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Wednesday, 13 December 1905

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I fully recognise the reasonableness of the des,ire of the House that this debate should end as soon as possible ; and I do not intend to make a very lengthy addition to it. But I feel that, as a free-trader, it is due to myself, and to those who sent me here, to offer some explanation of the reasons that prompt me to support this measure. I intend to support the second reading, in the hope and belief that certain amendments will be made which may, at all events, show the Queensland people who are at present enjoying the bounty that there is a limit to the time during which the Commonwealth will continue to pay such an enormous annual by bonus and increased cost of sugar, in order, by artificial means, to maintain the " white " sugar industry. I recognise that this measure is one of the results of the policy of a "White Australia." If the Commonwealth had not adopted that policy, and, in a measure, produced results detrimental to the sugar-growers of Queensland, I should be one of the first to oppose the Bill as being in many respects a protectionist proposal, which I, as a free-trader, could not support. But I think that, although the White Australia policy has necessitated this, measure, as well as the existing Act, the country should realize what this system is costing. It should also recognise the opinions of men who, we must admit, are capable, after collecting all the data to enable them to make a tolerably sound deduction, of judging the effect of the White Australia policy upon the Commonwealth. I find that, alt-hough the consumption of sugar in Australia varies sometimes to the extent of 100 per cent. - from 60,000 tons to 120,000 tons a year - an average of 100,000 tons may be taken as a fair one. It has, been very clearly shown by the honorable member for Franklin that the difference between the price of sugar in England and Australia averages about £4 per ton. If we take it that the average consumption of sugar in the Commonwealth is about 100,000 tons per annum, that means, from a free-trade point of view, that, as a people, we are deliberately paying £400,000 per annum in sugar alone in order to secure the policy of a White Australia. I am not going, at this stage, to carp at that policy, because, subject to very considerable modifications, that are obviously taking place in public opinion, it has become the policy of the Australian people. An honorable member of the Labour Party, in the course of a speech literally bristling with data and statistics bearing on the condition of the people of Queensland, made the notable confession this evening that after a lengthy visit to that State and a very careful investigation of the effect of the White Australia policy upon that part of the Commonwealth, he had reluctantly come to the conclusion that it - the White Australia policy - was practically a failure. These are two facts which the impartial public outside cannot afford to ignore. It is very natural that honorable members, who have almost violently advocated this policy, should continue to try to persuade themselves that they believe in its efficacy ; but a member of the Labour Party has made the confession, which I value very highly, that, in his opinion, it has practically proved a failure.

Sir William Lyne - I did not understand him to say that.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is quite compatible with his having said it. I heard him say it, and I remarked to those who sat near me : " That is a very valuable admission," and then he repeated it. If the facts that the Commonwealth is paying about £400,000 a year under this policy, and that this so-called method of " preserving the purity " of the race is proving a failure, are put together, the public will be able to estimate the desirability of continuing it. As an opponent of the more hysterical form of a White Australia policy, I am satisfied that the public is gradually becoming educated to the extreme character of the view taken by Parliament in 1901, and that in a few' more years it will be satisfied that we have attempted an impossible ideal. It is all very well for legislators to aspire to ideal conditions, and to try to realize an Utopia in this corner of the world; but the practical man must ask himself whether these aspirations are possible of achievement. In my opinion, in a few years, it will be evident to the public of Australia, as it is already evident to the outside world, that we have attempted the impossible, and when that time arrives I shall have the satisfaction of being able to say that I foresaw this impossibility. As a free-trader, I have no hesitation in characterizing this legislation as protective, and on principle objectionable ; but I recognise that, as the policy which Parliament has adopted affects an important Queensland industry, it is only fair that the loss should be borne, on the principle of " general average " by the whole of the people of Australia. That has been done for the last five years ; but it is clear, from the testimony of Dr. Maxwell, whose opinion as a fair and impartial one, I have no reason to doubt, that our legislation has not yet had the effect which it was, intended to produce. He says that a renewal of the bounty for at least five years is necessary. I am hopeful that before the Bill leaves this House certain amendments will be made in it which will make it clear to the people of Queensland that we favour a limitation of the period for which the bounty will be paid, and that the time is coming when they must either demonstrate that they can do without it, or give up the attempt as a failure. The Minister, in calling for a report from Dr. Maxwell, evidently anticipated that, there was' to be some limitation of the bounty ; because the first question he put to him was not, whether, in his opinion, it is necessary to indefinitely extend the bounty, but, for what further period, it appears necessary to extend it. That form of the question satisfies me that either the Government, whose mouthpiece the Minister was, or the Minister himself, recognises that the bounty is not to be a' permanent buttress for the "white' ' sugar industry. I shall deal with Dr. Maxwell's answer presently. The honorable member for Gippsland delivered a short, but very practical speech, which I value very much because of the point of view from which- it was conceived. The honorable member is a protectionist - not an extreme or rabid one, but one who believes in the principle of giving State assistance to industries - and it was to be supposed that he would favorably regard a measure of- this sort. But I was pleased to find that he recognised that there is a danger in continuing such a bounty for an unlimited period, and that he went so far as to say that he would advocate its gradual reduction, with a view to ultimately abolishing it.

