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Thursday, 28 June 1906

Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) .- I have one or two grievances affecting Queensland in reference to the deportation of the kanakas. After the 31st December next no one in Queensland will be allowed to employ a kanaka, and as soon as possible after the 1st January all these coloured residents are supposed to disappear from the State. A short time ago a telegram from Brisbane appeared in the Melbourne Argus as follows : -

BRISBANE, Friday..- The time for the return of the Sugar Labour Commission's report has been extended to June 30. Statements have been made in Melbourne to the effect that Queensland is seeking to avoid its obligations with regard to kanaka repatriation. It was alleged that the fund to which the sugar-planters have contributed to meet the expenses of returning the islanders to their homes has been used by the Queensland Government, after merging it into the consolidated revenue. As a matter of fact, the Queensland Government has always clearly admitted the liability cast upon it by its Legislative enactments to return the islanders to their homes. When Mr. Morgan was Premier he repeatedly emphasized that fact, but, at the same time, it is pointed out that, owing to the stopping of recruiting, which prevented steamers taking any islanders as passengers back to Queensland, the cost of landing "returns'" had increased from about ^'5 to £7 per head. As this was entirely due to the action taken by the Commonwealth Parliament, it was contended that if any additional liability was cast upon the State Government it would be fair to ask the Commonwealth to meet the amount. A more serious matter was the fact that at the end of the period allowed for the employment of kanakas in Queensland there would remain in the State several thousands of kanakas. Some time must elapse before they could be carried to their islands, and, as they could not be allowed to starve, considerable expense would be incurred. This, Ministers held, would be a fair charge upon the Commonwealth Government. The present Premier (Mr. Kidston) has expressed his intention of calling upon the Commonwealth Government to meet that expense.

If nothing else had taken place that telegram would have caused me to take up a little time to-night. But in the early part of the session- on 14th June, the honorable member for Coolgardie, as reported in

Hansard,asked the Prime Minister the following questions in the House: -

1.   Has his attention been drawn to a statement attributed to Mr. Kidson, a Queensland Minister of State, published about ist April, 1906, to the following effect : -

That the Queensland Government would not provide food and clothing for the kanakas about to be repatriated; that the Federal Government must do it ; and that the same Government must bear the cost of deporting the kanakas to their native islands ?

2.   If it be a fact that the kanakas referred to were brought into Queensland by Queensland for the sole benefit of a Queensland industry, does he consider it equitable that other States of the Commonwealth should bear any share in the cost of returning such kanakas to' their islands or oE maintaining them in the meantime ?

3.   Is it correct that a fund existed (to which sugar planters contributed) to meet the necessary expenses of returning Pacific Island labourers to their homes on completion of their periods of engagement, and that this fund has been merge! into the State revenue of Queensland and disbursed for purposes foreign to the object for which the money was collected?

4.   Does the Government intend to relieve the State of Queensland of any of its obligations to repatriate at its own expense the Pacific Islanders whom that State, for its own special advantage, introduced into Australia; and, if so, to what extent?

5.   If, in addition to the sugar subsidy, and other special concessions granted to Queensland, the Government proposes to bear any portion .of the expense of maintaining or of repatriating kanakas, can the Prime Minister say whether the Constitution admits of the consequent expenditure being adjusted so as to exempt from contribution those States which preferred to leave large areas suitable for sugar production unused rather than follow Queensland's example in importing coloured labour to carry on the industry ?

The answers given by the Prime Minister to the questions were as follow : -

1.   No. 2-5. The Government are awaiting final replies from the High Commissioner of the Western Pacific and the British Resident in the New Hebrides.

As soon as possible after the receipt of these and of the report of the Queensland Royal Commission which is now inquiring into the situation respecting kanakas, the intentions of the Government will be communicated to Parliament. In considering the statement to be then made, regard will be had to the various matters referred to by the honorable member.

I am sorry the honorable member for Coolgardie is not present. I very much regret that an honorable member should attempt to in any way disparage a sister State by asking questions or making statements implying that that State is trying to avoid its proper responsibilities. The honorable member displayed anything but kindly feeling towards Queensland on that occasion. It was very indiscreet on his part, and very much out of place to ask the questions on the strength, I suppose, of nothing more than a rumour that Queensland was not going to carry out its obligations in regard to the deportation of the kanakas. As a representative of Queensland, I protest most strongly against questions or statements of that kind in this House. No Queensland Government - whether a Labour Government, or of any other party - would dream of repudiating the obligations of the State. I am quite satisfied that if anything of the nature were proposed, or suggested, the public of Queensland would be up in arms against such dishonesty. The present condition of affairs in Queensland, as we all know, has been brought about bv legislation . in this Parliament. That legislation was carried by the representatives of all the States, including some of those from Queensland, and. that being so, it is the duty of the Commonwealth to undertake the responsibility of maintaining the kanakas until they can be sent from that State.

Mr Carpenter - Is the Queensland Government willing to pay for the kanakas for whose return they are responsible?

Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - When a shipload of recruits arrived in Queensland, planters requiring " boys " engaged them for a period of three years, paying them at rates of wages provided for under an Act of Parliament, and, at the end of the period, were responsible for the cost of their return passages to the islands! whence they came, amounting to about £5 each. The kanakas, however, could be re-engaged with either their first employer or another, in which case the passage money had to be lodged with the Polynesian Inspector, to be used when the "boys" were inclined to go back. Since the stoppage of . recruiting, however, the cost of return passages has increased by nearly 50 per cent., being now, I am told, £7 ; and it is only reasonable that the Commonwealth should be responsible for the difference between the £5 and £7.

Mr Carpenter - Why ? What has caused the passage rate to go up?

Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - The fact that the vessels engaged in the trade cannot get return cargo, and are not permitted to bring back recruits. Queensland has good cause for complaint whenever it is suggested that she is not prepared to undertake her full responsibility in this matter ; but it must be remembered that between 5,000 and 6,000 kanakas will have .completed their engagements on the 31st December next, and will have to be sent back to their islands as soon afterwards as that can be done. It will 'be impossible to send them all back within a month, or six months, and possibly even within a year, and how are they to be maintained during that time, for many of them will be without means? I think that the Commonwealth should be responsible for their maintenance, and for the increase in the cost of the passages, charging the expenditure to all the States on a population basis. Queensland, however, has no intention of repudiating any of her just responsibilities.

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