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Friday, 18 March 1904


Mr CONROY (Werriwa) - I think it is when we come- to deal with questions of this character that we are led to appreciate the consideration which English statesmen have always exhibited towards expressions of opinion bv politicians in the various Colonies. There is no doubt that if the Imperial authorities answered us according to our folly their replies would be very severe indeed. Nothing commands my admiration of those English statesmen, who for so many years have been connected with the affairs of these States, more than the uniform courtesy and considerateness which they have evinced in all their official communications, quite regardless of the tone in which our representations to them have been couched. Probably they are conscious that in the Colonies nien have not an opportunity to learn what diplomatic language really is, and consequently make some allowance for the fact that men here are unable to express their views with that temperateness which, in diplomatic circles, is considered absolutely necessary. I entirely disagree with the view which is entertained by a majority of honorable members, that we ought to raise an objection to what is taking place in another part of the'' Empire. At the same time I must say that the tone of the Prime Minister's despatch showed a better acquaintance with the language that is both necessary and usual in the diplomatic world, than is evidenced in the motion which is now proposed. The former was couched in language to which, provided we admit that interference is justifiable no offence could be taken ; the latter employs terms, which, though very definite, are, in my opinion, equally offensive. We ought to remember that, whilst expressing ourselves strongly upon any matter, we should not put forward our views in as aggressive a way as we probably should in ordinary conversation. When we place upon record, as we seek to do to-day, language such as this motion contains, we are trespassing far beyond our province. In the first place we have been told that this is an Imperial question, and arguments have been advanced to justify our action upon that ground. We have been assured that the introduction of Chinese into the Transvaal is an entirely new departure - in other words, that there are no Chinese in the British Empire. What a ludicrous supposition ! And what a want of knowledge such a statement betrays upon the part of those who advance it ! I was very much surprised to hear the right honorable member for Adelaide discussing this question as one of wages, as if we are called upon to interfere in a matter of that sort. If it be merely a question of wages that is involved, where is the warrant for our interference upon grounds of Imperialism ? To interfere in outside affairs because a certain wage is not paid in this or that portion of the Empire is to get away entirely from the Imperial idea.


Mr Watson - That ground has not been advanced.


Mr CONROY - The right honorable member for Adelaide advanced it, and the honorable member for ;Bland himself treated us to a good many quotations and figures bearing upon the rate of wages paid in the Transvaal.


Mr Watson - Merely with a view lo proving that white labour can be profitably employed there.


Mr CONROY - The grounds of his objection prove that the question is essentially a local one ; so much so that he urged we should wait until a referendum of the white population of that Colony had been taken upon it, or until responsible government had been granted to' it. I presume, therefore, that the whole of his objections will disappear the moment either of these propositions is assented to. How can this possibly be an Imperial question if it can be treated in that way? The number of Chinese scattered throughout the British Empire is now very large indeed, and . apparently we are to protest merely because there is a transference of some of them from one part of that Empire to another. For aught that we know to the contrary, the labourers whom it is proposed to introduce into South Africa may be British subjects, who will be transported from Singapore or Hong Kong.


Mr Fowler - Is the honorable and learned member in favour of ChineseBritish subjects entering Australia?


Mr CONROY - That is a local question, upon which we have a perfect right to express our opinion, and we have done so very emphatically. I hold that we have no title to voice our views upon a matter which is altogether outside our jurisdiction, and I intend to submit an amendment to that effect. To my mind, every one of the grounds which have been urged in support of the motion show that the question involved is purely a local one. The honorable member for Bland declares that his opposition to the proposed influx of Chinese into South Africa will disappear when a referendum has been taken upon the subject, or responsible government has been granted.


Mr Watson - I stated that my opposition would not disappear then, but that I would not be. justified in urging my objection.


Mr CONROY - I consider that there is only one stand-point from which we can regard this as an Imperial question, and that concerns the Chinese as much as it does ourselves.


Mr Watson - Oh, no.


Mr CONROY - Yes. I say that the introduction of Chinese in any compound in this way is merely a form of modified slavery, and whilst it is allowed to continue it is a menace to the Empire itself. The people who are directly interested in this matter have not declared that it is modified slavery.


Mr Watson - They have not yet had an opportunity of saying anything.


Mr CONROY - We are attempting to deal with the question without having a full knowledge, of the local circumstances. Of course, if a strong Chinese Government were in power, we might approach them by pointing out that it is undesirable that a large number of Chinese should enter into contracts which seem, to us, to be forms of modified slavery. But the honorable member for Bland did not urge any such objection. He dealt with the matter as if it were one affecting wages only.


Mr Watson - That is utterly foreign to anything that I said.


Mr CONROY - If that be so, the honorable member must omit from his motion the words -

Until a referendum of the white population of the Colony has been taken on the subject, or responsible government is granted.

Again, I should like to ask what our feelings would have been if Great Britain, through its Parliament, had forwarded any protest to us with reference to the deportation of kanakas? I can readily picture the manner in which many of the supporters of this motion would have received it. Yet it is just as competent for other parts of the Empire to interfere in our affairs, as it is for us to interfere in theirs. I should like to ask what reception would have been given to any message from the Imperial Government, protesting against the legislation enacted by Queensland in reference to the recruiting of Pacific islanders for the sugar industry ?


