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Thursday, 14 December 1905

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) - I very much regret that in the course of this debate an honorable senator has thought fit to charge me with want of sincerity for having the presumption to take a course different from that which he proposes to take. He did not wait to enable me to say how I intended to vote in regard to this Bill. He assumed that I was going to take a certain course ; and in. that dogmatic manner which so often characterises him, accused me of having something up my sleeve, or that I had some underhand idea in supporting the second reading. Well, the honorable senator is welcome to his opinion. I only wish to say that I give him credit for being sincere in his opposition to the Bill. I could just as easily accuse him of having some motive in opposing it.

Senator Givens - I have a motive in opposing it.

Senator PEARCE - I could just as easily accuse him of having 'a wrong or an ulterior motive.

Senator Givens - I do not think that the report of my speech in Hansard will bear out the honorable senator's statement.

Senator PEARCE - I have no wish to placate the honorable senator in any way, and it will not influence my course whether he regards me as voting in the right or in the wrong. It would evidently be far more popular for me to vote against this Bill than in favour of it, because it is possible that a certain construction may be placed on the votes of those who support the second reading which will not be to our advantage.

Senator Millen - There is only one possible construction - that the honorable member recognises that he made a mistake in supporting the existing Act.

Senator PEARCE - I do not believe that I have made any mistake in this matter. It would be to my own advantage, if I were seeking my own advantage, to get up and trumpet about a White Australia, to make out that this Bill will break down the great fabric of policy which we have established, and that it is intended to facilitate, the introduction of millions of contract labourers into the Commonwealth to take work out of the hands of those who are here at the present time. It might be popular for me to describe the Bill as one to increase the number of (unemployed in Australia/, and to take away the wages of those who are now earning their living here. I could easily play that game, and no doubt it would be very popular for me to do so. But if I did' I should have to express those sentiments with my tongue in my cheek, for I should not believe them. But I claim that, in taking what may be the more unpopular, course, I am acting consistently with the vote I gave in the first Parliament of the Commonwealth. Furthermore I wish to point out what every honorable senator ought to know., that in voting for the second reading I do not commit myself to all the details of the Bill, nor do I say that I regard it as a perfect measure. In fact, if the honorable senator had taken the trouble to inquire, he would have known that I have already circulated an amendment which I think is calculated to make the Bill more drastic and to tighten the restrictions against the introduction of contract labour. I do not give my assent to all the provisions of the Bill. " There are some which I think require amendment. There are others for the rejection of which I shall vote.

Senator Givens - But, in the main, the honorable senator thinks it is an improvement on the original Act.

Senator PEARCE - I will give the honorable senator, before I sit down, my reasons for my opinions. No doubt there has been a big outcry against the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901 ; but only a bold man would contend that this, was wholly the result of inherent fault or weakness in the legislation. Much of the agitation was due to the desire of certain political parties, then in a minority, to make capital by decrying not only the Immigration Restriction Act, but all the legislation of the first Parliament, in an endeavour to justify their existence and gain the support of the electors. Therefore, I am not moved to support this Bill by any opposition that may have been shown to the original Act, most of that opposition being due to ignorance, prejudice, and party bias. There is, however, one objection which- has been raised to the Act, and which has sufficient weight to induce me to vote not only for the second reading of this Bill, but to support the Immigration Restriction Amendment Bill passed last night. I have for some time recognised the necessity to separate the legislation, the object of which is the attainment of a White Australia, for reasons which are purely racial, from legislation directed against the immigration of Europeans under contract on purely industrial' grounds. I have always held that the strongest argument in favour of a White Australia is the racial argument, and I have never based my support of that policy on industrial grounds. Contract immigration is a matter of industrial consideration ; no one could say that if we were to abolish entirely all the laws which regulate contract European labour, we should be placed in any racial danger, though we all admit that the unrestricted importation of such labour, even European and British, would be a serious menace to us industrially. I, therefore, welcome the present Bill, because it enables us to separate the legislation dealing with two great principles. Whatever conflict of opinion may justly arise in regard to the industrial question, the Immigration ' Restriction Act is based entirely on considerations of a racial character. It will strengthen the position of the advocates of a White Australia to have one measure dealing with the prohibition of coloured aliens and another measure dealing with the importation of Europeans under contract. Sub-section g of section 3 of the original Act, which it is proposed to amend, is the only one that now calls for consideration ; and we have to deal with the essential differences between that provision and the proposals in the amending Bill. It is well known to honorable senators that sub-section g does not alone govern the importation of contract labour into Australia, but that in order to make that provision effective there are regulations which have been altered from time to time, and are still in force, and that these, to a great extent, are drafted on the lines of the amending Bill. With perhaps one exception, the amending Bill is simply an amplification of paragraph g of section 3 of the original Act. and I see no objection to tha principle of that subsection being carried out in a separate measureThe only objection that occurs to me is that in one section of the amending Bill there may be loopholes which afford greater facilities for the entrance of immigrants into the Commonwealth under obnoxious forms of contract'. There are. however, certain advantages in the Bill which are not presented by paragraph g of section 3 of the principal Act, beyond, of course, those afforded by the regulations to which I have referred. Under paragraph g, of section 3, until the officer puts the test to the immigrant just prior to his landing, there is no official knowledge of any intention to import contract labour, unless the employer has applied to the Minister for permission to introduce workmen, because of the inability to obtain men of the skill required within the Commonwealth. When it is ascertained by the officer from the immigrant that a contract is in existence, and permission to land is refused, it is the duty of the employer to prove that workmen of the necessary skill are not available in the particular district for which the immigrant is destined. There is no necessity for the employer to. make his declarations on oath, and whatever he says has to be accepted, because it is, of course, impossible for the Minister to make inquiries in the district where the industry is carried on. Under the Bill, however, a copy of the contract has to be given to the Minister, and the terms of that contract have to be sworn to by the employer. As to the case of the six hatters, if the statements of Senator Mulcahy are correct, the principal Act has not achieved its purpose in the way that Senator Givens has claimed. Senator Mulcahy has stated that there was no scarcity of labour of this particular kind, and that had the principal Act been enforced, in letter and in spirit, the six hatters would not have been allowed to land. I do not think that is quite a correct statement of the case, but, if it is, what becomes of the contention of those who argue that all that is required is the existing Act? According to Senator Mulcahy, in the very case around which the controversy raged, the Minister was able to put aside the provisions of the Act.

