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Thursday, 14 December 1905

Senator HIGGS (Queensland) - I wish to offer a very strong protest against the introduction of this measure.. I do not think thatit isrequired. It cannot be said that in connexion with any occupation or profession followed in the. Commonwealth there is any need for the introduction of contract labour.

Senator Dobson - Not for the sugarfields ?

Senator HIGGS - No.I ask honorable senators whether there are any openings for medical men to make a decent living in the Commonwealth at the present time? Is not the legal profession overcrowded? Are there not dozens of briefless barristers who, having passed their examinations, cannot make a living ?

Senator Dobson - What has that to do with the question ?

Senator HIGGS - We know that solicitors are pining away in their offices because they have nothing to do.

Senator Dobson - I am not pining away.

Senator HIGGS - No. it is 'the Senate that is Dining under the influence of the honorable and learned senator's oratory. There are too many solicitors in the Commonwealth without work to do. With the exception of those who are most skilled, architects can get very little to do, and the ranks of musical teachers are overcrowded. I am asked what this has to do with the question, and I remind honorable senators that in the Commonwealth education is practically free. ' If the conditions of the working classes employed in manual labour as wharf labourers, coal lumpers, navvies, and artisans of every kind, are not such as men care to labour under, we can be sure that fathers of families in Australia will do their best to have their children educated so that they may get out of the ranks of those labourers. If the conditions under which manual labourers have to work are irksome and unsatisfactory, we know that parents will half-starve themselves in the effort to enable their children to get into the professions. What is the object of this Bill? It is a Bill to introduce contract labour into the Commonwealth. We know that in every large city in the Commonwealth - Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane - there is an unemployed question. Only the other day the Queensland Legislative Assembly passed a vote of£7,000 to endeavour in some way to relieve the condition of the unemployed in that State. Honorable senators will find, if they peruse any labour newspaper published in the Commonwealth, that there are plenty of men available for labour in all the industries, including the sugar industry. I believe that this Bill has been introduced to provide for the introduction of contract labour for the sugar industry in Northern Queensland.

Senator Dobson - I hope so.

Senator HIGGS - That appears to me to be the reason for the introduction of the Bill. There are 7,000 kanakas in Queensland - the majority of whom are to be sent away from the Commonwealth within the next few years, although those who are married and have families will no doubt be permitted to end their days here. I looked upon the legislation proposed to exclude coloured labour from Queensland as something which would prove a boon to the workers, and find employment for many men who are scattered about Queensland, and can find nothing to do.

Senator Mulcahy - Does the honorable senator really believe that this Bill is intended to provide contract labour for the sugar industry ?

Senator HIGGS - I do. I believe that one of the first matters dealt with under it will be a contract entered into for the introduction of European labour into Queensland for the sugar industry. It cannot be doubted that the introduction of coloured labour into Queensland lowered the standard of living of all workers throughout that State. When an employer could get a kanaka for £20 per year, he thought he was doing a fair thing in giving a white man double that sum. If Senator Dobson and those who sympathize with his views can succeed inlowering wages in one industry, it is an economic fact that the result must be a lowering of the scale of wages in every other industry.

Senator Dobson - I understand that, under the Queensland Act, the kanakas can be employed only in certain kinds of labour.

Senator HIGGS - They do all kinds of things, from weeding the cane, which some planters consider unnecessary, to blacksmithing; because the law is evaded, and it is impossible to have a policeman always on the spot. The low wages paid in the sugar industry had the result of lowering the wages of the workers throughout Queensland, and it possibly also had a similar effect, though not to the same extent, throughout the Commonwealth. I should consider 25s. per week and keep, a low and unfair remuneration for work on the plantations in Queensland, and if contract labour is brought into the Commonwealth to work on the Queensland plantations at such a rate of wages it will undoubtedly affect the rate of wages in every industry in the Commonwealth. When we passed legislation giving the sugar planters a protection of £6 per ton on sugar, and the farmers a bonus, we acted very generously towards the sugar industry. Whenever the rate of wages was questioned in this House when we were dealing with that legislation, honorable senators agreed that in that particular industry it would not be too much to pay 35s. a week and tucker, because the labourers would require to be away from their homes and families, and the accommodation and food provided for them would not be of the best.

Senator Lt Col NEILD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Col. Gould. - And the work is trying.

Senator HIGGS - The work is nodoubt trying. It does not appear in the Bill, but, from conversations round about we can gather that the proposal now made is to introduce contract European labour. The Bill is like its companion measure, with which we dealt yesterday, hasty legislation. Before being brought forward such a measure should be freely advertised throughout the Commonwealth so that the workers in the various States may have an opportunity to pronounce an opinion upon it. . No State Legislature would dare to pass a measure of this kind, providing for the introduction of contract labour. And why ? It is because its members are nearer to the people. They are shoulder to shoulder with them every day. And herein lies one of the dangers of the Federation. We are away from our States - representatives of Queensland are thousands of miles away from the sugar plantations of that State, and because honorable senators are so far removed from their constituents, they are disposed to do what they would not think of doing in their own State.

