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Thursday, 14 December 1905

Senator O'KEEFE (Tasmania) - Senator Gouldhas had a great deal to say about the desirability of passing this Bill, in order to remove certain restrictions now imposed on immigration. ' At the outset I should like to say that the honorable senator is a member of a political party whose policy has done more 'than anything else in Australia to make it impossible for immigrants, especially of the artisan class, to obtain work when they come here. If the honorable senator would support a policy which would enable artisans already in Australia to secure work, and would give increased opportunities for desirable immigrants to obtain employment when they came here, we should not hear so much about the dearth of population in Australia.

Senator Millen - Does the honorable senator refer to the policy which kept population in Victoria?

Senator O'KEEFE - I say that the policy of which Senator Millen is also a supporter has done more to drive native Australian artisans out of Australia, and to prevent the introduction of desirable immigrants, than all the industrial legislation and restrictive immigration legislation which has been passed either by the States or by the Commonwealth.

The PRESIDENT - I point out that, in my opinion, this Bill does notraise the general question of an immigration policy. The question is one merely of the removal of a restriction which might apply to a few hundreds of people. I therefore deprecate the discussion of the whole question of immigration and emigration on this Bill. Land monopoly and such questions are not dealt with in this Bill.

Senator O'KEEFE - I am anxious to obey the rule of the Chair; but I find that this is a Bill relating to immigrants under contract to perform manual labour in the Commonwealth.

The PRESIDENT - Immigrants under contract, that is all.

Senator O'KEEFE - I thought that it opened up the question of the immigration, especially of people to perform manual labour under contract.

Senator Clemons - Is that the question the honorable senator was dealing with fust now?

Senator O'KEEFE - I should have had no difficulty in connecting the remarks I made just now with this Bill. Therewould have been no necessity to pass immigration restriction laws if a policy differentto that to which I was referring had been pursued in the Commonwealth. But, ifyou, sir. do not desire that subject to be discussed, I shall pass on.

The PRESIDENT - The honorable senator will see that, to a certain extent, almost every question under the sun - the question of free-trade or protection, the question of land monopoly, and1 all manner of questions - might be considered to be somewhat relevant to the subject-matter of the Bill. But is it advisable to discuss all those questions?

Senator O'KEEFE - I do not know that it is advisable to discuss all those questions, but so far it has not been done. A fair amount of latitude has been allowed to the various speakers, and of course those who wish to reply from a different stand-point desire to go over the same ground to some extent. However, I shall pass on with the remark that if we had a protective, instead of a free-trade policy, there would not be so much need for enacting this legislation. I am in favour of the Bill being read a second time, and while I do not think that there is as great a necessity for its introduction as some speakers have stated, still I recognise that, perhaps, the Government have taken a wise step. The only clause which will provoke much difference of opinion is that which makes an exemption in favour of British subjects born in the United Kingdom, or the descendants of such persons. I think that a very large majority of honorable senators will not have any objection to offer to the rest of the Bill. The exemption in favour of certain British subjects is made in clause 5, and it has a relation to clause 4, which says : -

Every contract immigrant, unless otherwise prohibited by law, may land in the Commonwealth if the contract is in writing, and is made by or on behalf of some person named in the contract, and resident in Australia, and its terms are approved by the Minister.

Clause 5 goes on to provide that the Minister shall approve of the contract only under certain conditions. So far, the Bill makes exactly the same provision as does the Act. It provides that the Minister shall approve of the terms of the contract -

1.   When a copy is filed with him, and, if he so requires, is verified by oath ;

2.   If in his opinion -

(a)   the contract is not made in contemplation of or with a view of affecting an industrial dispute ; and

(b)   . . . there is difficulty in the employer's obtaining within the Commonwealth a worker of at least equal skill and ability ; and

(c)   the remuneration and other terms and conditions of employment are as advantageous to the contract immigrant as those current for workers of the same class at the place where the contract is to be performed.

By one, and only one, of the paragraphs of clause5 is an exemption made in favour of contract immigrants who are British subjects, bom in the United Kingdom, or the descendants of such persons. That is the issue which will divide the Senate to a very large extent. This morning Senator Higgs expressed very great fear that we should weaken our legislation on this subject if we assented to that exemption.

