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Thursday, 30 November 1905


Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) - In the course of the debate, one or two statements have been made to which I must reply. Senator Playford has informed us that the Government are practically carrying out the policy set forth in paragraph a of the motion. The honorable senator has not been accurately informed, because I shall produce figures which prove that the number of Asiatics is increasing, and has been increasing ever since the passing of the Immigration Restriction Act. An attempt has been made to show that this motion will interfere with the New Guinea natives, but, as a matter of fact, those natives have the right to fish in their own waters, and I am sure that no honorable senator would advocate their importation to the Commonwealth.


Senator Staniforth Smith - It would be much better for the New Guinea natives if none were allowed on the mainland.


Senator PEARCE - Senator Smith has already told us that the only New Guinea natives addicted to liquor are those who have been employed in the pearl-fishing.

Senator Playfordstates that Judge Dashwood told him that the industry could not be carried on by white labour.


Senator Playford - He meant profitably conducted.


Senator PEARCE - In his report, Judge Dash wood states that the industry could be carried on by white labour at a certain price, and on this point I shall quote the evidence given to him, not by tourists, or legislators like Senator Smith, but by the manager of a fleet of pearling boats. Senator Playford professed to find great difficulty in the last paragraph of the motion, and asked the meaning of the word "otherwise." Hut there are various ways in which the white pearler may be assisted, besides by means of a bonus. Under the Navigation Bill, for instance, allowances could be made to the white pearlers in the matter of port dues, licensing fees, and so forth, and further assistance could be given by legislation for the regulation of the fishery. The motion does not propose that a bonus shall be paid for the whole amount of shell raised in Australia, but merely that the introduction of white labour shall be encouraged by means of a bonus on the shell raised by white labour. The Government, for example, might give a bonus of £10 or £12 per ton ; and if there were four boats at Thursday Island, and four at Broome, with an average take of 6 tons, we can see at once that a small amount would be sufficient to test whether white men are suited for the industry. Senator Smith told us that on the occasion of his visit there were at Broome 2,209 contract Asiatics and 260 non-contract Asiatics. In 1902, Mr. Warton, in his report, stated that there were then 1,515 Asiatics on the fleet, 1,000 of whom were under contract, and 500 of whom were not under contract. I do not think that many of the non-contract men have left the place during the last two years, so I must conclude that Senator Smith has been misinformed.


Senator Staniforth Smith - Noncontract men can go to all parts of Australia.


Senator PEARCE - I am dealing with the statement that there were only 260 noncontract Asiatics at Broome.


Senator Staniforth Smith - I got my information from Mr. Warton, with whom I stayed a week. That was a year later than the issue of the report.

SenatorPEARCE. - As an argument against the motion, Senator Smith stated that the Malay crews spend their wages in

Australia, and mentioned the rather singular fact in this connexion, that these Malays are great gamblers, who will lose as much as £100 in a night. But that gambling is carried on with their fellow Asiatics, and, in any case, the winner sends the money out of the country. Does Senator Smith say that this gambling is a means of distributing the money throughout Australia ?


Senator Staniforth Smith - I said the monetary was the least important phase of the whole question.


Senator PEARCE - I now come to the figures bearing upon the assertion of Senator Playford that the Government are now administering the Act in accordance with the policy set forth in the first part of the motion. The papers laid upon the table of the Senate, under the Immigration Restriction Act, show that the number admitted for pearling under bond to be returned was 622 in 1902 ; 1,048 in 1903, and 1,005 in 1904 - a total since the passing of the Act of 2,675. Then Senator Smith's own figures, which he has told us refer to a period a year later that the report of Mr. Warton, show an increase of very nearly 1,000. The figures generally show a continuous and increasing stream of Asiatic immigration.


Senator Staniforth Smith - The honorable senator does not take into consideration the fact that non-contract men are continually going away.


