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Thursday, 14 December 1905

Senator TURLEY (Queensland) - I think there is no doubt that the second reading of the Bill is going to be carried. When we see such a combination of forces gathering behind the Government there is some justification for a belief that the Senate is coming round to the opinions which have always been held by honorable sena-; tors opposite, and possibly the second reading of the Bill will be carried by a decent majority. I do not believe that the Government had any particular intention to £0 in the direction indicated by the provision to which so much reference has been made, and which was not in the Bill when it was introduced, but which apparently is the only excuse brought forward for it here. Senator Symon has said that the only reason he is voting for the Bill is because it contains paragraph b of clause 5. The honorable senator has said that he wishes it went further, and that all the restrictions of the original Act were wiped out altogether. At all events, he recognises that this Bill is a step in the right direction, that is, from his point of view. I believe that the Employers' Federation, and such bodies, have been passing resolutions pointing out that the persistency of the Opposition has induced the Government to take one considerable step in the right direction.

Senator Fraser - No, has frightened the Government.

Senator TURLEY - I do not know that it would be right to say that the Opposition have frightened the Government. I do not think that even the Employers' Federation submit that contention.. They base their expression of gratification upon the fact that the Bill takes a considerable step in the direction in which they have always suggested this legislation should go. I do not know that we should be guided by the opinion of the members of the Employers' Federation, or that the stir made about the legislation passed in 1901 should influence honorable senators who sat behind th, Government that passed that legislation. I have always held that it is a good thing to stop any person from coming into Australia under contract. I would have no contract immigration at all if I had mv way. I was not very strongly impressed by this measure until I heard the speech of Senator Symon, but when he pointed out the absurdity of various clauses, and the number. of provisions under which people might suffer inconvenience, I thought it would be better to prevent that kind of thing, and that is why I suggested that the honorable senator should vote against the second reading. The legislation on the statute-book at the present time is known, and we must be aware that when legislation is first introduced people who believe that :it will interfere with them in any way usually raise a ^considerable commotion. When this legislation was first passed, the people who have always endeavoured to do what they could to flood Australia with cheap labour, whether under contract or otherwise, made a great noise about it, through their press organs. The press references to the matter were taken up by newspapers published in the old country, as they afforded the only means of gleaning the opinions of the people of the Commonwealth on this subject. They have taken up the cry, with the result that it has probably induced a number of persons in the old country to believe that men would not be admitted, even if they came out under contract. But it has not yet been proved that one person who has come out under contract has been kept out. A contract immigrant may have been called upon to go through certain formalities, but as soon as he has done so, he has been allowed to go ashore, and follow his occupation. In Queensland we have had some experience of persons coming out in a fairly large number. That State is now paying, I think, ,£130,000 a year upon the sum which it spent in bringing out immigrants. But even those persons were not brought out under contract. They came Out because certain persons had misrepresented the state of affairs in Australia With what result? Soon after their arrival they went wherever it was. possible for them to get employment: Clause 3 provides that British subjects, born in the United Kingdom, or the decendants of such persons, shall be allowed to enter under contract. In Queensland we have had some opportunities of studying the tactics of large employers of labour in the North? Seven years ago the standard wage for a labouring man on one large railway job was 10s. per day. The contractors kept standing advertisements in all the newspapers throughout Australia, to the effect that in that district there was plenty of work for any persons who might choose to go there. The advertisements induced hundreds of persons to go. On their arrival they were offered employment at the usual rate of wages. When a very large number of persons had been attracted to the district, what happened? No longer was 10s. per day paid. The men had to accept any wage, because they were unable to leave the district unless they walked away with their swags on their backs.

Senator Millen - If they had gone there under contract that could not have happened.

Senator TURLEY - Most decidedly it could have happened, because the job lasted over three years. Suppose that the men who had gone to the district under a six months' contract. At the end of that time the contractor could have lowered the wages, because the market would then have been flooded with men. It cost the men, I suppose, £6 on £7 to go from Sydney to the district, but for ^13 per head a contractor could bring in men by steamer from the old country. If a contractor had a large job in progress, and he considered that the wages were too high, he could import men under contract just as easily as he could indent goods. He could swamp a district for very little more than it would cost him to bring up men from the southern part of Australia. Some honorable senators point out that the contract labourer would come with a surety that he would have some employment when he landed. It should be remembered that a contract could be made just sufficiently long to . enable the employer to recover the money which he had advanced in importing the labour. When a number of contract immigrants had been brought into a district, it would be utterly impossible for the Government to prevent the wages from being brought below the minimum rate. This proceeding is . by no means novel in Australia. In the western part of Queensland, employers have objected fO' employ men who for years had been earning their livelihood at sheds in one place or other. The men made themselves objectionable to the employer through belonging to an organization, and when they returned to the district they were told that there was no employment for local men because Victorian money had been invested in the industry, and an order had been issued by the company to bring in men from Victoria. Any one who knows the cost of proceeding from Melbourne to the middle of Queensland will realize that such employers would be prepared to shut out local men when the roll was called. The only reason which some honorable senators have given for supporting "the Bill is that it would allow persons of our own nationality to come in under contract without any restriction. But, in my opinion, there are persons in the British Empire whom it would not touch.

