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Wednesday, 9 November 1904

Mr CARPENTER (Fremantle) - I have listened with great interest to the speech of the honorable member for Kennedy, who, honorable members will agree with me, stated to us briefly the arguments in favour of the payment of sugar bounties. It has surprised me more than once to find how little public men who argue against the abolition of kanaka labour really understand the conditions under which the sugar industry is carried on. Although I have always had sympathy with our fellowcitizens in Queensland who are crying out for the abolition of kanaka labour, and the preservation of their State for white races, I was for a long time to some extent ignorant of the conditions prevailing there. Perhaps my ignorance may be accounted for by the fact that, like many others, I was dependent on the possibly garbled reports which appeared from time to time in newspapers antagonistic to the principles which the democratic portion of the Queensland people were enunciating. Eventually, however, I visited part of the Queensland sugar districts to ascertain for myself what the true facts of the case were. I understood at the time that Australia would be asked to contribute a considerable sum in bounties for the encouragement of white labour,and the information I received, both from those who are intimately acquainted with the sugar-growers, and from the sugar-growers themselves, dispelled any fear I had that the abolition of kanaka labour would injure, much less ruin, the sugar industry. I went to the fields, and saw the trashing, about which we have heard from the honorable member for Kennedy, being carried out. Whilst that work is very tiresome, and trying to white men, I agree with the honorable member for Kennedy that in certain districts it is not absolutely necessary. Indeed, the opinion I formed was that a different) method of planting the cane would largely obviate the need for trashing in any district. According to the Treasurers figures, the Commonwealth spent in bounties on sugar in Queensland, in 1902, £24,500, and in 1903,£50,600, while the expenditure for this year is estimated at ,£62,800, a total of ,£147,900. In New South Wales the expenditure in 1902 was .£36,300, and in 1903, ^40,200, while it is estimated that this year ,£37,200 will be spent, a total of ,£113,700, or a grand total for the two States of ,£261,600. I can understand some honorable members being somewhat staggered by those figures. That is what we pay for the encouragement of sugar-growing, and the abolition of kanaka labour. The honorable and learned member for Wannon has discussed this matter from the point of view of Victoria, and we all have to consider how the people whom we directly represent are affected by proposals of this kind.

Mr Watson - The Commonwealth could not obtain an excise duty of .£3 per ton if no bounty were given to white-grown sugar.

Mr CARPENTER - I am not going into .the question of excise, nor "do I quarrel with any one who asks how the present system affects his own State. In fact, I believe there is some justification for the honorable and learned member, for Wannon raising this question. A few days ago the honorable member for Capricornia, when speaking on the subject of the proposed railway from Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta, asked why the State he represented should be called upon to pay a considerable sum of money towards the construction of a |line which would not confer any benefit upon it. I interjected that that was a somewhat narrow view to take of a question that was essentially of & national character. In the same way, whilst we may be justified in looking at the sugar bonus question from the point of view of our own States only, we should at the same time endeavour to take a broad, national view of the matter, and that is' what I propose to do. Just before the Pacific Island Labourers Bill was passed! I noticed' that there was an inclination on the part of some of our farmers to employ black labour. I remember distinctly that one- prominent weekly journal openly advocated that the wheatgrowers upon the poorer agricultural lands of the States should follow the example of the sugar-planters in Queensland. Had it not been for the timely action of this Parliament in the direction of substituting white labour for black upon the sugar plantations, I Rave very little doubt that an agitation would have been entered upon by some of our farmers with a view to secure a supply of black labour, and that almost the same arguments would have been employed by them as have been urged in the interests of the sugar-growers. When I visited Northern Queensland I found that it was not the small grower with, say, fifty acres under cane, who wanted the kanaka, but the manager of the larger estates owned by absentees, who seldom, if ever, went to Queensland, and who merely invested their money, and looked for a certain return, and troubled themselves about nothing, so long as' the dividends came along at the end of the year. I was .informed that although the small white planters were subjected to the competition of the large estates upon which coloured labour was employed,' they were able to make a good living. The fear that white labourers cannot do the work required of them upon the sugar plantations is a bogy, which has, I believe, by this time, been finally disposed of. Perhaps some of the growers were really sincere in expressing the fear that a sufficient number of white labourers would not offer themselves ; but after having conversed with some of the planters, my impression was that, although they were using this argument in favour of the retention of the kanaka, they had no justification for arriving at the conclusion that white labourers would not offer themselves if they had an opportunity to do the work, and the conditions were made such as they should be. Not only in regard to sugargrowing, but in other industries, it has been found that if coloured aliens once obtain a footing a stigma attaches to the industry in which they engage, the work is called "blackfellows' work," and it is very hai i to persuade any white man that he should take it up. Take, for instance, marketgardening. In those States in which the work is undertaken almost exclusively by Chinamen, very few white men are prepared to engage in the occupation, not because it is not an honorable one, but because Chinamen have obtained control of it and the impression has got abroad that the work is degrading. In Queensland I found that the accommodation provided for kanakas was such that no decent white man would, or should, put up with it. If an industry is specially trying for thos£ engaged in it, the hardships of the workmencan be very much mitigated if proper provision is made for their comfort when they have finished their daily- toil. If the sugar-planters honestly desire to give the white labourer a fair trial they can do much towards solving any difficulty by providing their men with decent accommodation and comfortable surroundings, in which they can recuperate their exhausted energies. When the present crushing season began, and there was a prospect of fewer kanakas being available, some fears were expressed that the crops would not be cut, because of the want of sufficient labour. I was interested to read the following paragraph which appeared in the Melbourne Argus: -

