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Wednesday, 22 May 1901
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Mr WATSON (Bland) - It is the usual thing, it seems to me, from my short experience of parliamentary life, to find fault with every Governor's speech, on the ground that it is altogether too nebulous. But I think it must be admitted that it is a fault, if it exists at all, that is common to all Ministries. I seem to have some recollection of the same fault in the speeches of His Excellency the Governor in our State of New South Wales, that were really an emanation of the Cabinet to which the leader of the Opposition belonged. Therefore, the mere fact that the Ministry on this occasion have not seen fit to put the whole of their proposals in detail into the GovernorGeneral's speech is not a thing that there is any reason to complain of more than we have been accustomed to complain of it in other similar documents from our local or State Governments. The point so far as I am concerned, and that which mainly interests those members who are associated with me in one section of the House, is as to what the various Bills are going to contain. A programme in itself is nothing, especially nowadays, when we find those who only a few years ago were looked upon as the most conservative men in Australia practically stealing the clothes of the labour party in regard to legislative proposals. Leaving aside for the moment the fiscal question, on which I will touch later on, j dare say that the extreme radicalism of the proposals of the Government is a great disappointment indeed to a number of gentlemen who certainly were not only of a conservative caste, but have remained in that condition till the present day. Their hope was, when they first brought forward the federal idea or decided to support it, that the creation of the Federal Parliament would lead to the elimination of those democratic proposals which we have been enabled to make a necessary part of the programmes of Governments in all the States. It must be most mortifying to those gentlemen to find that even though the constituencies have been enlarged, and even though the people have been appealed to on those " rare and higher grounds " of which we have heard, yet they persist not only in returning members of the labour party, but also a vast majority of members who are in favour of the proposals that the labour party have advocated for years past. However, I do not quarrel with that position of affairs. All I can do is to sympathize with those gentlemen, who must be deeply disappointed at the result of their efforts in this regard. So far as the fiscal question is concerned, I can at least congratulate the Government on their decision to have that subject dealt with at the earliest possible opportunity. I do not know but that, in some respects, it might be better to consent to a Tariff that we do not approve of rather than have it delayed, and commerce cast indefinitely into a stagnant condition while we haggle over the difference between 5, 10, or 15 per cent. Therefore, I welcome the possibility of an early disposal of this question, so that those interested in the establishment of industries, and in the pursuit of commerce may know the conditions under which their business is to be ordered. Speaking for myself, I have never taken that view of the fiscal question which seems to have commended itself to fanatics on either side. I certainly have always inclined to the view that it is possible in a young country - particularly in a country of large possibilities such as Australia is - with a minimum of discomfort to secure the successful establishment of industries by a protective Tariff. I do not believe, on the other hand, that the imposition of a protective Tariff will achieve all or nearly all that is required in the interests of the people. Therefore, I can only say that comparisons between the conditions of protectionist Victoria and free-trade New South Wales, or between the conditions obtaining in England and in America, seem to me to receive from fanatics on each side altogether unfair treatment. That is, there is left out of the account altogether, in nearly every instance, the vast difference in the circumstances that must and always will exist, and the variety in the conditions that surround the problems in the various countries compared. When the leader of the Opposition speaks of the exodus from Victoria, perhaps we who believe even in a modified degree in the imposition of a Tariff with a protective incidence, might with equal justice point to the accession of population in New - Zealand during the last few years. There is a protectionist country, apart from any possibility of competition such as we have in the States of the continent. New Zealand has progressed in a remarkable degree under a protective Tariff - but supplemented by radical and liberal legislation. That legislation has no doubt had a great deal to do with the progress of that country.

Mr Hughes - May not that legislation be entirely responsible for the progress?

Mr WATSON - I will not admit that it is entirely responsible for it, but it is largely responsible ; because I deny that you can, by a protective/Tariff merely, secure proper conditions for the workers, unless the men themselves are also protected. You cannot have protection in respect of goods and at the same time free-trade in respect of labour with satisfactory results. I therefore contend that you should take the whole circumstance into consideration if you desire to arrive at a fair conclusion. Certainly, we now have a great opportunity in

Australia, with the vast, or at any rate comparatively large, markets that will be available to manufacturers and workers in the future, and the great possibilities of development that we have to-day. Those possibilities particularly exist in the State from which I come. Indeed, we have possibilities there that j justify us in the hope and expectation that with reasonable encouragement a great extension of industry will shortly occur. Therefore, so far as free-trade and protection are concerned, I" do not take the same ground that a number of other honorable members take. I am desirous of achieving a modified Tariff. Now, I desire to say a word upon the statement put forward last evening by the leader of the Opposition. To hear his condemnation of the protectionist ideal as it affects the living of the great mass of the people, and as he said it was likely to affect their expansion in regard to industry, one would imagine that what he was proposing was free-trade. One would imagine that as against the awful calamity which is going to follow the adoption of the Ministerial programme, he would be prepared to give the people the ideal Tariff he himself believes in ; but, as a matter of fact, the right honorable gentleman at the head of the Opposition, as well as every sensible man in the House knows, you can have neither freetrade or protection under the circumstances by which we are surrounded. That is absolutely impossible unless we are prepared for direct taxation for federal purposes.

