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Wednesday, 9 November 1904

Mr BAMFORD (Herbert) - I quite concur in the remarks of .the leader of the Opposition in regard to the desirableness of appointing inspectors of cane-fields in New South Wales as these officers have proved of such value in Queensland. It was whilst the honorable member for Hume was administering the Customs Department that these inspectors were appointed. I, in conjunction with the honorable member for Wide Bay, took some active steps in" the matter, and, after a good deal of persuasion, induced him to recognise the desirableness of adopting this course, in view of the fact that in several sugar areas most marvellous crops were reaped immediately after the initiation of the bounty, system- - crops whose like we had not previously heard of in Queensland. In some instances I believe the yield was as much as seventy tons to the acre. Possibly our suspicions were not justified, but we thought that, under these circumstances, it was advisable that officers should be appointed to inspect! these areas. I am happy to say that since that time the Collector of Customs in Queensland has spoken in the highest possible terms of the services rendered by these officials, and says that the work performed by them has been in the best interests of the Commonwealth. I have never heard ally complaint regarding the way in which they have discharged their duties, but from my point of view they had practically no experience in cane-growing. I believe that in every case the officers were strangers to the districts to which they were appointed. It must be remembered that the farms are very scattered. The area of, say, one district extends perhaps thirty miles from north to south, and ten miles or twelve miles from east' to west ; and honorable members will recognise that in so extensive, a district a great deal may happen of which the Department has no cognizance. I think it is desirable that the men appointed to these positions should have a knowledge of local conditions, and of the many technicalities connected with the industry. While I have heard no complaints against these officers, there is certainly some ground for complaint as to the way in which the excise officers have been appointed. The ' canefield inspectors were in the Department prior to their appointment to field dutv.

They were what is commonly known as excess officers - men for whom there was not sufficient work in the branch of the Department in which they were employed - and they were transferred to the sugar districts on the ground that their transfer to field work would involve no extra cost. I believe that there are six of these inspectors in the sugar-growing districts of Queensland. The excise officers, however, are only temporarily employed during the crushing season. They remain at the mills, and have simply to check the quantity of cane sent in by the growers, upon which bounty is claimed. They perform a very necessary work, and as the quantity of cane crushed at the mills can be checked by the books, there is no possibility of collusion between the growers and the .officers of the' Department. The system adopted in appointing these excise officers is not satisfactory, and I have recently received letters referring to the matter. One of the two excise officers appointed was formerly a book-keeper in a merchant's office, and is said to have had no actual experience of the sugar industry. No great experience is necessary, so far as the work of these officers is concerned, but I think it is desirable, if not necessary, that they should be to some extent in sympathy with the legislation which they are required to administer. There is no evidence that they are in sympathy with it - the evidence, as a matter of fact, is quite the reverse. The second excise officer is an ex-bank manager, who had also no experience of the work of the sugar mills, and there is nothing to indicate that either of these men were enrolled as applicants for employment in the service. The Public Service Commissioner usually insists upon strict compliance with the regulation requiring that persons appointed to positions in the Public Service shall first have been enrolled as applicants for employment. That regulation must be complied with, even by a man who seeks employment as a cook in a telegraph line repairer's camp; but I doubt very much if either of these excise officers were so enrolled. If they were not, how is it that they were appointed ?

Mr McLean - "Will the honorable member give me the names of the officers ?

Mr BAMFORD - I shall be pleased to do so. I asked a question upon notice the other day,' under the impression that the men in question were cane-field inspectors, but from the answer given by the Minister it seems that they are employed as excise officers. I should like to know why this wholesome regulation, which is applied so drastically in other cases, has not apparently been observed in connexion with the appointment of these officers. They may be excellent employes - I do not say that they are not, for as a matter of fact, I have no knowledge of their qualifications - but if they have been allowed to enter the service without complying with khe regurations, which all other applicants for employment must observe, favoritism has been shown to one section of the community as against all others. Reference has been made by several honorable members to the apparent discrepancy in the figures relating to the quantity of cane which has been produced by black and by white labour. The Treasurer, to some extent, explained the matter a few days ago, by saying that a producer in one case might employ a number of coloured men, and cultivate a very large area, while in another case he might be a man employing no labour at all, or very, little, apart from the members of his own family, and cultivating only a small area. That is certainly one explanation of the matter, but as the discrepancy is more marked in the returns for the northern and southern areas of Queensland, it is perhaps advisable for me to say that the soil 'under cultivation in the north is usually scrub country. The land there is very fertile, and there is also a good and regular rainfall. In the south, however, droughts have occurred, and frosts have also been rather severe. It may be news to some honorable members that even in northern Queensland1 we occasionally suffer from.' frosts.

