement with him on that point. During my residence in Queensland,I have frequently seen such statements disproved. There is no material deterioration in the races working at the present time in North Queensland.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not think that Dr. Maxwell's report bears out that contention.

Mr FISHER - During my residence in North Queensland, I have seen the honorable and learned member's contention again and again disproved. Astill more important point is that during my twenty years' residence in Queensland, I have seen the advocates of coloured labour gradually extend a thousand miles northward, the point beyond which, in their opinion, white men could not work. . Twenty-five or thirty years ago it was contended that no white man could grow sugar in the south of Queensland - that is to say, on the Logan River. Then it was said that it was quite impossible for white men to produce it on the Mary River, or the Burnett River, because it was impossible for them to live and labour there. Since that time the colour line has gradually been pushed further north by the advocates of black labour. It was said first that white men could not work in the cane-fields in the Bundaberg district, and then it was urged that it would be impossible for them to labour in the cane- fields of the Mackay district. At the present time the contention of these people is that it is utterly impossible for white men to labour north of Townsville. But we should hesitate, upon such evidence, to say that even north of Townsville white men will not be able to successfully produce tropical products of all kinds.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Why should they expend their efforts in the north when there are many other opportunities for them in other parts of the Commonwealth ?

Mr Hutchison - There would be if they could get on the land.

Mr FISHER - That is the point that I was about to make. Perhaps the honorable and learned member will venture to tell the House how these men could improve their position. I am sure that he would be the last one to say that they go to the far north for amusement. They go there to earn a living by engaging in an honest industry - an agricultural industry of first importance to Australia.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member and those who think with him are asking the public of Australia to offer artificial attractions to men to do unnatural things.

Mr FISHER - I do not hold that these attractions are artificial. I am aware that the honorable member does not believe in the imposition of duties designed to give any assistance to the producer, although on one celebrated occasion he stated that a 15 per cent. duty was a fair thing.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I said that it was when we had to collect our revenue through the Customs.

Mr FISHER - Although I am not considered to be an out-and-out protectionist, I. am so far from being a revenue tariffist that I would prefer to impose such a duty on any commodity as would enable it to be locally produced. That is the position I have always taken up. I am no believer in the imposition of a duty merely as a means of obtaining revenue.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not wish the honorable member to misquote me. What I said was that a revenue tariff of 15 per cent. was a fair compromise between two States such as Victoria and New South Wales, one of which had been accustomed to protection and the other to free-trade.

Mr FISHER - I have never in the course of my political career tried to misrepresent any one, and I trust that I shall never do so. We may differ in our opinions, but I do not wish to attribute to the honorable and learned member that which he has not said. I think it will be admitted that the whole of the arguments of the honorable and learned member for Angas were based on the supposition that Queensland had herself forbidden the continuance of kanaka labour ; that in 1892 the Parliament of that State decreed that coloured labour should be continued for a period of only ten years. I sought to correct the honorable and learned member, but he said that his statement was made on the authority of Sir Edmund Barton. As a matter of fact, his contention is not correct. In 1892, the State Parliament passed an Act to further amend the Pacific Island Labourers Acts 1880-1885. The first three sections of that Act are as follows: -

1.   ThisAct shall be read and construed with and as an amendment of " The Pacific Island Labourers Acts 1880-1885."

2.   This Act may be cited as " The Pacific Island Labourers (Extension) Act of 1892." " The Pacific Island Labourers Acts 1880-1885," and this Act may together be cited as " The Pacific Island LabourersActs 1880-1892."

3.   The fifth section of " The Pacific Island Labourers Act of 1880 Amendment Act of 1884, and the eleventh section of The Pacific Island Labourers Act of 1880 Amendment Act of 1885 " are hereby repealed.

The11th section of the Pacific Islanders Act of 1880 Amendment Act of 1885 which was thus repealed read as follows: -

After the Thirty-first day of December One thousand eight hundred and ninety no licence to introduce islanders shall be granted.

That provision was absolutely repealed by the Act of 1892, so that there was no limit to the introduction of Polynesians.

Mr McWilliams - Is it the policy of Queensland to go on importing Pacific Islanders ?

