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Thursday, 14 December 1905

Senator BEST (Victoria) - The vigorous and energetic denunciation of this measure by Senator Stewart, we owe, I think, to a large extent, to his somewhat extravagant imagination. He would have us believe that the reason for the incorporation of certain contract labour provisions in the Immigration Restriction Act was due to the fact that we were threatened with an invasion of Australia by hordes of workmen.. As a matter of fact, those provisions were inserted in. the most casual way, not because of any imminent danger, but merely as a reasonable and wise precaution against possible events. The real and only object was to provide against the introduction,, during the course of an industrial dispute, of workmen or labourers under such circumstances and conditions as would unfairly interfere in the settlement of that dispute; and it is only by reason of subsequent experience that we have discovered that the legislation goes far beyond what was intended. Speaking subject to correction, I believe there was not a division on the clauses, honorable senators being impressed with their fairness. I think, moreover, that Senator Stewart is a little unfair when he contends that the Government, in introducing this Bill, are. weakening in their former robust ideas as to the introduction of contract labour. In my opinion, the Government are fairly interpreting what was originally intended ; and they would not be justified in ignoring the results of the introduction of these particular provisions. Largely, I agree with clause 5, so far as its object is concerned ; but the fact remains that it has resulted in a campaign of misrepresentation and calumny, which has caused Australia and Australia's credit to suffer very seriously.

Senator Millen - The honorable senator has himself said that the section went further than was intended.

Senator BEST - That has been my contention. That fact cannot be reasonably disputed, and it has resulted in serious discredit tq Australia. I am free at the same time to admit that the misrepresentations to which I refer have largely emanated from Australia herself, and are the result of the somewhat wicked and unfair reflections of unpatriotic Australians. Nothing is more nauseating to an Australian visiting the old country than to be constantly listening to the vile slanders repeated about these provisions.

Senator Dobson - We do not hear them about Canadian or New Zealand legislation. It is our own fault.

Senator BEST - What I am urging is that this provision, because of the misrepresentation made concerning it, has been unfortunate. I contend that we cannot afford to hold a discredited position in the mother country. The progress of this community largely depends upon the preservation of the most cordial relations, between Australia and the mother country. Therefore, when the impression prevails within the limited circle of those who give attention to Australian matters, that we do not desire immigration in Australia, a condition of affairs has been reached which we cannot afford to ignore. It is, in my opinion, to some extent the result of the present form of the section, and it is in order to remove that unfortunate stigma from the reputation of Australia in the old country, that the Government have introduced this Bill. In my judgment, the force and effect of the section is not in any way relaxed, and the present Bill, while it modifies the form in which the provision is expressed, more fully interprets what we originally intended. We must try to bring about the most cordial relations between ourselves and the people of the mother country, and holding that view, the concession in this measure in favour of the Britisher is, to my mind, one of the most satisfactory features of it. Some exception has been taken to it by certain honorable senators, but I am not prepared to ignore the fact that there is some obligation on the part of Australia to give a preference to Britishers to some extent in regard to labour conditions in the way here proposed, and in regard to trade as well, so far as we can do so, in justice to ourselves. I, therefore, welcome the innovation in this respect which finds a place in the Bill, especially when I recognise that it is not intended for a mo-' ment to introduce any British workmen into Australia under contract, except upon Australian conditions. If we are satisfied that under this Bill our own brethren in other parts of the British Empire can be brought- into Australia under contract but upon Australian conditions' - and, in my opinion, the Bill effectively provides for that - what reasonable exception can we, as a part of the Empire, take to such a provision? In the circumstances, I feel that it would be very unwise for us to attempt to remove the proposed preference. I urge honorable senators to recognise that it is a very important factor in the consideration of thismatter that we are ourselves part of the British Empire, that blood is thicker than water, and that we are called upon where we can do so, without detriment to our own interests, to relax the stringency of our legislation in favour of the people of other portions of the Empire. I have shown that what is proposed in this Bill will not be detrimental to our own interests, and that is, to me, a sufficient justification for the concession proposed. As regards other elements tending to discredit Australia in England, it is true that we cannot hope to recover from the' discredit we suffer, so far as the Stock Exchange is concerned. But the members of the London Stock Exchange have been animated by a consideration of our provision respecting immigration only to a certain extent. So far as I had opportunity to ascertain the reasons for their attitude, I- believe they were prompted by a feeling of resentment at what I regard as the very proper interference of Australia in an endeavour to prevent the introduction of Chinese into the Transvaal. I think that we are not justified in. taking the remotest notice of that, but if we are satisfied that the contract sections of our immigration law have given any justification for the slanders from which we have suffered, we shall be wise to take notice of that fact. For the reasons I have stated, I support the second reading of the Bill.

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