Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 14 December 1905

Senator DE LARGIE (Western Australia) - I do not propose to speak at anygreat length on the second reading of this Bill, but when one intends to vote against a measure, he should be prepared to give a few reasons for doing so. I am opposed to this Bill, because I believe it will relax our existing legislation dealing with the introduction of contract immigrants. Instead of relaxing our contract labour Taw, we should endeavour to discover means to make it more effective, because there are many instances in which labourers have been brought into Australia under contract, to the detriment of Australian workers.

Senator Walker - We know that in many cases they have improved their conditions by coming out here in that way

Senator DE LARGIE - I have never known any men brought out here to take the place of workers already in Australia who have done any good for themselves or for those whom they have displaced. I know of men who were brought out here under contract, and upon whom the stigma of " black-legs " has lain for over a generation. I know of men brought into the Newcastle district nearly forty years ago in this way, and they are even to-day looked down upon, because of the conditions under which they came out to Australia. We can find instances of a much more recent date of men brought out to Australia under contract to do work in this country that white men were doing until they struck work against what they considered unjust terms. I recognise the rights of the Australian worker, and I see no reason for introducing contract labour to Australia.

Senator Walker - Australia for the Australians, and nobody else?

Senator DE LARGIE - I am prepared to give Australians the first choice for work offering in this country, and when the Australian workers are served, outsiders can come in. Until Australians' are served, there is, in my opinion, no room for outsiders, and we should not relax our laws in order to permit labourers to be brought into Australia under contract to take the place of those already in work, or to swell the ranks of the unemployed. That, in my opinion, would be cruel to those who are brought into the country, as well as to those who are already here.

Senator Walker - Is the honorable senator aware of any country in which there are no unemployed?

Senator DE LARGIE - Unfortunately, under our present industrial system, it is only too true that there is no country in which there are not unemployed, but that is certainly no reason why we should seek to increase the number of unemployed in Australia. Two blacks will never make a white. That is no reason why we should increase the number of our unemployed. I am sure that if Senator Walker had had any experience of what it means to be unemployed, he would be the last man here to take any step to increase the number of that army.

Senator Walker - Does the honorable senator mean to say that so long as there are twenty unemployed persons in Australia we are not to allow other persons to come in under contract?

Senator DE LARGIE - While there are unemployed persons in Australia we should not open the door to the introduction of contract labour. Let me give an instance of the way in which it has been used to the detriment of local workers.. In several States contract labour has been introduced. In Western Australia, Italians have been brought in, and employed in the gold mines. The circumstances surrounding their arrival were of so suspicious a nature that every one felt satisfied that they had come out under contract, especially when they displaced men who were much better miners than themselves. On their arrival in the State they went straight to the gold-fields, and dropped into a position as soon as they presented themselves, at a mine. It was proved that as miners they were inferior to the Australians, who had to go elsewhere and look for a living.

Senator Millen - In what way was that proved ?

Senator DE LARGIE - A Royal Commission was appointed to make an inquiry, but I am sorry to say that its conclusions were rather confusing. The Commission was unable to get evidence which would enable it to state beyond a shadow of doubt that the Italians had been imported under contract. Of course, it could not get evidence from the contract labourers ; but other Italians admitted that their countrymen had been brought out under contract. That system has been practised not only in

Western Australia, but also in Victoria. Take, for instance, the Scotchmen who were recently brought out from Lanarkshire - practically from the district in which I was born - to the coal mines of Gippsland. The Miners' Union of Gippsland were unable to prove in a Court of law that these men had been brought out under contract; but I had a statement from them to that effect. Realizing that it is, a greater disgrace for a Britisher to be displaced by a fellow-countryman than by a foreigner, I went down to the boat to see my fellowcountrymen on their arrival. I pointed out to them that they were going to Gippsland to take the bread out of the mouths of other workers who were fighting a battle which, in my opinion, was quite justifiable. I asked them not to go near the mines. The brother of the manager, Mr. McKenzie, was at their elbow, and, of course, they told me that they were not under contract. In a few days they found themselves at the Gippsland mines. When the true state of affairs, was disclosed, some of them rejected the work which in Scotland they had contracted to do. On their return from Gippsland I interviewed some of them, and they candidly told me that they had come out under contract.