Mr FISHER - I am speaking of the law. So far as the policy is concerned, in my opinion, a majority of the adults of Queensland has never at any time believed in the introduction of kanaka labour, though others hold the contrary opinion, and the State franchise did not permit the true ascertainment of the facts. I need not argue the point further to show that the honorable and learned member for Angas was incorrect in saying that in 1892 the Queensland Legislature had determined to end this traffic in ten years. The honorable member for Franklin asked if the Commonwealth policy has been a success, and what is the evidence of that success. No onecan view the results which have been made public from time to time without admitting the marvellous progress which that policy has caused. Figures have been quoted again and again, giving the production of sugar in white and in black plantations. Honorable members must know that every plantation is a black plantation in which any coloured man at all is employed, no matter how many white men may also be employed there. Consequently, the production by white labour is really greater than is shown by the returns. In 1902 the production of white plantations was 12,250 tons, and of black plantations 65,581 tons. These figures deal with Queensland alone; I am not giving figures for New South Wales, because the difference there is so slight that it is not worth disputing. In 3.903 the production of white plantations had nearly doubled, being 24,406 tons ; and the production of black plantations was 65,456 tons. In 1904, the production of white plantations was 39,404 tons, and of black plantations 305,616 tons. The estimated production for 1905 is 52,685 tons from white plantations, and 107,380 tons from black plantations. The ratio of progress is as two to one, comparing the white with the black plantations. Many honorable members seem tobe troubled by the fact that the production of the black plantations has increased, but there is no reason to be alarmed at that; 1902 was the most distressful year that the Commonwealth has experienced, and the producers of sugar suffered in common with the producers of other agricultural commodities. In that year the Commonwealth collected over £500,000 in grain duties - a state of affairs which every honorable member, no matter what his fiscal views, must have deplored. The increase in the production of the black plantations is only the increase naturally due to the following of the worst season which we have had for many years by a good season, but it has not been extraordinary. This is shown by the following figures, taken from the report of the Government Statistician on the sugar industry in 1904, which show that in 1900 the production of black plantations was 92,554 tons; in 1901, 120,558 tons; and in 1902, 76,726 tons. The year 1902 is frequently quoted, because it was practically the worst year on record during recent times.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Mr. Chamberlain took the statistics of the year 1871 as his starting-point for similar reasons.

Mr FISHER - I do not wish to follow that distinguished statesman in that respect. I desire to put before honorable members every fact that I know of for and against the proposal, because I do not think that any policy will last unless Parliament is genuinely convinced that it is the best one to adopt, and whatever is done will be worth nothing unless stability is guaranteed. I appeal to honorable members not to make the period less than the Government have proposed. In the life of a nation five years is as nothing, and the experiment has so far proved successful.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Would the honorable member approve of an extension and the introduction of a sliding scale, as an indication that the bounty will not always be paid?

Mr FISHER - We have insufficient data as yet to say whether it should or should not continue to be paid, and it will not betoo costly a thing, considering the magnitude of the issues involved, to continue the experiment for another five years. I think that the honorable and learned gentleman is one of those who would decline to bind a future Parliament.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - What is necessary is to indicate to the growers that the bounty is not to be perpetual.

Mr FISHER - I do not contend that our legislation creates any vested interests on the part of the producers of sugar; but I hold the view that we should extend the period for the payment of the bounty for another five years, when I believe we shall have such information as will enable us to determine what policy should be adopted.

Mr McCay - We were told that four years ago.

Mr FISHER - Five years is not a very long time. The excise question is complicated with that of the bounty. The white grower has at present to pay £1 on every ton of sugar that he produces.

Mr Watkins - Why cannot we remove that burden?

Mr FISHER - Because of the excise. The Government have adopted a certain policy, on theadvice of experts, and I am prepared to give my support to it.

Mr Ewing - The bounty is paid out of the excise, and £1 a ton is the difference between the bounty and the excise.

Mr Watkins - Why cannot the excise be reduced by that amount ?

Mr FISHER - We do not ask for that. Originally my idea was to ask for another £1 ; but the present arrangement has been so successful that I think that a continuance of it for fiveyears is desirable. Thequestion is full of technicalities and difficulties, as honorable members who have looked into it must know, and no doubt the Bill can be better dealt with in Committee than on the second reading. But in order to make honorable members a.ware of some of the difficulties under which white men have to labour, I wish to read part of a report recently submitted by Dr. Maxwell to the State Parliament. This report was not prepared with a view to influencing the Federal Parliament, because it was thought that the Sugar Bounty Bill would have been passed before it could be presented to the State Parliament. His remarks show that, wherever subject labour is employed, it is considered by the employers that any white persons undertaking similar work should conform to the same conditions as are accepted by the coloured labourers. This is what Dr. Maxwell says on the subject - and I quote from the Brisbane Courier's statement of his report, laid on the table of the Queensland Legislative Assembly on the 8th inst. : -

At the time that the Treasurer entered into the possession of the Central sugar mills, and the management was placed absolutely under the Comptroller of the Bureau of Central Sugar Mills, it was found that the conditions of living of the white workmen were not such as to induce white men to remain permanently in the service of the mills, neither were they calculated to promote the interests of the mills themselves. The provisions such as existed a year ago showed that hardly any practical distinction had been exercised between coloured labour and white labour, so faras the living conditions were concerned.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does the honorable member wish us to think that white men have sunk to the standard of living adopted by coloured men?

Mr FISHER - No; but wherever subject labour is employed the white persons engaging in similar work find themselves offered the same conditions.

Mr Hutchison - The two cannot exist side by side.

Mr FISHER - That is the point. We have been brought face to face with the necessity of doing something to prevent, white workers from being required to work under degrading conditions. Dr. Maxwell uses language quite as strong as that employed by the strongest advocates of the White Australia policy. He says-

The improved conditions provided for the welfare of the workmen have been only a short time in operation, and at certain mills are only coming into operation with the present crushing season. It is already apparent, however, that the men are ready to appreciate and to give practical evidence of appreciation for the provisions of comfort that have been and are now being made for them.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does that refer to house accommodation ?