Senator Givens - It is a very wellgrounded fear, too.

Senator O'KEEFE - I think that even Senator Higgs and Senator Givens will admit that fhere is room for much argument on that question.

Senator Givens - You can argue on any conceivable subject.

Senator O'KEEFE - Yes; but your arguments might be pretty empty.

Senator Givens - Then they would resemble the honorable senator's very much.

Senator O'KEEFE - I was not referring to the honorable senator's arguments, because they are generally very full - of fury, froth, and! sound, if nothing else. The chief fear in the mind of Senator Higgs was that the sugar plantations in Northern Queensland might be flooded with cheap contract labour from some other part of the world, if the Bill were enacted, and of course he intends to vote against the second reading. But there is very little probability of contract labour being brought from the United Kingdom to Queensland or any tropical portions of Australia, whether they be British subjects born therein or the descendants of such persons. Senator Givens will be able to tell us whether any number of contract labourers have been brought from Great Britain to work in the sugar plantations of Queensland, or in the tropical regions of Australia. On the contrary, if the Bill be passed, would not contract labour be likely to come from countries other than the United Kingdom ? If that is thefear which Senator Higgs entertains,

I would point out that it is not well founded, because in that regard, in principle, although in different terminology, the Bill is a repetition 'of the Act, except that it exempts certain British subjects.

Senator Mulcahy - It is a very important exemption, though.

Senator O'KEEFE - But with regard to the danger or the possibility of cheap contract labour being brought in to perform any kind of work where, for instance, Senator Gould thinks it is necessary, where so many who support that honorable senator and his party say it is necessary to have cheaper work, that is in the tropical regions

Senator Lt Col Gould - I never said a word about cheaper work.

Senator O'KEEFE - If I misunderstood the honorable senator, I am sorry, because 1 wish to argue the question fairly. My reading leads me to think that any cheap labour which might be required to work the tropical portions of the Commonwealth would have to be obtained from countries outsidethe British Isles. If my view be correct, these persons would not be able to enter the Commonwealth under the Bill, if passed, any more than they can under the present Act.

Senator Clemons - What about the south of Australia?

Senator O'KEEFE - The same restriction applies to people coming from countries outside the British Isles, no matter what part of the Commonwealth they might wish to come to.

Senator Millen - Yes ; but it opens the doors to Britishers to come to the south of Australia.

Senator O'KEEFE - I should have thought that the honorable senator would have gathered that I am not averse to the exemption in favour of British subjects born in the United Kingdom, or the descendants of such persons.

Senator Givens - The honorable senator is in favour of Britishers coming in under contract.

Senator O'KEEFE - With the safeguards placed round their introduction by clause 3, I cannot see that there is any reason to fear danger to any workmen in Australia. Now, what are the class of workmen whom we are likely to get from the United Kingdom if the Bill be passed in this form? In the first place. we might get miners. The spirit of unionism, which is pretty strong, and sometimes militant, on the mining fields of Australia, probably had its birth with the British miners, because, as a rule, the British miner whom I have met, whether he has come from Cornwall or any other county in England, has generally been a unionist, and has never been anxious to work at less than the current wages or under unfair conditions.

Senator de Largie - There is no trade union in Cornwall.

Senator O'KEEFE - The honorable senator has been in England, and, as I have not, I must bow to his superior knowledge.

Senator Gray - The honorable senator's statement! is quite correct.

Senator O'KEEFE - If Senator de Largie says that there is no trade union in Cornwall, I can only say that I have come in contact with hundreds of Cornish miners, and that, with very few exceptions, they have been trade unionists, and have believed in keeping up fair wages and conditions. If we are not to get a class of British workman brought in under contract to work in the mining fields, or in employments where it! has been contended bv some persons cheaper wages are essential in order to secure the continuance of tropical industries, then we are reduced either to tradesmen or to general labourers. I have been informed on, I think, very good authority that in Great Britain skilled workers, if good tradesmen, can get, even at the present time, wages and conditions about as good as those which prevail in Australia - that is, after allowing for the difference in the cost of living. I am also informed that the best class of tradesmen are not likely to leave the old country in order to come out under contract at less wages or with worse conditions. That limits us to the inferior class of tradesmen. I have sufficient confidence inthe skill, brain, ability, and application of my fellow Australian tradesmen and artisans to believe that they could compete with British workmen who might come to Australia, whether the Bill be passed or not. Believing that an influx of cheap labour could only come from countries outside the British Isles, and seeing that the only exemption in the Bill is in favour of British subjects born in the United Kingdom, or the descendants of such persons, I fail to see where any danger can possibly arise. What was the original purpose in framing the contract section of the present Act? I have always understood, and it! has never been contradicted, that the main purpose in the minds of those who proposed and secured the insertion of that section - and I would remind honorable senators opposite, when they say so much about the six hatters, that members of their own party voted for it-

