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Wednesday, 9 November 1904

The CHAIRMAN - Order ! I have called "order" more than a score of times during the past ten minutes, and honorable members apparently ignore it. I shall, therefore, be compelled to take notice of those honorable members who engage in conversation in such a loud tone as to prevent me from following the speaker.

Mr WILKINSON - The trust fund (o which I was referring represents a considerable sum. That result is due to the fact that quite half of the kanakas who have been introduced into Queensland have died there. Something like 60,000 have been imported into that State, and only 30,000 have been deported to their islands. From the report of the conference of sugargrowers which met in Townsville a few weeks ago, I gather that they are desirous of retaining the services of the kanakas who are at present in Queensland. Our legislation provides for their deportation to the islands whence they came. That was one of the terms of their engagement. I am aware that unscrupulous agents have been travelling over the sugar districts of Queensland informing the kanakas that no ships are available to carry them back to their islands, thereby inducing them to sign fresh agreements with their employers. There are vessels ready to deport them to their homes, but these are unable to obtain a sufficient number of passengers on account of the misrepresentations of these agents. Some steps should be taken to check or prevent that sort of thing. These men desired to return to their islands, but in their childlike native innocence they accepted the statements of agents that there were no means of sending them back. If they become "walk-about kanakas" they are liable to be arrested, and the result is that, as a rule, they engage for a further term. When we consider that the death rate among the kanakas in Queensland has been something like 55 per thousand per annum, as against 11 per thousand of the men, women, and children of the white population of Queensland, we must see that they have not stood the work of the cane-fields as well as has been suggested. Nearly one-half of the kanakas introduced into Queensland have died there, but some 200 or 300 of the remaining half have married white women and established homes for themselves. I do not ask that these shall be deported. To return them to the islands from which they came would be to inflict a cruel hardship on their wives and children. We should allow them to remain where they have settled, but we should not place any obstacle in the way of a kanaka who wishes to return to his island home. On the contrary, every inducement should be offered him to return. I think now, although I held a different opinion at the time we passed the Pacific Island Labourers Bill, that we fixed too short a limit to its operation to allow of the ideal of a White Australia - an ideal for which I think we are all anxious - being attained. I firmly believe that the industry can be carried on by means of white labour, but the trouble is that it has been over-capitalized. Large estates, more particularly in the northern parts of Queensland, were established to a considerable extent by means of borrowed and re-borrowed money, and two or three interest claims have to be met from time to time. Miss Florence Shaw, as the result of her visit to Australia, made that fact abundantly clear. The over-capitalization of these estates made some form of cheap servile labour absolutely necessary in order that the planters might derive a little profit, and that a profit should also be reaped by the bankers of Queensland as well as by the brokers who negotiated the loans in London, and those who lent the money in the first instance. Too many profits were taken out of the industry to allow of it paying white man's wages, and in consequence of this system Queensland has had to suffer.

Mr Kelly - Does the honorable member suggest that the Commonwealth should pay the interest due to these different institutions ?

Mr WILKINSON - I say that a mistake was made by the Government of one of the States, and that we have to pay not only for that mistake, but for blunders made in other directions in Victoria and New South Wales. Have we not to pay for the Act passed by the State Legisla- ture of Victoria increasing the salaries of public servants about to be transferred to the Commonwealth to the highest rate received by officers performing similar duties in any other State?

Mr Kennedy - The State has to pay for that.

Mr WILKINSON - As long as the Braddon section remains in force it will have to do so.

Mr Kennedy - The classification scheme will deal with the difficulty before the operation of that section ceases.

Mr WILKINSON - That is so, but representatives of Victoria should also remember that some time ago the State Government expended a large sum to encourage the establishment of the beet-sugar industry here, and that we not only allow a bounty and a certain rebate of excise on locally-grown beet-sugar, but impose an import duty of£10 per ton on beet-sugar imported from other countries. The representatives of Queensland were not selfish in their advocacy of legislation dealing with the industry. They thought not only of the position of Queensland, but of the possibilities of all the States.

Mr McWilliams - Why should sugargrowing be regarded as a national undertaking any more than is the production of wheat or fruit?

Mr WILKINSON - I have already asked whether it is not reasonable to impose an excise duty for the encouragement of our fruit-growers. I think that the honorable member for Franklin will admit that when Chinese and other Asiatics enter into the fruit-growing industry in the rich coastal districts of Queensland, where apples may be grown as well as in Tasmania, and citrous fruits do better than in any other part of Australia, the white fruitgrower will be placed at a very great disadvantage.

The CHAIRMAN - I do not think that the fruit industry is involved in the item before the Chair.

Mr WILKINSON - I am discussing the operation of excise duties.

Mr Page - Do I understand you to rule, Mr. Chairman, that we may not discuss the fruit industry during the consideration of the Estimates of the Department of Trade and Customs? There is a duty on certain fruits.

The CHAIRMAN - I do not wish to give a ruling, because the whole debate on this division has been out of order. A request was made by the honorable member; for Bland that a discussion with regard to the sugar industry should be allowed on the first item in the Estimates of the Department of Trade and Customs. The Prime Minister and the Minister of Trade and Customs agreed to that request, and I acquiesced in it. If my notice be drawn to the matter, however, I shall be compelled to give a ruling, which I do not wish to give. But I do not feel justified in allowing questions affecting the fruit industry, which does not come under this "division, to be discussed.

Mr WILKINSON - No one can accuse me of any desire to transgress the Standing Orders. I do not hold myself bound by any engagement entered into by the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition, and I claim freedom of debate 'as long as I do not commit any breach of the Standing Orders. I was not going from one industry to another, but in reply to an interjection by the honorable member for Franklin, was endeavouring to show the operation of the excise duty.

The CHAIRMAN - Interjections are disorderly, and the honorable member need not notice them.

Mr WILKINSON - I can assure you, Mr. Chairman, that notwithstanding any arrangement which may have been made by the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition, I shall express the views thai: I desire to put before the Committee as -we deal with - the individual votes, even if I may not do so during the general discussion on the first item. I wish to draw the attention of the Minister of Trade and Customs to the fact that while I think the inspection of sugar plantations is necessary, in order to see that the white labour conditions are observed in their integrity, the cost of the inspection is more than it ought to be. In connexion with the state of the Central Mills, when the present Chief Justice of the Commonwealth was Premier of Queensland, the farmers and planters were induced to mortgage their lands, and to enter into a guarantee to produce a certain quantity of sugar proportionate to the area or value of the land surrounding the mills. The present Treasurer of Queensland is vigorously enforcing those conditions, and it is to the interests of those who have entered into this guarantee that the cost of running the mills shall be kept as low as possible. I may point to one case in which the expenditure is greater than it should be. Excise officers have to do duty at these mills, but at the Central Mill at

Nambour we have not only an excise officer but an inspector. In the opinion of the farmers who have to find the money to pay interest on the cost of that mill, one man. should be able to do the work of the two, and thus save £300 or ,£400 a year. The officer spared from this mill need not be dismissed from the service, because he could be appointed to some other position. There are a few other matters to which I shall refer when the particular items to which they relate come before the Committee. I urge the Minister, however, to let the sugar-planters of Queensland, and those who may enter into the beetsugar industry in Victoria, know what are the intentions of the Government with reference lo the continuance of the bounties. A continuance for a definite period is not asked for, but it is desired that they shall be continued for some little time. If they are not continued, the danger .is that, when we have got rid of the kanakas, the industry may be run by Chinamen, and if I had to make a choice I should prefer the kanaka.

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