Mr FISHER - It refers to various kinds of accommodation which should be provided for men who are accustomed to the ordinary comforts of civilization. Dr.

Maxwell then indicates the beneficial effects that have been brought about by these changes. He says: -

It is also placed beyond any question that these provisions will be an excellent business investment, no less than a just and humane consideration for the men upon whose work the activity and success of the mills depend. Some time before the crushing season was to commence applications from the best class of workmen were coming, asking to be employed for the coming crushing season. The applicants are mostly men who are prepared and wish to go through the crushing season with the mills, and the mills are endeavouring to select such men as will do so. As an aid in such selections, instructions have been issued by the Comptroller to each mill that, in addition to the usual rates of wage, a bonus of 10 per cent. will be paid at the close of the crushing to all workmen who have gone through the crushing season from beginning to end.

There are six central mills in absolute possession of the Government, at all of which the alterations and improvements described have been carried out by the control. A total sum of something over£1,600 has been expended at the six mills solely for the purpose of providing increased well-being and better sanitary conditions for the workmen.

He shows that the present condition of affairs is satisfactory, and that there are now no complaints on the score of drunkenness, except in the case of one mill. I am very sorry to say that in some cases the men are subjected to the strongest temptations, because the licensing authorities have granted licences to hotels right alongside the mills. Under the circumstances, the men, who have to work in a tropical climate, cannot be altogether blamed if they occasionally go on the spree.

Mr McWilliams - Does the honorable member mean to say that licences are granted for hotels right alongside the mills ?

Mr FISHER - Yes. In many cases that has been done. I quote from memory when I say that Dr. Maxwell on one occasion, when speaking at Beenleigh, said that the conditions under which the white men had to labour were worse than those to which the niggers in Louisiana had to submit. I do not wish to prejudice the minds of honorable members, but I contend that, in view of the facts I have mentioned, it must be conceded that we havethe best of reasons for advocating a policy of this kind. No one can accuse Dr. Maxwell of being a violent white labour advocate. Rightly or wrongly, both sides have accused him of being a partisan.

Mr McWilliams - That is the strongest recommendation he could have.

Mr FISHER - I am sure that the honorable member will agree with me that we are endeavouring to remedy a serious social evil, and that we are performing a work of national importance. No State has benefited more than has Tasmania from the trade with Queensland.

Mr McWilliams - I know that Queensland is one of our best markets.

Mr FISHER - I believe that most of the jam imported into Queensland comes from Tasmania. No State has been more ready than Queensland to purchase its commodities from other States. It is well known that a large amount of Victorian capital has been invested in Queensland, and the interests of the two States are therefore, to a large degree, mutual. That is as it should be, and Queensland no doubt derives great advantage from her close trade relationships with other States.

Mr Hutchison - But that is a matter quite apart from the sugar industry.

Mr FISHER - The honorable member must admit that if South Australia produces one commodity and Queensland another, and the two States interchange them, mutual benefit must result. We contend that the sugar industry cannot be maintained without some such legislation as that now proposed, and I am pointing out that Queensland does not derive all the advantage from the payment of the bounty. We purchase the protected commodities of other States, and, in turn, supply them with our sugar. Therefore the advantages are mutual, instead of being all on the one side, as has been represented by the honorable and learned member for Angas.

Mr McWilliams - We cannot use Queensland sugarin Tasmania.

Mr FISHER - I am quite aware of the position of the jam industry there, andI am entirely in accord with the honorable member in his suggestion that the drawback should be allowed to the extent of the full amount of duty paid on the sugar contained in jam intended for export. I have always been in favour of adopting that course.

Sir William Lyne - I intend to give the full amount of the drawback.

Mr FISHER - I am pleased to hear it. I would remind the honorable member for Franklin that the jam manufacturers are not very badly off. They are protected by a duty of £14 per ton on jam, and, in view of the fact that sugar cannot form more than one-half of their manufactured product, they are not called upon to pay more than £3 duty upon the sugar contained in a ton of jam. I would not willingly do anything to retard any manufacturing or producing industry. I am as anxious as any one to see the fruit-growing industry prosper, and I would do everything I could to assist it. I trust that honorable members will look upon this question as one bearing not only upon our immediate future, but upon our history in the centuries to come. We are laying down a policy which will have a most marked influence in moulding our fate as a nation. I would point out that the advantages to be derived from the sugar bounty are not confined to Queensland. The bounty is payable in respect not only of cane sugar, but also of beet sugar, and as beet sugar could be grown in many parts of Australia, there is no reason why all the States should not derive some benefit from the bounty. The cane growers of Queensland have to compete against the products of tropical countries in which cheap labour is invariably employed. The protection afforded by the Tariff is not in itself sufficient to insure the employment of white labour on our plantations, because we have the black labourer in our midst, and the white labourer cannot possibly compete against him upon anything like even terms. I trust that the white workers in the cane fields will never be required to submit to the conditions of' life which prevail among the coloured labourers. If we direct our best energies to bringing about a settlement of this great question upon fair economic conditions, we shall earn the warm approval of a majority of the people of the Commonwealth.

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