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Thursday, 16 November 1905

Senator MATHESON (Western Australia) - I propose to say a few words on various subjects which are outside the scope of the Bill, and I understand that this is my opportunity. First of all. I desire to call attention to the action which the British Government are reported to have taken in connexion with the Factories Act passed last year by the Parliament of Western Australia. This is a matter of the very gravest importance, not only to the State of Western Australia, but to- the whole Commonwealth.

Senator Mulcahy - Are we in any way, as a Commonwealth, immediately associated with' the matter?

Senator MATHESON - I shall explain. The British Government, if we may judge from the reports in the newspapers, are endeavouring to obtain the repeal of certain sections of that Act which deal wit : the employment of Chinese and Asiatics in factories. There can be no doubt on the part of honorable senators who reflect on the subject, that, by allowing the British' Government to interfere with those questions in the case of the States, we shall be allowing the insertion, of the thin end of the wedge for interference later on with our own legislation. Acts which we pass at some later date may fail to give satisfaction to the British Govern. ment, and one of the justifications which' will be put forward for declining to recognise those Acts, will be that similar legislation has been disallowed in the case of the States. It is impossible to ignore the gravity of the situation which is developing in connexion with British India and Japan in reference to labour in Australia. That is why I desire, in as temperate a way as possible, to call the attention of the Senate to the position of affairs, in order that there may be no misapprehension on the part of anybody who reads Hansard. That is a fair proceeding, even though, as Senator Mulcahy has suggested, the matter may be one of State legislation only. In the session of 3904, the Western Australian Parliament passed a Factories Act dealing with the employment both of Europeans and Asiatics. It is a most up-to-date measure, founded, to a large extent, on legislation which has already been passed in New Zealand, Queensland, and other States of Australasia.' But the Western Australian Act goes a little further than any of these in dealing with' Chinese and Asiatics ; and I propose to quote as shortly as possible a. few of the sections which refer to Asiatic labour, in order that the Senate may be thoroughly posted as to what is really taking place. Subsection. 2 of the interpretation section defines a factory as -

Any building, premises, or place in which a person or persons of the Chinese or other Asiatic race is or are so engaged.

Section 15 is as follows: - .

Where the occupier or intended occupier of a factory, or any person engaged in or about a factory is a person of the Chinese or other Asiatic race, the registration shall continue in force for one year only, but such registration shall be renewable from time to tune.

That is a more stringent section than the one which deals with the regulation of factories in which Europeans only are employed ; and I understand, from reading the Western. Australian Hansard, that it was deliberately inserted with a view to placing impediments in the way of the employment of Chinese and other Asiatics. I desire to be absolutely candid, and place the clearest construction on the intention of the Western Australian Parliament, in order that there may be no misunderstanding. Section 20, which provides for the hours of employment of women and boys, is as follows : -

Subject to the provisions of this Act, a woman or boy shall not be employed in or about a factory -

(a)   for more than forty-eight hours, excluding meal times, in any one week, nor

(b)   for more than eight hours and three quarters, excluding meal times, in any one day, nor

(c)   for more than five hours continuously without an interval of at least threequarters of an hour for a meal, nor

(d)   at any time after one o'clock in the afternoon of one working day in each week, nor

(e)   in the case of women at any time between the hours of six o'clock in the evening and eight o'clock in the morning following, nor

(f)   in the case of boys at any time between the hours of six o'clock in the evening and a quarter to eight in the morning following.

Then section. 23, which deals with Chinese and other Asiatics, is as follows: -

No person of the Chinese or other Asiatic race shall be employed in any factory for longer hours than women may be employed therein under this Act, nor shall he be employed before8 o'clock in the morning, or after 5 in the evening.

For the purposes of factory employment Chinese and other Asiatics have been deliberately put on the same basis as women and boys of European extraction.

SenatorMulcahy. - But on a. different basis from that of European men?

Senator MATHESON - Yes. Section 46 is the next I wish to quote -

No person of the Chinese or other Asiatic race shall be -

(a)   registered as the owner Or occupier of a factory unless he satisfies the Minister that he carried on the business which he proposes to carry on in such factory before the 1st day of November,1903, or

(b)   employed or engaged by the occupier of a factory in or about the factory unless the occupier satisfies the inspector that such persons was so employed or engaged in a factory, on or immediately before the date last aforesaid.

Section 47 is thus worded -

Every cabinet-maker and dealer in furniture who sells or offers for sale goods manufactured wholly or partly by Asiatic labour, and whether imported or manufactured in Western Australia, shall stamp such goods in the prescribed manner with the words " Asiatic labour."

Then section 48 is as follows: -

In any proceedings against the occupier of a factory for employing any person in breach of this Act-

1.   Proof of a person being found in any part of a factory in which the work of the. factory is going on shall bePrima facie evidence that the person was then being employed in the factory, and

2.   When a person employed is, in the opinion of the justices, apparently of the age, alleged by the complainant,it shall lie on the defendant to prove that such person is not of that age.

3.   When any person apparently of the Chinese or other Asiatic race is found in a factory, it shall be deemed that he was employed therein, and it shall lie on the defendant to prove that such person was not employed therein.

The final section dealing with Asiatics, as distinct from Europeans, has reference to the fees payable on the registration of a factory, and reads thus -

Where the maximum number of persons be engaged in the factory does not exceed 7, 5s. ; exceed 7, but does not exceed 15, 10s. ; exceeds 15, but does not exceed 30, £11s. ; exceeds 30, £2 10s.

That applies to European factories.

Where the occupier or intending occupier of a factory or any person employed in or about a factory, is of the Chinese or other Asiatic race, there Shall be paid a fee of five pounds, and the registration of every such factory shall be renewed and such fee be paid annually.

Senator Mulcahy - That was special legislation.

Senator MATHESON - That was very drastic special legislation to curtail the employment of Chinese and other Asiatics in Western Australia.

Senator Dobson - I suppose the honorable senator thinks it is a sin for a man to have any colour but white?

Senator MATHESON - The legislation meets with my most hearty sympathy. It does not go too far ; it is extremely practicable. It can be put in force without the least difficulty, and is absolutely straightforward. It is not like our finnicky Act for prohibiting alien immigrants, which says one thing and means another, and which is practically a fraud - I withdraw that-

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