Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Wednesday, 6 December 1905
Page: 6331

Mr CONROY (Werriwa) - I much regret that a question so important should have been brought forward at this late period of the session. It is a matter of oractical impossibility to keep pace with the many measures introduced, that is, to read and understand the various clauses. Indeed, it would be much better to leave the drafting and consideration of these measures to a Committee of halfadozen, so as to insure at least some deliberation.

Mr McDonald - We do not want governmentby committee.

Mr CONROY - I, too, am totally opposed to government by committee but under the circumstances it is advisable to insure at least some consideration of the proposals submitted. In the present case only the draftsman and one Minister have apparently, had timeto deliberate onthe measure. No better proof that the Ministers generally have not had time to give any attention to this amending Bill, could be afforded than the fact that, when the Minister in charge happens to leave the Chamber, none of his colleagues are able to take his place. This only shows that the pace is far too fast to insure the due consideration of measures by the Government, and that we now have legislation at the hands of single Ministers, and not from the Cabinet as a whole.

Mr Carpenter - The remedy for that rests with the House.

Mr CONROY - A remedy might be found in devoting longer time to the Consideration of the Bills submitted. It is sometimes complained by Ministers that a week or ten days is devoted to the discussion of a measure; but I venture to saythat if in 1901 more time had been devoted to the Immigration Restriction Act, many amendments would have been found to be unnecessary. As the case is now, however, we have not one, but two, amending Bills introduced. After all, the vital principle is to preserve, as far as possible, Australia for the people of our own race. It is self-preservation, and there can be no stronger or sounder doctrine than that the people should demand for themselves and their children, some dwelling-place wherein will flourish the institutions they most favour. We should not be patriotic or true citizens if we had not a fundamental belief in that principle. When we were asked tocalmly stand aside and submit to a peaceful invasion, which would just as surely wipe us out as would a warlike invasion, we were absolutely justified in adopting some effective means of defence. To that extent, and to that extent only, is legislation of this kind justified. What I disapproved of at the time, and what I have since seen more reason to disapprove of. isthat when we could have accomplished the larger part of our aims in a peacefulway, we chose to adopt the mostobjectionable means we could. The means adopted doubtless carried out the intention of the House, but they went a great deal further than was necessary. For instance, when Japan offered us a peaceful method of excluding immigrants whom we did not desire to come here in large number, lest they might change the character and the habits of our people, why did we not accept its offer? We declined to arrange the matterbytreaty. Under a certain degree of pressure, it seems that the Government propose to make changes. the chief of which is the abolition of the present test in an European language, so that the Minister administering the Act for the time being will be at liberty to frame the test in any form he pleases. I have always entertained a strong objection to placing an extreme power in the hands, of a Minister. I do not like such a delegation of power. The House appears to be constantly falling into the danger of placing a despotic power in the hands of Ministers - a power so great that, if we fully understood what we were doing, we should not think of granting it. The proposal, however, seems to be treated lightly. When the honorable member for Kennedy voiced his objection to it, I heartily agreed with him. We should not place any Minister above the law, and yet that is what we are asked to do.

Mr McDonald - Nothing should be left to regulation which can be clearlyprovided for in the Bill itself.

Mr CONROY - Quite so. We should not allow bureaucratic influences to prevail. It would seem that the folly of legislators is. building up a corrective, and that many honorable members quite unconsciously are handing over to large bureaucracies a power which in the past has been almost entirely controlled by the Parliament. In view of the actions of some legislators at the present time, I do not see in this practice the danger that I should have feared a few years since. That, however, is merely by the way. It seems to me that the amendment of which notice has been given by the Prime Minister could best be carried into effect by striking out the clauses, giving the Minister power to prescribe the test. The amendment provides that -

No regulation prescribing any language shall have any force until it has been laid before both Houses of the Parliament for thirty days, or if within that time a resolution has been proposed in either House of the Parliament to disapprove of the regulation until the motion has been disposed of.

Mr Mcwilliams - Such a motion might be kept going interminably.

Mr CONROY - We have seen that done. One honorable member will be able to object to the test prescribed, with the result that it will be held in abeyance for an indefinite period.

Mr Thomas - Does the honorable and learned member think that a Government would allow such a thing?

Mr CONROY - In view of the honorable member's experience, I think that they would allow a great deal.

Mr Tudor - But would the House allow it?

Mr CONROY - We have known the same notices of motion to appear on the business-paper from one session to another. Honorable members objecting to a-test prescribed by the Minister would take the road presenting the most difficulties to its adoption. On some pretext or other the consideration of the motion would be delayed.

Mr Thomas - We have the closure standing orders.

Mr CONROY - If the honorable member means to suggest that those standing orders are to be used to prevent reasonable discussion, he should not have supported them.

Mr Thomas - They are designed to prevent a waste of time.

