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Monday, 18 December 1905

Senator DOBSON (Tasmania) - This matter is of far greater importance .than, judging by the attention which is paid to it, honorable senators seem to imagine. It involves not only the doctrine of a. White Australia and its application, but the consideration due to the sugar-planter, who is is deserving of every consideration when we. remember that Queensland has changed its policy, and, to a certain extent, broken faith, with him in the most direct and positive way. It opens up, also, the question of the position, of the industries in which sugar is largely used ; and last, but not least, it raises thequestion of revenue, and shows how vitally the revenue has been reduced in the past,, and how enormously it will be reduced in. the future. These are most important questions, and I venture to say that at. this, stage of the session we cannot do them justice. There seems to be a dispositionto pass the Bill without sufficient consideration. I cannot vote for it, and I am in favour of the amendment proposed; by Senator O'Keefe. When this legislation was first introduced, we were led, to understand that if the bounty were paid to the sugar-planters for five years, that would be sufficient, that he would thus be given time to become accustomed to the altered1 conditions under which he would have to carry on his industry, getting rid of kanakas on the one hand, and supplying their place with white labour on the other. We are now told by the expert, Dr. Maxwell, that the bounty should be given for a further period of seven years, at the end of which time the matter would again come before us for consideration. This is wholly contrary to what we were led to believe, and quite at variance with the representations made to us when we first dealt with this legislation. It certainly behoves every honorable senator representing Tasmania, a State which cannot afford to lose revenue, and is losing revenue enormously, to seriously consider the position. I should like to ask honorable senators of the Labour Party to consider seriously the application of the White Australia doctrine. It may be that I do not apply the doctrine widely- enough, and I do not sympathize sufficiently with it ; but may not some of those honorable senators go a little too far in the other direction ?

Senator de Largie - The honorable senator should give us some proof of that.

Senator DOBSON - I am saying that I may be inclined to go to one extreme in the application of the principle, but that they may be inclined to go to the other extreme. The proof is that during the next ten years, in order to carry out our doctrine, we shall have paid under this Bill, if passed as it" stands, £2,655,000. However good a doctrine may be, can we not pay too much dot it ? Is it fair to continue to vote money recklessly in order to carry out a doctrine »to an extreme extent? I think that my honorable friends are committing a breach of faith with the planters of Queensland, and carrying their doctrine to an extreme. The middle course, which I have always advocated, has been that the kanakas should remain until they died out or that they should be deported at the rate of 1,000 per annum. Some honorable senators do not seem to look at the revenue side of this question. In consequence of the Federal Tariff, Tasmania has lost revenue at the rate of ^150,000 a year, and therefore, in self-defence, we are compelled to ask how far it is intended to carry out this policy? I think that my honorable friends are trying to do an impossibility. When I hear them say that they feel sure that white labour can be found to carry on the industry, I am inclined to doubt their statements, not from what I know personally, but from the pamphlets which have been circulated, and in which planter after planter has declared, from his experience, that it will be impossible to find the necessary supply of white labour to take the place of the 6,000 kanakas.

Senator de Largie - Why did not the honorable senator take an opportunity of visiting Queensland during the recess?

Senator DOBSON - The honorable senator knows that I stick closely to my work here, and after the prorogation, I was anxious to get back to my business, and te my family. I could not afford to spend a few months in Queensland.

Senator de Largie - I am satisfied that if the honorable senator had gone he would have obtained proof of the suitability of the industry for the employment of white men.

Senator DOBSON - I am satisfied that, if I had been in Queensland twice as long as the honorable senator was, I should not know as much about this subject as do the scores of planters with whom he was brought into contact. Has he read a pamphlet which was prepared at Mackay by Mr. Chataway?

Senator de Largie - Yes ; I have a copy here.

Senator DOBSON -In that pamphlet did not the honorable senator find evidence after evidence of the efforts made to get white labour?

Senator de Largie - I shall quote the evidence of white cutters in the district, and of white planters, too.

Senator DOBSON - The evidence of all the white planters cannot be wrong. I have also a report of the proceedings of the North Queensland Sugar Conference., attended by planters from the districts where it is so difficult to get white labour, as even Dr. Maxwell acknowledges.

Senator de Largie - On his experimental farm at Mackay, Dr. Maxwell has only to pay 5 s. a day in order to get tip-top workmen.

