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Friday, 18 March 1904


Mr HUGHES (West Sydney) - The motion submitted by the honorable member for Bland, in a speech that has met with the approval of the Chamber, and the sentiments contained in which have been re-echoed by every speaker, is one of which I can cordially approve. There was some difference of opinion in Australia about the late war in South Africa. The vast majority of Australians, who were heartily in accord with it, were told at that time by those, both here and in England, who were opposed to the waT, that it was fostered for the purpose of assisting a ring of capitalists in certain of their designs. Speaking for myself, I can say that I was at the beginning opposed to that war. I was opposed to it while it was what might be termed a little war. I saw no reason why Australia should interfere. When, however, the limits of operations had extended to such an extent as to imperil the stability and even the very existence of the nation, I confess that my opinions changed, and I became a very whole-souled advocate of the cause of the British. I am very loth to believe that the evidence placed before us is irresistible, that what was declared by those who were opposed to the war from beginning to end was only too true. This is the position. Here was a racial war carried on with that determination and tenacity which might be expected to mark a struggle between two such races as the British and the Dutch. That war has left for solution a problem which may well defy the best efforts of the greatest statesmen. There is but one solution, and that is that there shall be attracted to South Africa a resident population of British white subjects. ' That being admitted to be the case, and every effort being made to secure that end - Mr. Chamberlain having gone through South Africa in the manner of the consuls of old, pointing out very hopefully, indeed, the signs of eventual settlement - the British Government now lends itself to an ordinance which practically sounds the death-knell of any effort to settle white people upon the lands of the Transvaal. That being so, the situation not only affects the Transvaal itself, but the whole of South Africa. Feeling, from what we can gather, and as has been pointed out by the honorable member for Bland and others, runs very high when the interests of multimillionaires are in question. These men are, apparently, without scruple, and they have at their command an unlimited amount of wealth. When such men determine to promote a certain phase of feeling, to manufacture public opinion through the press and elsewhere, and to stifle the honest expression of popular conviction at public meetings, those who have had any experience of such things in Australia know, faintly, at any rate, what they can do. It has been asserted that the white population of the Transvaal are not opposed to this measure for the introduction of Chinese labour. Now, my honorable friend, the member for Bland, in his motion says that no effort has been made - indeed no effort can have been made - to discover what the feelings of the white population really are. That can only be ascertained by means of a referendum or by the re-establishment of responsible government. My honorable friend, the member for North Sydney, pointed out that the time . for the introduction of responsible government in the Transvaal has not arrived, and that the people are not ready for it. Lord Milner, into whose hands the future destinies of the country seem to have been largely intrusted, has declared that the time is not ripe for it. The motion of my honorable friend suggests an alternative. There is a very wide difference between the reestablishment of responsible government and the taking of a referendum. Responsible government places in the hands of the people the entire control of their own destinies upon all matters. On the other hand, a referendum does not legally enforce anything whatever. It affords, however, an unique opportunity of discovering how the people of a country feel upon a particular subject, . unaffected by any other consideration. It has been said that we have no right to protest or express an opinion as to any method by which this feeling of the people can be discovered. We have every right as citizens of the Empire to protest against any injustice or any wrong. It was never said, at the time of the war, by those- who now discover that we have no right to interfere, that we had no right to protest against the action of Cape Colory when the Legislature of that country was in danger of falling into the hands of those who were termed disaffected citizens. It was never said that we had no right to protest in the loudest possible way or to interfere in regard to the affairs of that Legislature. It is not, and never has been, a bar to an Englishman protesting against an injustice or a wrong that he had no legal right to protest, and no means of enforcing his protest. We are committed - many of us think very unhappily - to the fortunes of an Empire, over whose destinies we have absolutely no control, except in so far as concerns this particular corner of it, and so far as protests, which may be made from time to time, may affect the situation. Since, then, we are committed to the destinies of this Empire, and since, undeniably, the introduction of Chinese labour will not only tend towards, but will certainly bring about depopulation and disaster, and will ultimately ruin any prospects of white settlement in the Transvaal, and of the British supremacy in South Africa; and since that, in its turn, will affect us, seeing that we have to take our share of the whole burden of the Empire, and that our share must necessarily be increased when some other part of the Empire is unable to do its part - therefore we have every right at this juncture, as a component part of the Empire, to say that this action of the Legislative Council of the Transvaal is fraught with danger and is a direct refusal to carry out that implied compact which was made when we went to war against the Dutch. There was then undeniably an understanding, expressed or implied, that one of the reasons why we ought to go to war was that the British population of the Transvaal had been denied the franchise. Another reason which was given was that we were going to break up an intolerable oligarchy of the Boers - a people