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Friday, 13 October 1911

Senator RAE (New South Wales) . - I desire to refer to one or two items. In regard to immigration, I would point out, in the first place, that the interim report by Commissioner A. B. Piddington, which is being made so much of by the press, is not to be taken as final. In the second place, notwithstanding the high attainments of Mr. Piddington, and, I believe, fairness, I would point out that the value of the report was vitiated by the disclosure of the fact that one unscrupulous employer in New South Wales discharged immediately a girl who had given evidence against his wishes. We have every reason to believe that there has been nothing like that free submission of evidence that there would have been only for that scoundrelly intimidation which was practised by an unscrupulous employer, who escaped scot free under the law of the State. We have no right to pay any special attention to the report, whatever its ultimate form may be. There is not the slightest doubt that those who were most competent to give evidence on the other side of the question were prevented from appearing by fear of consequences. I hold that once an inquiry is poisoned at the very fount, the report becomes valueless, no matter how high or honorable the Commissioner may be. That so far dismisses Mr. Piddingtons report from consideration. As regards the Northern Territory, we should not hesitate one moment about putting our heads together to devise a scheme or method by which it can be effectively settled.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I think that it should be carefully studied before much money is spent.

Senator RAE - A thing is not carefully studied by being left alone. In fact, a good many of the matters in connexion with the Northern Territory are so entirely novel that the only way of studying them will be by experiments, and profiting by our failures and mistakes. I wish to reply to an interjection which, I think, Senator Findley made as to the length of time we have allowed things to drift in the other States, notably in New South Wales, without effecting certain developments. That is entirely beside the point. The sole reason for taking over the Northern Territory was that the Commonwealth might develop it as South Australia admittedly could not do. Therefore, it devolves upon us to spare no time in perfecting schemes to that end.

Senator O'Keefe - Do you not recognise that necessary preliminary steps are being taken?

Senator RAE - I do not know anything about what is being done.

Senator Needham - You received a copy of the report which was circulated, and which shows what is being done.

Senator RAE - I have not heard anything definite.

Senator St Ledger - The route of the proposed railway is not fixed yet.

Senator RAE - That is a proposal which is embodied in the agreement, and for which I voted. While I agree that a railway is necessary before we can obtain anything like closer settlement through the Northern Territory generally, yet there is a coastal belt which could be reached by means of vessels. Some action might be taken towards settling the northern littoral without waiting for the construction of railways. It is of no use for die Commonwealth to drop immigrants into the Northern Territory, and allow them to shift for themselves. Most of them would . drift into the more highly developed southern and southeastern States, so. that as fast as they were dropped in at one end they would pour out at the other. It almost goes without saying that the foundation of any scheme for the settlement of the Northern Territory must be State subsidized enterprises, which will pave the way for many of those necessities and comforts of life being bestowed on settlers in that country, which the residents in more favoured regions enjoy.

Senator O'Keefe - There is an item of £70,000 set down on the Estimates for this year.

Senator RAE - Yes; but most of that money is required for purely administrative purposes.

Senator Needham - A large portion is to meet interest.

Senator RAE - Yes; and the remainder is required for purely administrative purposes.

Senator O'Keefe - Not altogether;, it shows that there are new things being undertaken.

Senator RAE - I think that a comprehensive scheme must be undertaken before we can hope to hold the country by means of population.

Senator Needham - lt shows that an honest attempt is being made to get a basis for future operations.

Senator RAE - We must have a comprehensive developmental scheme prepared, which Parliament will have an opportunity of discussing. A mere increase of the protectors of aborigines, or the resident magistrates, or anything of that kind,, will go a very little way towards attaining 'our object. It would take a thousand years to develop the country on such lines. It is a matter of urgency. The defence of this continent is absolutely impossible unless the

Northern Territory can be effectively settled -and held. I shall take every opportunity of urging, both here and elsewhere, the necessity for the Commonwealth losing no time in this matter. Concerning the Capital, Senator Walker made some very heated remarks about the rights of the State, as if I was not upholding them. That was in connexion with the expenditure on Sydney Government House. I fail to understand the antediluvian view-point that expenditure on Government Houses in State capitals is in any way upholding State rights. 1 make bold to say that in an alleged democratic community that is an indefensible expenditure. I consider that our Government is much to blame for consenting to such a tremendous expenditure on house rent for one man and his missus. We are called upon to vote £600 for Sydney Government House; £1,000 for Melbourne Government House; and £800 for non-recurring works, whatever they may be - repairs, I suppose. We are asked to vote £2>4°o in a Supply Bill, which covers two months' Supply. Multiplying the amount for rent by six, we find that nearly £14,000 is expended in housing one man. It is a rotten thing for a democratic country to spend such an unreasonably large amount in housing the GovernorGeneral. In reply to the remarks of Senator Walker I wish to say that I am defendingthe rights of New South Wales by condemning this unwise and extravagant expenditure. Let the Governor-General be provided with a residence at the Seat of Government, and if anything more be necessary, let him be reimbursed the expenses which he incurs in travelling through the different States. But to maintain a gubernatorial establishment in each capital when such establishments are not occupied for nine months out of the year, is a sheer waste of money.

Senator Needham - The Commonwealth is not maintaining a gubernatorial residence in each of the States, but only in two of them.

Senator RAE - If this policy is to be pursued by a. Labour Government, I should not wonder if the present expenditure were multiplied by four should our opponents ever regain office. To spend money in renovating the Sydney Government House, which the State Government propose to resume, would be an indefensible proceeding.

