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Thursday, 12 September 1901
Page: 4840

Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - Owing to my absence in Queensland during last week, I had not the privilege of listening to the able speeches made in connexion with this Bill, but I had the advantage of consulting a number of leading men in Brisbane with regard to this measure. I found that they were utterly opposed to the Bill so far as paragraph (a) of clause 4 is concerned. As honorable members are, no doubt, aware that paragraph has the effect of prohibiting from entrance into the Commonwealth any person who, when asked to do so by an officer, fails to write out and sign a passage of 50 words in the English language as dictated by the officer. It was my intention to vote against the second reading of this Bill, until the Prime Minister stated that it was intended to substitute other words for " the English language."

Mr Barton - I did not say I would substitute other words, but that I would look with great consideration upon an amendment of that kind - I do not think it is vital.

Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - I understood that the Prime Minister intended to strike out " English " and insert " some European."

Mr Barton - I will take that amendment, because I do not think the matter is. vital.

Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - I admit that the Bill is one of considerable importance, and I am quite in accord with it so far as the restriction of criminals, persons suffering from infectious and contagious diseases, and insane persons are concerned, but I think that the restrictions go too far. The Bill as it stands at present would prevent the introduction into our country of French, German, Scandinavian, and other people of the Continental nations, and yet men of these races have been amongst the best of our settlers in all parts of Australia. In Queensland we have quite a large number of Germans and Scandinavians, who are excellent colonists, and who have done a great deal to assist in developing the resources of the State. During my recent visit to Queensland I met a considerable number of Germans, who are very indignant indeed at the introduction of this Bill into the Federal Parliament, because they look upon it as placing them on the same footing as Hindoos, Assyrians, and Afghans. Prior to my visit had received a communication from some of the German colonists in Queensland, in which amazement was expressed at the provisions of the Bill, and in which they asked, " Have the consequences been considered should this Bill become law " ? No doubt the consequences would be that British subjects would suffer retaliation at the hands of Continental nations. Whenever they visited those countries, they would be asked, in the same manner as is proposed in the Bill, to write a sentence of 50 words in the language of the particular country, and under such conditions very few English people would be able to visit any place outside of England. I think it would be a very serious mistake for us to legislate so as to keep out this very desirable class of people. So far from being shut out, they should be encouraged to come here. We shall be told that the Bill is not meant to apply to people belonging to the Continental nations, but to Asiatics : but if we really want to keep this country for white people, we should endeavour to restrict Asiatic immigration in some more direct, honest, and straightforward way than this. We ought to be able to say what we mean in any measure brought before this House, and not put into it anything that we do not mean to carry out. The day will come when we shall have to face this problem, and the sooner we grapple with it the better. I venture to say that if we state honestly and directly what we want, the British Government will stand by us and assist us in bringing about the end we have in view. Mention has already been made by one or two honorable members of the fact that in the British Isles there are quite a large number of people who could not possibly pass this educational test. Within 200 miles of London, or eight or nine hours' journey by train, I know that there are thousands of men and women who could not possibly comply with this test, not because they are illiterate or uneducated, for they are as well educated as are the English-speaking people generally, but they are educated in another language. To come a little nearer home, I may mention that had this Bill been law at the time I came to Victoria, in the sixties, I would not have been allowed to land here. I do not suppose that would have made very much difference to Australia, but it would have made a very great difference to me. It would be a very serious mistake to allow this Bill in its present form to pass. I hope that the Minister will consent to such amendments as will make it more acceptable to honorable members generally. Our great object of course is to keep the Asiatics out of the Commonwealth. With that object in view I think we ought to legislate in a more direct, honest, and straightforward way. The educational test will not be adequate to exclude the very people whom we desire to exclude. In Japan, English is taught freely, and it will be a matter of a very short time - a few months probably - when any one delirious of coming to Australia from that country will be able to learn sufficient of the English language to comply with this test.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Was the honorable member just now referring to the Welsh people 1

Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - I was referring to my own people, and I happen to be Welsh. The Syrians are another class upon whom it is desirable that we should keep a watchful eye. They do business most freely with our people, and they are even civilized enough to take advantage of the Insolvency Court. I hope that the Minister will accept such amendments as will make the Bill more acceptable to honorable members generally, or that he will be prepared to withdraw it in favour of a measure which will deal directly 'with the restriction of the admission of Asiatics into the Commonwealth.

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