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Tuesday, 12 December 1905

Senator BEST (Victoria) - I confess to very considerable difficulty in working up any enthusiasm even in supporting the measure, but its introduction may be fairly justified, because - without in any way desiring to damn it with faint praise - -it is, 011 the whole, an improvement upon existing legislation. Indeed, it was quite refreshing to hear Senator Dobson in his righteous indignation proclaiming most vigorously against the Bill; but his fierce denunciation lost all its force when we learned that it was his intention to vote for its second reading. The principal Act and this Bill have been described here as measures of a deceptive and fraudulent character, as a complete subterfuge; in fact, no denunciation in this direction appears, to have been strong enough to satisfy certain speakers. I think they went a little too far in that direction. It is quite true that many of us would have been more satisfied if the colour test had been enacted in our law. As a State Minister, it was my duty on two occasions to introduce a similar measure, but only to suffer defeat at the hands of a body which used to meet in this magnificent chamber. The reason why the colour test was not inserted was because it was represented to us? by the British Government that we could achieve all we desired bv following the lines of the Natal Act, and prescribing an education test. These representations were publicly discussed. The object of our legislation was well known. A measure, prescribing the colour test, was sent from New South Wales to the old country to receive the Royal assent, but it was represented that it could not be submitted to Her late Majesty, because it was felt that it would create international difficulties if racial distinctions were drawn, particularly as regards portions of the British Empire and allied Powers.. These representations were made to the States Governments by Mr. Chamberlain, who suggested that we could achieve our object by administration. Every one, including the Japanese, knew the object of our education test.

Senator Staniforth Smith - It was fully discussed at the Imperial Conference.

Senator BEST - Undoubtedly the matter was public property. What I feel a little resentful about is, that some of my honorable friends have seen fit to denounce a measure which has been eminently successful and effective. It cannot be doubted for a moment that the education test has realized the highest anticipations. It cannot be doubted that it has achieved everything that a colour test could have achieved. If that be so, and seeing that everything has been done in broad daylight, why need we lash ourselves into a fury, as one honorable senator has done, in denouncing a measure which has achieved all that we desired?

Senator Henderson - The honorable senator referred to does not desire to achieve anything.

Senator BEST - I should be one of the first to denounce the present proposal if I thought for a moment that it would weaken the White Australia policy. I do hot believe that it will. I know that no alteration can be made which will relax that policy in any way, unless by the consent of the people of Australia and of their representatives in Parliament assembled. Senator de Largie surprised me by one or two of the statements which he made. The honorable senator declared, for instance, that this Bill is being introduced to satisfy a whim of a now defunct Government - referring to the Balfour Administration. The honorable senator may have greater knowledge in this connexion than I possess, but certainly I am not aware that any representations were made by the last British Government to the Australian Administration on this subject. If they had been, we should certainly have been made acquainted with them.

Senator de Largie - I know that secret despatches were received by the Western Australian Government in connexion with a similar question.

Senator BEST - If I remember rightly, that was in connexion with the Western Australian Factories Act.

Senator de Largie - The principle was the same, because what was objected to were the restrictions imposed on Chinese.

Senator O'Keefe - But they affected persons already in the State.

Senator BEST - Senator O'Keefe reminds me that the Act referred to dealt with aliens already within the State.

Senator de Largie - The principle was the same.

Senator Keating - No, because the persons affected had become citizens of the State.

Senator BEST - That is so, and this measure deals with the admission of persons whom we denominate as undesirable immigrants. We have the assurance of the leader of the Senate that no representations on this subject were made to the Commonwealth Government by the late British Government. The motives of the Government in introducing this measure are obvious. It is introduced in order that we may remove from the principal Act a provision which appears to be offensive to a certain allied and friendly power. Senator de Largie also said that he had noticed that those- who supported the measure were in agreement with honorable senators on this side, who have for their object the weakening of the White Australia policy. I have to tell the honorable senator that the Prime Minister of Australia, who introduced this measure, and is its most prominent supporter, is the leader of the White Australia policy in Victoria ; the man who raised that standard, and who, on every conceivable occasion, has upheld it. A more staunch supporter of the policy does not exist in the ranks of the party to which Senator de Largie belongs.

Senator de Largie - Is not the Bill an attempt to placate the opponents of the White Australia legislation?

Senator BEST - I do not think that it is. Senator de Largie must admit that not only Mr. Deakin, but many members of his Cabinet, are amongst the staunchest supporters of the White Australia policy, and he charges them with treachery if he suggests for a moment that they would be parties to the enactment of any legislation which would have the effect of weakening that policy. Senator Stewart has stated that there is no necessity for this Bill, and, further, that never at any time has there been any protest on the part of a friendly power against the existing legislation. The reference was, of course, to Japan, and the honorable senator must surely have forgotten what has taken place in this Chamber, and also the correspondence on the subject. I have read some of the correspondence, and I know that the Japanese Government never at any time attempted to deny the right of Australia to exclude from her shores all whom she pleased.

