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Thursday, 7 December 1905
Page: 6514

Mr KENNEDY (Moira) - In my speech on the second reading I suggested. for certain reasons, the propriety of omitting paragraph b of sub-clause 2. I do not think it is possible for the Minister, no matter how well he may be informed by his officers, to be in as good a position to judge as to the qualifications of employes as would the employer. It is not reasonable to assume that an employer would "go beyond the Commonwealth, and incur the cost and attendant risk of bringing in employes, if he could get men her.; at the same rate of wages. It) is only in special cases that an employer would wish to bring in men, and when he does he is expected to take the risk of the Minister or an officer saying that he is not entitled to land them.

Mr Deakin - Under this clause the employer is supposed to submit the contract beforehand.

Mr KENNEDY - That means that before a man can move in his business he will have to consult the Minister. Take the recent case of some Australians, who, when travelling in other countries, purchased stock, and secured men to bring them out. How could they possibly have consulted the Minister bef orehand ? To my mind it is impossible to deal with every case which may arise. We place ourselves as a community in an absurd position when difficulties of this kind arise. I do not object to restrictions on immigration, but we should allow the law to be administered with common sense. To make the Minister the judge of the qualifications of a man is absurd, unless what is meant is that the Minister shall declare in every case that the would-be employer could suit himself better in Australia. There are in Australia ploughmen better than any others in the world, but every farmer knows that a man may be a first-class ploughman, and unable to manage a team of horses, or a good man with horses in the paddock, but knowing nothing of their management in the stable. Fortunately, some of our farmers have been able to visit the old country, and when there a man might see ploughmen whom he would recognise as possessing an unusual combination of qualifications, and might, therefore, desire to bring out with him to Australia. But could that have been done as the law has hitherto been administered ?

Mr Deakin - Yes.

Mr KENNEDY - That is news to me.

Mr Deakin - I should have no hesitation in admitting such men under the circumstances described by the honorable member,

Mr KENNEDY - But the trouble is to describe the circumstances. In the cases to which I refer, it would have been impossible to comply with the conditions laid down in this clause. I, therefore, ask the Government to consent to the omission of paragraph b of sub-clause 2. It is not reasonable to assume that any employer of labour would import to Australia a man who was not possessed of special abilities, because, after he got him here, he would have to pay him the rates of wages obtained locally. That in itself is an ample safeguard.

Mr. DEAKIN(Ballarat - Minister of External Affairs). - I submit that the provision to which the honorable member takes exception is not more stringent than that in the existing law. The Immigration Restriction Act excludes " workmen exempted by the Minister for special skill required in Australia," whereas under the clause, the Minister may approve of a contract if in his opinion there is difficulty in obtaining within the Commonwealth " a worker of at least equal skill and ability."

Mr McCay - Does the Prime Minister mean that the existing law implies that there must be no one in Australia possessing the skill required?

Mr DEAKIN - That there is no one possessing that skill available where wanted. Cases such as the honorable member for Moira has referred to are comparatively rare, but would not occasion any difficulty. I think that a ploughman chosen under the circumstances which he has mentioned, might fairly be admitted. As I indicated when moving the second reading, contracts affecting one individual only, of whom the would-be employer has conceived a high opinion, will be viewed differently from contracts for the importation of 50, 100, or 1,000 men. Each contract will be considered in relation to the number of men to which it applies, as well as in relation to all the other circumstances of the case. It is only when it is proposed to introduce men in large numbers that a provision like that of paragraph b is required. Without such a safeguard, the labour market in any part of Australia might be injuriously and unnecessarily flooded.

Mr Kelly - Will the Minister amend the provision so as to make it apply only to the importation of men in large numbers?

Mr DEAKIN - There is room for a common-sense application of the law under the strictest interpretation of the provision, so that there is no need for any such amendment. Paragraph b is intended to apply, not only to such cases as those mentioned by the honorable member for Moira - in which the immigration would not be prohibited - but to cases differentiated from them by the number of men concerned and by other circumstances. It is desirable that the Government should be satisfied that men are not being imported merely to displace others, and this provision will not only prevent that being attempted, but will also act as a warning to those who might otherwise be disposed to make the attempt.

Mr. KELLY(Wentworth).- Will this provision apply to the introduction of five or six men - such as the hatters who were imported ?

Mr Deakin - It did apply to the six hatters ; but, in that case the employer refused to obey the law. Each case must be judged on its merits. In that case the law was flouted.

Mr KELLY - We have to trust to the Minister implicitly. When I suggested a wider scope, the honorable and learned gentleman said that it was too wide.

Mr Deakin - It was very wide.

Mr KELLY - The Prime Minister then suggested that it would give too much discretion. How far will the discretion of the Minister extend in cases in which it is proposed to introduce only one individual ?

Mr Deakin - The metric system has not yet been applied to the measurement of discretion.

Mr KELLY - The Prime Minister must know how it is intended to administer this provision. We are in the dark on the subject. We have only his assurance. If the Minister is to satisfy himself as to the necessity for the introduction of any workmen, the Bill will accentuate the difficulties under which we have been labouring for the last two years.

Amendment (by Mr. Kennedy) proposed -

That paragraph b, sub-clause 2, be left out.

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