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Wednesday, 13 December 1905

Senator PLAYFORD (South Australia) (Minister of Defence) . - I move -

That the Bill be now read a second time.

I purpose now only to move the second reading of the Bill. . I shall not take long, and I shall then release honorable senators from their labours until half-past 10 o'clock to-morrow morning. I may say, in the first place, that this measure is not an

Immigration Restriction Act in any shape, but a measure dealing with immigrants who are under restriction; that is to say, men who come to Australia under contracts and restrictions of that sort. We do not by our laws exclude any desirable immigrant who comes to the Commonwealth free from any contract, unless he is a pauper, or diseased, or for some reason of that kind. We do, however, exclude certain people coming here under contract, and for certain reasons. So far as I know, no one has ever been excluded, or will be, in my opinion, for other than a justifiable cause. We may exclude a European who may be considered an undesirable immigrant, because he is a pauper, who would, if admitted, be an expense to the Commonwealth, or because he is diseased or suffers from some other disability of that kind. It may be said that very few people go to new countries under contract ; but in certain circumstances it is found that they do. Any honorable senator, who has read the history of the United States of America must know that at certain times, when there have been labour troubles in, that country, employers have introduced large numbers of persons in order to carry on their business, and to interfere with the labour in the country. To such an extent has that been carried on that the United States have had to pass laws To deal with the matter, and I believe I am correct in saying that at present no man can enter the United States under contract. I understand that they are now proposing to vary that legislation, in order to permit the entry of persons under conditions somewhat similar to those which we propose here. There are two provisions in the existing Immigration Restriction Act dealing with the entry of persons into the Commonwealth under contract. The first is to be found in paragraph g of section 3 of the Act under which it is provided that the term "prohibited immigrants " shall include -

(g)   Any persons under a contract or agree ment to perform manual labour within the Commonwealth : Provided that this paragraph shall not apply to workmen exempted by the Minister for special skill required in Australia, or to persons under contract or agreement to serve as part of the crew of a vessel engaged in the coasting trade in Australian waters, if the rates of wages specified therein are not lower than the rates ruling in the Commonwealth.

Persons who come here under contract are excluded, unless they are approved by the Minister to have special skill required in Australia, or to be part of a crew of a vessel. SectionII of the Act says -

No contract or agreement made with persons without the Commonwealth for such persons to perform manual labour within the Commonwealth whereby such persons become prohibited immigrants within the meaning of paragraph g of section 3 shall be enforceable or have any effect.

If men come out under contract, and are not approved by the Minister under paragraph g of clause 3, the contract is not enforceable. These are the only two provisions on the subject that we have in the principal Act. It will be recollected that soon after it came into operation we had some trouble. I was not in the Government when the case known as the "Six Hatters" occurred, but I know that a great deal more was made of it than was necessary or justifiable. The Government of the day were in no way responsible for what was then done. The six hatters could not have been allowed to enter under contract, unless the approval of the Minister had been obtained, and it could only be obtained in the case of workmen exempted by him for special skill required in Australia. All that he could do when the men admitted that they had come out under contract was to say, " You cannot land, because you are prohibited immigrants, and the man with whom you have contracted will have to supply information which will justify me in exempting you under the provisions of section 3." When the employer was able to give the information to the Minister - I have all the facts of the case here - of course, they were allowed to land, and there was no further trouble. It is now proposed to alter the Act in that regard. If honorable senators will refer to the Bill which has come from the other House, they will see in what directions it is proposed to vary its provisions. In the first place there is a definition of "contract immigrants," "employer." and " the Minister." It defines the Minister to mean -

The Minister for External Affairs and any officer authorized by him.

Clause 4 says -

Every contract immigrant, unless otherwise prohibited by law, may land in the Commonwealth i f the contract is in writing, and is made by or on behalf of some person named in the contract and resident in Australia, and its terms are approved by the Minister.

The Minister or some person authorized by him has to approve of the terms of the contract which is entered into by persons residing in Europe or the mother country.

Senator Higgs - But does the Minister think that we want a Bill to provide for contract labour to enter the Commonwealth ?

Senator PLAYFORD - I do; otherwise I should not be moving the second reading of this Bill. It is an improvement upon the present Act, because it makes it perfectly clear to persons who may want to bring out men under contract exactly what steps they will have to take to accomplish their object, and what provisions will prevent them from accomplishing their object, unless they comply with other provisions.

