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Tuesday, 12 December 1905

Senator O'KEEFE (Tasmania) - Unlike some previous speakers, I think that this Bill is necessary in order to close up a number of loopholes in the Act, which have made themselves apparent to every one within the last year or so. I welcome the Bill, because it is a very fair attempt on the part of the Government to remedy defects under which more undesirable immigrants have got into Australia than was contemplated by the Parliament. The chief benefits of the measure may, I think, be classed under three headings. One of its chief benefits is that agents as well as captains will be liable. Under the Act, it is only the captain of a vessel who is liable if a prohibited immigrant gets into the Commonwealth. The Bill makes the agents also liable, and it provides, in clause 12, that the cost to which the Commonwealth may be put in keeping a prohibited immigrant until he is deported shall be borne by the master, owner, agent, or charterer of the vessel from which he has escaped. Another benefit must be apparent to those who are anxious to see our White Australia legislation kept intact, and that is the power which the police will have in the future to arrest undesirable or prohibited immigrants who have escaped from vessels. The Minister will also be authorized by the Bill to take greater, care in issuing permits to those persons who have been domiciled in Australia for some time. Hitherto, persons who have received permits have returned to their own country', where they have practised a fraud against the Commonwealth by giving them away or by selling them, and thus allowing undesirable immigrants to enter who otherwise could not have gained admission. I do not intend to speak at any great length, because I think that there is a general desire to make as good progress as possible with the Bill to-night. The main objections to the Bill seem to me to centre round the proposal to alter the language test by substituting for the words "an European language," the words "any prescribed language." Senator Dawson has just made a very vigorous speech against this proposal, and has said that he intends to vote for the second reading, but would like to see that part of the Bill deleted. I am not particular as to whether it is deleted or not, because, in my opinion, it is absolutely harmless from the White Australia point of view. I confess that I cannot quite see why the proposal was ever made. I can understand the desire of the Government to close existing loopholes in our legislation, but I cannot see that, after all, there is any appreciable difference between the present test and the proposed test, because the Minister has said, and the Bill makes it clear, that no Ministry would have any power to prescribe regulations until the prescribed language which they wished to substitute for an European language was brought before both Houses.

Senator Playford - Not in substitution for, but in addit'ion to, a European language.

Senator O'KEEFE - The effect of the proposed amendment would be exactly the same. The discussion of the whole question would be reopened, and it would be argued whether we were wise in continuing to offend the susceptibilities or sensibilities of Japan, or China, or India.

Senator Matheson - Not necessarily, because the regulation might be laid upon the table and overlooked.

Senator O'KEEFE - I do not think that even Senator Matheson imagines that any Government would propose to make a drastic alteration in a very important part of our White Australia policy - would lay a regulation upon the table without acquainting both Houses of the fact.

Senator Matheson - Regulations are altered every day, and laid upon the table, without any one here ever knowing anything about them.

Senator O'KEEFE - If the honorable senator entertains that fear I am ready to help him to insert in the clause words which would make it imperative on the part of the Minister to see that such regulations were brought before each House.

Senator Givens - Will the honorable senator vote for a straight-out colour test, rather than a language test?

Senator O'KEEFE - If the honorable senator could give me fair evidence that a colour test, would be assented to bv the Imperial Government. I should hold up both hands in its favour, and take the consequences.

Senator Givens - We can never know until we try.

Senator O'KEEFE - Before the honorable senator entered the Senate this question was threshed out at very great length, and reluctantly a number of us consented to the adoption of the language test instead of the colour test, because it had been shown to us by those who had had experience in State Parliaments, in trying to get similar legislation assented to by the Imperial Government, that there was no hope of our getting that assent. I would ask the honorable senator to consider whether, in view of the almost certainty that it would be disapproved bv the Imperial Government, it would not be dangerous to enact a straight-out colour test.

Senator Givens - We should be no worse off then than now.

Senator Playford - Yes, we should, because this Bill is making some important amendments. It would hang up everything else.

Senator O'KEEFE - We have had three or four years' experience of the working of the education test; and, apart from certain irregularities which have crept in, if we pass this Bill, even without the amendment which has been most strenuously objected to, we shall make the law almost as perfect for our purpose as we should do if we were to enact a straightout colour test. I do not think that there is very much danger to be feared from offending the susceptibilities or sensibilities of japan. I am not very particular as to whether that portion of the Bill is retained or deleted. The Government, I suppose, have good reason for proposing to take power under regulation to substitute at some future time a prescribed language for a European language. " Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof " is a very old saying, and I think it is sufficient for us to fight against a proposal of that kind when it is submitted. It has been made plain that we shall have an opportunity of discussing the regulation before it can get the force of law. We are face to face, however, with certain amendments of the law, which are absolutely necessary to put a stop to that small trickle of undesirable immigrants to which Senator Pearce has referred. Senator Stewart certainly put his finger on the weakest spot in the Bill when he pointed out what seemed to me to be an error in drafting :

Any person who fails to pass the dictation test : that is to say, who when an officer dictates to him not more than fifty words in any prescribed language fails to write them out in that language in the presence of the officer:

I cannot think that it was the intention of the Government to leave it open to an officer to ask the intending immigrant to read out only two or three or six words. If Senator Stewart will move an amendment to remove that doubt, as I understand from an interjection he proposes to do, it will have the support of myself and, I believe, of a majority. I shall support an amendment which has for its object that the education test shall be the writing to dictation of not less than fifty words.

Senator Playford - In the past, the trouble has arisen from the officer dictating a few words more or less than fifty. " How would it do to say that he shall dictate not more than fifty words or less than twenty words ?

Senator O'KEEFE - I think it would be better to say that intending immigrants shall write not less that fifty words, or, if the Minister likes, not less than thirty words, but the clause might prescribe a minimum and a maximum number of words to be written to dictation. In its" present form, the provision is not satisfactory to me, and I think it will not commend itself to a majority of honorable senators. I welcome the Bill for the reasons I have given. I trust that the second reading will be carried, and we can deal with it in detail in Committee. Before I resume my seat, I direct attention to an amendment circulated by Senator Matheson, which I regard as very reasonable. I have looked at it somewhat hurriedly, but I do not see that it conflicts in any way with the principle of the Bill or the policy which I know the Government favour. I, therefore, hope that they will see their way to accept it.

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