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Wednesday, 9 November 1904


Mr WEBSTER (Gwydir) - I have listened patiently to this very interesting debate, and, having followed the different speakers, I have gleaned a large amount of information, which will require a good deal of sifting to separate the chaff from the wheat. It is curious to notice how sensitive some men are in connexion with matters which particularly affect .those who sent them here. Many men are undoubtedly actuated by the desire to do what is best in this matter for the sugar-growers whom they represent. I do not complain of that, so long as their actions are consistent with their fiscal professions. An honorable member who holds that sugar should be treated in a manner similar to that in which other products should be treated is consistent; but I cannot understand how one calling himself a free-trader can urge that these bounties are justifiable, and that the duties are paid by the sugar-growers.


Mr Lee - I said that I had regard wholly to the need for protecting white labour against black labour.


Mr WEBSTER - I do not wish to do an injustice to any one who has spoken on this subject. I realize that some honor-' able members, in their honest appreciation of the White Australia policy, may be carried beyond the fiscal opinions which they have enunciated on the platform. /Those men have my hearty approbation,, because the subject is of more importance than the question whether there should, or should not, be duties on sugar. What we are considering is whether the sugar industry shall be carried on for all time by white labour. That is of more importance to us and to our children than the fiscal policy of the Commonwealth, and I can appreciate the action of those who are prepared to sink their fiscal faith to realize a higher ideal - the preservation of a White Australia. The honorable member for New England never varies his arguments. He does not take into account the special circumstances of this case, and it almost seems that the honorable member is losing his mental equilibrium. I should like to hear from the Prime Minister some more definite pronouncement of his intentions with regard to the black labour question.


Mr McLean - I have already made a pronouncement.


Mr WEBSTER - I heard the statement of the Minister, but that did not appear to me to be a satisfactory declaration of the intentions of the Government. I regard the question of the deportation of kanakas, under the provisions of the Pacific Island Labourers Act, as of far more importance than the extension of the period for the granting of bounties.


Mr McLean - The Prime Minister has already given an assurance that the Government intend to carry out the Pacific Island Labourers Act in its entirety.


Mr WEBSTER - The Prime Minister stated that he intended to respect the laws passed by this Parliament, but I think that we are entitled to a declaration indicating something more than a sympathetic attitude towards the legislation which has been placed upon our Statute-book. I should like to hear a definite announcement that the Government intend to see that the kanakas, who are now employed upon the sugar plantations, shall be deported from the Commonwealth. The honorable member for Franklin asked why it was that there had not been a greater falling-off in the quantity of black-grown sugar. The reason is that whilst the kanaka is in Queensland, and open to employment by planters, his labour will always be preferred to that of the white man, notwithstanding the advantage given by way of bonus to those who employ white labour only. If we desire to establish a White Australia upon a sound basis, we shall have to do more than grant a bounty for the production of white-grown sugar. We shall have to insure the removal from the Commonwealth of the coloured aliens who are now competing with our white workers in the cane-fields.


Mr Mcwilliams - It is stated that tha Chinese are supplanting the kanakas.


Mr WEBSTER - It is true that Chinamen are being employed in the cane- fields. The planters are not particular as to the kind of labour they employ, so long as it is cheap.


Mr Mcwilliams - I am informed that Chinamen are deriving the benefit of the bonus by employing white labour on their plantations.


Mr WEBSTER - We cannot prevent that in the case of naturalized Chinamen. My point is that it has been established beyond question that white men can be profitably employed in producing sugar. In New South Wales, the white labourers are producing better results than were ever obtained by means of black labour. In fact, very few coloured men are now engaged by the sugar-growers in that State. The white workers upon the sugar plantations of Queensland are able to find employment during the crushing season, when labour is scarce, but immediately the busy time is past they are dispensed with, and coloured men are engaged for the rest of the year. A white man cannot live for twelve months upon the wages which he receives for four months work, and, therefore, in order to provide our Avhite citizens with constant employment it is necessary for us to entirely exclude black men from the industry. Weshall never be able to withdraw the bounty from the sugar-growers until we render it impossible to obtain black labour on the plantations. So long as black men are available for work in the cane-fields, those who employ white labour must be assisted by some form of preference. Therefore, I maintain that the elimination of coloured labour from the industry is necessarily of far greater importance than the mere question of continuing the bounties.