Senator PEARCE - My experience of Asiatics is that very few of them go away until they have acquired a fortune, and those who do go have a very facile method of smuggling in relatives, who, of course, closely resemble them. Prior to Federation, there was in Western Australia an Act called the Imported Labour Registry Act, together with an Immigration Restriction Act. Under the former measure Asiatics were admitted into the northern portion of Western Australia only, under precisely the same conditions as laid down in the Commonwealth Immigration Restriction Act. That Imported Labour Registry Act was in operation from 1894 until 1901 ; and a return which, at my instance, was laid on the table of the Senate in August of the latter year, shows that the number of Asiatics imported during that period was 567, of which 32 were returned, and that 109 agreements were in force at the time the Commonwealth took over the control, thus indicating that 425 agreements had been evaded in the short space of seven years. The Western Australian Statistical Register for October, 1905, gives full particulars up to the end of September in regard to Asiatic immigration ; and it appears that during the nine months of 1905 there was an increase of 128 Asiatics in Australia, in spite of the fact that there has been a decrease in the number of Indians, Chinese, and Afghans. The increase, of course,is in Malays, Japanese, and Javanese - the three races which are imported for pearling. These figures bear out my statement that the importation of Asiatics is increasing.


Senator Staniforth Smith - The returns show that contract labourers are superseding free labourers, the latter returning to their homes, or moving to other parts of Australia.


Senator PEARCE - At any rate, the figures show that there has been increased immigration under the Act, and impress on us the necessity to ask the Government to take preventive measures. Senator Smith was under the impression that the pearling boats had been removed from Thursday Island to Arru Island for the purpose of fishing on the Australian coast, and thereby evading the Act. I can tell Senator Smith that he is entirely mistaken. Thereis no intention to use these boats for fishing on the Australian coasts, as is shown in the report of an interview published in the Brisbane Telegraph during this month with Mr. J. Clark, pearler, of Thursday Island, who has gone to the Molucca Islands. Mr. Clark's concession from the Dutch Government extends, it appears, from Dutch New Guinea, and includes the Arru, Molucca, Celebes Islands. It extends 500 miles from Dutch New Guinea, but in a direction away from Australia, and the nearest point is that distance from Thursday Island. M-. Clark is, I understand, to obtain the fishing rights of the Molucca Group, but he has vet to comply with certain conditions imposed by the Dutch, one of which is that he must register as a Dutch company. Senator Smith gave us the idea that no conditions at all were imposed. The Arru Islands are 500 miles northwest of Thursday Island, 300 miles north of the nearest point of the Northern Territory, and 50 miles from the coast of Dutch New Guinea. Judge Dashwood, in dealing with Merouke, as a place from which to work the boats at Thursday Island, not only declares that that place is unsuitable, because of the shallow depth, and the harbor bar, but points out that in the season, when the pearlers desire to pass to and fro, they would have to beat up against the monsoon winds, which would add considerably to the difficulty in getting to the pearling places. This applies with even greater force to the Arru Islands as a base from which to fish on the Australian coast. Senator Smith indicated that the boats, which have been taken away from Thursday Island could be used to raid the Western Australian coast from Koepang, in Timor, but that place is 200 miles from the nearest point of the coast of the Western State. I believe that Senator Smith said that Koepang was close to the Australian coast. The part of the coast of Western Australia where most of the pearl fishing is carried on is on the Ninety-mile Beach, some distance south-west from Broome, and Koepang is 500 miles distant from Broome. Senator Smith's suggestion, therefore, is that a pearling fleet can work 500 miles from its base.


Senator Staniforth Smith - Pearling fleets can work from Koepang on the Australian coast outside the three-mile limit, and they will do so.


Senator PEARCE - I have no doubt that, as the honorable senator has already said, they could work on the coast of Australia with Singapore as a centre; but the question is, will it pay them to do so?


Senator de Largie - Are there not islands on the coast, and will not the threemiles limit have to be measured from them ?