Senator Millen - On their own showing, they are liars.

Senator DE LARGIE - In the first instance they were warned that if they were to tell the truth they would be put in gaol, and, therefore, in order to save their skins, they told me that they had not come out under contract.

Senator Walker - How could they be put in gaol for telling the truth?

Senator DE LARGIE - -The men were told that they would be put in gaol if they let it become known here that they had come out under contract.

Senator Pulsford - That is very like a whale.

Senator DE LARGIE - In view of facts which have since transpired, I am satisfied that on the second occasion they told me the truth. They were good workmen, better than the majority of the men who were working in the collieries. It was a credit to them that they refused 'to work under the local conditions,, and returned to the old country at their own expense. The man from whom I received this version was working his passage home on a White Star boat. These are instances concerning which there can be no doubt.

Senator Millen - There is very considerable doubt about them, because by the honorable senator's admission the men had previously told him an untruth.

Senator DE LARGIE - I think it can be easily understood by most persons how this man came to tell an untruth in the first instance. When he was met in Gippsland by the local miners, their wives, and their children, his manhood rose to the occasion, and rather than accept the work under the circumstances, he decided to work his passage ba:k to Lanarkshire. Whenever a question of this kind is under discussion the Labour Party are taunted with being anxious to keep the country to themselves, and to exclude their fellow countryman. But I contend that we are doing a greater kindness to the people in the old country by letting them know the true position of the labour market in Australia than by doing, anything calculated to induce them to come here, unless they had work to go to, and would not displace other men.

Senator Walker - Does the honorable senator recognise that men, by leaving home, give the people at home a better chance of living?

Senator DE LARGIE - I remember the old adage that " Charity begins at home." The home which I have in my mind, when I use that word, is Australia. My duty is to consider the people of this country before I consider the people of the old country. There is no escaping from the fact that the sugar plantations are the most likely places into which contract labour would be introduced. We all know that by the <;nd of 1906 the South Sea Islanders will have to be deported, and that cheap labour will be desired by (he large planters. During our trip to Queensland this year it was put to us plainly that the planters required, and must have, cheap contract labour. At the same time, we were made acquainted with the working conditions of the white men in the district. In the sugar mills and cane-fields, particularly in the sugar mills, the ordinary rate of pay was 25s. a week and rations, and for that remuneration the men ha,d to work twelve hours a day. Suppose that it were desired to initiate the 8-hour system in the cane-fields. Contract labour could be imported to work twelve hours a day. and we could do nothing to prevent Its introduction. In view of the climatic conditions and the nature of the work, an attempt should be made, I contend, to improve the lot of the white workers. The Bill leaves a loop-hole for the introduction of a very large number of contract labourers. It would not be desirable to see white working men displaced by contract labour.

Senator O'Keefe - It could not be brought in from any country other than Great Britain. . '

Senator DE LARGIE - I believe that the planters would experience some difficulty in getting men there; in fact, I do not think that they could.

Senator O'Keefe - Then the honorable senator's fear is groundless, because contract labour could not be imported from any country other than Great Britain.

Senator DE LARGIE - I am unwilling to enact any conditions in which I ,do not believe. The sugar industry is one in which better conditions ought to prevail. It is one of the most remunerative industries in Australia. In view of the dividends which it has yielded, it is just as able to adopt the 8-hour principle as is any other industry. Having regard to the amount of protection which it has received, better conditions ought to be introduced. It is simply nonsense to talk of white labour being, brought into the sugar districts while the working conditions comprise twelve hours a day. As the result of my visit, I feel satisfied that, even in Queensland, there is enough labour to supply the demand, but if there is not, certainly there is plenty of labour to be obtained in the other States, where, to my knowledge, men ate working at very low wages. From time to time it has been urged that the Labour Party do not wish to see' Australia peopled by outsiders, that our unemployed are professional loafers, and do not want work. Even in this debate we have been told that the unemployed hang about the cities instead of going to the country and seeking work where it could be found. Let my honorable friends go to the utmost limit of civilization in Australia and they will find men working for miserable wages. In Western Australia I have seen men working on the alluvial for a miserably low wage. In the mining districts of Australia, such as Kalgoorlie, there are armies of men looking for work. In coastal mining districts like Newcastle, I am satisfied that there is not enough work to keep the men fully employed more than three days a week.