Mr. Kenna,member for Bowen, who returned to Brisbane after a three-weeks' tour in the Bowen, Burdekin, and Mackay districts, states that there is no anxiety among cane-growers about not being able to get sufficient labou'r. There was a superfluity of labour last year on the Proserpine and at Mackay. He had spoken to a large number of men, who were going to work as canecutters, and he had no hesitation in saying that the majority were good workers and anxious to obtain work, but some were destitute. White labour was beginning to organize itself ; that is, the men are writing to farmers they worked for in the previous cane season just in the way shearers do, and the same men will go back to the same places. Some harm was being done by people, possibly well-meaning, who continued to <;ry out that the removal of the kanaka will ruin the sugar industry. Mr. Kenna says that after speaking to a great many he could find no canegrower who had tried white labour last season disappointed with the result. On the contrary, a fresh area is being put under cultivation, and large estates, at present being cultivated with black labour, are being cut up, and white farmers encouraged to take them up on the share system in anticipation of the departure of the kanaka.

If anything were required to dissipate the fear that, upon the departure of the kanaka, the sugar industry would be ruined for want of sufficient suitable labour, the experience of this season should suffice. Although .£250,000, spread over a period of three years, is a very large sum to pay, I think that it will be well expended if we can establish the sugar industry, for all time, upon such a sound1 footing, that coloured labour can be dispensed with. A complaint was made by the honorable and learned member for Wannon that Victoria was being required to contribute towards thi establishment of an industry from which it received no benefit.

Mr Tudor - Victoria- does not object.

Mr CARPENTER - I question whether the honorable and learned member for Wannon could speak for the whole of Victoria. In any case, I deprecate the idea of looking at this subject from the State point of view. The sugar industry is one of those large questions which is wider than the limits of any one State, and if we can establish it in such a manner as to provide profitable employment - even though it may not be of the most pleasant kind - for our unskilled white workers, we shall be justified in making some present sacrifices. I understand that the .Government are not prepared to indicate just now what attitude they propose to take in regard to the extension of the period over which the bounties are to be paid. I am not surprised that they are not so prepared. When they face this question they will find that among their present) supporters there are honorable members who will throw all sorts df text-books at them in order to demonstrate the unwisdom of granting bounties for the encouragement of an industry of this kind. I entertain no such view myself. There was a .time when the text-books were my guide upon matters of this kind. The result was that I found myself in constant difficulty, because the text-books stated one thing, and common-sense prompted another. When the Government have declared in favour of a definite line of policy, I shall endeavour to treat this question from a practical stand-point, rather than from that of a mere economic abstraction. If, with their mixed following, they, can avoid all the rocks which they will be called upon to encounter, I shall be only too ready to congratulate them. Even, though it may involve the State which I represent in a further contribution from its revenue, I hope that for the sake of maintaining a White Australia, I shall be justified in the attitude which I have assumed.

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