Mr Mcwilliams - Is it a fact that Chinese are being brought in to take the place of the kanakas?


Mr WEBSTER - That is taking place to only a limited extent. I regret that the statistics available to us with regard to the character of the labour employed on the plantations are far from perfect. We can obtain information as to the number of acres under crop, and the number of tons of sugar produced by white and black labour respectively, but we have not been placed in possession of reliable statistics as to the number of kanakas or Chinese engaged in the industry. I am pleased to know that the Prime Minister has indicated that the Government intend to appoint a Federal Statistician through whose agency we shall be able to obtain reliable data with regard to all our industries. There are no sugar-growers in my electorate, but my constituents, as consumers of that article, are willing to pay an increased price for their sugar, in order that some encouragement may be given to the employment of white labour. The consumers of the Commonwealth have been represented as absolutely selfish, tout the majority of them, I am sure, are perfectly satisfied that it will be to the advantage of the whole community if we can establish upon sound lines an industry which will provide employment for a large number of white men. It has been said that we are paying dearly for the White Australia policy, but I would point out that we are at the present time affording very considerable protection to the sugar planters who employ black labour. They are deriving the full advantage of the £3 per ton which represents the difference between the import and excise duties upon sugar. This protection should be denied them, and any encouragement offered to those engaged in the industry should toe confined to the planters who employ white labour. Some honorable members have spoken of theduty upon sugar imposed by the Commonwealth as something new, but I would point out that prior to Federation a duty was imposed on sugar in New South Wales.


Mr McWilliams - That was also the case in Tasmania.


Mr WEBSTER - And also in some of the other States. Therefore, we have not materially altered the position, except that we have offered special inducements for the growth of sugar by means of white labour. The honorable member for South Sydney has furnished us with some wonderful information with regard: to the effect of the excise duty and the bounty upon the industry in which he is engaged. He has told us that he has been involved in considerable losses, but that he is still willing to afford encouragement to the sugargrowers, in order that white labour may be substituted for black. He has indicated that he desires that the bounty, if extended for a further period, shall diminish yearby year. I contend that the kanakas, who are at present engaged in the Queensland sugar plantations, should be deported to their homes, in accordance with the provisions of the Pacific Island Labourers Act.


Mr McWilliams - Both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Trade and Customs have declared their intention of carrying out that Act.


Mr WEBSTER - I understand that they have given an assurance to that effect. To my mind, the remarks of the honorable member for Wide Bay, upon this question, are perfectly logical. He affirms that the wisdom or otherwise of continuing the sugar bounty should not be remitted to the Tariff Commission for investigation, because it will scarcely be possible for that body to report to Parliament before the Sugar Bonus Act has expired. Under such circumstances, surely it is the duty of the Government to make a definite declaration of policy upon this matter. The honorable member for South Sydney has affirmed that certain manufactures in which he is interested are severely handicapped as the result of existing legislation, but I can scarcely credit his statement that, during the first year of its operation, that legislation caused him to suffer a loss of £2,400. I am of opinion that he has neglected to allow for thereturn of five-sixths of the duty upon imported sugar by way of rebate when it is exported in any manufactured article. Seeing that the market of the Commonwealth has been preserved to out jam manufacturers, it seems to me that they cannot be subjected to such keen competition as they were formerly.


Mr McWilliams - The duty does not assist the local jam manufacturer.


Mr WEBSTER - I claim that it directly assists him. I know an industry which was protected only to the extent of one penny per lb., and which developed mammoth proportions as the result. The honorable member for Franklin may speak of the matter from a Tasmanian standpoint, but I should like him to show now his contention can be borne out by facts. We should bear in mind the necessity which exists to preserve, at all hazards, a White Australia for future generations. Tonight, the honorable and learned member for Wannon declared that if the Government attempted to extend the operation of the sugar bounty they would impose a great strain upon his allegiance to them. It is unfortunate that honorable members oppositeare continually threatening that their loyalty will be strained almost to breaking point if the Government adopt a certain course.


