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Wednesday, 17 June 1903

Mr THOMSON (North Sydney) - We have in this matter an illustration of extraordinary administration. The Minister for Trade and Customs acknowledges that he issued a regulation in direct contravention of the provisions of the Act.

Mr Kingston - I did not say that.

Mr THOMSON - The right honorable member must make that admission, because the Act is as clear as day-light, and the date is specified in it. The attention of the right honorable member must have been directed to the matter when the question of framing a regulation was brought before him. I could excuse him if there were any doubt about the meaning of the Act, but it states specificially that up to a certain date the employment of black labour shall not prevent a grower from obtaining a rebate. There was therefore no excuse for the regulation extending the time. Last night the Treasurer, who was then in charge of the Bill, pleaded for an amendment providing for the fixing of a date each year as being absolutely necessary ; but this afternoon the Minister for "Trade and Customs states just, as emphatically that he does not approve of such a proposal, and regards it as unnecessary and wholly undesirable. Surely the Committee have a right to expect uni: formity of opinion and action from Ministers. It cannot be a matter for wonder that considerable confusion exists in the Committee when there is such a difference of opinion among Ministers. I had no idea when the Excise Tariff Act was passed that it was intended that in dealing with the production of a cane crop we should go back to the original planting of the roots. If I were told that a bonus would apply to the crops coming from a certain tree - and

Sugar-cane is really a species of tree - I should expect it to apply to each crop, and I see no reason why the sugar bonus should not be so regarded. I agree with the honorable member for Wide Bay, and I think we should be committing an absolute absurdity if we did not deal with this matter in the manner suggested by him. The planters cannot jump about from one kind of labour to another, because, if they once embark in the cultivation of a large area by means of white labour, the black labour will go from them, and they will not be able to revert to it. We should be led into an absurd position if the proposal of the Minister were agreed to. Many of the planters have entered into kanaka labour contracts, which we have specifically recognised under the legislation we have passed. We. know that these agreements extend over a term of years, and that the planters cannot at once get rid of the kanakas however much some of them may desire to do so. Manj' of them have, no doubt, already determined that, when the kanakas can be dispensed with, they will avail themselves of the opportunity to claim the bonus given for the production of white-grown sugar. In the meantime, many planters can do nothing but utilize the services of the black labourers whose term of engagement does not expire for some time to come. In some cases planters may have set out their crops one or two years before they are able to get rid of their black labour, and, according to the Minister, when such men desire to come under the provisions of this Act, and employ white labour, they are to be told that they must uproot all the cane that has been planted by means of black labour and start afresh. Are we to impose such an absurd condition upon the planters ? If it is held that the planters have sinned by employing black labour - I do not agree with that view, myself - the sin has been already committed, and there is no reason why the planters should be practically compelled to go on sinning by being precluded from the benefits offered by our legislation.

Mr KiNGSTON -The planters need not uproot their cane, but they cannot expect to get the bonus.

Mr THOMSON - But the planters will have to uproot their plantations if they desire to comply with the conditions laid down by the Minister.

Mr McCay - Cannot the planters get rid of the black labourer as quickly as he puts in their crops?

Mr THOMSON - No, they cannot get rid of the kanakas who are under engagement to them.

Mr McCay - But the labourers are going off every year because they have been engaged for terms which expire at different dates.

Mr THOMSON - That all depends upon the size of the plantations and the periods for which they have been under cultivation. If a planter has a large area, which has been gradually brought under cultivation, his labourers will probably have been engaged from time to time as the work has increased. Therefore he may be in a position to gradually substitute white labour for black. With smaller men, however, who would probably have engaged the whole of their labourers in one batch, the process of conversion would not be so easy. I see no reason why the bonus should not be given to the man who takes off his crop from start to finish by means of white labour.

Mr Kingston - From the planting.

Mr THOMSON -No; I mean for the whole period occupied in bringing the crop to maturity after the previous crop was gathered. The one planting may suffice for half-a-dozen crops. Would the Minister say that the production of a crop of fruit is to be regarded as commencing with the planting of the trees ?

Mr Kingston - If you do not plant trees you do not get fruit.

Mr THOMSON - I admit that the crop is the result of the planting of the trees and of the soil in which the trees are planted. But it would be ridiculous to say that a man should be compelled to go back to the planting operation in connexion with the production of any one crop out of several crops which the one planting will yield. We should allow those who genuinely desire to employ white labour to obtain the benefits conferred by the Act without compelling them to uproot their crops. One planting of cane will last, perhaps, as long as seven years, and several crops may be gathered ; and I think, therefore, that the full purpose of Parliament willbe served if the crop of cane from one harvesting to the next is handled entirely by white labour. Sometimes from sixteen to 24 months are occupied in maturing a crop of cane. It was astonishing to me to hear the Treasurer pleading so strongly yesterday for something more than

I am now advocating. It was the something more that I objected to. I disliked the proposal to give the Minister power year by year to fix the date in such a way that the bonus might be given in respect to crops upon which white labour might have been employed for only three or four months.

Mr Salmon - Is the honorable member in favour of giving the bonus to those who planted their crops by means of black labour since 1902?

Mr THOMSON - I am in favour of any crop which from the previous cutting has been entirely handled by white labour receiving the benefit of the bonus.

Mr Bamford - That would cover a period of only six months.

Mr THOMSON - No ; crops occupy more than six months in coming to maturity. A little less time may be taken in northern . Queensland ; but, in the larger sugar districts, sixteen or eighteen months, or sometimes two years is required.

Mr Fisher - That is by what is called " stand over " cane.

Mr Bamford - No; it is planting cane to which the honorable member is referring.

Mr THOMSON - Yes. I am prepared to support the honorable member for Wide Bay in his contention that the bonus should be paid upon any crop that has been wholly cultivated by means of white labour. As to the other proposal of the Minister which is really intended to absolve him from the consequences of a breach of the Act, I need only say that if we come to the conclusion that the bonus is to apply to all cane from the original planting right onwards, that is what we decided long ago, and there is no reason to alter it.

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