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Friday, 26 September 1902

Mr FOWLER - As regards this poll tax, of which we have heard very vague reports, I should say that, for my own part, I totally disapprove of any attempt in the way of a poll tax to drive the natives into the mines. At the same time, I recognise that the natives, in common with the whites, ought to pay some portion of taxation for the benefit of the country in which they live. It yet remains to be seen whether the taxation is of the nature which we have been given to understand it is, and whether its effect will be in the direction indicated. As regards this whole question, I must again express my surprise at the confusion of ideas which has led a number of people all over the world with whose views I am closely in sympathy to lose sight of the important fundamental feature in the whole of this difficulty. We have now in South Africa for the first time a condition of things which will give to the people the control of their own affairs, and I say it is for them to work out their own social, political, and economical salvation in- the same way that we have worked out ours in Australia.

Mr Watson - When they get representative institutions.

Mr FOWLER - I shall give my honorable friend an instance of what has already occurred. We are told of the dominance of the capitalists and mine-owners in Johannesburg. A few months ago, for the first time in the history of Johannesburg, the municipal council - now established on a proper basis - has been able to impose a tax on land values throughout the municipality. There is a distinct proof that at last South Africa is beginning to enjoy representative institutions, and I have no doubt but that the future will justify those who hold that the war arose through the denial of representative institutions and a free franchise to the majority of the people by a few who by circumstances were placed in power for the time being.

Mr. JOSEPHCOOK (Parramatta).The honorable and learned member for Corio might have made a great deal better use of this opportunity. He seemed much more anxious to demonstrate that we had been wallowing our hands in blood than to deal with the black labour trouble. The fact that we sent away troops and helped to slaughter a number of persons in South Africa seems to be his trouble. He has been doing a great disservice to a very laudable object. When he asks us to interfere with the internal arrangements of another part of the Empire, he asks us to take a course whichwould react on Australia in a most troublesome way. Is it for us, who are in advance of the world with regard to racial legislation, to invite interference with that legislation? Does the honorable and learned member suppose that if we interfere with the self-government of other parts of the Empire, we can resist their claim to direct their attention to our affairs ? We ought to be the last to go out of the confines of this continent to deal with any question of that sort. We should be studious in our avoidance of the troubles of any other part seeing that we are ourselves in secure possession of a splendid charter of self-government. If we interfere in South Africa in connexion with black labour, they have the same right to interfere in Australia in connexion with white labour. Unconsciously, the honorable and learned member is striking a serious blow at our system of self-government, which has enabled us to achieve such grand results. At the same time, it does seem incongruous that, we who are bundling the kanaka out of our confines, and resisting the intrusion of all the inferior races, should have been fighting in a country where there is such a tremendous supply of cheap, coloured labour. But that is our unfortunate position. We have no voice in their internal arrangements. This Government, representing the self-governing institutions of Australia, is asked to take an action which would inevitably strike a blow at our liberties. I can conceive of no policy more open to grave criticism and to be resisted. I am glad to hear that the Government will not interfere in that way. The honorable and learned member's remedy is rather out of doors. It is within his right to ask his fellow citizens in public meetings to pass a resolution telling his confrères in South Africa how deeply he sympathizes with them in regard to the adverse conditions under which they suffer. I have no doubt, notwithstanding what has been said, that the labour conditions are very acute in that country. There are thousands of our own people who cannot get employment there, and it is all because of the tremendous competition with cheap black labour. I know some men who are coining back, and they all declare that a white man has the greatest difficulty to get employment in mining pursuits and similar occupations. If South Africa is to be completely in the Empire, in the sense in which Australia is, and is to maintain her free institutions, somethingwill have to be done to curb the employment of black labour. The honorable and learned member says that we have no fear of competition from black labour, because white men will not descend to the local conditions. The same argument might very well be made to apply to Queensland. If the sugarplanters will only pay enough for white labour they can get all their work done. When it comes to making a choice between the black man and the white man, I shall consider the white man first every time. If South Africa is to be governed in the interest of the natives and to the exclusion of white labour, then a very serious problem will be presented to the Empire at large. I believe that South Africa is in a very disorganized condition. That is the inevitable result of the upheaval which took place. In time, no doubt, order will be evolved, but in the meantime the position is acute. There can be no harm in expressing our sympathy with the unfortunate victims over there, and in doing everything which is possible by constitutional methods, outside interference, to help them to remedy their difficulties. It would be a serious blow at our free institutions if we began to assert a right to interfere in the internal conditions of any country' within the Empire. The honorable and learned member is taking a course which is calculated to alienate sympathy from a very deserving object. He talks about the denial of free institutions in South Africa. How did that unfortunate result come about ? It was incidental to the attempt to defend our country from those who wished to take away our free institutions. There was no choice left to us, and the honorable and learned member knows that the suspension of free institutions in that troubled country is only temporary. We have been repeatedly assured, upon the honour of the statesmen of the Empire, that the moment the South Africans prove their fitness to have restored to them free institutions it will be freely and generously done. What the honorable and learned member is pointing out is the consequence of belligerency everywhere. It is generally troublesome in its consequences to free institutions. I hope that he will be satisfied with the indications of sympathy which have flown out to him from all parts of the Chamber. We all agree with him that everything possible should be done to remedy the difficulties in South Africa. But when he talks about having wallowed our hands in blood lie gives his own case away, and shows that he is more in sympathy with any movement which aims a blow at the honour and traditions of our troops and our relations to the Empire than with any proposal to remedy the labour troubles in South Africa.

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