Mr Johnson - They only say so because they know that the Government cannot do what they fear.


Mr WEBSTER - I do not think that is a fair interjection to make. The honorable and learned member for Wanhon did not adduce any reason for his strong opposition to the suggestion of the Queensland representatives. He merely raved about the amount which Victoria was paying as the price of Federation, and endeavoured to make it appear that Queensland was gaining materially by the operation of the sugar bounty. Had he explained his position more clearly. I might possibly have been in a position to answer the riddle which he propounded. At the present time we are receiving something like ,£400,000 by way of excise upon sugar. That amount is paid into the general Treasury, and is returned to the various States to assist in defraying the cost of their government. I claim that the Government might very reasonably acquiesce in the suggestion of the honorable member for Wide Bay. The trouble is that, constituted as they are - being neither black nor white, so far as their fiscal creed is concerned - they occupy "a most deplorable position. Surely we have a right to ask the Government to state for the guidance, not only of honorable members, but of the people generally whether they intend at the end of 1906, without any further agitation, to deport every kanaka who is entitled to be returned to his island home. Those engaged in the industry have a right to know what are the intentions of the Government in regard to so important a question. But what can we expect from the Government, when one of its leaders asks us to rely upon his well-known record as a supporter of certain fiscal principles, while the other tells us that he is prepared to take this matter into consideration when the proper time arrives? We do not ask them to make a full statement in black and white, but to give us an indication of their policy in regard to this matter. Surely we are entitled to know what steps they propose to take to establish their position. Have we not a right to know whether they intend to refer the question to the Royal Commission to be appointed to deal with the Tariff? The whole success of the industry and the policy of a White Australia are involved ; but the Committee has not received such liberal treatment as it might have expected from a Government which professes to be prepared to accept the responsibilities of office. As a matter of fact, they are not going to accept any responsibility in dealing with the sugar industry. The Minister of Trade and Customs says, in effect, "We shall leave the House to determine what shall be the treatment meted out to it." That is in keeping with the reply usually made by a member of the Government to any question as to their policy. They tell us in one breath that they will accept the full responsibility of dealing with this question, while in the next they say /that Parliament must take the responsibility of deciding what shall be done. What has become of responsible government? The Treasurer estimates that the sugar excise duty will yield £'439,000 during the current financial year, and from this sum he deducts ,£100,000 in respect of the estimated bounty, leaving £[339, 000 to be paid into the public exchequer. The question whether legislation dealing with the industry has been successful is fully answered by the statistics bearing upon it. If we, as supporters of the policy of a White Australia, do not show that we are determined that the law shall be carried out in its entirety, and that the kanaka labour- shall be abolished, we shall have a repetition of what took place as far back as 1863, when kanaka labour was first introduced.


The CHAIRMAN - The deportation of kanakas is provided for in the Estimates of the Department of External Affairs, and not in those now before us. I must ask the honorable member to confine himself to the Estimates of the Department immediately before us.


Mr WEBSTER - I am merely following the example of others.


The CHAIRMAN - My attention has just been drawn to the point I have mentioned.


Mr WEBSTER - The question of whether black labour shall be abolished is almost inseparable from that of whether the bounty system should be continued, and one finds it difficult to refer to the one without making any reference to the other. I would ask the Minister of Trade and Customs, in conclusion, to give us a clear, unqualified statement as to the policy of the Government in relation to this all-important question. He should let us know distinctly whether they intend to allow the matter to be dealt with by the Royal Commission on the Tariff, or to take the full responsibility of their position. They should take the Committee into their confidence, and say whether they intend to support a system which will uphold the policy of a White Australia, or whether thev will allow that policy, by reason of their- inaction to drift to a point at which it may be finally lost to the people of Australia.







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