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Friday, 26 September 1902

Mr DEAKIN - Ido not know whether the honorable and' learned member for Corio has seriously considered the whole of the consequences which would follow from the adoption of the principle he has laid down in regard to this particular case.

Mr Crouch - It is too late to consider that : we have taken the responsibility.

Mr DEAKIN - I am far from denying, our responsibility for the part which Australia has played in connexion with the recent war in South Africa; I do not think that Australia desires to escape from any such responsibility, or regrets the action which she took. But it is quite another question how far that action commits us to a criticism, which may be considered- an interference with the internal- affairs of territories which, as I understand, are to be placed at once upon, a basis that will admit of the representation of the wishes of the inhabitants. Though- they are not endowed with representative institutions to the fullest extent, yet they are to be from the- very outset endowed with advisory councils on which both the English and the Boer populations will be represented.'

Mr Crouch - A Government of the Crown colony type.

Mr DEAKIN - A Government of the Crown colony type, no doubt : but under circumstances which admit of the exercise of very considerable powers by an advisory council of the character mentioned. Inasmuch as the people of those- territories will be in. the enjoyment of self-government to that extent, at all events, we should need to be very careful in expressing general views upon any question of. great importance to their internal administration. There are portions of the British Empire* in which the views which are practically universal in Australia with regard to the employment of the coloured racesare not maintained ; and we should- no more welcome a representation from, any other part of the Empire that chose to favour the encouragement of the employ*ment of cheap labour in- Australia than would the inhabitants of the new Transvaal colony encourage any interference- with them om our part of, an' opposite nature.

Mr CROUCH (CORIO, VICTORIA) - Are- the cases parallel %

Mr DEAKIN - The cases1 are not parallel, but the principle, of interference- is. the same in each. I will not enter into a discussionas to how far the institutions in the nature of . representative government which it is proposed to institute in. the Transvaal, compare with the so-called representation of Australian, European, and American inhabitants granted to them, by the former Transvaal Government. These are matters which it would be profitless to discuss at this hour. I am not drawing such a comparison, because, so far as the-honorable and learned member is- concerned, I am in close- sympathy with his view of this case. But while we are entitled to express our personal opinions outside, that does not justify us- in making official representations, which, if they were to have any weight at all, must be backed by some effective action on the part of the Commonwealth Government. Supposing, we did make a representation of the character desired to the people of: South Africa - because as I have said, the measure of representative government already accorded gives the- people a voice - it may be an incomplete voice in our apprehension, but still, it is- a. voice - in the management of their own affairs. The probability is that the immense majority of the very citizens of those former republics, with whom we have recently been in conflict, would not sympathize with us in. regard to this matter. On the contrary, we might find that, as they always freely employed the coloured labour of their own country, they would be quite willing to employ any coloured labour on the same terms-. We could, not count confidently upon the sympathy of; those people who, although they are for the time being deprived of their full, franchise, will have a measure of representation in the advisory councils. The consequence is. that although Australians generally would be in. sympathy with' the opinions which the honorable and learned member has expressed, we should, be making representations to. a- people who would not receive them with, sympathy, and might regard them, as quite as much, an interference with- their present policy as during the- war they regarded our going to South Africa- at.all,as an interference in. a quarrel, which, thev were-pleased- to think they could limit to one portion of the Empire. Under these- circumstances,, therefore - although it is perfectly open for any persons, or any private bodies or associations, to express their _ opinions with regard, to the employment of coloured labour on the Rand - this is not a subject with which the Government of the Commonwealth ought to be asked to take action. By so doing we should possibly expose ourselves to a mortifying rebuff. We would not be considered by the citizens of South Africa as lending them any assistance - in fact, the probability is that our action would simply be interpreted as a desire to interfere in their affairs, arising partly from our antagonism to coloured labour, and partly from our interest as a rival gold-producing country, to deprive them of the labour which has been usually employed by them. For my own part, I regret the action taken upon the Band, although I do not consider, from what can be gathered - and I have no special information on the subject - that the employment of either alien or Chinese labour is likely, under present circumstances, to enter into competition with white labour. The information I have is that the whites on the Rand are employed at os. a day. It is also generally understood - -indeed, I believe it is incontestable - that the cost of living in Johannesburg is at least twice the cost in Australia. The consequence is that 5s. per day in Johannesburg represents not more than 2s. 6d. per day in Australia. Under the circumstances that is clearly not a class of employment or a rate of remuneration to which we can desire to see Australians aspire. We cannot imagine Australian labour desiring to enter into competition for such employment.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is the number of people there that has brought down wages on the Rand.

Mr DEAKIN - That is true to a large extent: but the rates are also due very largely to the number of the indigenous inhabitants of the country. Though I myself regret to learn that there is any proposal to import more coloured labour to the Rand, j'et it remains true that even if such labour were entirely excluded, the people there would still be face to face with a far more serious problem than the Commonwealth of Australia or any part of it has to face owing to its large native population.

Mr Crouch - One of the companies there pays 350 per cent.

Mr DEAKIN - That may be so, but if one can place reliance on recent cablegrams which have been published in the mewspapers as to the transference of £100,000,000 of war debt, the vast amount of interest on that sum will have to be paid, by taxation levied almost wholly upon the mine' owners of the Transvaal. The honorable and learned member will see that the mine-owners are not therefore escaping scathless. Whether or not they had the large share of responsibility which was attached to them in some quarters for the inception of the late war, it is quite clear that for whatever purpose it was waged, they are having allotted to them something like a fair measure of responsibility for the enormous outlay incurred. For these reasons I fail to see that this Government ought to have taken action in the matter, unless our counsel was in some way specially invited. There was a matter upon which, without being directly consulted, Australia had an opportunity of speaking, and that was in regard to the suspension of constitutional government in Cape Colony. On that question Australia had a proper opportunity of being heard, and thePrime Minister expressed the feelings of the great bulk of the people of the Commonwealth. That was a matter, upon which it was proper for the Government to speak, because an opportunity of speaking was presented to them, but in this case an opportunity for speaking has not arisen. So far as I know, this Chinese scheme is merely the project of a few men, of whom we have examples in Australia, who subordinate every other consideration to that of earning profit upon their investments.

Mr Fowler - And who- can only be effectively opposed by a popular franchise.

Mr DEAKIN - There are men who pay the smallest possible heed to the consideration of the future of the country they may be- imperilling by the introduction of large numbers of races, who within our experience cannot be said to be capable of taking any part in representative government : men who consider any country as no more than a field for investment, and' with whom the profit they reap is the only measure of good government. That they should make such a proposition should surprise no one. We may hope that the Imperial Government, with their knowledge of the consequences of such a step, will not give their consent. If our opinion were invited, there can be no doubt as to what our verdict would be. But I repeat that no proper opportunity has yet presented itself to us of speaking on this question. If such ait opportunity is presented, I have no doubt it will be taken advantage of. But to act as the honorable and learned member for Corio proposes in regard to what, so far as I know, is at present merely a project, which may never be indorsed even in the country in which it is made, which may not be approved by the Imperial Government, and which may, therefore, remain merely a project, would not be wise. If we were to express an opinion in these circumstances, where should we draw the line in the representations we ought to make to other Crown colonies upon projects launched by them, which in our opinion may be as hazardous as that to which the honorable and learned member has referred? The Government may be acquitted of blame in not having taken any action in regard to what at this stage is a mere project. To have made general unsolicited representations might have been an interference with the measure of autonomy at present existing in . those States, and might have established a precedent which in the future would be found very dangerous to this and other self-governing communities throughout the Empire.

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