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Thursday, 28 May 1903

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - That is not my point at the present time, but I know that one has only to touch on a subject like this in order to stir up the honorable and learned member for Corio. I have no desire to see prison-made goods imported into Australia., and I am merely showing the absurdity of compelling magistrates to inflict this minimum fine when it is felt that no fine should be inflicted, and when, but for the stringency of the law, it would not be inflicted. If the Government had acted in the same spirit that they did in regard to the boy Tingey the other day, this fine ought to have been refunded.

Mr Reid - That was the case of the Bible ; there was a difference in the Cabinet about that. 1

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - In order to give another instance of the peculiar anomalies of the Act, I wish to refer to section 53, which reads -

No spirits, opium, tobacco, snuff, cigars, or cigarettes shall be imported, except in packages as prescribed. Penalty : AM 00.

The Minister has the power of prescribing the size of the. packages by regulation, and this provision is also taken from the old English laws, which, as I say, were highly useful at one time, but are now absolutely ridiculous when it is considered that every article imported has to be manifested and remain in the charge of the Customs until the entry has been passed and duty duly paid. Why should not a man be allowed to import a package of tobacco weighing less than 20 lbs. ? Should I desire to import a package of 5 lbs., that package would be held under the Customs seal until the manifest and invoice had been examined and duty paid. I have shown the absurdity of the law, and now desire to show the absurdity of the administration. I received a telegram a few days ago, which I am sorry to say I have mislaid, from a solicitor of Port Darwin, informing me that a Chinese storekeeper there had imported 40 lbs. of tobacco in one ship, but,, for convenience sake, had divided the commodity into two packages, one containing 25 lbs. and the other containing 15 lbs. The packages were duly manifested, and the invoice was produced, but the storekeeper, on seeking to clear them, was informed that while he could obtain the package of 25 lbs. on the payment of the duty, the smaller packet must be seized, because it was under the prescribed size, and the importer was fined the minimum of £ 5. It is absurd that a Customs official should be so absolutely without discretion as to be guilty of administration of this sort. Does the Minister say that this storekeeper deserved to have any fine inflicted on him?

Mr Kingston - He would have got it hotter under English legislation.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - No doubt he might have " got it hotter " under Russian legislation.

Mr Kingston - Is Imperial legislation to be compared to that of Russia ?

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Our legislation is getting pretty close to that of Russia ; at any rate, I should say that a man could not be worse treated in that country. If the Minister cannot see his way to give his officers a little more discretion, the sooner the House takes the matter in hand and amends the Act the better. I am sure that the common sense of many members would support an amendment in reference to such cases as that of the cartridges the other clay, in the direction of allowing more discretion in the administration of the Act. In the case I have mentioned I am sure no ordinary magistrate or justice of the peace - and we have some curious specimens of the latter - would have dared to fine a man j £5 for an offence so nominal, if the law allowed any discretion. While saying all this, I must, acknowledge that the Minister has had to perform most difficult work. As a Customs agent for many years, I can appreciate the difficulties with which he has to contend. Even in one State, with one set of officers, those troubles would arise, but when dealing with six States and six sets of officers the difficulties must be enormous. I am condemning the administration for which the Minister cannot be personally responsible, unless he can put a week's work into a day.

Mr Kingston - I take all the responsibility ; I have very good officers.

Mr.V. L. SOLOMON. - I know that the Minister has to take all responsibility, and he may have very good officers, but they must be lacking in discretion or afraid of being dismissed if they, in the slightest degree, lean to the side of justice. Everything the Minister has done has been with a view of conserving the revenues of the

Commonwealth, and his task has been a hard one ; and I am sure that if any one else had occupied the position, probably just as many mistakes would have been made. I say this with the idea of inducing him to give his officers more discretion in removing some of the anomalies I have pointed out, and permitting them to treat trivial cases as such, and not as subjects for police court prosecutions.

Mr Salmon - Does the honorable member mean that the cases should be treated departmen tally ?

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - No ; there have been great abuses under that system. "What I mean is that it would be a good thing if in such cases as those to which I have referred, the Minister were not quite so firm - I believe his friends called it firmness, though it has been described as obstinacy - and if he were to bring down a short Bill in order to remove anomalies. Such a Bill, I feel sure, would pass both Houses almost at one. sitting. If the Minister even gave an indication of a reasonable desire to deal with such cases in a different spirit, those who have reasonable complaints would point out the difficulties caused by the law, and show how amendment would be advantageous. In such a step the Minister would receive hearty support from honorable members.