Senator Givens - - What restrictions do the Japanese place on Australia?

Senator BEST - They do not deny that they impose certain restrictions on the people of other nations, but at the same time they do not deny the right of a people like ourselves to exclude whom we please from our shores. They have opened their correspondence on this subject with that admission ; but they say, " We, as a friendly and allied power, feel that this measure, in its present form, is an offence to us," and they point out exactly wherein it is offensive. During my own term of office in the State Government of Victoria I know that protests made by the Japanese Government to the Imperial authorities were transmitted to the various Australian Governments. Honorable senators must be aware that even before the principal A:t was introduced into this Parliament, and when it was only spoken of, a request was made on behalf of the Japanese Government that it should not contain some of the offensive features which, according to their view, were contained in certain States Acts dealing with immigration. I have here a very ably written pamphlet by Senator Pulsford, in which the honorable senator has brought together some of the protests and representations that have been made in connexion with this legislation. I shall read a few lines in support of my statement, and in order to satisfy Senator Stewart that a protest against this legislation has already been made. In a letter from the Japanese Consul, dated 20th September, 1901, referring to a speech made by Mr. Deakin on the Immigration Restriction Bill, the following statement is made, in conclusion -

I have the honour to point out that extracts from the speech I have quoted above - read in conjunction with your own declarations on pages 4565 and 4653 of Ilansard* - make it clear that my request that the Japanese might be treated in the same manner as the European nations, has not been of any avail, and that the Bill is unmistakeably and professively aimed at the Japanese, upon grounds which must form the subject of the strongest possible protests should it be massed.

On the 10th October the Consul once more addressed the Prime Minister in these terms -

I notice with great regret, that the third reading of the Immigration Restriction Bill has been passed by your Honorable House of Representatives, providing for an educational test " in an European language," to be applied to intending immigrants.

Senator Staniforth Smith - Is that an official letter?

Senator BEST - Yes.

Senator Staniforth Smith - Who authorized the Consul to write that letter ?

Senator BEST - The Japanese Government.

Senator Staniforth Smith - Certainly not.

Senator BEST - He refers to the fact that he has been in direct communication with his Government on the subject.

Senator Staniforth Smith - He had no right to address the Government of Australia directly. His communication should have gone through the British Government.

Senator BEST - There is no doubt that he did address the Government of Australia directly. He further said, in his letter of the 10th October -

With reference to the statements made that there has been no protest against the same provision of similar legislation when passed by the States of New South Wales, Western Australia, and Tasmania, and that such provision has not been found to cause trouble in any one of these places, I crave permission to say that the absence of protest against the State legislation should neither destroy the right to protest against Federal legislation of the same character, nor weaken its force. And the circumstances existing at the time when the State legislation was under discussion have considerably changed, showing more need for the protest at the present time than there was then.

Subsequently the Japanese Consul addressed the Governor-General in similar terms, and, amongst other things, he said -

My communications, however, were not fortunate enough to produce the desired effect ; inasmuch as the educational test decided upon is racial pure and simple. In addition to this, the subsequent insertion of the word " European " in an amendment on the clause which provides for the imposition of penalties on masters and owners of ships, emphasises the intention of the Bill to make racial distinctions.

He continues further in that strain, but the point I am making is that protests have been made against the principal Act before its introduction on the second and third reading, and a final protest to the GovernorGeneral. I point out that the objectionable feature in the Act was held to be that the education test was to be a test in a European language. It is now proposed that the European language test shall be eliminated. Under this measure power is asked to make regulations to prescribe the test, but they are not to be brought into force on the mere if se dixit of the GovernorGeneral in Council, but are to be submitted for the approval of Parliament. Parliament will, therefore, have to accept the responsibility of saying whether the proposed test will achieve all thai the principal measure was intended to achieve. It. is idle to suppose that the Prime Minister, who has been mainly moved on the representations of Japan to eliminate this objectionable feature from the principal Act, will be party to the reimposition of a European language test. The idea in proposing regulations to prescribe a test is to have a test which shall not be regarded as of a racial nature.

Senator Dobson - There is no intention to prescribe such a test.

Senator BEST - It is clear that the European language test will not be prescribed again.

Senator Dobson - It is prescribed in the verv next clause of the Bill.

Senator BEST - Of course the European language test remains until the proposed new regulations come into force.

Senator Dobson - And the "until" is never to come.

Senator Lt Col Gould - It will occur on the Ides of March.

Senator BEST - Senator Dobson is apparently not prepared to assist the Government in their desire to remedy the evil complained of.

Senator Dobson - Why do they not do it in the Bill ?

Senator BEST - T. do not feel that I can take any fair exception to the proposal of the Government in this connexion. They give us the assurance that they will prescribe regulations, and will submit them to Parliament. In the circumstances, I think there is a reasonable justification for the introduction of the Bill, and I propose to support its second reading, in the full hope and belief that its operation will in no way relax or interfere with the settled policy of Australia, so far as its population is concerned.

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