narrow in their views, ignorant, unlettered, and fired with that intolerant racial pride that has always marked the Dutch. After an expenditure of thousands of lives and an amount of suffering that one can only contemplate with feelings of dismay, we now come face to face with the fact-that we have but broken down one oligarchy to set up another infinitely more intolerant, infinitely more unscrupulous, and infinitely more dangerous. There were limits set to the Boer oligarchy which their religion fixed for them. They considered themselves to be' under the express tutelage of the Almighty. But these men - the multi-millionaires of the Rand - certainly do not take God for their guide in any of their actions. These men were throughout the South African war patriots who prated about the extension of the Empire, and their concern for their fellow British subjects. It is, however, doubtful whether the mine-owners are for the most part Britishers. Their very names are unfamiliar to us, and are not those by which British subjects are usually known. But, these men, if they be indeed Britishers, propose to do so grievous a wrong to their fellow British citizens that nothing which the Boers ever did to them can equal it. They propose to exile them - but not in the manly, honorable way which we have adopted towards undesirable immigrants. The press bade us turn to see the result of excluding white British subjects under contract from this country, and said - " See the effect that this legislation will have upon the capitalists of Great Britain." These are the capitalists of Great Britain ! These are the men before whom even the American multi-millionaires " pale their ineffectual fires !" The Werner-Beit combination is the richest, except, perhaps, the Rockefeller combination, in the world. And these men, who know neither country nor religion - are the men to whom we were to look, and whom we were told would certainly be affected by finding that six hatters had a difficulty in entering this country ! These men now propose to say to British subjects, not in a fair and honorable way : " You must not come here," but, " You may come out, but if you do you will be reduced to a depth of penury and distress such as is hardly ever known in England or elsewhere." They say to the workmen of England : " We have no work for you." But they will offer the right hand of fellowship, not to British white subjects, nor even to British Chinese subjects - they do not even make the miserable pretence that the Chinamen whom they are to import to the Rand will be drawn from Hong Kong, and will consequently be British subjects - but to any

Chinese labourer whose services ' they can obtain. They do not care whether their Chinese labourers come from Hong Kong or from Hades, provided they will do their work at a " reasonable rate." And what a rate that is ! One has only to consider the wages which the mineowners are offering to the kaffirs to realize what chance there is for white labourers to secure employment there. All the more honour to the kaffir for refusing to work on these terms ! The mine-owners have exploited the black people in the past. They still -have an unlimited field from which to draw labour if fair conditions were offered to the kaffirs. Even the Roman Empire never had an opportunity of exploiting cheap labour to such an extent as is offered to the owners of the mines of the Transvaal. But the kaffir has reached his Nadir and has refused to work for the mere smell of an oil rag - the beggarly pittance which has been offered him. He has come to appreciate some of the joys of Christianity, and some of the benefits of civilization, and declines to permit himself to be further exploited by those unscrupulous men who now control the Rand. There can be no doubt that many of them are men whose actions will not bear inspection; and they are where they are, and they exercise the power that they do, because - and only because - they possess almost limitless wealth and almost limitless power. I have here a copy of the South African News, dated 21st December, 1903. .It shows that the greatest meeting ever held in Cape Town was held to protest against the introduction of coloured labour. That meeting was disturbed by men who were notoriously and visibly led by one of the best known stockbrokers in Cape Town. Can any one doubt, for a moment, that those men who cried down indifferently the speakers of the Africander Bond, and the Progressivists, were well paid by those whose interests were at stake? They did their work well. I have here a list which seems incredible, but which shows that the profits of the South African mines run from 1,902^ per cent, down to a paltry 165 per cent. For such profits as these the millionaires of South Africa will dare all things. They seek to delay the granting of responsible government, because it is known that, as soon as the franchise is extended to the people who have been attracted from Great Britain, and who have imbibed with their mother's milk sentiments of freedom, all hope of introducing Chinese labour will be at an end. The reign of the mining magnates will be over if responsible government is granted to South Africa, unaffected by the leprous, curse it is proposed to introduce. But if Chinese labour be once introduced irreparable injury to the State and to the Empire will be done. For an ordinary Act of Parliament, which may be disapproved, there is a remedy in due course, but the effect of this Ordinance will be to sweep from the Transvaal all white men who are willing to work in the mines. Once they are gone, to whom will the franchise be extended ? Undoubtedly the franchise will be extended to a class of men who then would be, if they are not now, vitally interested in the success of the damnable conditions which it is sought to introduce. If once the- introduction of Chinese is allowed, the subsequent granting of responsible government will be ineffective. What guarantee is there that the franchise, then granted, will not be narrower in its scope than. that under the Boer regime? At any rate we have the assurance that those interested in the introduction of Chinese labour would not willingly enfranchise one white miner, and if the franchise is at first restricted by a property or other qualification, confining it to. that section of the community who hope to benefit from the Ordinance, it will never be extended without