Mr Fisher - The Imperial Government stopped recruiting in the islands.


Mr CONROY - Can the -supporters of this motion assure me that they, would have quietly accepted a communication from the Imperial Government couched in the same language? No. They would immediately have exclaimed - " How offensive it is in tone. What has England to do with the matter? We are quite competent to judge of our local conditions, and we resent interference from outside." I hold that we should not interfere in a matter of this sort. It is, as we know., customary for missionaries to. travel round the world preaching the gospel, of peace and goodwill, but now it seems that some of my honorable friends desire to preach the doctrine of aggressiveness and interference. If we are to go outside our own affairs, let us' employ the language of men who are powerless to enforce our opinions. Otherwise, our communication will represent mere words from an empty stomach - bombast - and there is too much bombast displayed by us. Indeed, it is characteristic of all young nations that when they endeavour to express dissent, they use language which, if employed between two great powers, would probably result in war. If there is a diplomatic vocabulary - as there undoubtedly is - ought not this House to appoint one or two of its members to become acquainted with it ? If our protest were expressed in polite terms it would be none the less clear and distinct. It appears to me that considerations of courtesy are entirely set aside by the form in which the motion is presented to us. I feel that the arguments adduced in support of the motion are the best proofs that honorable members are endeavouring to deal with it, not from an Imperial, but from a purely local stand-point. We have throughout had references to the wages paid in the Transvaal, and to the displacement of white men by Chinese. There are 250,000 whites there, as against 750,000 blacks, and we are asked to enter into a racial question and to determine, from an ethnological point of view, whether Chinese or negroes are superior. To the .surprise of every one possessing any knowledge of ethnology, it is suggested that blacks are preferable to Chinese.


Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - So they are.


Mr CONROY - I do not object to the honorable member holding that opinion ; but I would advise him not to express it, because he will find that every one who knows anything about the subject will disagree with him.


Mr Spence - The point is that the blacks own the country, while the Chinese do not.


Mr CONROY - I was under the impression that the Rand, into which it is proposed to introduce Chinese labour, was entirely owned by Caucasian races.


Mr Poynton - What about the Jews?


Mr CONROY - The Semitic section of the community may own a portion of it, but it is unnecessary for me to deal with that phase of the question. What I wish to know is whether the Labour Party are setting themselves up as champions of the native population. Their arguments would seem to suggest that they are. If the blacks are such a desirable people - if they are so far ahead of Chinese that the mere introduction of the latter into the Transvaal would contaminate them, I presume that honorable members of the Labour Party would allow negro races to come into Australia?


Mr Spence - We do not exclude our own aboriginal races.


Mr CONROY - We shall see how the Labour Party regard this matter when the Bill relating to the administration of New

Guinea comes before us. One of the arguments that I used against the taking over of New Guinea by the Commonwealth was that we might have to deal with a large coloured population there, and I believe that the honorable member for Grampians, who followed me on the occasion in question, expressed the same opinion. I presume, however, that honorable members of the Labour Party have decided that the natives of New Guinea should be allowed to enter Australia.


Mr Fowler - We shall permit them .to exist in their own country.


Mr CONROY - Just because it is not politic at present to poison them off?


Mr Tudor - Does the honorable and learned member suggest that we should poison them?


Mr CONROY - I am not in a position to make any suggestion regarding the matter. I am merely criticising the action of the Labour Party. The arguments used in support of this motion have all been to the effect that the Chinese are infinitely inferior to the black races. If I were in the British Parliament I would admit that I cannot imagine how English statesmen could have fallen into such a serious error as has been made. It seems to me that at all costs, even had it been necessary for them to give large subsidies, they should have endeavoured to introduce a large white population into the Transvaal - to . permanently settle, and thus to permanently conquer it. At present they have to keep an army of some 21,000 men there. No price would be too high to pay to secure the settlement of a large number of white men and their families in the Transvaal, provided that the country is worth having. But the authorities have entirely departed from that principle, and have fallen into a most grievous error. When I recall to my mind the fact that the man then at the head of affairs is a mere politician rather than a statesman, I am not surprised. In determining whether a man, despite his cleverness and his trickiness or flashness of style, is a mere politician rather than a statesman, one has always to look at the results of his policy. Judged by that test the very man whom the Government of the Commonwealth are anxious to invite to Australia, the one whom they regard as a distinguished statesman; has lamentably failed. He is -the real author of the present trouble. Without his consent and approbation, and in the absence of the class of men appointed by him to administer the government of the . Transvaal, the difficulty could not have happened. Knowing all these facts, however, the Government propose to invite him to Australia, possibly to convert the Labour Party on . this very subject. The Government may believe that he is likely .to be able to explain all these matters for us, but from the point of view of an English statesman, a fatal mistake has been made. Notwithstanding this opinion, I believe the matter is one in which we have no right to interfere. It is purely a local question. It is simply a question of whether blacks or Chinese shall be allowed to work in the mines. The way in which the question of wages has been discussed by various honorable members shows that they regard it in this light. I was astounded to hear the right honorable member for Adelaide deal with the matter in the same. way. In the southern part of Africa there are something like 800,000 whites and some 4,000,000 blacks, and we are asked to enter into the consideration of a racial question. If the Labour Partyhad objected to the introduction of Chinese on the ground that there should not be any form of slavery in the British dominions, their attitude would have seemed to be more in accordance with the idea of Empire ; but even if that were the position, it would be a matter for the people concerned and not for us to determine. The very men who should have the best, knowledge of the subject, and who, -at all events, give free expression to their opinions upon it, assert that these workers are quite content to go to the Transvaal, and are pleased, indeed, to have the opportunity.