Senator Higgs - Will the Minister bring in a Bill to deal with the unemployed after this one is disposed of?

Senator PLAYFORD - No ; the question of the unemployed doss not arise in this connexion, because although we may have a few unemployed in the country - sometimes a great many more than we like to see - still, I do not think that any one can say that fresh blood is not required I think that we ought to introduce immigrants, but at the same time I do not think it would be wise to bring them in at a time of depression - when we perhaps had undergone a severe drought,and every kind of employment was scarce. The Bill contains a provision to prevent their introduction at any time when the Minister may think fit. He has only to give notice, and he can stop the introduction of any persons under contract during a period of that sort. The Minister can only approve of a contract under certain conditions. The first condition is -

When a copy is filed with him, and if he so requires is verified by oath.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Col. Gould.- Is it intended that a contract shall be sent to England to be executed there, and be returned for the Minister's approval, or will it be sufficient if the terms are submitted to him in the first instance, and he approves of them?

Senator PLAYFORD - That is a. question of administration into which I have not gone. But I believe that the in telligent course which will be adopted will be to have in London an authorized officer - perhaps the High Commissioner, when he is appointed - who will receive from the

Minister unmistakable instructions as to what he should approve of. Of course he would have to obey the conditions imposed by the law, and the Minister could always put himself in instant communication with him by cablegram, so that no difficulty could arise. It would be absurd to suppose that a contract entered into in London with certain artisans would have to be sent out to Australia, to be approved, and returned to England. That is a kind of circumlocution which I do not think would work, or is intended. Of course I am speaking for myself, for I really do not know what the Minister intends to do in the circumstances. I should certainly think that some such course as I have suggested would be adopted. The second condition under which the Minister can approve of the terms of the contract is, if in his opinion -

(a)   The contract is not made in contemplation of or with a view of affecting an industrial dispute.

That is clear enough. In the next paragraph of sub-clause 2 there are words which were inserted at the instance of Mr. Dugald Thomson, but which I intend to ask the Committee to place, with a slight variation, at the end. It reads -

(b)   except in the case of British subjects born in the United Kingdom or their descendants born in any part of the British Empire, there is difficulty in the employer's obtaining within the Commonwealth a worker of at least equal skill and ability ;

What I propose to do is to make the paragraph read in this way -

(b)   there is difficulty in the employer's obtaining within the Commonwealth a worker of at least equal skill and ability, but this paragraph does not apply where the contract immigrant is a British subject, either born in the United Kingdom, or descended from a British subject there born.

What paragraph b means is that if, in the opinion of the Minister, there is a difficulty in an employer obtaining in the Commonwealth a worker of at least equal skill and ability, then it shall not apply if the contract immigrant is a British subject. So far as British subjects are concerned, there will be no special difficulty in obtaining men under contract. This provision will not apply to continental people, but solely to our fellow-countrymen. It is one to which I think we might very well agree. Under ordinary circumstances, it will not interfere with any one. At a particular time there may be a dearth of employment, not very great, perhaps, and it will be possible for an employer who wants a few men to bring them out under contract. It may be taken for granted that he will not bring out men under contract if there is a plentiful supply of the labour which he requires available. It would be foolish for a man to go to the expense and trouble of entering into a contract with persons at the other end of the world, and bring them out, when he could obtain plenty of labour in his own immediate neighbourhood. It would only be done under special circumstances. Therefore, we say to people of our kith and kin, "You can come out to Australia under contract, even though in your own trade or calling there may be a number of men here who cannot find employment. We are not going to prevent you from coming out on that simple ground alone. But you cannot come out if a contract is made in contemplation of or with a view to affecting an industrial dispute. You must not come out when there is a strike or lock-out - when there is strife between employer and employed - for the purpose of possibly lowering wages." Again, they must not come out if, in the Minister's opinion -

(c)   the remuneration and other terms and conditions of employment are as advantageous to the contract immigrant as those current for workers of the same class at the place where the contract is to be performed;

Our own countrymen cannot come out unless they come under conditions similar to those enjoyed by people of the same class in the Commonwealth. Then, subclause 3 says that the Minister shall approve the terms of the contract only - if, where the approval is sought after the contract is made, the contract contains a copy of this and the immediately preceding section and is expressed to be made subject thereto ;

