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Thursday, 23 June 1904

Mr WILLIS (Robertson) - A perusal of the cablegram, to which attention has been drawn by the honorable and learned member for Ballarat, leads me to the conclusion that he has not made out a substantial cause of complaint. The statement is, in effect, that a representative of Italy was prepared to supply an unlimited number of Italians for work on the Queensland sugar plantations if they could be admitted under contract regardless -of the restriction imposed by the Immigration Restriction Acf. Section 3 of the Act makes it clear that men so engaged would be prohibited immigrants. When they entered into the contract they would probably be unfamiliar with the rate of wages prevailing in the industry in Australia, and might agree to work at a very much lower rate than that prevailing here.

It was because of the belief that large numbers of men in other countries might enter into unreasonable contracts to follow agricultural and other pursuits in Australia that this section of the Act was agreed to. It was the desire of the Parliament that workmen engaged under contract in other lands, in entire ignorance of local conditions, should be protected, and it was, therefore, provided in section 11 of the Act that -

No contract or agreement made with persons without the Commonwealth for such persons to perform manual labour within the Commonwealth whereby such persons become prohibited immigrants within the meaning of paragraph g of section 3 shall be enforceable or have any effect.

Under this provision any such agreement entered into by the persons referred to would be rendered null and void on their arrival in Australia. The complaint made against this provision warrants the assumption that the contract wage would be lower than the Australian rate. When they became acquainted with the local conditions the men most probably would not renew the voided contract. While T do not approve of many of the provisions of the Act, I certainly agree with those contained in section 11. It was because of the terms of this section that I objected to the detention of the six hatters, because the agreement entered into by them became null and void as soon as they landed in the Commonwealth. I have it on the authority of Mr. Anderson that on the arrival of the men in Australia he considered that the agreement made with them was of no avail, and therefore- entered into a new one, under which the terms of engagement were fixed in accordance with the ruling rates of wages. There is no reason why men who have entered into an agreement abroad to labour in Australia, and who have had their passages paid, should not be allowed to land here, because, under section rr of the Immigration Restriction Act, the agreement would be null and void, and they would be able to make new arrangements if they so desired. It seems to me, therefore, that the honorable and learned member for Ballarat is making much ado about nothing when he complains of the difficulties with which these employers would have to contend, owing to the operation of an Act that was introduced by a Government of which he was a member. Immigration is very much required in Australia. Just as the fathers of the men who are now on the land - the pioneers of Australia - subdued the forests and made Australia what it is, so would immigrants from England, Scotland, and Ireland, if introduced in the proportions observed in the early days, tend to develop our resources. The great majority of them would not be added to the ranks of the unemployed, as the honorable member for Kalgoorlie has suggested, but would make their way in the world as our pioneers did, become useful citizens, and greatly enhance the commerce of the Commonwealth. It is difficult to imagine that' there would be any backwash in connexion with a body of selected immigrants ; but if there were any weaklings they would doubtless, find their way into the ranks of the unemployed, just as many men now at work might do. The vast majority, however, would come here to assist in developing the country, and in so doing to better their positions. By encouraging immigrants of this description we should secure a better class than that which Sir Horace Tozer is so anxious to add to our population, and do much for the advancement of the Commonwealth.-

Mi. WATSON (Bland- Treasurer).-- 1 shall leave the more important issues raised this afternoon in connexion with the question of immigration to be dealt with by my honorable and learned colleague, the Minister of External Affairs ; but I wish to say a word or two in reference to the remarks made by the honorable member for Kooyong, who has since had to leave the chamber. When I spoke, the other day, of the personnel of the Royal Commission on the Navigation Bill, the honorable member for Kooyong and several other honorable members inquired whether it was wise or necessary to proceed with it, in view of the fact that Part VII. of the Bill had been withdrawn, the intention of the Government being to insert some provision of a similar character in the Arbitration Bill. I then stated that, so far from there being nothing left upon which it was necessary to secure the advice, assistance, and inquiry that could be obtained only by means of a Royal Commission, there were many matters that required investigation; and mentioned that Mr. Maitland Paxton, a representative of the Sydney Chamber of Commerce, in a lengthy criticism of the provisions of the Navigation Bill, in which he urged that amendments were necessary, had not referred to the question of its application to oversea ships, ot their trading upon the coast. The honorable member for Koo yong has rightly said that doubtless I would not designedly misrepresent what transpired at the conference of representatives of Chambers of Commerce which recently discussed matters relating to navigation. I desire to explain that prior to making the statement in question I had an opportunity to glance at the proceedings of the conference, and read a speech made by Mr. Paxton, extending over five pages of the report, in which no reference whatever was made to the question of oversea ships. The honorable member for Kooyong has since pointed out that, some five pages further on, the report showed that Mr. Paxton was reminded that he had not dealt with that question, and that, in a speech occupying only a few lines, he said that he had completely overlooked the portion of the Bill referred to. The report of this later speech is as follows : -

Unfortunately, he had completely overlooked the portion of the Bill which Senator Dobson had referred to. It was well known amongst the great body of the people that oversea vessels when they did engage in the carriage of passengers between Australian coastal ports, charged very much higher rates of passage money than did the coastal boats. On the large liners secondclass passage money was quite as high as firstclass of the coastal boats. Therefore, the coastal steamers were well protected. The oversea vessels did not carry cargo between coastal ports.

That statement did not form part of- the able speech which he made in dealing with the whole question, and I might well be excused for having overlooked it.

Mr Mcwilliams - Would not he be rather favorable to Part VII. of the Navigation Bill?

Mr. -WATSON. - Judging bv his later remarks, I do not think that he favours the insertion of such a provision in a Navigation Bill. I did not attempt to read the whole report of the proceedings of the Conference issued by the Chambers of Commerce; but, on taking it up, I saw Mr. Paxton's main speech, and, finding that there was nothing on the same subject within, the next few pages, I concluded that he had made no allusion to this phase of the question. In any case, the fact that he did subsequently refer to the matter does not vitiate the argument then advanced bv. me that there were features of the Bill, independently of Part VII.,, that demanded the attention and investigation of a Royal Commission.

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