Senator Dobson - Then what will become of us when we get to Dalgety or Lyndhurst? Would the honorable senator approve of the introduction of contract labour if the sugar planters combined for the purpose, and having advertised for men could not get a sufficient number. Remember there are 4,000 white men required for the industry.

Senator HIGGS - If Senator Dobson takes that view, it is open to him to move the insertion of a provision in this Bill that, before any firm, Government, or individual can introduce contract labour into the Commonwealth, due notice of the intention shall be given, and the Minister must be convinced th'at labourers have been advertised for, and the persons desiring to introduce them under contract have been unsuccessful in their efforts to obtain them in Australia.

Senator Findley - We do not want contract labour here at all; it is fettered labour.

Senator HIGGS - I am merely pointing out what Senator Dobson should do to give effect to the views he has expressed. I say that all the labour required can be obtained in the Commonwealth. Let it be understood that we who may claim to specially represent the working classes of Australia; we, who have worked at the bench and in the mine, are prepared to allow Italians* Frenchmen, Germans, and any other Europeans to come here, provided they come as free men. That is the stipulation we made - that the labourer should land in Australia a free man. That is the stipulation we made as affecting the Britisher, and I think we should continue to make it. There is a provision in this Bill to permit Britishers to come in here without any restriction whatever.

Senator Playford - No, no. They, cannot come in with a view to affecting an industrial dispute or at rates of wages less than those current in Australia.

Senator HIGGS - Let us examine this proposal for a moment. "Under the Bill the Minister must approve of the contract, if it is shown that the employers have difficulty in obtaining within the Commonwealth! workers of at least the same skill and ability, and he must permit Britishers to come in.

Senator Playford - No; the contract must not be in contemplation of an industrial dispute, or for less than the current rates of remuneration in Australia, even where people of our own kith and kin are concerned.

Senator HIGGS - At the last election we went to the country, and to-morrow I should be prepared to stake my return upon the question that, if a Britisher wishes to come in, he shall come in as a free man, and make his contract after he has landed. On every platform the question was raised, and we were charged with -objecting to the introduction of persons of our own kith and kin. We pointed out that there was no objection to any Britishers coming in, provided that they made their contract after they arrived. .We pointed to the fact, as Senator de Largie' did yesterday, that in every year thousands of Britishers are arriving in the Commonwealth, and that no obstacle is put in the way of their introduction.

Senator de Largie - In many cases thev cannot get employment.

Senator HIGGS - That is very true. -This Bill may form a part of the Prime Minister's .immigration policy. I would point out how erroneous that view is, if he thinks that he is going to bring about prosperity by introducing contract labour into any industry. If we wish to attract population, we should endeavour to follow the programme which that eminent statesman, Mr. Richard Seddon, has been able to put in for.;e. New Zealand is attracting immigrants on- account of the prosperity which prevails therein. We, however,' cannot keep the people we already possess. Every now and again those who can afford to go away depart, in many cases with a certain amount of capital. If the prosperity of the Commonwealth is to be advanced, the States Parliaments will have to modify their laws, in order to enable people to get upon the land and make a living, out of it. it the land laws of the States be amended in that direction, we shall attract immigrants ; but if we allow contract labour to be introduced into any industry, we shall undoubtedly enhance the difficulties of the working classes who are already here, and cannot get employment. We shall drive away more people than we are now driving away. What we want, in order to attract immigrants, if I may be permitted to refer to the matter, by way of illustration, is a high protective Tariff. If the working classes had fair conditions, reasonable hours, and good wages, we should have no difficulty in connexion with any industry. I hope that if the Bill gets into Committee, as I am afraid it will, an honorable senator will propose the insertion of a clause to the effect that the Government shall furnish to the Parliament an annual, return, showing the names of the firms, corporations, or individuals who have introduced contract labour, the number of contract labourers who have been brought in, the places to which they have been taken, and the work for which they have been engaged.

Senator Croft - With an official report as to the state of the trade ?

Senator Lt Col Gould - And the wages paid.

Senator HIGGS - I think that the terms of the contract might reasonably be embodied in the return.

Senator Fraser - During the last twenty years not 500 contract labourers have been brought in. I do not know that 200 have been introduced.

Senator HIGGS - The object of this Bill is to permit contract labourers to be brought in.

Senator Fraser - If they were not brought in when there was no exclusion, what is the danger to be feared when there is exclusion?

Senator HIGGS - I believe that, sooner or later, we as a Parliament will regret our act, if we pass a measure of this kind. I do not believe that it has been asked for by any one except sugar planters in a large way, who want a number of men to be employed in groups. It is not asked for by the average employer, and certainly it is not asked for by the working classes. The men by whom it is asked for - the planters on a large scale - are not those whom we ought to encourage. The men whose presence we require, in order to create a great Commonwealth, are not those who employ themselves), "their sons', .and one or two hands, but those who cultivate a small block of land.

Senator Fraser - What we want are producers, whether small or great.

Senator HIGGS - In modern times, no country has succeeded by the employment of a small number of large planters, with a large quantity of gang labour. If we do succeed, it will be by the encouragement of small men. I submit that this Bill will injure the smaller planters, and do a very great deal of harm to the working classes throughout the Commonwealth.

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