Mr McCay - The honorable and learned member is now arguing the question which h& contends we should not deal with.


Mr CONROY - I admit that I am ex- . pressing my opinion upon it, but my point is that, whilst we, -as individuals may hold and freely express these views,' the matter is not one that should be dealt with by the' House itself. It is outside 0111 jurisdiction. We are opening the door to all sorts of interference with the Commonwealth. We may have a somewhat similar resolution passed by the Canadian or the New Zealand Parliament in reference to some action of our own.


Mr Spence - If it is a good one we shall not object to it.


Mr CONROY - If it dealt with a matter that we considered to be of purely local concern the Labour Party would be the very first to condemn it in unmeasured terms.


Mr Spence - But this, is not a matter of mere local concern.


Mr CONROY - We should not interfere with other parts of the Empire unless we wish to be interfered with. 1 should be almost pleased if the Home Government, departing tor once from that courtesy with which it has always dealt with fussy interferences by different parts of the Empire, gave us a well administered snub. Those who support this motion would richly deserve such a snub; but if it were given we should probably have a motion submitted to the House drawing attention to the language used by the Colonial Office.


Mr Bamford - And the honorable and learned member would support it.


Mr CONROY - It is because I would resent any interference, however well meant, on the part of the British Government, or the Government of any other part of the Empire, in regard to a matter of local con- cern, that I object to any interference by us.


Mr Spence - Is not this a matter of national concern ?


Mr CONROY - It has been treated simply as a matter of wages.


Mr Watson - That is a misstatement of fact.


Mr CONROY - Then let us assume that it is a question of Empire. Will the honorable member say that we have a right to declare in what part of the world the 280,000,000 of black races, and the many Chinese now in the Empire shall reside?


Mr Webster - But we are now speaking of aliens.


Mr CONROY - Then the honorable member would not object to the introduction of Chinese if they were British subjects ?


Mr Webster - I did not say that.


Mr CONROY - Then we are indulging in a mere exchange of words. Surely honorable members consider that we. ought not to interfere in a matter of this kind, and that if we do we should at least couch our protest in diplomatic language.


Mr Spence - In the language of a vigorous nation.


Mr CONROY - But the terms of this motion go beyond anything of the kind. Offensiveness- is not vigour, and when we have no power to give effect to our desires we must rest content with an expression of our opinion. If a man said to me, outside the House - " I have a very grave objection to this or that opinion, expressed by you," he would learn that there was a great deal in the way in which he put his objection.


Mr Spence - If the argument is a good one, it ought to be enforced.


Mr CONROY (WERRIWA, NEW SOUTH WALES) -Quite so; but, if a man came to me and said in a courteous way - " I cannot agree with what you have done ; do you think that you have acted in the best interests of all?" I should be prepared to listen to him. Even if we had the strength to enforce our desires, it would . be doubly necessary that we should be courteous. 1 have known men to express their opinions in the strongest terms in this House, and yet to speak very quietly on the same subject when outside. They know that the other side cannot retaliate, and, therefore, in common fairness, they must give the other side a chance to express their opinions.


Mr Mauger - Is not that a mistake? Mr. CONROY.- To that interjection 1 would reply -

O, it is excellent

To have a giant's strength, but it is tyrannous

To use it like a giant.

We are interfering with another part of the Empire, but we have not the strength to give effect to our desire. If we had, it would be doubly incumbent upon us to be courteous ; otherwise, it might be thought that - we were threatening instead of suggesting. We can do no more than offer a suggestion. I submit that the tone of the motion is bad. It is couched in too severe terms. It may express what honorable members individually feel, but it is not couched in proper language. To say. that the question of substituting Chinese labour for black is an Imperial question is a ludicrous misstatement of simple facts. We ignore the fact that there are so many Chinese throughout the British Empire, and that it may be British subjects of Chinese or Mongolian extraction who are wanted in the Transvaal. We are not in a proper position to discuss this question ; and even if we were in possession of the full facts I consider that it is outside the province of the House, and ought not to be interfered with. Therefore, I propose to ask honorable members to resolve -

That this House is of opinion that it would be impolitic to interfere with matters outside its jurisdiction.


Mr SPEAKER - There is an amendment already .before the Chair, and until it has been, disposed of I cannot accept the amendment of the honorable and learned member.







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