Where, then, is the necessity for bringing men to Australia under contract? References have been made to the six hatters in the course of this debate. That is a very old gag, and an absurd one. I shall not refer to it at any length, because, even those who have been making most use of that gag must be getting somewhat tired of it. But some of the six hatters themselves recognise the fallacy that underlies this Bill. I hold in my hand a letter signed by one of them, and I will read it to give honorable senators an opportunity to see what they think of contract labour. The man who wrote this letter came out under contract, and is therefore in a position to express an opinion. He knows the conditions that prevail in the old country, and is by this time fairly well acquainted with the conditions prevailing in Australia. Mr. Sam. Grimshaw, the secretary of the Felt Hatters' Society of New South Wales, in a letter written to Mr. Tudor, a member of another place, says: -

I am instructed by the above Society to inform you that at the last meeting we unanimously carried a resolution against amending the Contract Clauses of the Immigration Restriction Act. We believe that it is only a move on the part of the Employers' Federation to give them an opening to import as many workmen into the country as they think fit ; and get the labour market overstocked, so as to bring wages down. Nearly every member of our Society was present at the meeting at which this resolution was carried. I remain, &c,

Sam. Grimshaw, Secretary.

Senator Millen - That is a letter from the union, not from Mr. Grimshaw personally.

Senator Walker - Did he not speak as the mouth-piece of the union?

Senator DE LARGIE -He says that almost every member of this society was present at the meeting at which this resolution was carried unanimously. Surely that is sufficient proof as to whether it expresses his opinions. He certainly was present as secretary.

Senator Millen - Having got into Australia himself, he wants to keep others out.

Senator DE LARGIE - He knows the conditions that prevail here, and he wishes to prevent contract labour being brought to our shores. I certainly agree with him. I am sufficiently well acquainted with unionism and with labour troubles to know that his opinion is that of nine-tenths of the trade unionists of Australia. Wherever there has been an opportunity to reduce wages, whether by bringing men from the old country or by taking them from one part of Australia to another, employers of labour have not hesitated to do it. I have seen that sort of thing done so frequently that I quite expect that if we legislate to enable it to be done advantage will be taken of the law. I am satisfied that if this Bill becomes law it will be one of the most dangerous Acts that have been passed in Australia. The Employers' Federation does not disguise the aim of its members, and if we give them legislative authority to bring out contract labour, they will hail the opportunity with great delight. I shall not give them a chance if I can prevent it.

Senator Millen - They had the opportunity for years, and never took advantage of it.

Senator DE LARGIE - I have given instances where it has been done since the commencement of this Parliament; once in Victoria, and on the second occasion in Western Australia. If the employers have a legal right to do it, they will not hesitate to make use of their power. Honorable senators do not need to be told that there are numbers of unemployed in this country who cannot find work to do. For my own part, I have just as strong an objection to Britishers coming here and displacing our own workmen as I have to kanakas or foreigners doing the same thing. I hope, at any rate, to see the particular clause of the Bill, which I look upon as one of the utmost dangerous proposals that has ever been brought before this Parliament, defeated by a large majority. Indeed, I do not think that any other Ministry that has yet been in office in Australia would have had the audacity to introduce a measure of the kind. I believe there is not another Parliament in Australia in which such an attempt would havebeen made to permit contract labour to be introduced. I cannot understand how it comes about that such a proposition has been made in a Parliament whose democratic principles are supposed to be so strong. I hope that the Federal Parliament will keep up its reputation for the kind of legislation we have hitherto passed, and will reject the proposal now made to us.

Suggest corrections