Senator DOBSON - I hold in my hand the evidence of men who pay 5s. 6d. a ton, 6s. a ton, and 27s. 6d. a week and rations, that they could not, and do not, get the men. I do not care what evidence the honorable senator has, he cannot get rid of the whole of the evidence I hold in my hand. It all goes to show that, while a few healthy young farmers from Bundaberg may be got, the casual white labourer in the northern part cannot do the work, or, if he can, he will not do it.

Senator Turley - Does Mr'. Carr say that ?

Senator DOBSON - I am not picking out the evidence of a particular man. Mr. Buchanan gives this evidence -

During igo2 ig farmers registered for rebate on white-grown sugar; of these 10 forfeited their claims before the cane was harvested rather than undertake the risk of having their crop left.

Fancy ten men out of nineteen giving up their claim to the bounty in order to make certain of getting their crop into the mill ! Whatever evidence Senator de Largie may be able to submit, he cannot get rid of that fact. I am willing to admit that everything will depend upon the wages paid. Whether the men are paid 27 s. 6d. or 30s. a week and rations, they ought to be well paid. One man stated at the conference that they paid 6s. ai ton for cutting cane, which was 2s. more than the industry could afford, but that even then he had the greatest trouble to get the labour. The great object in granting the bounty is to encourage the employment in the industry of white labour, and eventually to place it on a " white " basis, but I am in dread that when we have paid the whole of the money away it will not have been put on that basis. I should think that Senators Smith and Turley really share that view. In my opinion, both of them argued very unfairly, but Senator

Pearce quickly demolished their arguments. Quite apart from the kanakas, there are 3,500 coloured men on the plantations in Queensland. I assume that in twelve years there willi be about 2,500 coloured men available for the planters. If we are to consider these men we might just as well, as Senator Pearce said, give a bonus to every white man in the furniture trade in Melbourne, because there are twice as many Chinese as white men engaged therein. The same remark would apply to every other industry. That would be taking an unfair advantage of Parliament. We all desire to make up to the sugarplanter for the 'withdrawal of his kanaka labour. But after the withdrawal of the kanaka and the grant of a bounty for ten years, it would be unfair to continue to bolster up the White Australia policy simply because there were 2,500 coloured aliens in Queensland. An entirely new question has been raised. I was exceedingly astonished to hear Senator Smith say that he would vote against the amend ment of Senator O'Keefe, and that he had no better ground than that for taking that course. If he desires to do what is right, and to confine this policy to the original intention, my honorable friend should not act upon those reasons. Mr. Donnelly made this statement at the Conference -

He himself had tried it, and found it a failure.

To illustrate the unreliableness of white labour he pointed out that out of 60 men employed at the Mossman mill in one shift a week ago-, 15, or 25 per cent.,, knocked off. The percentage would naturally be greater in the fields. And yet this was the labour for which some people were desirous,of sacrificing the sugar industry.

What did Mr. Draper say? He said -

There was no disputing the fact that white men were not fitted for labour in the canefields of tropical Queensland. To emphasize this fact he instanced the case of a number of Indian coolies who had to knock off after four days' work owing to the heat being too trying. White men would not do the work, and those who advocated bringing them down to the level of the kanakas had a false conception of what white men could and should do. He quoted from Dr. Maxwell's report to show the injurious effects of work in the tropics on the constitutions of men and women.

Mr. Wallerwrote as follows:

Hisexperience in cane cultivation dated back to 1870, and he had been interested in the industry during the whole of the time since then. He had tried both white and coloured labour. Reliable white labour for field work had not been available for the past few years. There were very few men available, and if there had been no kanakas there would have been difficulty in getting the crops off. His experience with white labour for the past two years had been attended with unsatisfactory results, and gangs employed by him had become disorganized through drink' and quarrels amongst themselves ; in some cases they had thrown up their contracts, and he had been left in a hole. He had last year secured the services of Hood's gang, and they must be given the credit for doing well, but they were all young men and Bundaberg farmers. This year he had not been so fortunate, and he had had fresh difficulty in getting men to do the necessary work, although a higher rate of wages was being paid, viz., 5s. 6d. per ton.