An Honorable Member. - Why not go in for direct taxation ? It is a good idea.

Mr WATSON - If the right honorable gentleman at the head of the Opposition is prepared to take up the burden of fighting for direct taxation for federal purposes, we can understand the logic of the position he is entering upon ; but no such proposition comes from him.

Mr Deakin - He expressly disavowed it.

Mr WATSON - The right honorable gentleman at the head of the Opposition has expressly disavowed any intention of resorting to direct taxation for the purposes of Commonwealth finance, and, consequently, having to rely on the Customs for his revenue, he would be compelled, if he were in the position of the Federal Treasurer tomorrow, to place just as great shackles on the people, and just as great burdens on their livelihood, as would' be placed upon them 'by any Tariff which the Ministry can make practicable to-day.

Mr Reid - Oh, no.

Mr WATSON - If the right honorable gentleman carries out the programme which I have read as attributed to him, of putting customs duty on those things which cannot be produced within the borders of Australia, I ask which proposal is more likely to affect the position of the really poor man in the community? A tax on tea would undoubtedly very largely affect the poor man, and yet, to put a tax on this item would be quite in consonance with the programme which was outlined. I do not say that programme was filled in with very great detail, because the weakness of abstaining from detail is one possessed by the right honorable gentleman in common with many leading politicians, including the Premier, and I do not blame him, because it is perhaps necessary that he should not give himself away too much when he occupies a high and responsible position. At the same time, the fact remains that we were given to understand a tax on tea would be quite in consonance with the general revenue Tariff ideal, as would also a tax on cotton goods. Do not cotton goods enter very largely into the household economy of the poorest people of. Australia ? Surely any man who has any knowledge whatever of commerce knowsand I daresay the member for Wentworth could give us some information on this head - that the consumption of -cotton goods in lieu of woollen goods has during the past ten or twenty years increased wonderfully'. Many warehousemen now find that threeparts of their stock, which was formerly made up of woollen goods is now composed of goods either wholly or very largely of cotton.

Mr Glynn - Because woollens are overtaxed.

Mr WATSON - The honorable member cannot say that in New South Wales there has been any overtaxing of woollens, for there, even at the worst period, from the honorable member's point of view, there was never more than a tax of 15 per cent, on woollens, and that tax was only in existence a very few years. I am assured by those competent to speak, that the great increase in the consumption of cotton goods in New South Wales has taken place since the tax was taken off by the leader of the Opposition, and, so far as I can learn, the increase has not anything to do with the Tariff, but is merely a natural consequence of the higher price of wool in the open market, and of the better methods of treating cotton which have been opened to manufacturers of recent years. I do not mean to take up a great deal of time in discussing free-trade and protection. Although a protectionist, I regard a protective Tariff as only one amongst many other things required in order to safeguard the interests of the community as a whole. I, for one, am rather tired of the constant repetition of arguments which we have had ad nauseam in New South Wales for the last fifteen or twenty years, and I sun content with the declaration put forward by the Government that they will be guided by the circumstances in which they find themselves. The time for fighting for free-trade or protection is, to my mind, when the operation of the clause facetiously alluded to as the "Braddon blot" has ceased. There will then be an opportunity for both sides to go to the country and declare their desire for a complete protectionist or a complete free-trade Tariff. In the meantime we must be governed very largely indeed by revenue considerations) and I think that the man who attempts to get his whole ideas carried through, either on the protectionist or free-trade side, would be posing before the people in regard to a matter he knows it is impossible to secure. Of, perhaps, more moment to the party .1 am associated with are a number of other matters mentioned in the Governor's speech. First, amongst these I, at any rate, place the question of what the Government are going to do with coloured immigration. Stress seems to have been laid to a great extent on the employment of kanaka labour; but I regard this as only one part of a very large question. While I agree absolutely with the honorable member who submitted the amendment, that the matter of kanaka immigration should be dealt with at the earliest possible opportunity, and that the result of our deliberations should be to insure that no further immigration of kanakas should be allowed, I ask, further, that the same treatment should be meted out to those coloured people who may be imported into Australia, and that employers of Japanese, Chinese, Javanese, Hindoos, Afghans, and the multifarious peoples who go to make up the piebald north we have at the present time, whether on the eastern coast or on the western coast, shall be compelled to employ -white labour. In the northern portion of the continent, east or west, we have this influx of coloured people. We have this cancer spot, so far as the racial condition of Australia is concerned, and the law which deals with kanakas will have to take into consideration .-dso the position occupied by coloured labourers imported under contract in connexion with every industry with which they are associated. For myself, I have only recently learned from other members of the party to which I belong of the extent to which the introduction and employment of coloured people in the northern districts of Western Australia is carried on. There immense numbers, comparatively speaking, of those people are imported under contract, and under conditions set out by the State Government, of which the member for Swan was the head a little while ago. No measure that does not effectively deal with all descriptions of coloured labour can be satisfactory to the people of Australia who have declared so emphatically in favour of keeping this a white man's land. I am reminded in speaking of the declaration of the people that the attitude of the right honorable gentlemen who are at the head of the two great parties, just before the general election, seems to have been very different indeed from the attitude of one of them, at any rate, at the present time. Before the election, while the result of the Queensland polling was quite unknown, each gentleman seemed to be hesitating, not as to how far it was right to go, but how far it was safe to go. I dare say if they had been blessed with some degree of prophesy, and able to see what was going to occur in Queensland, we would have had a much clearer declaration from each of them with respect to the kanaka and other coloured labour. One thing that amused mc very much during the election campaign was that the right honorable gentleman at the head of the Opposition complained in the various speeches he made in New South Wales, and I think properly complained, of the lack of information contained in the speech of the Premier made at West Maitland on this particular question. The leader of the Opposition said we were entitled to know - that the people, as a whole, were entitled to know - exactly what was the proposal of the Government in reference to kanaka labour. That was a very proper demand, but the leader of the Opposition himself was as close as the proverbial oyster in regard to his own attitude, except, of course, saying in a general way that he was, as all of us are, in a general way, against coloured labour.