Mr McDonald - Frosts killed all the mango trees up there a little while ago.

Mr BAMFORD - Yes. In 1899 severe frosts occurred at Townsville, which is well up in the tropics, and killed crops of sweet potatoes as well as young orange trees, banana plants, and sugar cane. In the Proserpine district the sugar cane growers have often, during . July and August, to start fires round the sugar cane fields so that the smoke from them shall prevent the cane being frost-bitten. This may be news to honorable members, but it is, nevertheless, a fact. The fires are usually built when cold weather is expected. A conference was recently held in Townsville, at which a large number of delegates were present from the various sugargrowing areas, though, with three of four exceptions, they all advocated one particular set of ideas. Of course, they were all in favour of the continuance of the bounties, because that is considered a very important matter up there, and I look upon it as almost vital to the industry, at any rate in the far north. They do not ask for the payment of bounties to be made permanent, or to be fixed for a set period, but for it to be continued indefinitely, until the condition of the industry is such that Parliament may discontinue it without any ill effect. The majority of those present at the conference also asked that kanaka labour should be continued - a piece of effrontery with which I know of no parallel.

Mr Groom - They did not ask for the payment of bounties on kanaka-grown sugar ?

Mr BAMFORD - That was not made very clear, but the inference to be drawn from the arguments used was that some of them wish the kanakas to remain, and bounties to be paid on kanaka-grown sugar.

Mr McDonald - What they really wish for is to have the kanakas back.

Mr BAMFORD - Undoubtedly, they would like to have the Act repealed, so far as the prohibition of recruiting and the deportation of kanakas at the end of 1906 are concerned. Whatever Administration may be in power at the time will find it no easy matter to provide for the deportation of 5,000 or 6,000 kanakas within a few weeks, and I sympathize with whatever Government may have to face that difficulty. That is one of the reasons why I do not like to see the present Prime Minister in power. I am afraid that he will not tackle the question, with as much vim and courage as he would show if it were a free - trade problem. He will, however, be furnished with a full report of the proceedings of the conference to which I have referred, and the resolutions carried by those present. I sympathize with their desire for the continuance of the bounty, and shall support it; but I must not be taken as wavering for a moment in my opinion in regard to the need for the deportation of the kanakas, nor must I be held to favour the re-introduction of the system of recruiting. I do not think that any Federal Government would have the temerity to advocate the re-introduction of recruiting. That is something which is past and done with, and to which Australia will never again assent. There are, however, great difficulties in the way of providing for deportation, and the Government of the day will require plenty of backbone. and sympathy to carry out the provisions of the law. I should like them, therefore, to consider the advisability of seeing that those kanakas whose agreements have expired are given every facility for returning to the islands. Every kanaka whose term is up is most anxious to return home.

Mr Mcwilliams - What provision is made for returning the kanakas to their homes ?

