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Friday, 27 September 1912


Senator CHATAWAY (Queensland) . - It is a matter of regret that the Honorary Minister, in introducing this Bill, did not furnish us with more definite information. By interjection, I suggested to him that he might explain why it is that there are two distinct methods of determining wages. One is that the Government insist on a standard rate of wage in a locality being paid; and the other is that they call upon a Court to decide what a fair and reasonable wage is. I am not prepared to say whether a standard wage is fair and reasonable, or whether a fair and reasonable wage is a standard one. But we are being driven into this position, that, in the ordinary sugar districts, we shall have three different rates of wages prevailing. One rate will be fixed by a Wages Board; the second rate will be what is considered to be the standard rate.


Senator Rae - Who fixes that?


Senator CHATAWAY - It can be fixed by the Minister. Under a provision which it is not proposed to repeal by this Bill the Minister has to ascertain, by inquiry, what is the standard rate.


Senator Findley - The rate is decided upon between representatives of the employers and employes and that is the ruling rate.


Senator CHATAWAY - That is the second rate, however it is ascertained. There is then a third method of arriving at the rate. A Judge of the Supreme Court is to be allowed to say what he thinks is a fair and reasonable rate of wages. This must, give rise to a considerable amount of difficulty and confusion. In Queensland, at the present time, we have Wages Boards which determine the rates of wages in factories. Suppose the Minister authorizes an industrial authority, a Judge of a Supreme Court, or Mr. Justice Higgins, to declare what shall be a fair and reasonable rate of wages for persons employed outside factories, it must be clear that if he decides upon a higher rate of wages than that fixed by the Wages Boards for employes in factories these employes will leave the factories for work in the fields at the higher rate of wages fixed by a Judge who may know no more about the sugar industry than he does about the higher mathematics, and probably a good deal less. The Government, under this Bill, propose the creation of a number of tribunals which, independently of each other, will fix rates of wages. I do not say whether the wages in the sugar industry should be high or low, but I do say that if we propose, in connexion with any other industry, that there should be a number of different tribunals, with authority to fix the wages in that industry, our honorable friends opposite will be the first to complain. .1 wish to draw attention to some figures which appear to me to be of importance. I have no desire to cry " stinking fish " about the sugar industry, but I wish to show that it !" is not all that it has been painted by a number of people, some of them publicists, and others politicians. It fs alleged that the sugar industry is now at the height of its greatest prosperity. Let us see, first of all, how successful Australia has been in gradually getting rid of the coloured labour employed in the industry, and substituting white labour for it. In 1904, 62.1 per cent, of the acreage under sugar in Queensland, and 11. 2 per cent, of the acreage under sugar in New South Wales, was cultivated by coloured labour. In 1912 the percentage of 62.1 in Queensland had dropped to 4.7, and the percentage of n. 2 in New South Wales had dropped to .8 per cent. The percentage of farmers employing coloured labour in Queensland, in 1904, was 29, and that percentage had dropped, in 191 2, to 4.8. In New South Wales the percentage of f farmers employing coloured labour, in 1904, was 1.4.5* an(l that percentage has now dropped to 1. These figures show that the coloured labour aspect of the question may now be entirely set aside. The Government have the power, and all our Governments have exercised that power for some time past, to prevent any coloured man coming into the country. I am not asking them to do it, but I know that the Government are not game to deport the coloured men who are at present in the country. If they are fairly in the country without any contravention of the law, we have no. right to say to them, " You shall not be employed in this or that industry." If the Government are prepared to say that no coloured men shall be employed in boot making, why do they not come down honestly and say that no Chinaman shall be employed in the manufacture of furniture.


Senator Findley - The Chinaman gets the same wages as does the white man.


Senator CHATAWAY - What has that to do with it? Is the Minister prepared to admit that I may import kanakas so long as I pay them a white man's wages? He will not admit it, and I do not expect him to admit it for a moment. The honorable senator has given us quite a new reading of the White Australia policy. His view of it is that coloured men may be employed if they are paid white men's wages. He will see that his interjection was a serious mistake, which he will probably regret ever after. Let me now refer to another set of figures for Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria - the latter State having come into the field, with a factory at Maffra, within the last two or three years. In considering these figures honorable senators should bear in mind that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company hand back to the manufacturers of raw sugar 18s. in the £i of all they receive for their sugar in excess of £19 1 os. per ton. This money is then handed on by the millers to the growers. Bearing that in mind, honorable senators will admit, when they consider these figures, that the sugar industry, from an industrial point of view, will not stand very much more interference. I give the following table of persons employed during different years on farms and in factories, with the totals for each year: -

 

These figures show that, during that period of five years, the total number employed on farms has dropped by 12,061, and the total number employed in factories has decreased by 2,253, or a total decrease in the number employed on farms and in factories of 14,314.


Senator Guthrie - Do the figures include refineries?


Senator CHATAWAY - No ; they do not include refineries. I have already given in percentages figures showing the decrease in the acreage of sugar lands cultivated by coloured labour. Let me now, to complete my statement, give figures showing the number of coloured people employed on farms and in factories during the five years just referred to -

 

These figures show that, during the five years mentioned, the decrease in the number of coloured people employed on farms was 1,927, and in the number employed in factories it was 363, or a total decrease of 2,390 coloured people employed in the industry. This decrease has occurred since the Commonwealth Parliament, by legislation, has prevented the importation of any more coloured labour. In the face of these figures I put it forward, as a reasonable suggestion, that any more gibes about the wonderful way in which the sugar industry is prospering might very well be held over, at least, until we have the report of the Royal Commission on the sugar industry before us, when, doubtless, similar figures will be brought under our notice. I should like to draw attention to the fact that a statement has been made, though I cannot at the moment lay my hand on the reference, to the effect that the new regulations, issued in connexion with the sugar industry, were suggested to the Minister of Trade and Customs by Mr. Bamford, the honorable member for Herbert.


Senator Givens - Who made that state; ment?


Senator CHATAWAY - I have said that I cannot lay my hand on the reference, but I saw the statement in print. I am prepared to accept Senator Givens' denial of it. I find that, in the Brisbane Worker, of 22nd June, 1912, the following statement appeared -

The executive of the A.W.A. reported to the last district meeting at Chillagoe that the Hon. Chas. McDonald, Speaker of the House of Representatives, was at present in negotiation on their behalf with the Minister for Customs rr field rates in the sugar industry, and that an effort is also being made to have introduced a more -equitable form of agreement between the employers and the sugar-workers.

No one has the slightest objection to the Speaker of the House of Representatives making representations to the Minister of Trade and Customs, but I notice that, when in another place, Mr. Groom called for the departmental papers, and the question was asked whether any representations had been made in connexion with the matter, outside the departmental reports, the Minister, at the time, answered that there were none. I am not saying that Mr. McDonald ever went to the Minister in connexion with this matter. The statement I have quoted from the Brisbane Worker is probably misleading and untrue, as is also the published statement that Mr. Bamford approached the Minister of Trade and Customs. I have seen the departmental papers, and it will be very interesting when

I tell honorable senators what is contained in them, and point out the way in which they have been engineered, all the reports of officials, as to standard rates, and so forth, being turned down, and a set of regulations issued which do not represent anything like the recommendations of the various sub-collectors of Customs.

Question - That the Senate do now adjourn - put under sessional order, and xesolved in the affirmative.







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