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Tuesday, 12 December 1905

Senator MATHESON (Western Australia) - I have given this Bill very careful consideration, and I propose to support the second reading. As Senator Pearce has pointed out, a large number of clauses in it are absolutely necessary to correct faults in the principal Act. It is purely on that account that I intend to support the second reading. The most important clause from the Ministerial point of view is undoubtedly clause 3. I do not think that any honorable senator, who has referred to this clause, has omitted to point out that it is a farce and a subterfuge.

Senator Givens - Why vote for a farce?

Senator MATHESON - I propose to apply exactly similar epithets to the clause, but I point out that the words " farce " and " subterfuge " might with equal propriety be applied to section 3 of the principal Act. There is no doubt that it is equally a subterfuge, and this clause, which is proposed in substitution for it, will equally fail to give satisfaction to the Japanese, to whose feelings so much reference has been made.

Senator O'Keefe - The honorable senator should not call it a subterfuge. It is substituting one indirect test for another.

Senator MATHESON - It is stating that a certain test is going to be applied, when we know that it is not going to be applied, or that it is to be applied in a sense which cannot be discovered from the wording of the section. It is interesting to refer to the debate in 190T, when the principal Act was amended by the introduction of the words " an European " language. As originally introduced, the test was to be applied in the English language, and Sir Malcolm McEacharn, for some reason not apparent in his speech, moved that the word "English" be struck out, and the words "an European" substituted for it.

Senator Playford - "English" is the word in the Natal Act.

Senator MATHESON - That is so, and it is the proper word to use. Speaker after speaker addressed himself to the amendment proposed, and directed attention to the fact that it would be bound to create great dissatisfaction in the minds of Japanese, Chinese, and Indians. They pointed out also that if we adhered to the word " English," no one could take any objection, because English is the language of this country, and in view of the trouble and expense to which we go in educating our people, we should Be perfectly entitled to object to any considerable immigration of persons ignorant of the language of the country.

Senator Clemons - But the honorable senator is assuming that the test was intended to let them in, whereas no one else assumes that.

Senator MATHESON - The Government supported the amendment moved by Sir Malcolm McEacharn, and the words "an European" were substituted1 for the word " English." A reference to the debates will also show that Mr. Deakin, in speaking generally on the Bill, called attention to the fact that it was merely a tentative measure. He said that if it was found to be ineffectual to keep out the people we wished to exclude, it would be competent for us to introduce a much more severe measure. He also pointed out very properly that if we introduced a more severe measure in 1901, it would have to be reserved for the Royal assent, and a very undesirable delay would occur. He therefore asked Parliament to pass the principal Act purely as an experiment, to decide how far the education test would be successful ; and he promised that if it were found not to be successful he would be prepared to submit some more stringent measure. What is the position to-day ? We find that the Government desire an alteration. That alteration must be one of two things. It must be to make the measure more stringent or to relax the severity of its provisions.

Senator Playford - It might be neither one nor the other.

Senator MATHESON - Or, as Senator Playford suggests, it might be a subterfuge. I intend in Committee to move that we return to the verbiage of the principal Act as originally introduced, if we are going to make any alteration in the verbiage at all. I was prepared to vote against clause 3 in its entirety, but the Minister of Defence called my attention to the fact that there is a slight variation proposed in the verbiage of the original Act in reference to the fifty words prescribed as a test. In the principal Act, the absolute number of fifty words is prescribed; the test must consist of neither more nor less than fifty words... and obviously that has given rise to difficulties. It is proposed in this Bill that the test should comprise not more than fifty words. It has been suggested that we should say : " Not less than fifty words," but either of those phrases would be acceptable to me. But when I come to the proposed alteration, providing for a " prescribed " language, I consider that that is most objectionable. As some honorable senators have pointed out, it removes from the Bill to regulation, the prescription of the language, and gives the Minister a power which I think we should not give him. There is, of course, the rider that Parliament is to have the right to veto any regulation proposed by the Minister, but that is a right inherent in Parliament. I shall in Committee move an amendment providing for a return to the words of the principal Act as originally introduced, and requiring the test to comprise not more than fifty words in the English language. No one can pretend that such an alteration of the principal Act will give any offence to the Japanese.