Mr BAMFORD - Five pounds per man is paid to the credit of a return passage by the persons indenting the kanakas ; but I believe that now that the recruiting is stopped, the cost of returning men is more than £5per head, since the vessels have to make the return journey empty. When recruiting was in full swing, the kanakas going backwards and forwards made a line of communication between Australia and the islands ; but, now that recruiting has been stopped, the men who are here, who are unable to write, have practically no means of communicating with their homes, and are, therefore, suffering from home sickness. Every obstacle, however, which can lawfully be placed in their way, is interposed to prevent them from going home. All sorts of arguments are used to induce them to re-engage for a further term, and when they are unwilling to do sta, they are told that there is no ship in which they can go back. I am sorry that men in the service of the State Government have connived at the fictions which are used to compel the kanakas to re-engage. The men walk about until their money is gone, and when they find that they cannot satisfy their ambition to take a "box of trade" home with them, they are in desperation driven to make another engagement. What has gone on in the oast is going on to-day ; and I strongly impress on the Prime Minister, in whose Department this matter is, the necessity of giving every facility at the expiration of their term for the return of these men. I believe ithat the Queensland Government have been approached, if not by this, by a former Administration, on this matter, and I have asked questionsand made observations in the House in regard to it. If the Prime Minister should be in office when these deportation clauses of the Act come into operation, he may, unless every facility is given for the expedition of deportation, find himself faced by a difficult problem. I ask the Prime Minister, who ought to be only too pleased to answer the question, whether a rumour, which has been .circulated in Queensland to the effect that this Ministry is not in sympathy with the deportation of these men, but is willing to consider the advisability of continuing kanaka labour, has any .foundation? What has given currency to the rumour at the present time I am unable to say ; but we are told that where there is "smoke" there is, at any rate, a little "fire." By advocates of a White Australia, not only in Queensland, but throughout the Commonwealth, and in this House, which has declared unanimously in favour of the policy, this will be considered an opportune moment for the Prime Minister to express his opinion. I hope .that the Minister for Trade and Customs will inquire into the appointments to which I have directed his attention. I regret to say that in all such appointments made in Queensland, either before or since Federation, those appointed have had to give some indication of their political faith. No man who was considered in sympathy with the White Australia policy could get an appointment.

Mr Webster - Surely that has not been the custom in Queensland ?

Mr BAMFORD - It has most decidedly been the custom. Men who were applying, or who were being thrust into the positions, in ' some cases, had to be of a certain political caste, or they had no hope whatever of appointment. If the legislation on the statute-book regarding the sugar bonus and the employment of kanakas is to be carried out in spirit, as well as in letter, it is most desirable that men. not of any political caste," but just, impartial, and unbiased men should be appointed. The Minister should acquaint himself to some extent with the bona -fides of the applicants before' he sanctions their appointment. So far as concerns the appointments made by the honorable member for Hume, when Minister of Trade and Customs, and afterwards confirmed by the honorable member for Wide Bay, when occupying the same office, I have heard no complaints, and, as I am in frequent correspondence with people in the sugar-growing districts, I should certainly have heard if any objections had been raised. But in the case of the excise officers, the position is altogether different. Those officers are appointed on the recommendation, sometimes, of the local subinspector, confirmed by the Queensland collector in Brisbane, and the latter may make temporary appointments without receiving any recommendation.

Mr McLean - The information I have is that the inspector is instructed not to recommend any men except from the Public Service rolls, and the fact that the names are on the rolls show that they must have been applicants.

Mr BAMFORD -I am happy to have that assurance from the Minister. Though I know that the instructions are as the Minister states, yet I doubt whether the instructions have been carried out in particular instances. I am glad to hear that the Minister intends to make inquiries as to whether or not it is the fact that only those whose names appear on the roll have been recommended and appointed. I do not know whether the continuance of the bonus is a matter of policy, on which we ought to seek information from the Prime Minister, but both the right honorable gentleman and the Minister of Trade and Customs have now an opportunity to declare themselves on the subject. If such a declaration were made, it would ease the minds of a great many people interested in this industry, which is of great importance, not only to Northern Queensland, but to the southern States. North Queensland is a very large customer for the produce of New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania, and if North Queensland suffers in any way, the markets of those southern States will to some extent be affected. I do not intend to enter into figures in proof of the importance of the industry, but honorable members on both sides must recognise the fact, and be quite willing to indorse the action of the Government if they decide on a continuance of the bonus. I am sorry to see that the Prime Minister is leaving the Chamber, because I should like him to answer the question which I asked just now as to the rumour in regard to his attitude on the kanaka question - whether he is going to wobble on it, or whether he will maintain a firm stand, in the interests of a White Australia. Our future policy .will affect the sugar industry very seriously; and if the continuance of the bonus were the settled policy of the Commonwealth, it would be the means of bringing a very large area under cultivation within a very short period.

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