Before the man lands in the Commonwealth, a copy of the contract must be furnished to the Minister. This is done in order to make quite sure that contract immigrants shall not be allowed to come in, not merely when there is an industrial dispute, but even when there is the probability of an industrial dispute. We stop them from coming in, except in the case of British subjects, if there is a difficulty in the employers obtaining in the Commonwealth persons of at least equal skill and ability. We stop all from coming in if the remuneration and other terms and conditions of employment are not as advantageous to the contract immigrant as those current for similar workers here. Then it is provided that a copy of the contract must be submitted to the Minister for his approval. There are penalties attached to an infraction of the law. Clause 6 provides that if before the Minister - and that term includes any one authorized by him - approves the terms of the contract, the contract immigrant lands in Australia, it shall be absolutely void, and the contract immigrant shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding £5, and the employer to a penalty not exceeding £50. It is provided that -

The employer shall pay to the immigrant such specified sum of money (not exceeding £50) as the Minister thinks sufficient, either to maintain the immigrant until he can be reasonably expected to find suitable employment, or at the option of the immigrant, to enable him to return to the country whence hecame. The sum, when specified in writing by the Minister, shall be recoverable by the immigrant, or by the Minister for him.

I think that is absolutely fair. A man who is brought out here under contract is not supposed to know the law to the extent that the employer knows it.

Senator Lt Col Gould - Yet he will be fined . £5.

Senator PLAYFORD - He is supposed to know something about the law.

Senator Walker - Suppose an immigrant comes out under contract, and his employer dies before he arrives, will he be allowed to remain here?

Senator PLAYFORD - Of course, the contract would be voided by the death of the employer ; but I should imagine that the immigrant would be allowed to remain.

Senator Macfarlane - Suppose he could not pay the £5?

Senator PLAYFORD - The employer has to pay him a sum not exceeding £50. If the contract? labourer is fined £5 he will be able to pay the fine out of what he receives from the employer, and still have £45 for himself. But the provision which I have quoted is notto apply where the contract immigrant - only lands temporarily at an intermediate port during his vessel's voyage to his port of destination,and remains only during the vessel's stay in port, and rejoins the vessel after she continues her voyage.

Clause 7 provides that any officer under the Immigration Restriction Act. or any Customs officer, may ask an immigrant whether he has come to Australia under a contract or agreement to perform manual labour. In Committee, I desire to amend that clause so as to make it read -

Any officer appointed under the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 or any officer of Customs may ask any immigrant before he lands in the Commonwealth, or within one year after he has entered the Commonwealth, whether he has come to Australia under a contract or agreement to perform manual labour in Australia, and the immigrant shall truly answer the question.

The next clause provides that the two preceding clauses shall not apply to an immigrant under contract to serve as part of the crew of a vessel. It is also provided that the Governor-General may order it to be published in the Gazette that - from and after a date therein specified the immigration of contract immigrants intended to be brought to Australia for and in connexion with or in contemplation of a dispute relating to industrial matters, shall be prohibited.

So that when there is any special strike in progress we have power by Gazette notice to stop any contract immigrant from coming in. In clause 10 we make it clear that this measure is not to abridge the jurisdiction of any industrial tribunal or board, such as the Wages Boards in Victoria or the Arbitration Courts in New South Wales, or to restrict the application of any industrial law of the Commonwealth, or any determination made under any such law. ClauseII provides that the measure is not to apply to domestic servants or personal attendants accompanying their employers to Australia. That is a necessary provision, because there has been trouble on one or two occasions simply through ordinary domestic servants coming into the Commonwealth with their employers, who have consequently been put to unnecessary expense; In one case trouble arose over a servant girl, and in one or two other cases men employed as personal servant's were affected.This, I think, is a very proper provision. I have" now explained the purpose of this Bill. It is, I think, an improvement upon our present Immigration Restriction Act. It' makes matters quite clear with regard to workmen whom it is desired to bring out under contract. It enables a person to bring out servants without any trouble, and it makes special provision in favour of our own countrymen, as against foreigners. I commend the Bill to the consideration of honorable senators, and, with these comments, beg to move the second reading.

Debate (on motion by Senator Higgs) adjourned.

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