recourse to the arbitrament of arms. According to the honorable member for North Sydney, we have no right to interfere unless we are prepared to again go to war. For my part, speaking as far as I am able on behalf of my constituents, I will never cast a vote for the despatch of another Australian contingent to take part in a war if such an Ordinance as that now proposed be carried into effect. Are we to believe that the loyalty of those Britishers who were attracted to South Africa by false pretences, and, after having done Well for the Empire, have been left starving and hungry, to do their best - and the best is to die - will stand against such a strain? Who under the circumstances could blame the Boers if they rose again? By what argument could the Boer be refuted who pointed out that the Boers, in their time at least, took their stand on the high pedestal of the Bible - that they owned the country by right of prior occupation and possession ; but, rightly or wrongly, were driven out and supplanted by men who knew neither God, Christianity, nor country, but whose whole horizon was limited by the extent of their dividends, and whose sole anxiety .was, sink or swim who might, that they should grow still richer ? If it be said that we are again ready to fight in such a cause, I declare that, so far as I am concerned, it is not true. We are ready to fight in a good cause, no matter in what part of the Empire. But it must not be in the cause of chicanery and bribery - corruption and rottenness reeking out of every pore of those interested. The honorable member for Lang seeks to modify the language of the motion, but that language I regard as mildness itself. Is a democracy such as this to choose its words like a lady in a boarding-school, and talk with the accent of " prunes and prisms " ? Is the language insulting, or such as we cannot legitimately use? May we not say that the Transvaal white population ought to have an opportunity of declaring whether or -not they will have Chinese in their midst? Can it be said that we are going too far? Our regret is that, unhappily, we are unable to go further, and I regard the motion as embodying a fair and moderate protest. We ask that the people of South Africa, not in the face of intimidation or overawed by threats, nor cajoled by bribery and corruption, may have an opportunity of 'fairly and honestly expressing their opinion as to the wisdom of this great and irrevocable change. I do not think we are asking too much. Whose tender susceptibilities shall we offend? I do not think we shall offend the susceptibilities of Great Britain, because, as has been pointed out, the proposal to introduce Chinese into the Transvaal narrowly escaped defeat in the British Parliament, in spite of the cracking of the party whip. It is almost impossible to put ourselves in the position of the provincialist of England, who sees and knows nothing beyond his immediate horizon - whose every thought is bound by the petty parochialism of his own petty town or village. It is difficult for such a provincialist to understand the meaning of the presence of all these Chinese in South Africa. But we who are largely cosmopolitan, by virtue of our birth and surroundings, understand only too well the meaning of the proposal. We have .decided to admit no aliens into this country; and, after our past experience, Who is better able to express an opinion on such a question ? But, if a vote were taken there to-day, it would be found that England is awakening from its fatal apathy. The East End of London is crowded with aliens who work for remuneration nearly as low as that of Chinamen ; and I believe that a vote would show a handsome majority against the introduction of more. Why did the people of Eng. land go to war with the Boers? Was it in order that the capitalists of the Rand might make huge profits out of their mines ? Or was it in order that the Empire might be strengthened by the unity of the three provinces of South Africa? Was the object not to plant the standard' of the Empire still further into the hinterland of that great continent? That was the alleged object of the war, but the real object, apparently, was that .our own fellow subjects - our own kith and kin - should be denied an opportunity to work even at kaffir wages, and have their places taken by alien Chinamen. To my mind, not one sound reason can be urged in favour of the Ordinance, while hundreds of reasons may be, and have been, urged against its being carried into effect. In those parts of South Africa where thought is free, at any rate in Cape Colony, overwhelming majorities have declared against the proposal; and in England, wherever public meetings have been held, there have been similar decisions. It is true that the British Parliament, affected, of course, by party considerations, decided by a narrow majority in favour of the Ordinance. But the British Government have learned from the closeness of the division that it is best to put off the evil day ; and under cover of endeavouring to discover from the Chinese Government under what conditions the Chinese will be allowed to emigrate, the Ordinance has not been put into effect. While yet there is time during which our protest may be of advantage, let it go forth that both Houses of the Commonwealth Parliament unanimously believe that no Chinese should be allowed in South Africa until after full opportunity has been given to the people of the Transvaal to express an opinion. The honorable member for Lang contends that the language of the motion should be milder and more diplomatic - that we should not be bumptious in our interference. In my opinion, there is nothing of bumptiousness about the motion. No circumstances could demand a clearer and more emphatic protest, and no protest could be less emphatic consistently with democracy than that proposed. The motion is purposely worded to set forth in clear and unmistakable terms what course we think should be taken, and the protest is from a country which took part in the great struggle in South Africa, and which has, we believe, successfully dealt with its own alien ' problem. The protest appeals to the Government of the Empire, with whose destinies we are irrevocably bound up, to stay their hand while there is yet time, and to make South Africa a land, not for the Chinaman, but for the white man.







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