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Friday, 29 May 1903

Mr HENRY WILLIS (ROBERTSON, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I have the greatest esteem for the members of that party. The liberals among them might very well sit upon this side of the chamber, but some of them are conservatives, from whom it will take some time to rub off the excrescences. This process, however, will be facilitated if they come much in contact with the honorable member for Darling, who is essentially a true liberal., although even he goes astray sometimes.

Mr Watson - I believe the honorable member for Darling intends to contest the Robertson constituency at the next election.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - I have no fear of that, as I am sure that no one who is acquainted with my career will venture to meet me there. I notice one paragraph in the Governor-General's speech, which reads as follows : -

You will be asked to ratify an agreement between the Admiralty and the Government of the Commonwealth, which modifies the existing agreement, . and secures for the naval defence of

Australia the protection of a powerful unci continuously efficient squadron of warships at a moderate cost.

I find that Sir Henry Parkes took to himself considerable credit for introducing, on the 24th November, 1887, a Bill embodying the substance of an agreement entered into between the Australian and British authorities with reference to the maintenance of a squadron on the Australian station. That agreement ' was ratified by the several States, and formed the basis of the arrangement now in force, under which the Commonwealth contributes £106,000 per annum towards the maintenance of the squadron. It is now proposed to increase the amount to £200,000 per annum.- Article IV. of that agreement reads as follows : -

These vessels shall be under the sole control and orders of the Naval CommanderinChief for the time being appointed to command Her Majesty's ships and vessels on the Australian station. These vessels shall be retained within the limits of the Australian station, as denned in the Standing Orders of the Naval CommanderinChief, and in times of peace or war shall be employed within such limits in the same way as are Her Majesty's ships of war, or employed beyond those limits only with the consent of the colonial Governments.

If we admit the principle that we ought to contribute to the British Navy for defence purposes, I am of opinion that £200,000 is not sufficient. I agree with the suggestion made by the leader of the Opposition that the Australian squadron ought not to be employed beyond the limits of the Commonwealth without the consent of the Government. To my mind, that is a very wise stipulation to impose. The forts of Australia in themselves do not provide an adequate defence, in addition to which the floating trade of the Commonwealth must be protected. In times of peace it is of little consequence whether or not a large fleet is stationed in our waters. It is only in time of war that we require such protection. Therefore, I hold that the Government of the Commonwealth should be consulted before these warships are removed from Australia. No less an authority than Captain Mahan has declared that it is most difficult for the guns stationed in forts to strike a moving object. Several instances have recently come under our notice which confirm that view. It is within the recollection of every one that Admiral Dewey's fleet had almost passed the forts in Manilla Bay before it was discovered, and when it was, the batteries on shore were unable to strike any one of his ships. I see by the sneer of the honorable member for Bland, that he assumes that the objective of any hostile fleet would be known long before it reached Australian waters, and that consequently we should be on 'the alert. But I would point out to him that whilst the forts at Sydney are well manned, and the submarine mines are under perfect control, similar conditions do not obtain in every port of the Commonwealth. During the Russian scare, nearly 20 years ago, I remember that a small Russian squadron appeared in St. Vincent's Gulf, passed Cape Borda, and anchored just beyond the Semaphore at Glenelg unnoticed, during the night. On that occasion it would have been quite possible for the Russians to capture Adelaide during the night, to loot the coffers of the banks and to make off with their treasure before breakfast. The instances which I have given evidence that it is quite possible for a hostile fleet to make a descent upon Australian shores 'without being observed. Commenting upon the Russian scare, the late Sir Henry Parkes declared that it was well known that Russia at that time had designs upon Australia. What was intended then could be easily accomplished by any great naval power to-day.. .Both the French and the Germans have established naval bases in the Pacific. Whilst Great Britain seems somewhat indifferent about her strength there, the French have been considerably increasing their fleet. They have u naval base at New Caledonia, and could very readily make a descent upon Australia. Consequently, if our ships were withdrawn from Australian waters, it is just possible that even some of the obsolete vessels belonging to the French - knowing that they would meet with no opposition - would Swoop down and obtain a foothold upon our shores. The same remark is applicable to Germany. The Germans have secured a naval base in Samoa, which was given to them as a sop to prevent their taking hostile action against Britain in the Transvaal war. Samoa is within a short distance of New Zealand - no further indeed from it than is Melbourne, and in this connexion it should be remembered that the efficiency of the German Navy has excited even the admiration of England. Should Great Britain ever be defeated by a combination of the great Powers so that she could not provide Australia with an adequate naval defence, an enemy might very easily obtain a footing in Western Australia or Queensland.

