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Tuesday, 22 March 1904

Mr KELLY (Wentworth) - I refrained from speaking to this motion on Friday last out of the desire - which, I think, I shared with most honorable members - that the debate should close on that day. However, as the debate has extended to this evening, I should like to explain, in a very few words, my position towards the motion. In the first place, I am in entire sympathy with the object which the honorable member for Bland has in view. But I disagree with the motion, in so much as I do not think it is so worded as to be best calculated to attain its end. The special knowledge which the people of the Commonwealth possess of the dangers which may result from Chinese immigration, added, I think, to the conviction which we all hold, that the future tranquility of South Africa absolutely depends on a large influx thereto of the white race of British extraction, are facts which make it almost incumbent on us to warn the Empire of the dangers which, we think, a sister State is on the high road to incur. But it is also incumbent on us to so frame our warning as to make it most easily, acceptable. We have all had experience of the man who gives advice only in order that, when it is refused; he may afterwards come to us and say, " I told you so." Such a man usually, either forbids us taking a course which we are prepared to take, or objects in such a way as to " get our backs up ;" and in nine cases out of ten he, as I say, afterwards says, " I told you so." _ I sincerely hope that we shall not jeopardize our object by passing the motion in its present form. The fact that a precisely similar motion has been passed in another place should not deter us from amending the proposal before us, if we think that by so doing we shall make it more likely to be accepted in the quarters we wish. Unlike some other members who have spoken, I do not desire to move an amendment. It would please me better if the honorable member for Bland would consent to alter his motion. Personally, I think that a' motion simply giving advice or expressing regret: - whichever honorable members may think best - would not only be more efficacious, but also more dignified. If we express an objection to affairs over which we have absolutely no control, and our objection is ignored, surely this House loses dignity thereby. But if we simply offer advice, and our advice is not accepted, the only person who loses is, I think, the person who does not accept the advice. To object argues a right to object; and if we wish to claim a right to object in the affairs of another Colony, when such affairs appear to us to have Imperial significance, we must, I think, concede a like right to that Colony towards us. I ask honorable members to remember that some of our domestic legislation, such, for instance, as the Immigration Restriction Act, and the proposed Navigation Bill, is of a kind which might easily be regarded by our friends across the sea as having Imperial significance. The good feeling which is at present existent within the Empire is dependent on the complete autonomy which each Colony at present enjoys. What will be the position if we set a precedent for the right to object? We shall find the right taken advantage of by other people as against us. Only the other day a Mr. Edmund Robertson, in the House of Commons, proposed practically to interfere in the affairs of the Commonwealth. That gentleman had no precedent for so doing; and the British Government have so far evidenced no desire to interfere, nor have they had any excuse for interference in the affairs of this Commonwealth. I take it that if we set a precedent by taking an objection to matters over which we have no control - whatever right we may have to express our views - we shall be open to interference on the part of our cousins beyond the seas. A motion expressing objection carries no more weight than a motion simply expressing our regret or our conviction. In fact, for the reasons I have already detailed, such a motion as that before us is apt to defeat itself. I therefore hope that the honorable member for Bland will amend it by leaving out the word "objection." The integrity of our Empire absolutely depends on the continued free exercise of each Colony's local autonomy. If the people of South Africa propose to take a course which our wider experience induces us to believe will probably prove so hurtful to that country as to make the whole Empire feel its consequences, by all means let us give the best advice we can; indeed, I think it is incumbent on us to do so. But let us not so frame our advice as to make the acceptance of it the more difficult. The difference, in a word, I am endeavouring to point out, is the difference between proffering help and obtruding interference. If the honorable member for Bland sees with me in this regard, he will not under-estimate the enormous load of responsibility which the present wording of the motion places on his shoulders. Scattered over the face of the world, each section of the British people has in the past devoted itself to the development of its own territory, free from all restraint, except the generous dictates of its own conscience. Our local autonomies form the pillars of that great arch of Empire under which we live; the keystone of which. is our common kinship. I hope that this House will do nothing to undermine the foundations of an Empire that is at once so generous, so great, and so free that to belong to it is our chiefest pride.

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