Senator Clemons - Who did?

Senator O'KEEFE - I refer to members of the honorable senator's party in another place. In fact, members of all parties voted for the contract labour section of the Immigration Restriction Act; yet they made a party cry about the six hatters. What was the original intention of those who secured the insertion of that section? It was this: That labour should not' be imported at the 'time of an industrial difficulty to break down a strike, or should not be imported when a strike appeared to be in contemplation, cr should not be imported under contract to lower wages and labour 'conditions in Australia. Those intentions are just as strongly maintained in the amending Bill as in the original Act. It says that even if workmen come from Great Britain - even if they are our own brothers, born of the same fathers and mothers -they are not allowed to come into Australia under contract unless the Minister approves of the contract, and unless it is clearly set out in writing that they are to receive the wages current in that part of Australia where their work is to be performed.

Senator Clemons - Under the old Act, they could not come in at twice the wages.

Senator O'KEEFE - An exemption is only made in favour of Britishers.

Senator Mulcahy - Under this Bill the six hatters could have come in easily.

Senator O'KEEFE - Why were they kept out for a time? Simplv because the gentleman who wanted to bring them in refused, out of pique or because of his objection to Federal legislation, to conform to a simple regulation.

Senator Millen - They would never have been let in at all except for the public outcry.

Senator O'KEEFE - That statement, nonsensical though it be, is on a par with assertions at the last election about the six hatters, the Petriana myth, and all that sort of thing.

Senator Clemons - They were let in because the Government were afraid.

Senator O'KEEFE - They were let in because the gentleman who contracted to bring them in was able to satisfy the Minister that he could not get the necessary labour in Australia.

Senator Millen - There was plenty of it available at the time.

Senator O'KEEFE - He also was 1 able to satisfy the Minister that the men were going to receive not less than the current rates of wages. They would not have been let in, notwithstanding the outcry, unless it had been made clear that they were to receive wages equal to those paid for similar labour in Australia. This Bill absolutely safeguards the workmen of Australia- in that respect.

Senator Clemons - The ' original Act was silent as to wages and conditions. When we tried to get such provisions inserted in the Act Senator O'Ke'efe's party r would not have them.

Senator O'KEEFE - What we did was ' with a view to conserve the best interests of Australian workers. Senator Clemons cannot say that' that was his object.

Senator Givens - Does the honorable senator admit that we made a mistake in passing the original Act?

Senator O'KEEFE - No, I do not.

Senator Givens - Then why is he going to vote to amend it?

Senator O'KEEFE - In spite of the cheap laughter of honorable senators opposite, I am not to be .deterred from doing what I believe to be the right thing. Had it not been for the absolute falsity of the statements made by the supporters of the Right Honorable G. H. Reid at the last election regarding our immigration legislation - had it not been for the damnable misrepresentations at that time - there would have been no necessity for the present Government to bring forward this Bill. I admit that even before we received a communication from the Agents-General, and quite irrespective of the value to be placed upon it, owing to the misrepresentations made bv the Reidites- at the last election, and since then, purely for party political purposes, Australia has suffered to some extent in the eyes of people in other parts of the world. But on their heads be the blame.

Senator Millen - The honorable senator is backing down very gracefully.

Senator O'KEEFE - I am riot backing down. If Australia has suffered - and I admit that she has - one party only is to blame for the lies and misrepresentation.

Senator Fraser - We have suffered because of the Act which I hold in my hand.

Senator Givens - The honorable senator is going to justify that misrepresentation by truckling to it.

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