Senator Mulcahy - It would be the means of admitting a lot of them.

Senator Playford - And a great number of Chinese also.

Senator MATHESON - How would it?

Senator Mulcahy - Most educated Japanese can speak English very well.

Senator MATHESON - I do not believe that Japanese and Chinese who are sufficiently educated to read and write English would dream of coming here as immigrants. There may be some point in the objection which honorable senators take to what I propose, and in that case-

Senator Clemons - The honorable senator is going to back down.

Senator MATHESON - I might back down ; but in any case;, I would prefer to go back to the use of the words " an European," as in the existing Act as being infinitely superior to what is proposed in this Bill. My reason for desiring that there should be no alteration in the verbiage of the principal Act is that when I was in England 1 received a note from Lord Carrington asking me whether a report which had reached his ears to the effect that the Government intended to take steps to relax the restriction on the immigration of Asiatics was true. I told him that I did not think it was in the least likely that the Government would do anything of the kind, and, further, that it was not likely that the Federal Parliament would support them if they did. It is clear to me that, although, as honorable senators have pointed out, this Bill does not necessarily relax the restrictions which may be imposed upon the admission of aliens, it can be so represented, and I am certain that it will be so represented in England. We shall lie told that the Federal Parliament and Government have backed down in deference to Senator Pulsford and other proJapanese members of this Parliament, and that we have abandoned our policy of a White Australia. There is no doubt in my mind that that is the representation which will be made.

Senator Guthrie - Senator Pulsford says that he believes in a White Australia.

Senator MATHESON - That is a side issue. Whether the honorable senator believes in a White Australia or not, he certainly advocates the introduction of these coloured races. I desire now to explain the amendment of which I have given notice.

Senator Pulsford - The Bill to follow this proposes the omission of the provision to which the honorable senator's amendment applies.

Senator MATHESON - I am perfectly well aware of that. That is absolutely the most objectionable part of both these measures. There is another Bill with which we shall have to deal shortly, and in that measure it is proposed to strike out entirely paragraph g of section 3 of the principal Act, which prohibits pers.ons coming into the Commonwealth under contract, unless proof is given to the Minister that they possess special skill which is required in the Commonwealth. The effect of striking that provision out is that if these measures are passed, the new provisions will apply to non-Europeans, as well as to European contract labour. I hold the very strongest views on this subject. I believe that in no circumstances, whatever should contract labour be admitted into Australia, where the people of these non -European races are concerned. I have no objection whatever to the proposed new Bill, in so far as it refers to contract European labour. The only way in which I can deal with the difficulty confronting me is by moving in this Bill an amendment to provide for striking out paragraph g of section; 3 of the principal Act. The amendment I intend to propose in Committee is to strike out the whole of paragraph g of that section, with a *view to insert a provision under' which we shall regard as a prohibited immigrant any person of a nonEuropean race under contract or agreement to perform manual labour within the Commonwealth.

Senator Pulsford - Only just now the honorable senator was objecting to the term " European," and yet he proposes it in his amendment.

Senator MATHESON - I do not object to the term "European," but I have indicated the amendment I intend to propose, in order that Senator Pulsford may study it. I propose to make it absolutely impossible for any person to come into the Commonwealth under a contract if they belong to a non-European race. If it is necessary to relax the contract clauses of the principal Act that British and European immigrants may be allowed to come into Australia, 1 see no objection to that. But under no circumstances whatever, if I can help it, shall a member of an Eastern race come into Australia under contract.

Senator Playford - Do not pearlers come here under contract now ?

Senator Pearce - They are allowed to come under regulations framed in connexion with the Immigration Restriction Acf.

Senator MATHESON - Those regulations can be cancelled. The matter can be dealt with when we get into Committee on the Bill. I merely wished to call attention to the fact that I intend to propose an amendment, and to indicate what its effect will be on the principal Act.

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