Senator Mulcahy - By straining the law.

Senator Best - Is it not a question of discretion ?

Senator PEARCE - As Senator Best indicates, it is a matter of opinion formed bv the Minister on evidence laid before him by the employer. The six hatters case shows the necessity to fully set forth the law in a separate Bill; it shows the necessity for amplifying paragraph g of section 3 of the Act, because otherwise a dozen different Ministers might give a dozen' different interpretations.

Senator Mulcahy - The Bill does not merely amplify, but liberalizes the Act.

Senator PEARCE - The Bill amplifies the Act in the light of experience gained during the administration of the latter.

Senator Best - The Bill is really in the spirit of what was originally intended.

Senator PEARCE - I think it is.

Senator Mulcahyhas stated that any immigrant is admitted to the United States. M)y reading teaches me that thousands of persons are turned away from the American immigration depots i in Europe, as unfit, and inefficient.

Senator Gray - That has been the case for only the last two years.

Senator PEARCE - That has been the case for years past, and this stream of the unfit and inefficient has been diverted, where? To England, to swell the number of unfit and inefficient foreign residents already there. The dangers of this emigration have stirred public opinion to such an extent that last year,- even a conservative Government introduced a Bill with the object of remedying the evil. Then, again, in last year alone, 1,800 contract immigrants who attempted to land in the United States were sent back to Europe at the expense of the shipping companies by whom they had been carried there. Senator Turley has told us that the Employers' Federation are congratulating 1 themselves on the introduction of this Bill. It would have been more' correct to have said, as some supposed supporters of the Bill on the other side have said, that they congratulated themselves upon one subclause being in the Bill. When the Bill was first introduced, Chambers of Commerce, and Chambers of Manufacturers, and the Employers' Federation met it with bitter hostility, and their representative organs of the press, like the Argus, before this paragraph was introduced into the measure, pointed out that its effect would be to make even more stringent the provisions already existing with respect to the importation of contract labour. The measure was declaimed against from one end of Australia to the other, until the concession contained in the paragraph to which I refer was agreed to in another place. Senator Turley said that employers would go to the other side of the world to obtain labour, and would succeed in obtaining it only by misrepresentation. The honorable senator used that as an argument against the Bill, but I remind him that if employers make misrepresentations when they come to draw up the contract, unless the intending immigrant is a very simple person,, he will see that misrepresentations have been made, because the contract must set out the conditions of labour, wages, and hours. If they are stated truly in the contract, there can be no mis representation; and if the employer puts words that are false into the contract, he will" be brought within the penal provisions of this Bill. If the Bill gets into Committee, I propose to move an amendment that will make it even more certain that persons guilty of such misrepresentations will meet with the punishment they deserve. Honorable senators will agree that if a man brings another several thousand miles to Australia, as the result of a misrepresentation, it is right that he should be adequately punished.

Senator Fraser - No persons are brought here in that way.

Senator PEARCE - I do not say that they are, but Senator Turley has said so, and has used that as an argument against this Bill. Senator de Largie instanced the mining industry as one that would be affected by this Bill. I agree with the honorable senator that in the mining centres of Western Australia there are hundreds of willing workers without employment. But I do not for a moment believe that if this Bill is passed there will be one man brought out under its provisions to compete in the overstocked labour market pf our gold-fields. It must be borne in mind that if men are brought out under contract to work on the Western Australian gold-fields it can only be under the canal-ditions existing there. The miners of Western Australia have proved by their record that they are the most efficient miners in the world, and it will be no advantage to an employer to introduce a less efficient miner from England or elsewhere to work in Western Australia under the same conditions as those now ruling there.

