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Thursday, 30 November 1905

Senator TURLEY (Queensland) - I move -

That the following words be added to paragraph a - " except to replace existing crews, but so as not to increase the number of Asiatics now employed."

The amendment will not apply to the Papuans, or any of the men of the islands who are under the jurisdiction of the Federal Government.

Senator Clemons - That is a big order. Does the honorable senator recognise the same principle in regard to the sugar-fields of Queensland?

Senator TURLEY - No; that has not been attempted. The pearl-fishing industry is carried on between the shores of the northern part of Australia and New Guinea itself, except that branch which is conducted on the coast of Western Australia. In the latter case the industry is, however, practically carried on, afloat. So far as we know, the aborigines have been employed in this industry since it was started.

Senator Clemons -i understand that the industry is carried on within the three miles radius.

Senator TURLEY - A portion of the industry is, but it is mostly carried on beyond that radius. The natives of North Queensland have always been employed in connexion with this and the beche-de-mer industry. I have known something of this industry for a number of years, and formerly the diving and the principal part of the work was performed by white men, although some Solomon Islanders and Manilla men were introduced. In those days each boat used to carry one diver, and one diver only. Then some of our own countrymen introduced Japanese divers, and the latter saw an opportunity to make the industry their own. A considerable number of Japanese in Northern Australia obtained boats under contract, and employed no white men ; and not only afloat, but also on shore, coloured men are at work. It seems to me that all that is asked for by the motion is that this industry shall not be handed over entirely to Asiatics. At present the white men engaged in the industry are being gradually forced out of it. and the white population of Thursday Island is not proportionately as great now as it was years ago, when the pearl-fishing industry was not as extensive as it is at present.

There is no reason why the motion, amended as I suggest, should not be agreed to. Years ago the Queensland Government went to the expense of bringing out a gentleman having a world-wide reputation as one of the greatest experts in connexion with fisheries. I refer to Mr. Saville Kent. He visited North Queensland waters, made experiments extending over some months, and reported to the Queensland Parliament that the beds where the pearl shell was being procured were being absolutely depleted, and that some system of cultivation of the pearl oyster should be tried. So far it cannot be said that the experiments in cultivation have been a success, but those engaged in them believe that it will be possible to make the cultivation of the pearl oyster a success with further experience. Under the Queensland law no shell which is less that 5^ inches across can be exported, and I suppose that the legislation of Western Australia is practically the same. When the divers bring up small shell, instead of casting it back into the water, as was previously done, they now remove it to spaces reserved for cultivation. Artificial methods of feeding are resorted to, and the shell is left to grow and increase. By this method of cultivation, it is believed that a pearl-fishing industry will be brought into existence quite distinct from the industry as we know it now. That, in my opinion, is a very strong argument in favour of this motion, if amended as I propose, because, in the event of the industry assuming the form I have described by means of the cultivation of shell, it will be quite unnecessary to employ any coloured men in carrying it on. lt seems to me that the motion, in the form suggested, will not deal harshly with those engaged at present in the industry under agreement, because they must return to their homes at the close of the term of the agreement. Nor will it deal harshly with their employers, because, when the men they have now employed complete their agreements, they will be able to get others from the same place to fill the vacancies, though they will not be allowed to increase the number of coloured people engaged in the industry. There may be some necessity for a further amendment of the motion, but in my opinion, the motion, if amended as I propose, will give more satisfaction than if carried as it now stands. I may add that I propose to move a further amendment.

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