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Thursday, 14 December 1905

Senator MULCAHY (Tasmania) - I was not a member of the Senate when the original Act was passed, or I should certainly have opposed the section which this Bill is amending. I always felt that the Commonwealth might make a few initial mistakes, for which it might be excused ; and this clause of the Immigration Restriction Act is the most grievous mistake of all. I read the Act with a great deal of astonishment and considerable regret, and I determined, when I was returned to this Chamber, that whenever an opportunity occurred to amend it in the direction now proposed, I should lend my assistance. The amendment proposed in clause 5 is most important. The original Act was designed to prevent people coming in under contract, and a contract labourer was defined as a prohibited immigrant, and, as such, classed with prostitutes, diseased people, and other undesirables, and he was absolutely forbidden to come in. One exception alone was made, and that permitted the admission of men assumed to possess some special skill not obtainable in the Commonwealth. But the Bill with which we are now dealing is not one forbidding the introduction of contract immigrants, but permitting their introduction under conditions I think fair to themselves and to the workers already in Australia. If this had been the character of the legislation first adopted, the six hatters episode would probably not have occurred. Certainly under this legislation such episodes are not likely to occur very frequently again. What happened in connexion with that case was, to my mind, an evasion of the law of the land by the Prime Minister of Australia, who, in the position he occupied, should have asserted and carried out the law.. I was going to say that he had to pretend to believe, but I will say that he had to express himself as being satisfied that these six hatters were specially skilled men.

Senator Millen - Although he was assured by the union that hatters equally skilled were walking about idle.

Senator MULCAHY - Every one who knows anything of the trade in Australia is aware that these men, though no doubt excellent workmen, were ordinary hatters, and they were being introduced at the highest rate of wages ruling in Australia at the time.

Senator Findley - Because, this Bill would permit their introduction without question the honorable member approved of it. He would have Australians walking about in idleness while contract labour was imported from abroad.

Senator MULCAHY - Senator Findleyneed not trouble to misconstrue my remarks.

I prefer to give expression to my views in my own way rather than have what I say distorted by the honorable senator. It seems to me that if there is one class of immigrant more desirable than another it is the man at Home who possesses sufficient foresight] to be certain that he will be able to secure employment for the support of himself and his family when he reaches Australia before he comes here. Yet it is this particular class of immigrant to whom up to the present time we have given the cold shoulder. There is a provision in this measure which I welcome, though it may seem somewhat sentimental. However we may be disposed to treat the people of other races, we should be prepared to make some exceptions in favour of our own kith and kin. Britishers will be able, under this clause, to come into Australia under certain conditions which are laid down, and which seem to me to protect the local workman. I am afraid that what is proposed is a very cumbersome method, for under this Bill the Minister is given the right to examine every contract under which persons are brought to Australia, and he is to be satisfied, first of all, that they are not brought here for the purpose of influencing in any unfair way any industrial dispute.

Senator Dobson - There will be only about a dozen cases of the kind in a vear.

Senator MULCAHY - I do not care how many there may be. I confess I should like .to see British people being brought to Australia under contract under the best conditions. I should certainly not like to see men brought here at lower rates of wages than are ruling in Australia, because I am as strongly in favour of the payment of fair wages to workmen as is any member of the Senate. In this Bill we are asked to recognise a fact which I think we ought to recognise, and that is that we are a part of a large Empire. We frequently hear America spoken of, and we know that that country has an anti-con.tract immigrant law.

Senator Findley - So has Canada.

Senator MULCAHY - But America is in a different position to that in which we find ourselves in Australia. The United States is a sovereign country, a large and powerful nation, possessing national rights which it can. exercise. It may be that American legislation is not wise'. [ doubt very much whether some of it is ; but the people of the United States practically admit any person who is healthy.

Senator Playford - No, no; they do not admit Chinese and Japanese.

Senator MULCAHY - Latterly .their legislation may have been more restrictive, but formerly they permitted any one who chose to enter the States, provided he were in good health, and not a criminal.

Senator Findley - TRey have seen the error of their -ways.

Senator MULCAHY - The fact that the people of the United States have passed certain legislation does not satisfy me that it would be wise for us to pass the, same legislation.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - Hear, hear. America has eighty millions of people.

Senator Findley - Canada, which is always trotted out as a splendid example, does the same thing.

Senator Millen - Whatever the American law9 may be, we know that there is a steady stream of people always pouring into the United States.

Senator MULCAHY - Honorable senators must bear in mind the great difference in the distance between Canada and any part of the United States and Great Britain, and the distance between Great Britain and Australia. It is a very serious thing for a man to contemplate a voyage to Australia from Great Britain. If he is to come out here, and bring his family with him, he will prefer to know that he will be certain to obtain employment when he arrives here. It is a comparatively small thing for a man to go from Great Britain to Canada or the United States, as, if he is not satisfied, it is possible for him within a few weeks to return to his native country, and possibly to the employment which he left. It is not so in the case of men coming to Australia, and instead of putting difficulties in their way it seems to me that we should, offer them every possible inducement. I have no wish to digress, but I agree with honorable senators who have expressed the opinion that we should offer inducements to immigrants to come here, by providing them with land. We surely have enough of it.

Senator Stewart - Where is it? It is monopolized.

Senator MULCAHY - We should have no great difficulty in taking the land from those who have monopolized it.

The PRESIDENT - I ask the honorable senator not to discuss the land question.

Senator MULCAHY - It seems to me that in the existing Act, while offering inducements to immigrants in one sentence, we reject them in another. I hope that this Bill will not be materially altered in. Committee. If I thought that in Committee it would be amended in such a way as to remove provisions which I consider improvements upon the existing law, I should vote against the second reading. Whilst I recognise the consistency of honorable senators who are prepared to oppose the Bill, I am glad to see that the members of the Labour Party, as a body, are going to support the Government in passing this legislation.

Senator Findley - No.

Senator MULCAHY - Perhaps I should have said that the majority of the members of the Labour Party will support the Government, and I shall be sorry if they do not.

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