Mr McCay - How would the honorable member legislate in order to meet such a case as that which occurred at Port Darwin, unless it had to be dealt with departmentally ?

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - First ofall, the section providing for a minimum fine might be altered, because it is unreasonable to force a magistrate to inflict a penalty . when there has been no attempt at fraud, and no absolute wrong done.

Mr Kingston - The objection of prescribing the size of the packages is that they may be seen.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - My main point' is that the magistrates should be given fuller discretion.

Mr Page - Who is to prove that a mistake is honest or dishonest?

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The magistrate, I presume, is the best judge of that. It is absurd to compel a magistrate, in a technical case, to fine a man £5, when otherwise the penalty of ls. might be imposed. It is unwise to have an Act which places control upon the magistrate's sense of justice. If a magistrate can be trusted to fine a man £100 surely he can be trusted to fine him1s.

Mr Watson - The honorable member means in cases of error.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Yes, in such cases as that of the bottle of oil, where there was a mere technical breach of the law.

Mr Kingston - No exception is made by the act in cases of prison made goods.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I suppose that if I went on a visit to India and sent to the Minister of Trade and Customs a present, which on being opened after he had passed the entry - as he would, being an honest trader - was found to have been made in Calcutta gaol, he would immediately fine himself £5.

Mr Kingston - I should wait and"run in" the honorable member.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Now I come to the Immigration Restriction Act, though I am not going to deal with the six hatters, of whom we have heard enough. I shall refer to that case only in order to point out that when sub-section (g) of section 3 was passed, I for one was quite ignorant of the extent to which it would be used. I listened very carefully to- the debate, and later took some part in it myself. Sub-section (g) of section 3 was inserted on the motion of the leader of the labour party, and provides that -

Any persons under a contract or agreement to perform manual labour within the Commonwealth shall be regarded as "prohibited immigrants."

The object of the insertion of those words was, I understood, to prevent the introduction of large numbers of men under contract to perform work at unfair rates of pay, and to prevent interference during the existence of some strike or labour trouble. The honorable member for Bland, speaking in support of his amendment, said -

When I first gave notice of: this amendment I proposed to cover all classes of labour performed in the Commonwealth. But, in view of representations made by some honorable members, it is, I think, desirable for the time being to restrict the classes prohibited to artisans and labourers. There are one or two other classes of labour it would have been advisable to cover by the sub-clause, but the difficulty of providing for efficient exemptions of classes that should be exempted, and the possibility, perhaps, a little later, of a number of new industries being commenced within the Commonwealth, point to the necessity of minimizing the operation of the amendment in the meantime. The amendment will cover most of the classes of labour likely to be affected through people being inveigled into unfair agreements in ignorance of the conditions obtaining in Australia.

Mr Watson - I do not depart from that statement.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - That argument undoubtedly obtained the sympathy of honorable members on both sides of the Chamber. In speaking to the amendment the Attorney-General stated that -

The persons to whom the honorable member alluded when he made his concluding reference to the possibility of the establishment of new industries in the Commonwealth are excluded under the amendment as it now stands, and it is necessary to make provision to permit skilled labourers to enter the Commonwealth if they are of such a character as to be able to add to the industrial wealth of the community.

That is the interpretation to be placed upon the proviso which, on his motion, was added to the amendment. What has occurred, is very much to be regretted. I am sure that a blunder has been committed, and that it was not the desire of the Prime Minister that the men concerned should be treated as they were. The honorable and learned member for Northern Melbourne, speaking on the same subject, said -

There is no desire to exclude men who voluntarily seek to make their home here for the purpose'of engaging in manual labour or anything else, so long as they belong to a civilized white race, and are themselves desirable immigrants. As I understand it, we have never in Australia taken up that narrow view of saying that we must keep Australia forourselvesand our children.