I gather from all this that if a grower can get hold of young men who have a stake in the country, and who are possessed of energy and a 'determination to do their best, it is possible to get the work properly done. But if men of that character cannot be obtained,, it is impossible. How far are we to go in our application of the principle of this Bill? Will its supporters tell me what their opinion is? It is a fair question for us to ask whether, even supposing we are in favour of the White Australia policy, we can, with justice to other people, apply the doctrine contained in this Bill.

Senator de Largie - The honorable senator asks us to take the opinion of a man like Draper with regard to this matter!

Senator DOBSON - I have quoted' the testimony of a man who has been growing cane since 1870, and has tried both black and white labour. He admits that when he got hold of a good gang of men he could get his work done. But when he was not so fortunate, the result was quite otherwise. Senator de Largie puts all this evidence on one side, because he has had the honour to talk to a few canecutters, who have poured into his ears their tale of woe. The sugar-planters may be unconsciously biased in favour of retaining the kanakas. But if the kanakas go their places must be taken by small farmers.

Senator de Largie - I talked with men. whom I have known from boyhood, and who are now engaged in the sugar industry. It was their evidence that I drew attention to.

Senator DOBSON - Does my honorable friend imagine that in a fortnight's trip he can get hold of every man in the Com monwealth who is capable of giving evidence on this subject? I wish to emphasize the fact that Dr. Maxwell himself says that we have entered upon and are in the middle of a great experiment, with natural and economic conditions. Do not honorable senators realize the great difficulty there is in facing a problem of that kind ? I ask the supporters of this policy how far they want it to go, and when they are to stop? I suppose that Queensland representatives will consider it to be their duty to "barrack " for this bounty as long as they can get it. But it is their duty to look at the subject from the point of view of the revenue, from the point of view of the interest of (the Commonwealth as a whole, and from the point of view of the ultimate interest of the sugar industry ; and of what is fair to the planters. I am in favour of Senator O'Keefe's amendment, because it applies the further assistance to a period of five years. I am not so much in favour of the amendment moved by Mr. McCay in another place, because that proposed to extend the time for seven years, and to give the planters bounties exactly as this Bill does. I should like to see the term fixed at not more than five years, and to see the bounty reduced from a total of thirty shillings, as was proposed by Mr. McCay's amendment down to about 18s. or 20s. I have only one more point to make. What steps do the Government intend to take to help forward the policy which they favour ? If they are to do nothing, ' they will be neglecting their business and committing a gross wrong. It is perfectly plain, from the evidence before us, that unless the Government sets to work to influence the cutting up of large plantations into smaller ones, and unless they induce to go upon those plantations men who, with their sons, will be able to do their own_work in trashing and cutting the cane, they will never be able to make the policy of a White Australia successful.

Senator de Largie - It is questionable whether trashing is necessary.

Senator DOBSON - It is a peculiar thing that men who have been engaged in the industry for many years say that it is necessary.

Senator de Largie - I have it from Dr. Maxwell that it is not.

Senator DOBSON -- Personally, I should conclude that it is not necessary ; but I understand that the general experience is that, in consequence of trashing, the growers are able to produce a better class of cane. But are steps to be taken by the Government to ascertain what is necessary for the success of this policy?

Long before the period fixed by this Bill has expired, the obligation ought to be placed upon the people of Queensland to take some definite steps. The first thing to do is to settle the condition, to insure that white men shall earn a fair wage ; and, next, to ascertain whether white men can carry on sugar cultivation in large areas. I do not believe that they can. I believe that the only hope for the industry is to get small farmers to cultivate small areas. If Queensland is not prepared to pass such laws as will enable the industry to be conducted under conditions- which will make for its success in the directions T have indicated, I do not know what the result will be. Dr. Maxwell has told us plainly that small plantations are necessary if the industry is to be conducted by white people. It is the bounden duty of my honorable friends from Queensland to see that their State makes every endeavour to carry out this policy. They ought to be prepared to urge that the necessary steps shall be taken to that end. Otherwise, the' system will be a failure, and at the end of six years we shall be discussing the same sort of Bill again. Very few experiments will have been made, the Queensland people will have done nothing, but will simply open their mouths for a bounty to be dropped in once more.

Senator MILLEN(New South Wales).I must express my disappointment that, in, the course of this debate, we have not had from the Minister in charge of the Bill any clear and precise statement as to what the policy represented by it is in regard to the rest of the Commonwealth.

Senator Playford - I gave the particulars to-day.

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