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Tuesday, 22 March 1904

Mr McCAY (Corinella) - I think I may almost charge the honorable member for Corangamite with being responsible for my rising to address the House. When listening to him I felt that, notwithstanding the variety of methods of debate to which we became accustomed when the To riff was being discussed, we were for the first time passing through the experience of finding a grave and important subject treated after the manner of the funny column of a Saturday newspaper. Whether we approve of the motion or not, whether we regard it as properly or improperly worded, the matter dealt with is one of very grave importance to the Transvaal, and also to us as a part of the Empire, which is deeply interested in first introducing, and thereafter maintaining, in South Africa, the elements of prosperity and expansion. Whilst the debate has been going on I have read the despatch of the Secretary of State, for the Colonies, in reply to the protest of the Government of New Zealand, which was couched in the same words as that from Australia to the Transvaal Government. The Secretary of State for the Colonies says : -

I fully recognise the title of all the selfgoverning Colonies to explain their opinion on so important a question.

This is a self-governing portion of the Empire, and the Government of Australia in communicating with the Colonial Secretary at Pretoria, has purported to speak for the people of Australia. The Senate has shown that it indorses the action of the Government, and I think that we are almost under an obligation to make known our feelings on the subject. If we do not approve of what has been done it is only right that the Home Government and the Transvaal Government should know that the Commonwealth Government was not expressing the views of Australia. On the other hand, if they were right we should say so. We are practically answering an invitation from the Secretary of State for the Colonies by expressing our opinion upon this important question. His despatch proceeds - 13ut His Majesty's Government declares that its policy is to treat the Transvaal as though it were a self-governing Colony.

That is exactly what the motion asks the Secretary of State for the Colonies to do. It asks him to recognise that the Transvaal is not at present self-governing, and either to wait until it is self-governing before taking a step which will probably prove highly detrimental to it, or to avail himself of the only substitute for self-government by ascertaining by means of the referendum the views of the white residents of the Transvaal - the very people who would be able to decide the question if it were a self-governing Colony. In that' respect we are complying with the view expressed by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, who goes on to say that it is the policy of the Government, unless a distinct Imperial interest is concerned, to interfere as . little as possible with local opinion and local wishes. We venture to think that the local opinion and wishes of the Transvaal have not been ascertained.

Mr Skene - Has the honorable and learned member the wording of the message sent by Mr. Seddon?

Mr McCAY - I think that Mr. Seddon's message was a verbatim reproduction of the Prime Minister's message to the Colonial Secretary at Pretoria.

Mr Deakin - Mr. Seddon adopted our message without a word of alteration.

Mr McCAY - I recognise that we should interfere as little as possible with local opinion and local wishes; but I venture to think that ifr this matter local wishes have not yet been ascertained. I quite agree with the remarks of the honorable member for South Sydney, that it is just possible Lord Milner may be astray as to what local opinion in the Transvaal really is. I have recently had opportunities of conversing with a' number of gentlemen from South Africa, and have also communicated with them by post on this very question. They assure me that Lord Milner is astray, for the reason that he is surrounded by those whose interests are in the direction of obtaining cheap labour with which to work the Rand mines rather than of securing a permanent and satisfactory settlement of the Transvaal with a white and practically British population. We merely desire to ascertain whether the proposal is right or wrong. The motion simply sets out that if the white people of the Transvaal desire the introduction of Chinese labour, much as we should regret their unwisdom, we can have no more to say on the matter. I am also told - not from the South African Lygon-street - that the feeling of the white population of that Colony towards the proposal is very strong indeed. There is, I am assured, far more prospect of bloodshed resulting from the introduction of the Chinese than there was of open hostilities occurring prior to the commencement of the recent South African war. Doubtless that is an exaggerated view of the matter, but it shows that the opinion which exists there is very pronounced indeed. I have only a few more remarks to make, because I am sure the House desires that this matter shall be settled reasonably soon.

Mr Johnson - The amendment does not preclude the taking of a referendum.

Mr McCAY - I am just about to refer to the quibbling which has taken place over the wording of the motion. Members of the legal profession are sometimes taunted with being very fond of quibbling over matters of verbiage. To my mind, however, there as been as much quibbling amongst the lay members of the House over the verbiage of this motion as I ever heard amongst lawyers when discussing a difficult and technical Bill. And it is all absolutely useless and very unwise. Personally I prefer the motion to the amendment, because, if ' we say that " We regret the introduction of Chinese," we practically admit that their introduction is an accomplished fact and express sorrow that it is so. On the other hand if we record "our grave objection" to their introduction we say in effect that the matter is not yet closed. I venture to think that it is not closed. Public opinion in England, Cape Colony, and Natal - despite the resolution of the Natal Legislature - indeed, public feeling everywhere throughout the Empire is so manifestly dubious as to the wisdom of this step, that it is quite possible it may be reconsidered, and that we may yet see the Transvaal freed from the trouble and danger which threaten it at the present time.

Mr Johnson - But the amendment does not affirm what the honorable and learned member states.

Mr McCAY - I do not think that either the Transvaal or the Imperial authorities are so " pernikkety," to use an old Scotch word, as to mind whether we say " We record our grave objection," or that " We regret the proposal." Australia, I believe, feels strongly up. this matter. It realizes that, by the introduction of Chinese to South Africa, the Empire, and consequently Australia, are being injured. It feels so strongly that, in dignified but decided language, it desires to record its grave objection to the project, in order to show that the Government of Australia, in the action it has taken, has behind it the people of the Commonwealth.

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