Sir John Forrest - - There is no railway from Western Australia.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - The construction of the transcontinental railway would not overcome the difficulty, because although it would enable us to concentrate troops there within a few days, in the interim the enemy would have scooped all the available treasure and have made off. A very great deal has been said in regard to the administration of the Immigration Restriction Act. During the past few days I have heard honorable members confess that they were not aware that the particular provision in that statute to which attention has been directed was so stringent as it appears to be. I do not plead any such ignorance. I find that the provision is most clear and explicit. Sub-section (b) of section 3 declares that any person who is likely, in the opinion of the Minister or of an officer, to become a charge upon the public or upon any public or charitable institution shall be excluded from the Commonwealth. That is a very proper provision. Then sub-section (g) - which was the provision applied in the case of the six hatters - declares that prohibited immigrants shall include " any persons under a contract or agreement to perform manual labour within the Commonwealth." That section, however, must be read in conjunction with section 11, which says -

No contract or agreement made with persons without the Commonwealth for such persons to perform manual labour within the Commonwealth whereby such persons become prohibited immigrants within the meaning of paragraph (g) of section 3 shall be enforceable or have any effect.

The agreement entered into by these workmen became invalid as soon as they arrived in Australia. It is very clear, therefore, that the Act provides that if men are engaged abroad at a lower rate of wages than that which obtained in Australia, they may upon their arrival be excluded from the Commonwealth, because they have been brought here in ignorance of local conditions. If men have a knowledge of those conditions, or if they take the precaution to demand a failrate of wage, they are eligible for admission ; but the agreement is not binding upon them. That is a very proper provision, but it should not apply to British workmen 'brought here under agreement stipulating that they must receive the highest prevailing rate of wages and be paid overtime.

Mr Tudor - Payment for overtime is not stipulated in the agreement.

Mr Mauger - And it is not correct that these men were to receive the highest rate of wages.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - I am personally acquainted with Mr. Anderson, having known him as an honorable business man for ten or twelve years, and last night he told me that these men were paid at the highest - £3 per week - and overtime.

Mr Watson - A wage of £3 per week is not at the highest rate.

Mr Tudor - Mr. Anderson was giving £3 10s. per week to Victorian hatters.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - There may be isolated cases in which men are in receipt of more than £3 or £i, or even £o per week.

Mr Mauger - They are not isolated cases.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - It maybe that men receiving these higher rates are managers of departments.

Mr Mauger - The honorable member is wrong.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - At any rate I do not think that any workman will say that £3 per week is not a fair wage, or that in this particular trade it is not the highest rate prevailing.

Mr Tudor - It is the minimum wage of the union - that is all.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - The conten tion of the labour party is not, I think, that these men would have been admitted if the wages to be paid to them had been higher, but that the employment of such skilled artisans must of necessity compete with the employment of others already in Australia.

Mr Watson - I did not say anything of the sort. What is the use of misrepresenting?

Mr Mauger - The very first letter sent by the Hatters Union said, on the contrary, that the men were heartily welcome, but that there was an objection to their coming under contract.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - These men were picked men from the Denton Mills near Manchester, and were to receive higher wages than they are paid in England.

Mr Mauger - They might easily receive higher wages than are paid in England.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - As to the charge of misrepresentation, if honorable members will peruse the papers which are on the table of the House, they "will see that these men were objected to, not because they were undesirable men in the interests of Australia, but because they were highly skilled men.

Mr Tudor - That is not so ; the objection was that they were under contact.

Mr Mauger - Read the first letter that was sent by the union.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - That letter contained the following : -

We offer no objection to the men as journeymen felt hatters, but strongly object to them under contract, us they receive regular work and wages, while men not so placed suffer from loss of time arising from the fluctuations of the demand for labonr, thus giviug those meu undue ad vantage over all others.

Does not that mean that these hatters, if brought here, would come into competition with men already employed in the Australian trade?

Mr Mauger - Into unfair competition.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - I contend that I am not misrepresenting the case when I say that that was the sole reason for the objections raised to the admission of these hatters. Is not the meaning of the opposition of the labour party that if these men were employed in Sydney, they would cause competition with the Denton Hat Mills of Melbourne - that this competition might overtake the demand now supplied by the craft in Melbourne, and thus take away trade, and possibly throw men out of employment in the latter city ?

Mr Watson - If the honorable member for Robertson applies that remark to me, he is absolutely misrepresenting what-I said.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - I find that Mr. Smith, who represents the Hatters Union, wrote to this effect -

Remymemo, of yesterday's date, I have the' honour now of forwardingyou a copy of the agreement supplied by one of the men who have Come out to work at the Sydney Hat Mills. I may add that Mr. P. T. Tudor suggested that I Should interview you re the same, but I think you may be able to answer the questions in the previous memo without a personal interview. If not, I shall be pleased to meet you at any time Convenient.

The agreement made between Mr. Anderson and the hatters runs thus -

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