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Wednesday, 9 November 1904


Mr WATSON (Bland) - Before we proceed to discuss the items of this Department in detail, I should like to say a word or two in regard to the administration of the sugar bonus law. I cannot pretend to speak with regard to the position in Queensland, but I understand that the practice of New South Wales, in regard to the payment of the bonus - and it may be the same in the northern State - is to rely only on inspection by the Customs officials, and, intermittently,' by the State police who happen to be in or' near the district in which the areas are registered. I am informed that in New South Wales there is quite a number of leakages in this connexion - that men who are registered as employing white labour only, have occasionally, for periods, short or long, employed black labour, and have continued to collect the bonus. I do not myself assert that this is the fact, because all I have in support of the representation is a number, of ex parte statements, and it is not, I admit, wise to rely on information of that sort. It seems to me, however, that, taking probabilities into consideration, there is great room for error in this regard, unless the Department adopt some method of close inspection by officers, who should be responsible for insuring that coloured labour is not employed in areas registered for white labour. It is all very well to say that a police officer has been over a district, but people interested can usually get pretty Rood advance information, through' the "bush telegraph," with regard to the visit of an ordinary constable in uniform - that is, if the growers have an interest in evading his inspection, and hampering him in regard to the information he has to ob tain. Further, when we rely on officials of the State, we rely on men who are under no obligation to the people who require their services. Such officials owe their loyalty to the State Government, and my experience of the mounted constable in the country districts of New South Wales is that he is over-laden with duties. He has an enormous number of offices to fulfil, and is, in short, such a Pooh-bah that one can quite understand he should be inclined to perform those Federal duties which are thrust on him, in addition to his own, in a very perfunctory fashion at the best. While that might be a harsh judgment in regard to all constables, we can understand such a temptation to a man already overburdened with multifarious duties. There is such a large sum at stake in the payment of this bonus, that the Government might very well have two or three men in each district, or one man in each of the smaller districts, to insure that what is necessary under the Act is duly observed. I know that some appointments have been made during the year in connexion with the bonus provisions of the Act ; but, so far as I know, those appointments are of men whose sole duty it is to attend at the mill and check the amount of cane received. It is no part of their work, I understand, to go into rh? fields and see the class of labour employed on the registered areas.


Mr Groom - Is not that one of - then special duties ?


Mr WATSON - I am not speaking of Queensland; but in New South Wales at present there is no field inspection, and the duties are, I understand, performed in a more ' or less perfunctory manner by the State police. They are asked to occasionally overlook the areas and report if they find any coloured labour employed. That seems a very imperfect method, and, in view of the large sums involved, I think that we should insist upon systematic inspection. The cost would be relatively small. I know that the Minister of Trade and .Customs, in common with other Ministers who haveheld his position in the past, is in full sympathy with the idea of preventing any one from obtaining the bonus unless he isentitled to it. We are all in agreement upon that point. I bring this matter forward because of complaints' which have been made to me as to the circumstancesunder which the bonus has been claimed insome cases in the northern districts of New South Wales. It is altogether erroneous to suppose, as has been stated by the Treasurer, that little or no coloured labour has been employed on the northern sugar plantations in New South Wales. As a matter of fact, there has been a gradual drifting down of kanakas from Queensland for many years, and before the restrictions were placed on coloured immigration, a large number of Hindoos came in to New South Wales and gravitated to the northern districts. One or two estates recently employed both Hindoos and kanakas, and I believe that there is every probability of a large leakage, unless the Minister takes steps to have the areas properly inspected, so that we may be reasonably certain that the terms and conditions under which the bonus is given are complied with.


Mr Mcwilliams - Does the honorable member know anything of the system that is adopted in Queensland?


Mr WATSON - I could not say, but I think that half-a-dozen or more Customs officers were specially appointed to perform inspection work by my late colleague, the honorable member for Wide Bay. I believe, however, that their duties, as in New South Wales, related mainly to the checking of the returns at the mills.


Mr Mcwilliams - That is really no check at all.


Mr WATSON - It is no check upon the conditions under which the cane is grown ; but it insures the Department against overpayments upon the quantity of cane delivered at the mills That is a necessary check, but I think that we should go further, and avoid relying solely upon the officials of the States in regard to the class oflabour employed in the growing of sugar. The matter of a few appointments should not stand in the way of our insuring that the bonus is paid only to those persons who are entitled to it.


Mr Mcwilliams - Have not the growers to make a statutory declaration?


Mr WATSON - If the honorable member had had the same experience as we have had in New South Wales, in connexion with statutory declarations under our land laws, he would not consider that they were of very great value. It is very curious that no one seems to think it any great crime to get at the Government. I know of ordinarilv reputable citizens who would scorn anything in the nature of a false declaration in the ordinary affairs of life, who have been known to take part for years in dummying transactions, and have made false declarations without the slightest compunction. In the light of such experience, I am not disposed to place anygreat value upon statutory declarations. Persons' consciences seem particularly elastic in regard to such matters. The surest method of proceeding is to appoint inspectors, who will be responsible directly to the Federal authorities, and who will visit the plantations at unexpected times, and ascertain how far the prescribed conditions are complied with.







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