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Thursday, 14 December 1905

Senator GUTHRIE (South Australia) - There is one matter to which I should like to draw attention. I have heard the arguments on both sides, but I have not been led to depart in the slightest degree from the opinion which I previously formed; and I intend to vote against the second reading of the Bill. Just two short years ago, when I went before the people of South Australia, part of mv platform was the absolute exclusion, of labour that is bound in any way, and on that ticket I was returned. In my opinion, the restrictions in this regard require strengthening, and not weakening; and it is certain that the Bill has the latter effect. I desire to call the attention of the Senate to the position of shipping on the Australian coast, as affected by the Bill. In the first place, clause 4 provides -

Every contract immigrant, unless otherwise prohibited by law, may land in the Commonwealth if the contract is in writing, and is made by or on behalf of some person named in the contract, and resident in Australia, and its terms are approved by the Minister.

That means that a German ship, which comes here to engage in the coastal trade of Australia, cannot possibly engage contract labour, seeing that the owners are German and not resident in Australia. Clause 8 provides -

The two last preceding sections do not apply to an immigrant under a contract or agreement to serve as part of the crew of a vessel engaged in the coasting trade in Australian waters, if the rates of wages specified therein are not lower than the rates ruling in the Commonwealth.

The preceding sections 6 and 7 are absolutely the whole Bill, and yet they are not to apply in cases of immigrants under contract to serve on vessels on the Australian coast. I hope the Minister, when replying, will give us some information as to why clause 8 has been inserted. In the original Act, paragraph k of section 3 absolutely exempted ships in any port of the Commonwealth, and that provision is retained in force. Amongst the exemptions under it are members of the King's regular land or sea forces., the master and crew of any public vessel of any Government, and the master and crew of any other - vessel landing during the stay of any vessel in any port of the Commonwealth. This is not a new question, because it has been brought prominently under the attention of the Government. Cases were cited of ships having arrived in Australian waters, with crews shipped under agreement in some of the cheapest ports in the world, in order to compete with Australian seamen. The matter was brought before the Government, who took up the position that they could not administer the Act because of paragraph k of the section. A considerable amount of debate has taken place on the question of the extent to which the introduction of contract labour will interfere with shore labour, but it has been generally admitted that during the last few years very few of these contract labourers have presented themselves for admission to Australia. I point out that in the shipping trade they are brought to our doors every day, and if there be any reason for passing these provisions dealing with the admission of contract labour, it is because of the way in which they may affect those engaged in connexion with our shipping. I hope that when we get into Committee we shall be able to deal effectively with the points to which I have referred. I shall not further delay the Senate on the second reading, but I propose to return to these matters when the Bill is in Committee.

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