Senator PEARCE - That is so. I pointed out that the beds in the neighbourhood of Thursday Island would be greatly benefited by a spell, and what Senator Givens has said this afternoon bears out that statement. Since I moved the motion, I have received the report of Mr. Saville Kent, Inspector of Fisheries in Queensland, which was laid upon the table of the Queensland Legislative Assembly on the 16th of this month. That gentleman sums up the position in this way: He says, first of all, that the actual condition of the pearling industry is one of great depression, and as to the cause, he says that it is due to the gradual exhaustion of the shell beds and the low market value of shells. Then he advocates reserves for breeding purposes. He is of opinion that the beds have become so exhausted that they require a spell for recuperation, and he thinks that it is necessary to establish reserves for breeding purposes. I have before me returns which show a considerable falling off in the Torres Strait fishing during the last few years. I do not propose to read all the figures, but side by side with the decreased output they show an increase in five years of 115 boats, and also an increase in the number of Asiatic labourers employed. In 1897, there were 88 Europeans engaged in the industry, and 1,579 Asiatics; whilst in 1901 the number of Europeans had been reduced to 67, and the number of Asiatics increased to 2,121. These figures show a decrease of 21 Europeans, and an increase of 542 Asiatics, in the period mentioned. In connexion with the industry in Western Australia, there were, in 1900, 162 vessels employed, 65 whites, and 1,037 coloured men; whilst the take was 606 tons, and the price of shell £144 per ton. In 1901, there were 200 vessels, 98 whites, 1,358 coloured men; the take was 716 tons, and the price of shell £146 per ton. In 1902, there were 223 vessels, no whites, and 1,515 coloured men. This information will be found on page14 of Mr. Warton 's report. From the Statistical Register of October, 1905, I find that the exports of shell for nine months in that year amounted to 20,192 cwts, valued at £90 per ton. The value of the exports in 1902 amounted to £178,699; in 1903, £224,322; and in 1904, £164,505.


Senator Playford - That is a drop.


Senator PEARCE - There was a drop in that year ; but the honorable senator must not assume from that that the take was less, as the drop in value may. be largely accounted for by a fall in the price of shell. I believe that the present price is about . £105 per ton; but I have shown that in some years it went up to £144, and in other years up to as much as £200 per ton. I come now to consider the question whether the industry can be profitably carried on with white labour, and I propose to quote from Mr. Fred. C. Hodel, manager for Brown, Campbell, and Company, Limited. This firm own a pearling fleet, and their manager is a man who has had considerable experience in the industry. Mr. Hodel gave evidence before Justice Dash wood, and, amongst other things, he estimated the cost of running a lugger with white labour at £532 per year. Mr. Warton's estimate was tremendous, being up wards of £800 per year. Here we have a man actually engaged in the business, and one who has had actual experience of conducting it with white labour, and considering the rate of wages white menreceive, he estimates the cost of running a pearling lugger with white labour at £532 per year. Taking this estimate instead of Mr. Warton's, which I used when introducing the motion, and applying it to the operation of the industry at Broome, I give the results which would have followed the working of the industry if the boats had been manned with white labour. I direct the special attention of honorable senators to these figures. On the basis I have stated, in 1898 there would have been a profit of £23 per boat. In 1899, a loss of £46 per boat ; in 1900, a gain of £58 per boat; in 1901, a gain of £66 per boat; and in 1904, a gain of £268 per boat. In working out these figures, I have considered the take in Western Australia for the years mentioned, and divided it by the number of boats engaged, and I have not included the value of the pearls obtained as apart from the shell. I ask the Minister of Defence to consider these figures, and remember that they are based on the cost of running a lugger with white labour as estimated by the manager of a pearling fleet who has had experience of white as well as of coloured labour.


Senator Staniforth Smith - The estimate does not include working expenses.


Senator PEARCE - It includes the cost of working a pearlingboat with white crew. If I take into consideration the value of the pearls obtained, the profit on the industry in Western Australia, if white crews had been employed, would have been : - In 1898, £84 ; in 1899, £32 ; in 1900, £130; in 1901,£174; and in 1902, £269 per boat. I have been able to give no later figures, because after 1902 there is no return of the value of the pearls found. I hope that in view of these figures, honorable senators will disabuse their minds of the idea that any very extravagant sum in the shape of bonus is necessary to enable this industry to pay white wages and return a reasonable profit tothose engaged in it.


Senator Dobson - The honorable senator does not contend that these coloured people are assimilating with our population, and destroying our standard of life?