It does not say that any British subject may come in, but it says that " British subjects born in the United Kingdom, or their descendants born in any part of the British Empire," may enter. There are quite a number of persons in the British Empire to whom it would not apply. For instance, the people of Lower Canada are, for the' most part, descended, not from people born in the United Kingdom, but from French persons who settled in Canada. They have not, to any considerable extent, intermarried with either British subjects born iri the United Kingdom, or the descendants of such persons.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - Will the honorable senator assist us to insert the words "or descended from a FrenchCanadian " ?

Senator TURLEY - If it is to apply at all, it seems to me that it ought to apply all round to British subjects. Does it include the Eurasian?

Senator Playford - -Decided lv not.

Senator TURLEY - If a British subject, who was born in the United Kingdom, went to India and married an Indian, then his children could claim to be descended on one side from a British subject born in the United Kingdom.

Senator Playford - We shall apply the language test to Eurasians.

Senator TURLEY - Take, again, the case of a man born in Guernsey or Jersey.

Senator Clemons - Surely the honorable senator would not quibble about a Guernsey man or a Jersey man?

Senator TURLEY - All I am anxious to elicit is whether the clause includes the descendants of British subjects born in the British Isles.

Senator Guthrie - Born in the United Kingdom. .

Senator TURLEY - Does the clause include all British subjects who are living within the Empire, or where is the line going to be drawn. I have heard a great deal about the legislation that was passed in 1 901 not being satisfactory. I do not believe that if we took the opinion of Australia to-day we should find that 20 per cent, of the people are dissatisfied with that legislation.

Senator de Largie - Is not the Employers' Association dissatisfied?

Senator TURLEY - I quite admit that. It has been dissatisfied ever since the legislation was passed. Here is a resolution which the Employers' Federation has passed, complimenting the Opposition in this. Parliament on its recent action : -

That the thanks and congratulations of this federation be forwarded to Mr. Dugald Thomson, M.H.R., for having successfully proposed and carried an amendment to the Contract Immigrants Bill, exempting white British subjects from the operation of the more drastic portion of the law, this federation regarding the concession obtained as a good step in the right direction.

If I voted on the side of the people who carried a resolution like that, I should think at once that I was on the wrong side.

Senator Playford - Does not the honorable senator think that they should also thank Mr. Deakin and Mr. Watson?

Senator TURLEY - When, from a source like the Employers' Federation, commendation such as that is received, it ought to be enough to convince the members of the party to which I belong, who support this Bill, that they are on the wrong track. We know, from the opinions expressed by honorable senators opposite, who represent the employers' party more than do any other members of the Senate, and who share in the ideas and aspirations of that party, that they accept this Bill as a small modicum of what they hope ultimately to effect. Honorable senators opposite have said, " We want this immigration legislation wiped out altogether ; we want Australia to be a country to which' men can come, contract or no contract ; and we believe that when any person wants to get labour into Australia he should be able to get it from Europe or America so long as the people he brings out are of the white race." This Bill affords opportunities for any amount of misrepresentation on the part of those who have induced people in other countries to come to Australia under contract.I know it may be said that immigrants who are brought out under the measure will be protected so far as concerns their wages and their hours of labour. But when they are told that the place where they are to work is so and so, and that the wages which they are to receive are the wages of the district in which they will work, the whole truth is not told to them. There is plenty of scope for misrepresentation. Let me give an illustration. I travel through a good part of this country every year. I travelled hundreds of miles last year. I saw large numbers of unemployed everywhere I went. Travelling through the northern parts of Queensland I saw numbers of men just scratching a bare living in the mineral districts; I also saw large numbers on the roads looking for employment. They were travelling in parts of the country where they would not have been at that time of the year if they had been able to find employment in any other places. The wages paid in the parts of the State to which I allude are very low. .

The PRESIDENT - Does the honorable senator think that that has anything to do with this Bill?

Senator TURLEY - I think it has. When we find that there are large numbers of men who are working for a very low wage - though the amount might not be considered low by the people who are employing them, and who might desire to bring out contract immigrants, under misrepresentations as to wages - I say that decidedly it has a good deal to do with the Bill. It is because such things can be done that I intend to vote against the second reading. Take a place where 2,000 or 3,000 men are employed, and where we will say the wages are 8s. per day. Suppose the employers think it necessary to reduce wages. Suppose the place was Mount Morgan ; though I do not believe it would be, because the employers there pay very fair rates, and that they wanted to reduce wages all round. Suppose this Bill were passed containing a section enabling them to ship hundreds of men from Great Britain to Rockhampton ; that they did so, and that the employers were under contract to pay these men 8s. a day for six months, that sum being the ruling rate in the district. The employers could bring them in,, knowing very well that the passage money would be refunded to them. It would be part of the agreement that the labourers should pay their own passage money, and, as the wages were earned, instalments would be deducted for that purpose. Suppose the men were brought out a few hundreds at a time. The employers could say to the men already employed, " We are bringing out a considerable number of men who we think are better able to do the work than you.," and they could dismiss hundreds of the workmen already in their employment. But how long would it be before there would be such an over-supply of labour in that district that the employers would be able to say - "We do not think we can keep this going any longer; as dividends have fallen off lately, it is necessary for us to reduce wages." They would have the power to do that, and they would not scruple to exercise it. It is because 1 realize that we are putting this power into the hands of men who have shown in. the past that they are prepared to take advantage of every possible opportunity to reduce wages, and to make the conditions of workmen worse financially, that I object to putting any additional weapon in their hands, and shall vote against the second reading of the Bill.

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