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Thursday, 30 November 1905

Senator PLAYFORD (South Australia) (Minister of Defence) . - I merely wish to say on behalf of the Government that the first part of the motion as proposed to be amended practically embodies the policy which we axe already carrying but in regulating the employment of men on the pearling fleets.

Senator Clemons - Is the Government doing anything with regard to the employment of Papuans?

Senator PLAYFORD - I have heard nothing of that. I think that very few are employed - only about twenty or thirty altogether. Of course, the Papuans would be confined to the waters in the neighbourhood of their own country, and I do not see why we should interfere with them. We should have to make an exemption in their favour.

Senator Givens - This motion will do nothing to prevent the Papuans from being employed in their own waters.

Senator PLAYFORD - It strikes me that it would if it were strictly enforced; but of course the Government would take care that it was not. We have had a great many reports on the question of employing coloured arid white crews in the pearling industry. We have had a report from Judge Dashwood, the late Resident Magistrate of the Northern Territory ; from Mr. Warton, and from Mr. Lockyer, the Collector of Customs for New South Wales. I have had an opportunity of seeing my frie'nd, Judge Dashwood, since he returned to fill the position of Crown Solicitor and Prosecutor in Adelaide. He told me that, after visiting the pearling fleets at Port Darwin and Thursday Island, he had come to the conclusion that the pearls are not so plentiful as they used to be, and that therefore the boats have to go into considerably deeper water to find them. He said that it will be impossible to carry on the industry successfully if European rates of wages be paid. We have also the report of Mr. Warton, the Resident Magistrate at Broome, on the condition of the pearling industry in Torres Strait and the North-west coast of Australia. Both Judge Dashwood and Mr. Warton have reported adversely on the suggestion, that the industry could be carried on with white labour. At the request of the Minister of External Affairs, Mr. Lockyer, the Collector of Customs for New South Wales, made an investigation at Thursday Island. He reported to the Government that, in his opinion, the industry could not profitably employ white crews, and that, whether as diver, or tender, or crew, the work is not suitable for white men. We also have the opinion of the Secretary of External Affairs, who has just returned from a visit to British New Guinea. When he was at Thursday Island he made a close inquiry into the condition of the pearling industry, and he says that he is obliged to agree with the opinions expressed on the subject. We have a very valuable pamphlet on the Western Australian pearlshelling industry by Senator Smith, who has treated the subject very fully, and given us the benefit o'f his opinions. In the course of his pamphlet he says -

In considering the advisability of excluding or allowing coloured labour on our pearling fleets, two important questions have to be decided.

1.   Does the manning of the boats by coloured crews endanger or is it opposed to the principle of our White Australia policy?

2.   Would legislation insisting on white labour being employed have the desired effect, or would it mean the loss of the industry to Australia?

In answering those questions, he says, in effect, that if we were to insist upon the employment of white crews, .the pearlshelling industry would leave Western Australia, and go to some port in the possession of the Dutch. He points out that so far as pearl-fishing is concerned, we have only exclusive rights within the three-mile limit, and that all water outside that limit is open to foreign fishermen. He goes on to say -

Does this pearling industry give an alien an opportunity of settling in Australia? That is really the crux of the matter; and to make sure on that head was one 'of the principal reasons that led to my visit to Broome. I went very carefully into the question, and have no hesitation in saying that if the Acts and regulations are strictly administered as they are at present there is not the slightest danger.

Under the circumstances, I think we may agree to paragraph a of the motion. It can do no good and no harm, because under the regulations we only allow a certain proportion of Asiatic labour to ' be employed. There is 110 necessity for me to refer to paragraph S, because it is to be deleted. Paragraph c reads -

The assisting of the industry by bonus or otherwise to enable the replacement of the coloured labour by white labour.

We have no information to guide us as to whether that can be done at a profit, and Senator Pearce does not say that it necessarily follows that it must be done by means of a bonus. I do not know that it will do any special harm to pass the paragraph, but the honorable senator must not assume that the Government are going to do very much in that direction.

Senator Pearce - It may be by some other means.

Senator PLAYFORD - I have read very carefully Senator Smith's pamphlet on the subject.

Senator Pearce - I hope that the Minister will read my remarks on some statements which he made therein.

Senator PLAYFORD - In his pamphlet, Senator Smith says -

The working expenses of the fleets would be increased by at least 30 per cent, if white men were employed for the pearling season (eight months) instead of coloured crews all the year round. The average wage paid to a coloured crew, including the diver, is about 18s. a week, while white crews could not be expected to do the work for less than 6s. a day and found, with 10s. a day for the diver, or an average of £2 a week.

So that a white crew would cost about twice as much as a coloured crew. If under the present system the industry is only paying its way, and white labour is substituted for coloured- labour, we shall have to double the wages which the owners of the boats have hitherto been paying. It will be necessary to ascertain . how many men are employed in each boat before we can determine what the bonus is likely to be.

Senator Givens - I thought that the Government were going to accept the motion as proposed to be amended ?

Senator PLAYFORD - Yes. I am only pointing out that we have no information on these points, and that it will have to be obtained. The Government would rather that Senator Pearce did not press his motion. We are carrying out the first paragraph of the motion. I do not see any special harm in the third paragraph, but I do not know whether we shall commit ourselves to the assisting of the in- dustry by a bonus. The word " otherwise " saves the situation to a considerable extent, although I fail at the present moment to see in what way it could be done except by a bonus. However, if Senator Pearce prefers to have the motion carried, the Government will not offer any opposition.

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