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Thursday, 30 November 1905

Senator CLEMONS (Tasmania) - I do not think that I should have spoken on this subject if I had felt that the motion was quite clear, and could be readily understood by any one who read it. I have gathered from some remarks made by Senator Turley and Senator Givens that there is, however, considerable doubt as to what is really intended. I hope that, in attempting to show what I understand by it in my own words, I shall be corrected if I fail to give to it the meaning that Senator Pearce, who is its author, and its supporters intend. So far as I do understand it, the meaning is, first, that, in order effectively to carry out the White Australia policy, the amount of coloured labour that is now employed in the pearl-shelling industry in Northern Australia shall be maintained at exactly the same amount of such coloured labour as is now engaged: That appears to me to be the meaning of the first portion of the motion. It is not proposed to diminish the amount of coloured labour employed, but we are asked to legislate to maintain it at its present strength. There is no intimation, so far as I can see, of any condemnation, and we are simply asked to affirm that it is desirable that the number of coloured aliens now employed shall be maintained. Therefore, the motion carries with it the implication that, in the opinion of those who support it, we have now reached the stage when we ought to say: " This is just the right number of coloured aliens who ought to be employed in the industry, neither more nor less." When I compare that with the definition of the White Australia policy that is usually given by the members of the Senate who support this motion, and apply it to the question of the cultivation of sugar-cane in North Queensland, I find a very radical difference. They profess to aim at the gradual but utter extinction of coloured labour on the sugar-fields. The contrast here is, however, that (Coloured labour is to be maintained at the number now carrying on the industry, for all time hereafter. I do not intend to refer to paragraph b, because I understand that Senator Givens intends to strike it out.

Senator Givens - Yes.

Senator CLEMONS - As it will be negatived I need not discuss it. In paragraph c, I gather that an attempt is to be made by the bonus system to enable the replacement of coloured labour by white to take place. That proposal seems to me to be in absolute contradiction of paragraph a. Paragraph a implies that the coloured labour which is now carrying on the industry is to be continued, but paragraph c says that there is to be an effort to get rid of it by paying a bonus. If there were no other reasons I could not see my way to vote for a proposal which contains within itself such absolute elements of contradiction. As to the bonus system, no indication has been given aa to the amount that would be necessary to stimulate the industry. I am not at present possessed of the figures relating to it. and I have not had~ an opportunity of making even a rough estimate as to the amount that would be necessary to secure the object.

Senator Playford - Senator Smith estimates -that the extra amount required to carry on the industry with white labour would be 30 per cent.

Senator CLEMONS - Does that mean that it would be necessary to give a bonus of 30 per den[. on the production?

Senator Givens - I do not think that is correct.

Senator Playford - Senator Smith says in his pamphlet that the working expenses of the fleets would be increased by at least 30 per cent, if white men were employed.

Senator CLEMONS - Unless we know the figures to which that 30 per cent, would be applied, we cannot calculate what amount would have to be paid. It might he £500 or it might be £50,000. If itwould be £50,000, surely Senator Pearce cannot expect that Parliament is "going to vote so enormous a sum to assist in carrying on pearling with white labour as well as black. On the other hand, if the amount of the bonus would be very small, say £500, it occurs to 'me that if it is necessary to stimulate the industry by a bonus so small as that, it must be in a very parlous condition indeed. I have briefly indicated the reasons why I cannot support the motion, even if I understand it; but I do not think that its meaning is quite clear. At all events, I cannot give my assent to a proposal which is both vague and contradictory.

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