Mr Reid - The honorable member seems more concerned about the policy of the leader of the Opposition than about the policy of the leader of the Government.

Mr WATSON - I am concerned about the policy of the leader of the Opposition for this reason-

Mr Reid - Am I to unfold a Ministerial policy 1

Mr WATSON - No, sir ; but we have been asked by a lieutenant of the honorable member to intrust the whole of the business to the leader of the Opposition, and to trust him in the dark.

Mr Reid - I do not ask honorable members to do it.

Mr WATSON - We are asked to do so by the honorable gentleman's lieutenant, and I am sufficiently familar with parliamentary tactics under the able tuition of the honorable member, to know that that is the most convenient way for a leader of the Opposition to turn a Government out, because if the attempt is not successful nothing can hurt him, while if it be successful he is not pledged to anything in particular.

Mr Barton - If the table is provided, he will sit at the head of ifr.

Mr Reid - May I suggest to the honorable member, that the member for Parramatta moved the amendment without my knowledge and without consulting me in any way.

An Honorable Member. - We have all " been there " before.

Mr WATSON - If the right honorable gentleman makes that statement-

Mr Reid - I make the statement absolutely.

Mr WATSON - I accept the statement, and I must say that I have never had reason to doubt any serious statement made by the honorable and learned member. But it certainly shows an amount of guile on the part of the honorable member for Parramatta that I had not anticipated under the circumstances. In any case, the fact remains that we are now asked to vote for an amendment which, if it means anything at all, and is carried, must mean the displacement of the Government on the question of kanaka labour ; and, under the circumstances, we have a right to look at what is to follow the carrying of such an amendment. I do not say for a moment - and perhaps the right honorable gentleman at the head of the Opposition will follow me in this sentence - I do not say for a moment that I am satisfied with what has appeared in the Governor-General's speech on this question. I trust to see the Bill made more emphatic and definite on the question of the cessation of the introduction of coloured labour than seems to be implied by the present interpretation of it. I know it is a weakness of the head of the Government to indulge in language which is rather involved. I remember some one writing a monograph on the right honorable gentleman some time ago, before he took his present position, and the writer said that ,he could see so many sides of different questions that he rather mixed himself up on occasions as to which side he was going to support in the meantime.

Mr Barton - He is too judicial altogether to be a politician.

Mr WATSON - I am not at all satisfied with the rather open language that is used in respect to this particular question of black labour in the Governor-General's speech, and I therefore do not bind myself in the slightest degree to accept the Bill which the Government may bring in, but I say that we who are anxious to have this question dealt with at the earliest possible opportunity, who desire that effective measures should be taken, have the right at least to give the Ministry now in office an opportunity of bringing in the Bill of which notice is on the business-paper. We have no right to put off the consideration of this question by the delay that would necessarily occur through a change of Government, especially as we do not know what a new Ministry would do in respect of the same subject. We have no guarantee as to what the probabilities of improvement would be in a Ministry composed of the leading gentlemen on the Opposition side. In the absence of an assurance that it would be anything better, I think the proper course to pursue is to give this Ministry the fair trial that they have asked for at the hands of the constituencies, and to which appeal a majority of the constituencies seem to have lent a responsive ear. Therefore I cannot support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Parramatta, which it seems has been disavowed even by the leader of the Opposition.

An Honorable Member. - The mover did not ask for an avowal.

Mr WATSON - Quite so ; but when the honorable member was found to be in distress one would expect that his leader would have stood by him.

Mr Reid - I do not allow any one to act for me without my knowledge and consent.

Mr WATSON - There is one point upon which I would like to offer some advice to the honorable member for Parramatta. In view of his anxiety to ascertain the definite intentions of the Government with reference to this question of black labour, I would suggest that he should pay the same compliment to the leader of his own party and find out what that gentleman's intentions are. We find the honorable member deploring that we can get nothing definite from the Government in respect of this matter. It would have been only appropriate if he had told the House what the intentions of the leader of the Opposition were.

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