Mr Watson - Oh,

That was the belief under which I, for one, consented to allow the clause to pass. It is difficult to know how the Act can be amended so that it will still contain the safeguards desired, and yet give an opportunity for desirable immigrants to enter the Commonwealth ; but I think that it should be amended so as to attain that end. There is another matter in connexion with the administration of the Act to which I wish to draw attention. It was never intended by Parliament that the operation of the Act should be retrospective, so as to do injustice to persons - whether English, Irish, Scotch, Chinese, or Japanese - who were living within the Commonwealth for years before the inauguration of federation. But a case has occurred in which injustice of that kind has beendone ; and although I have.directed the attention of the Prime Minister to it, I have not yet heard his decision upon it, and so far he has been adamant to my representations. The case is that of three Chinamen who were assistants in and part owners of a store at Port Darwin, and had resided in that town for fourteen years prior to federation. They were engaged in business there during the whole of that period, and had the cleanest of records ; and certificates were obtained by them from both the police and European merchants in the town as to their respectability and integrity. They applied to the Customs officer at Port Darwin for domicile certificates to enable them to visit their original homes in China for a few months. The officer did not see any difficulty in the matter. He told them - " I cannot give you certificates, because' they have to be sent from the head office in Melbourne ; but I have no doubt that there will be no difficulty in the matter." Acting upon that assurance, the men left their business and wenttoChina. Ithinkthat under sub-section (n) of section 3 of the Act, they were entitled to fairer consideration than they have received from the department. That sub-section provides that amongst those who shall be exempted from the operation of the clause is -

Any person who satisfies an officer that he has formerly been domiciled in the Commonwealth or in any colony which has become a State.

These Chinamen satisfied the Customs officer that they had been living, had had their homes, and were in business in the State of South Australia for fourteen years before the advent of federation, and yet on a mere technicality as to the, meaning of the word " domicile " - upon which any half-dozen lawyers in this House could raise a vast amount ofargument - they have been denied the right to return. An injustice has been inflicted upon them which is a disgrace to the Commonwealth.

Sir Edmund Barton - Would the honorable member like me to lay the papers on the table?

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I shall be only too pleased to have them laid upon the table. I am speaking from the communications which have been made to me, and I am sure that the facts are absolutely as I have stated them. Parliament did not intend the Act to be retrospective, or to inflict injustice of the kind I have mentioned. I wish now to deal with the paragraph in the Governor-General's speech which refers to the construction of the Western Australian Rail way. I received yesterday from the Prime Minister an answer in reference to the suggestion that the Northern Territory be taken over by the Commonwealth which puts that matter entirely at rest. The South Australian Government, naturally becoming tired of waiting for some reply in regard to the proposal for transfer, have decided to sanction the construction of a line which will join the existing system in South Australia to thai in the Northern Territory.

Sir Edmond Barton - The South Australian Government did not tell us of their intention to do anything in the matter until they had a Bill upon the table.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - At the beginning of last session I laid before theHouse a proposal which I supported by considerable evidence, and all the information which I could obtain in reference to the Northern Territory, and that proposal was actually shelved. The people of South Australia having waited for some reply on the subject for some fifteen months became tired of waiting. If the matter had been taken up when I brought it forward, and it was fresh, and the people of South Australia were favorable to the transfer of the Territory to the Commonwealth, the thing would now be an accomplished fact.

Mr Henry Willis - Are they not favorable to the transfer now?

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - No. They are now in favour of the construction of a transcontiental line upon the land grant system, and that line will be made. There are a dozen capitalists who will take the matter up on the terms dictated by the South Australian Parliament.

Sir Edmund Barton - The Government never had any indication from the South Australian Government that they were tired of waiting for an answer.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The South Australian Government were not likely to make that intimation, but that is undoubtedly the fact.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Will the people of South Australia let their Government part with the land ?

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Undoubtedly. At considerable pains, I brought a great deal of information upon the subject beforethe House, but the only reply to my proposal was the speech of a. Government supporter, who got up, or was put up, to make it a subject of ridicule.

Sir Edmund Barton - He was certainly not put up.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - His speech was ably answered by the member representing the Territory, but no other answer was given to the proposal, which was indorsed by the bulk of the electors of South Australia before ever I entered this Parliament.

Mr Chapman - Are the majority of the electors of. South Australia in favour of the construction of this line upon the landgrant system 1

Mr Kingston - No.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) -I think that they are. At any rate, their representatives are. I wish now to refer to the Western Australian Railway.

Mr Fowler - I hope that we are coming to it very quickly.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - That will.depend a good deal upon circumstances. A proposal in relation to that railway has already been put before the House, and we have been informed of some kind of understanding, which is perfectly unofficial and unwarranted by parliamentary sanction, between some of the members of the Western Australian Government and the Minister for Defence. We have been told that the line must be constructed, because Western Australia would not have come into the Federation had not her people believed that the Commonwealth would undertake its construction.

Sir Edmund Barton - There was never any compact.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I am glad to hear it. If there had been it would not have been of much value.

Sir Edmund Barton - Those who were advocating a Federation not then in existence couldnot make a compact.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - No, perhaps not : but I am sure that, if it had not been for assurances of support for the railway, the Minister for Defence would not have advocated federation.