Senator DAWSON (QUEENSLAND) - I admit that there are some good Queensland miners in Western Australia.

Senator PEARCE - We have some good Queenslanders there. The mining industry of Western Australia is regulated under Arbitration Act awards, and no employer importing a miner under contract could do so at a less rate of wages than men already on the gold-fields are obtaining. Therefore there could be no possible advantage in an employer doing what Senator de Largie has suggested. I come now to the vexed question as to whether we should differentiate between British labour and other European labour. I confess that I dislike any differentiation between any of the European races. I believe that it is the destiny of this Continent to be peopled by the European races, andI dislike making any distinction between them, even thought it should be in favour of our own race. To me it seems that the provision dealing with this matter in the Bill is a concession to national prejudice. But I recognise that there is to be this said for it - that the economic conditions to which the Britisher is accustomed more nearly approach those under which we live in Australia than do those adopted by the other European races.

Senator O'Keefe - Surely he had a better claim upon Australia than a man of any other of the other European races.

Senator Best - The fact that Australia is a part of the Empire should be taken into consideration.

Senator PEARCE - I admit that it is a factor which should not be overlooked in dealing with the question.

Senator Fraser - We might have 50,000 foreigners here, and the Empire might be fighting the country to which they belong.

Senator PEARCE - My experience of the foreigner is that in Australia he becomes a good Australian.

Senator O'Keefe - To make a concession to British sentiment is not a bad thing altogether.

Senator PEARCE - I did not say that it was. What I said was that I consider that it is a concession to national prejudice. I recognise that, in favour of it it can be said that when the Britisher comes here he becomes an Australian more quickly than do the men of other European races. For instance, we have had some trouble with Italians, many of whom have been brought to Australia under contract. They have been a source of trouble on the Western Australian gold-fields, because they settled in one locality, formed a little Italian colony, and some time elapsed before the colony was broken up and the men distributed throughout the gold-fields. I confess that the clause gives me a considerable amount of trouble. There are many arguments which would impel me to vote for it. The difficulty to which I have referred in connexion with the immigration of Italians has arisen, as honorable senators are aware, in a more exaggerated form in the United States. In New York, for instance, there is an Italian colony, a Hungarian colony, and other colonies of foreign immigrants.

Senator Best - The same thing applies to London.

Senator PEARCE - That is so; and these colonies of foreigners make it difficult to carry on the national, political, and industrial life of the country to which they emigrate, because they import with them ideas that are foreign to it.

Senator Best - They celebrate the festivals of their native country, and keep them up regularly.

Senator PEARCE - That is so. Italians, for instance, really plant a little Italy in the midst of the country to which they emigrate. Wherever this kind of thing occurs, I admit that it is a danger; but if we deal effectively with the contract labour provisions which I have referred to, such a difficulty as that which arose in Western Australia in connexion with the introduction of Italians cannot occur. If the contract sections of the Act had been faithfully administered, many of those Italian immigrants would not have been permitted to land, because it might easily have been proved that there were a sufficient number of white Australians available to do the work for which they were introduced. Whilst I recognise the force of the argument to which I have referred, I also meet it by saying that it rests with the Government by a faithful administration of the Act to prevent such a state of affairs as I have condemned from arising. From my reading, I learn that in the United States of America, precisely the same kind of thing occurs. Numbers of Hungarians, Poles, and people of other European nations have formed little Hungarian, Polish, and Italian colonies in the cities and mining fields of America; and in nearly every case those people were brought in undercontract. But if this law is faithfully administered, we shall be able to prevent the importation of these people to special localities in such numbers as would enable them to engraft their ideas, economics, and industries upon ours. Viewing the question from both sides, I feel that it will be my duty to vote against this particular sub-clause. I feel constrained to treat all European nations in the same way, and I think I should not be acting justly if I were to agree to differentiate between them by allowing British immigrants to be brought here under contract when there might be other men unemployed, and the immigrants introduced might be brought into an already overstocked labour market.

Senator Dobson - The honorable senator denies the great axiom of the world that "blood is thicker than water."

Senator PEARCE - If a Britisher were brought into Australia under these conditions, and thus added one more to an already overstocked labour market, and lowered wages, the immigrant would himself be a sufferer, because, as soon as his contract expired, he would have to battle in the open, wage market.

Senator Fraser - He might go on the land, and be the means of employing labour.

Senator Findley - He is more likely to go under the land under existing conditions.

Senator PEARCE - So long as Senator Fraser and other propertied Victorians allow the lands of the Western District of this State to be locked up he will have no opportunity to go on the land.

Senator Fraser - The Western lands are being cut up every day.

Senator PEARCE - I shall not detain the Senate further. In- Committee I shall endeavour to have the provision to which I have referred struck out of the principal Act, and I propose to move one or two amendments which, I hope, will have the effect of making the law more stringent than is proposed by this Bill.

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