Senator PEARCE - I have pointed out that they are dodging the regulations, and that 400 of them were in seven years added to the population of Western Australia. 1 now propose to quote from evidence given by Mr. Hodel before Mr. Justice Dashwood. At page 1053 of the Senate Papers for 1901-2, vol. 2, the following will be found at question 1474 : -

You consider they could be got if the wages were paid that the white men would require? - It depends upon what source you touch for your labour. I think if tenders receive ^5 per month there would be no difficulty in getting a sufficient number of tenders. At the present stage I Think we could not get white crews. Assuming that at one swoop coloured labour were done away with, we could not at once replace it with white labour.

If Senator Clemons were present, I should refer him to that as a reason why I do not wish to abolish coloured labour at one swoop. Mr. Hodel went on to say -

I think it could be worked gradually in the way suggested, and in ten years one third of the men employed would be white mcn, and there would be reared here a seafaring race. If the licences were restricted to white divers, some of the floating stations would probably leave, and the beds would have the rest required. The lesser the quantity got the firmer are the prices.

The beds at Thursday Island are more exhausted than are those at Broome.


Senator Givens - It is only a question of time when the beds at Broome will also be exhausted.


Senator PEARCE - They are being exhausted now in the shallow waters. At question 1477 there is this evidence -

What do you think would be the prospect of the pearl-shelling industry if regulations were made compelling its being carried on with white labour only? - It would be all right so long as the price of shell kept at its present rate.

That is to say, if the price of shell was maintained, at the rates ruling at that time, in Mr. Hodel's opinion the industry could be worked profitably with white labour.


Senator Dobson - That is a big risk, because if the price of shell went down the industry would collapse.


Senator PEARCE - That might happen under existing circumstances where black labour is employed.


Senator Dobson - Yes ; but there is a difference of between 30 per cent, and 40 per cent., less expense, where black labour is employed.


Senator PEARCE - Referring to white labour that had been employed, Mr. Hodel, in answer to question 1491, said -

With reference to the capabilities of white divers, I wish to draw your attention to a statement made by Mr. P. P. Outridge in evidence taken before the Pearl Shell Commission in 1S97 - Question 518 - " Some white divers, are even better than the blacks." Question 519 - " White divers are as. a rule the best divers"; also question 773 - " Mr. George Smith - I have seen white men working alongside Manillamen, natives, and Japanese, and they are infinitely superior." (774) " It would be a splendid thing to have British natives and white divers alone engaged in the industry." These are the views of persons who are now most adverse' to the employment of white divers.


Senator de Largie - Does the honorable senator desire a vote on the motion?


Senator PEARCE - There is plenty of time for a vote. Certain statements of mine have been challenged, and I propose to reply to them by a reference to the opinions expressed, not by men who have taken a flying trip to the scene of the industry, but by men who have been engaged in it, and who, it will be seen, hold the same opinions as myself. Before many of these men became owners of pearling boats, they gave the evidence I have quoted, but when they became owners of boats, they took another view of the question. Mr. Hodel, in his evidence, mentioned seventy men who had been actually engaged as pearlers, and made their living in the industry. With the exception of five, the whole of the witnesses examined by Mr. Justice Dashwood were owners of pearling boats. Of the five, four were working men, and one a manager of a pearling fleet. All the others were personally interested in a good supply of cheap labour. I am prepared to accept Mr. Hodel's evidence in preference to that of interested persons, especially as he has proved that many of these persons, when engaged as divers, gave evidence in favour of white labour. I ask the Senate to accept paragraph a as amended, and paragraph c of the motion, and to negative paragraph b.


Senator Staniforth Smith - The honorable senator has stated that Mr. Hodel estimated the cost of running a pearling lugger with a white crew at only £532 per annum. What wages would the white men get if there were six men in the crew, and what would be the cost of food and working expenses if the total cost per annum was only £532 ?


Senator PEARCE - I refer the honorable senator to an appendix to Mr. Justice Dashwood's report, in which full particulars are set out by Mr. Hodel.


Senator Dobson - Has the honorable senator any objection to striking out the word " bonus " ?


Senator PEARCE - I certainly have.

Paragraph a, as amended, agreed to.

Paragraph b negatived.

Paragraph c agreed to.

Question, as amended, resolved in the affirmative.







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