Sir John Forrest - Hear, hear ; that is so.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Then I was perfectly right in my statement. There is no doubt a very strong feeling in Western Australia with regard to this line, and the report of the engineers with reference to it is being anxiously looked for. It is questionable whether the country is of such a character as to justify the construction of a railway, except for defence purposes.

Sir John Forrest - It- is better than much of the country in the north of South Australia.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - If it is not better than some of our country north of

Port Augusta it is very poor, and in that case I should advise the constructionof the line upon the land grant system. The proposed railway will cover a distance about equal to the gap between Oodnadatta and Pine Creek, which is not yet bridged over by the transcontinental line, and the cost is estimated at about £5,000,000. Several matters will have to be considered before the construction of the line can be approved of. Whilst fully recognising the importance of defence considerations, and those relating to the isolation of Western Australia, of which so much has been made lately, we have to remember that if the line is constructed it will involve a very heavy annual interest charge upon all the States.

Sir John Forrest - Oh, no.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Then we have to consider the position of South Australia in regard to the line.

Mr Fowler - She will derive great benefit from it.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I am inclined to differ from the honorable member, because a line from Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta will, in the natural course, join on to the line to be constructed between Cobar and Broken Hill, and the traffic to the eastern States, instead of going through South Australian ports as at present, will be diverted to the railway route.

Sir John Forrest - Is the honorable member opposed to that?

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I am simply putting the position as it affects South Australia. The Minister is jumpingbefore he comes to the hurdle.

Sir John Forrest - The Victorian traffic would still pass through Adelaide.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I believe that the railway will operate to the great detriment of South Australia. It is all very well for the representatives of Western Australia to talk about the benefit that will accrue to the State which I represent ; but I shall be very much surprised if the South Australians permit the construction of the line through their territory unless they are assured that some benefit will be derived by them.

Sir John Forrest - That is a fine federal spirit.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The same federal spirit that animated the Minister for Defence and others in Western Australia in preventing the proper opening up of the port of Esperance by rail to the gold-fields, and thus depriving ' South Au tralia and Victoria of the port which b st served their purposes inconnexion with the trade in that direction. I may tell the Minister for Defence, and those in sympathy with him, that unless the Esperance Bay Railway is built, and Esperance is made a port for Victorian and South Australian trade, instead of compelling traffic to the gold-fields to pass over several hundred miles of sea and railway at unnecessary expense, the people of South Australia will be fools if they allow the railway to pass through their territory.

Sir John Forrest - The honorable member should not make himself a laughingstock.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The . Minister knows that what I am saying is a fact. Before this line can be constructed, the South Australian Parliament will have to look at the whole position, and they will undoubtedly want some quid pro quo before they sanction it. They are not going to permit their traffic to be diverted to other States unless some reasonable consideration is shown to them in connexion with the construction of the railway from Esperance to the gold-fields, or in some other direction.

Sir John Forrest - That is a good federal spirit.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The same federal spirit as induced the Minister to demand the promise of a special railway before he consented to advocate federation ; the same spirit as induced the demand, of New South Wales for the capital site. South Australia- did not demand anything upon entering the federal compact. She did not even ask for reasonable consideration in regard to the immense sums of money spent upon the transcontinental telegraph line, which has been a source of loss to her for years. That was the largest national work ever constructed in Australia.

Sir Edmund Barton - South Australia will be paid for the line as a transferred property.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - But she will not be recouped the losses which have been involved in the working of the line ever since it was constructed.

Sir Edmund Barton - Did the Government institute the line because they thought of the losses.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - They instituted it in a courageous manner which might well be imitated by other States. They instituted it without regard to their own direct benefit, knowing that for years it must involve a loss. Whatever their main idea may have been, they have certainly conferred a great benefit upon the whole of Australia.

Mr Fowler - Why should they not exhibit the same feeling in regard to the railway?

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I do not say that they should not, but whilst injustice is being done to South Australia and Victoria by the opposition which is being shown to the opening of the port of Esperance, I say they would be foolish if they consented to the construction of the railway, and thereby committed themselves to a contribution of probably £15,000 or £20,000 a year towards the maintenance of it. I think I have occupied a fair share of the time of the House, and I shall now conclude by assuring the Government that they will have no factious opposition from me. I shall do my best to assist them in passing those measures with which I am in sympathy, and I hope they will let us know at the earliest possible moment the Bills with which they in£end to persevere, so that all other measures may be relegated to some, future session.

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