Mr CONROY - The honorable member was one of those who said that time was. being wasted in discussing the original Bill, and yet it has been found necessary by the Ministry to introduce two amending measures. Some honorable members appear to think that it is a waste of time to attempt to discuss any measure. Had the original Bill been properly discussed we should not have met with the present difficulties. The Prime Minister himself has been unable to determine which principle should prevail, and that, to my mind, is a reason why thismeasure should not be pushed through the House at the present time. It should be allowed to remain in abeyance until the' Cabinet has arrived at a definite decision. I presume that the Prime Minister assumed that the Bill, as drafted, afforded the best means of overcoming existing difficulties ; but other members of the Cabinet, or private members, must hold . a different opinion, otherwise we should not have had circulated a set of amendments which practically nullify the Bill as submitted. When the framers of a measure have not fairly considered it, or made up their minds as to the best course to pursue, it is incumbent upon them not to ask the House to deal with it, especially in the closing days of the session. The supporters of the Government rely on their bringing forward a well-considered measure, but that has not been done in this case. This practice is especially objectionable when the House is sitting from twelve to fourteen hours a day, and when there cannot be that discussion upon Bills submitted to us that ought to take place. The inevitable effect of this will be that new troubles will arise. No honorable member is prepared to give proper consideration to this measure, because our attention has been closely devoted for some weeks past to other Bills. The Bill before us repeals paragraphs m and n of section 3 of the original Act. Under those paragraphs, a man who is not a prohibited immigrant is allowed to bring in his wife and all children apparently under the age of eighteen years, whilst any man who can satisfy the officer concerned that he has been formerly domiciled in the State is exempt from the provisions of the Act. Whilst we allow men of an alien race to live here in small numbers, less danger is likely to arise from permitting them to bring in their wives than must eventuate from allowing the present state of affairs to continue. In an assemblage of men, I need not go into all the reasons that actuate me in that bslief ; but I am satisfied that the more honorable members think of this point, the more fully they will recognise the desirableness of allowing these aliens to bring in their wives. For that reason, I think that the proposal to repeal paragraphs m and n of section 3 of the original Act is a mistake. Many cases of great hardship nave arisen - aliens who have been living here for twenty years or more having been refused permission to land their wives after once taking them out of the Commonwealth. Surely that is not a good thing for the community. Surely it is not based upon those principles of equity and justice which ought to prevail among all civilized nations. We are a young and a weak community ; but. even if we were a powerful nation, we should still recognise those principles. That which is not morally right can never be politically or financially right. Although it may seem expedient, in the long run it always turns out to be an evil and a menace to the community to depart from fundamental moral principles. We are paying no attention to one side of the moral aspect of the question when we say that a man who has been living here for some years shall not be allowed to bring in his wife. Under the original Act, there is some escape from that position, and in a few cases the sense of justice and equity of the Minister administering the Act has been touched. Even the right honorable member for East Sydney, when Minister of External Affairs, allowed some of the cases brought under his notice to be put beyond the scope of the Immigration Restriction Act. This shows that he considered that to have refrained from doing so would have been to contravene the principles of equity and justice.

Mr Watson - To what class of cases does the honorable and learned member refer?

Mr CONROY - They were cases in which the wives of immigrants who had formerly lived in Australia were not allowed to land. In some instances this involved considerable hardship. I think that in one case a man who had been living in. Australia for twenty-five years was not permitted to bring in his wife after his return: from a visit to his- own country.

Mr Watson - Many who pretend to> have been here before have never been in the country. The statements of those desirous of entering Australia cannot always, be relied on.

Mr CONROY - No doubt that is so, but in the cases to which I refer it wasclearly proved that the men had formerly lived here. Even under the Bill the Minister will not have sufficient power to deal" fairly with cases of this kind.

Mr Watson - If every Chinaman who left Australia returned with a wife, we should soon have a large number of Chinese living here.

Mr CONROY - There is very little danger of Australia being swamped by Chinese, because the Minister may refuse to admit even men who, prior to leaving" Australia, had lived here for many years. Besides, our knowledge of the world should" teach us that it may be better to allow acertain number of foreign women to comehere. A provision which it seems to merequires amendment is that of substituted' clause 14A, which provides that - -

Every member of the police force of any State, and every officer may, without warrant,, arrest any person reasonably supposed to be aprohibited immigrant.

I could understand such a provision if itwere to apply only in out-of-the-way places, to meet the isolated cases to which theMinister referred; but, even then, I thinkit would be unnecessary. The regulations, however, might be so framed that the Minister could authorize any police officer toact in the manner provided for, and if theclause were amended to read, " The-

Minister may authorize any member of the police force," my objection to ic would be largely removed. It must be remembered that we are allowing the Government to make arrangements with foreign Governments for the admission of certain of their subjects on the presentation of passports, duly vised, and on the observance of other necessary precautions against imposition. Even the honorable member for Bland, when in office, agreed that this might be done. The men who will come here under this arrangement will belong chiefly to the tourist class, who will come here for purposes of sight seeing, or to the merchant class, who will come here to obtain trade. At all events, they will be men recommended by the Governments whose subjects they are, and it would be a great affront to those Governments if any of them were suddenly arrested in the streets of one of our large cities, without other authority than this provision, by any member of the police force who chose to take such action. The power is one which is not likely to be often abused, but we should not run the risk of it being abused at all. It might happen, if the clause were left as it stands, that some raw member of the force, anxious to distinguish himself, might availhimself of this power to be offensive :to one of these persons whom we are practically inviting to our shores. In my opinion the provision goes beyond what is safe or sound, and is likely to create difficulties in our relations with foreign Governments, because, possibly, the visitor subjected to indignity might be a man of influence and high rank in his own country. I trust, therefore, that the Minister will agree to the amendment which I have suggested.

I am sorry that the measure is being brought forward so late in the session.

II extends the power of the Minister to make arrangements with foreign Governments, but, in my opinion, effects no real improvement of the Alien Restriction Act. The success of legislation of this kind depends largely upon its administration, and the administration of the past has not been such as to justify us in anticipating very successful results in the future. Had the measure been brought in earlier, I think there would have been a better recognition ot what is due to other nations, and I would then anticipate less difficulty in the future than I now foresee. In my opinion, it would be better to postpone its fur- ther consideration until next session, when we will come fresh to it, and will be able to give full attention to the various points put forward bv honorable members.

Suggest corrections