Senator Walker - There is no reason why the people should not have the use of the gardens when the Governor-General is not residing there.

Senator RAE - At any rate, the people are absolutely shut out from those gardens, which form one of the most beautiful portions of the city of Sydney. In regard to the question of immigration, there is ample evidence to bear out the statement of Senator Gardiner that in nearly every branch of industry throughout the country the cry for more workmen is merely part of a conspiracy to obtain cheap labour.

Senator St Ledger - Is it not evident that we cannot develop Australia unless we have more people?

Senator RAE - I quite admit that.

Senator St Ledger - Then why does the honorable senator blow hot and cold?

Senator RAE - I am not blowing hot and cold. I am quite aware that Australia might well hold ten times her present population. If 5,000,000 people in this country can help each other, 10,000,000 can do the same thing. But the cry for more labour, which is being raised by employers and by the press which exists for employers, is largely a false one. It emanates from employers who wish to see tiptop workmen waiting on .their doorsteps for jobs.

Senator St Ledger - Our cry is for. more people.

Senator RAE - The shopkeepers say that they cannot obtain dressmakers, and the factory-owners declare that they cannot get sufficient factory hands. It is the same in other branches of industry. The employers generally are responsible for the outcry. A similar cry is being raised in regard to domestic service, and, at the bottom of it all is the fact that employers cannot obtain hands at the wages which they are prepared to pay. Take the industry in which I am engaged - that of fruit-growing - as an example. In a big belt of orchard' country quite recently one of my neighbours said to me, " I cannot get men." In reply I stated, " If you pay good wages you can get them." He answered, " I offered 8s. a clay, and could not get them." My reply was, " But you offered them only a fortnight's work."

Senator Chataway - Does the honorable senator pay enough to a man for a fortnight to keep him the entire year?

Senator RAE - I do not say that. But I do say that it is only casual labour which 1 is scarce at the wages which are offering. If employers will pay good wages they can get ample labour. I know very well that there is no difficulty in securing the services of good men for any class of work so long as good wages are forthcoming. We were told in by-gone days that we must not strike for, or form trade unions to, demand higher wages, because of the inexorable law of supply and demand. But now that men and women can command higher wages than they could previously, the employers object to the law of supply and demand.

Iprotest against the statement that the crying need of this country is immigration. We are meeting the demand of Australia for population by means of land taxation, which will have the effect of breaking up the big estates, and thus affording more people an opportunity of sharing the land which has hitherto been held by a few. The cry for State-aided immigration is a hollow sham, so far as there is any need for it, but a very real thing from the point of view of cheap labour. If we make this country sufficiently attractive by improving the position of the workers in every calling, ample labour will be available to double its population within a very few years. When we reflect that the waste places of the earth are being rapidly filled - that the United States and the north-west provinces of Canada are being speedily settled, because they are nearer than we are to the congested centres of Europe - we must recognise that the time is fast approaching when the stream of immigration will be diverted in this direction, and when possibly we shall have more immigrants than we can find room for. But the way to attract people to our shores is to continue to improve the conditions which obtain here, until immigrants are prepared to come voluntarily. These are the best class of immigrants. Those who come out with the aid of the State will include wasters of the worst type - the flotsam and jetsam of the Old World. But if we improve the conditions which obtain here we shall attract to our shores the most self reliant of the people from abroad.

Senator Long - There are millions in England who have not enough money to pay their fares to London.

Senator RAE - That may be true. Certainly it should never be the policy of the Government to subsidize employers to bring to Australia immigrants who will make it more difficult for the men here to obtain employment at remunerative wages. When there is only one man looking for a job he can demand a good wage, but when there are two or three men looking for the same job the successful individual has to accept a lower wage.

Senator Chataway - And when there are two or three jobs looking for one man?

Senator RAE - Nothing but a tissue of misrepresentations has been brought forward by the press to substantiate such a claim.

Senator Millen - Then when Mr. Fisher made the statement in London he was wrong.

Senator RAE - I am not aware of what Mr. Fisher said. But I do say that .no reliable information has been forthcoming to prove that there has been anything more than a temporary demand for a little more labour than is available, and the reason for this temporary shortage is that the wages paid in some industries are so low that men have been driven out of them into more remunerative industries.

Senator Millen - If we raise wages in the industries which they have deserted, they will go back to those industries, and leave the industries in which they are now employed short of hands.

Senator RAE - Fluctuations of that sort are inevitable.

Senator Chataway - The Melbourne Trades Hall officials admitted in the inquiry, instituted by Mr. Watt, that a shortage oE labour does exist.

Senator RAE - But in most instances that shortage is due to the temporary improvement in other industries.

Senator Millen - Was it because of a temporary shortage of labour that Senator Findley sanctioned the admission of a number of contract immigrants?

Senator RAE - I do not deny that there may be some new branches of industry in which the supply of labour may be rather short.

Senator Long - Scarcely a day passes without three or four men calling upon me to ask if I can direct them to some employment.

Senator O'Keefe - I have a similar experience.

Senator RAE - That merely proves that this is not the time to expend the taxpayers' money by introducing immigrants to this country to compete with those who are already out of work.

Senator Chataway - If a. blacksmith asks for a job, that does not prove that there is not a shortage of labour in the saddlery industry.

Senator RAE - There may be a shortage of labour in skilled trades, but certainly there is none in unskilled branches of industry.

Sitting suspended from1 to 2.30 p.m.

Senator RAE - As the time for the consideration of this measure is limited, it is not my intention to prolong the debate on the first reading.

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