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Thursday, 3 October 1901

Senator CHARLESTON (South Australia) - I object to the PostmasterGeneral saying that we passed this clause rather hastily, because I know the matter was very warmly discussed by many of us, and it was only after fighting it for a long time, and finding ourselves in a minority, that we had to give way. It is very pleasing to find that the House of Representatives has introduced into the clause lettheCFOthatitdidntmakeanysensetoyou why something which many of us contended for in the Senate.

Motion agreed to.

Senator DRAKE - The next amendment proposed by the House of Representatives is the insertion of the following new clause after clause 15 : - 15a. (1) No contract or arrangement for the carriage of mails shall be entered into on behalf of the Commonwealth unless it contains a condition that only white labour shall be employed in such carriage.

(2)   This condition shall not apply to the coaling and loading of ships at places beyond the limits of the Commonwealth

This matter, in a somewhat different form, was discussed in the Senate, and there was a considerable division of opinion upon it. My sympathies, as I have said before, are entirely with the amendment that has been made by the House of Representatives. There are difficulties, as I have previously pointed out, in carrying out such a provision, and it is largely a question as to the way in which the provision is to be interpreted. If it were to be interpreted strictly that no coloured labour, either directly or indirectly - and I suppose that is what it means - should even incidentally be employed in connexion with the carriage of the mails, then it would be almost impossible to carry it out. I do not think from the conversations I have had with honorable members of both Houses that it is intended that it should be interpreted in that way. I shall take it that such a provision was not intended to prevent the employment of aboriginals in particular work for which they are fitted. I have always been a very strong advocate of white labour in every form. I hold that we have no right to do anything which would prevent the employment of aboriginal natives ; that in their present condition they should be allowed to earn a living. In most of the States, especially in those of large extent, the mail contracts in the country districts are carried out in a certain measure by one large company - sometimes by companies or firms - having contracts fop two or three of these routes. It happens, in many cases, at a station that the groom will employ an aboriginal or two to bring up the horses from outside paddocks. I take it that it is not intended by this amendment that a man should be debarred from employing an aboriginal. Of course, if it came to a question of carrying the mails I should say that there would be ample justification for insisting to the greatest possible extent that they should be carried by white persons. It would be almost justifiable in any civilized country to insist on a certain class of persons being engaged in that most important work. It is provided that the clause shall not apply to the working and coaling of ships. As the words used are " contract or arrangement " it clearly cannot apply to the case of our employing, under another clause, a ship to carry a mail at a prescribed rate. Whenever a vessel is leaving for any port we have the right to put on board a mail, which on paying the prescribed rate, they are compelled to carry. If this provision were to apply to those cases there would be some countries to which we could not send a mail - for instance to Japan, New Caledonia, and a number of other places, simply because we should not be able to find any vessel that was not carrying some coloured person. As I construe the provision, that is not a contract or an arrangement.

Senator Sir William Zeal - Supposing that when the boats get outside the limits of the Commonwealth they throw the mails overboard, how is the Minister going to enforce it ?

Senator DRAKE - It might be said that a carrying company could do the same thing. We are simply employing a boat as we employ a carrying company.

Senator Dobson - How will the Minister apply the clause to the P. and O. contract when the present one runs out ?

Senator DRAKE - I do not know that it applies to that at all. That is dealt with under clause 14 -

The Governor-General may make arrangements with the Postmaster-General of the United Kingdom.

I do not know whether that would apply to the P. andO. Company's steamers.

Senator PLAYFORD (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Undoubtedly.

Senator DRAKE - If it does apply, clearly it will not apply for the next four years.

Senator Dobson - Is it not plain that it is meant to apply at the end of four years ? It is a most unjust and unstatesmanlike provision.

Senator DRAKE - It seems to me that it does apply to that, because the word "arrangement" is used. We have one clause which provides for the GovernorGeneral making an arrangement, and another clause which provides for the. PostmasterGeneral making contracts. It does not apply in the case of putting a mail on a steamer, and I apprehend that we could put mails on the P. and O. boats in the same way as we do on other boats. The German or French boats carry our mails without any contract or arrangement. They carrry them simply by force of law. The amendment of the other House would clearly prevent us from entering into any contract or making any arrangement with those companies for the conveyance of mails. Under all the circumstances, I think the wiser course which can be adopted by the Senate is to accept the amendment. I move -

That the committee agree to the amendment of the House of Representatives.

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