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Wednesday, 26 October 1904

Mr WATSON (Bland) - I think that the honorable and learned member for Indi has grave reason to complain of the treatment which has been meted out to him by the senior morning journal of this city, especially in view of the fact that - not content with controverting his argument upon the point immediately at issue - it has attempted to introduce racial questions.

Mr Isaacs - The Argus is not the senior morning journal.

Mr Reid - It is the oldest journal by many years.

Mr WATSON - I thought that it had been established longer than its contemporary. At any rate, it seems to me that that newspaper has adopted a most unfair method of attack. Surely, if there was anything in its case, there was sufficient argument on its side to admit of its refraining from adopting that particular method of attack in addressing itself to the position of the honorable and learned member. The fact that it has resorted to such tactics instead of addressing itself to the points of political controversy which have been raised seems to me to argue a consciousness of the weakness of its own case. The boast of the British people for all time has been that they are willing to receive, in the freest and frankest spirit, every person who is willing to conform to the. usages of their society, and to work for the benefit of the nation as a whole. That has been a material element of strength in the building up of the British nation, and it seems to me that it is rather late in the day for anyother action to be advocated by those who seek to lead public opinion in a British community. The honorable and learned member is accused in the leading article appearing in to-day's issue of the Argus, of having described some Britons as chattels. Who is there among us who would deny that there are some Britons who to-day are as chattels? What nation in the civilized world is there which does not contain, among its people, a proportion - aye, and too large a proportion - of persons who are only chattels .under the command of those who have the power of wealth and influence in the community ? To say that a person who comes here, bound to observe certain conditions - bound under a contract agreed to, in all probability, in absolute ignorance of the condition of affairs existing in this community, is not a chattel, or, at all events, economically speaking, a slave, is, to my mind, to remain wholly oblivious of the facts as" they exist.

Mr Isaacs - Did not the right honorable member for Adelaide describe, such persons as bondsmen?

Mr WATSON - When discussing this question of contract labour, some time ago, the right honorable member for Adelaide certainly did describe such persons as bondsmen. He said that we should welcome as citizens all who came to Australia free from shackles, whether verbal or expressed, and to that proposition I do not think that any one in the community took the slightest exception. I am free to say that I do not think that the honorable and learned member for Indi intended lot one moment to convey the insinuation against the Prime Minister that is suggested by the statement in the Argus.

Mr Isaacs - Not at all.

Mr WATSON - I say at once that I have not the slightest apprehension of any danger whatever to our ideal of a White Australia, in its ordinary conception, in the retention of office by the Prime Minister. The right honorable member took decided action, years ago, in New South Wales in regard to the influx of coloured persons to Australia, and his utterances upon the question since then have been no less decided. Therefore, so far as concerns the influx of coloured aliens, I have not the slightest doubt as to the attitude of the Prime Minister, nor have I any fear that Australia will suffer from any lack of action on his part in that direction. At the same time, I agree with the honorable, and learned member for Indi that there is something more behind the spirit which moves us to attempt to preserve a White Australia than the mere question of excluding coloured aliens.

Mr McCay - Does not the honorable member think that he is raising a general debate on the broad question?

Mr WATSON - Perhaps^ the honorable and learned gentleman is justified in making that observation; but I feel that in view of the most unfair attack made on the honorable and learned member for Indi, one is justified in saying something in support of the position that he assumed. We must bear in mind that there is more behind the spirit which actuates us in asking for a White Australia, than is conveyed by the mere use of the word " white." There is behind it all that makes . for the improvement of the conditions of the people - for their protection from an influx of those who, whether because of their necessities or an inability to recognise their duty to society, are prepared to accept terms that tend to drag society down rather than to build it up.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Home Affairs) - That question has never cropped up.

Mr WATSON - At this point there is a difference of opinion. I hold that that view of the question is distinctly raised by permitting the entrance of men under contract.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Home Affairs) - In the cases that have yet been dealt with it has not come up.

Mr WATSON - That is where the discretion exercised bv the Minister comes in.

Mr SPEAKER - I am afraid that the honorable member is going beyond the question before the Chair.

Mr WATSON - The only cases that have occurred up to the present have not been of sufficient importance to justify any action on the part of the authorities. Perhaps the fact that there has been no necessity for intervention on their part is attributable to the existence of the provision passed by this Parliament. We inserted the provision in question in the Immigration Restriction Bill, and I do not know that any one at the time objected to it. I believe that it has had a good effect. I do not wish, however, to digress any further in this direction, but' I certainly desire to express my sympathy with the honorable and learned member for Indi, who has been most unfairly attacked, and to say that I believe he is quite justified in having in the most public manner possible drawn the attention of the country to the matter.

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