Mr Thomas - Because it does not assist a Victorian industry.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not think that that is a just observation. I am prepared to admit that there are many protectionist members in this House, some of them occupying very high positions, who do not seem to be capable of recognising the complaints of any industry outside Victoria ; but I acquit the honorable member for Gippsland of taking so selfish, parochial, and narrow a view. If proof were wanted for that statement, it is supplied in the fact that he is willing to continue a bounty for another period of years for the assistance of an industry in another State, which requires the people of Victoria to pay £4 per ton more for their sugar than they would otherwise have to pay. The honorable member made the suggestion that, if a sliding scale were applied, the bounty need not be limited to five years. In his opinion, the present arrangements should be continued for at least two or three years before the application of the sliding scale ; and he proposed that it should be then reduced by about 12 J per cent, per annum, which would involve the bounty not being finally abolished until eight years after the commencement of the sliding scale, or something like eleven years hence. The House is to be congratulated upon the very temperate, level-headed, and serious manner in which this subject has been discussed. I have remained in the Chamber the whole time, as I wished to hear all that could be said by what I may term the " sugar members," and because I felt that the representatives of Queensland must of necessity have given special care to the study of this subject. .They have, however, shown a fairly strong leaning towards the interests of their own State; and not one of them commented upon the enormous cost which the Commonwealth has to bear to give their State the advantage which it enjoys. They claim to be entitled to the bounty, because of the effect of the White Australia policy upon one of the industries of their State; but they did not even acknowledge the great cost which the bounty imposes on the other States. I think that we have heard too much to-day about the effect of this policy upon particular States. The honorable member for Franklin gave us a great deal of interesting information about the jam industry, and the effect of this legislation upon it, scarcely all of which was apropos. He, however, gave us the important information that the difference between the cost of sugar in England, and its cost in Australia ranges from £4 to £6 or £7 a ton. If he had quoted the prices ruling during the time when the European bounties were in operation, under which the manufacturers of England were able to secure European sugar for less than it cost in the countries of production, his figures would have been less useful ; but they covered a later period. -

I submit that this matter is simply one of cost. One could grow pine-apples or bananas in Iceland, or do anything else: by artificial means ; but would it pay to do so? Is it worth our while to persist in trying to carry on the sugar industry by white labour in competition with countries like Java, Fiji, and New Guinea, where cheap, coloured labour can be employed? I do not advocate the abandonment of the " white " sugar industry in Queensland; but every Australian citizen must sooner or later ask himself : " How t long are we to continue to attempt to grow sugar with white labour at an expenditure in wages four or five times as large as h paid in the industry outside Australia?"

Mr Bamford - That argument will apply all round.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - As sugar can be grown in Java, Fiji, and New Guinea, with cheap coloured labour, we must ask ourselves whether it is worth while to continue to pay nearly £400,000 a year to grow sugar in Australia with white labour. It is not as if we were deficient in other industries. Every one knows that this country is as yet in long clothes, so far as the development of industries is concerned. Without referring to the causes which have, in my opinion, operated to discourage the introduction: of capital and the carrying on of industries in this country, I have no hesitation in saying that we shall, in the future, when our legislature is less disposed to interfere with economic laws, be astonished at the output of the results of our industries, as compared with what we are doing at present. It is not as if we had exhausted the industries for which Australia is suited, and in which white labour can be appropriately employed. We are deliberately trying to provide employment for white labour in a portion of Australia, which, as President Roosevelt says, ought to be utilized by people of other nationalities than our own. The question we have to consider is whether we are going for generation after generation to carry on this industry under abnormal and unnatural conditions. Dr. Maxwell, towards the close of his report,, says -

The undertaking of substituting white for coloured labour, and of placing a tropical industry upon a basis of white production, constitutes a great experiment. The experiment, in its execution, traverses natural and economic conditions that have to be consulted at every step.

It is not for me to object to the people of Australia trying this experiment if they wish to do so; but, as practical men, we have to consider whether, on the ground of sentiment, we should authorize the expenditure of £400,000 per annum, in order to carry on an experiment which, on the face of it, appears unlikely to succeed. The honorable member for Hindmarsh has come to the conclusion that the experiment has failed. He has formed that opinion against his own inclination and aspirations, and in spite of his former convictions. I Dr. Maxwell says that this is an experiment, and that it is merely a matter of cost. If honorable members will refer to his report they will find that in answer to question 2, Dr. Maxwell says: -

The purpose of the bonus is to substitute white for coloured labour, making it thus in the first place a matter of cost.

Then he goes on to quote some figures which, to my mind, demonstrate the futility of the experiments. He says that white labour can be obtained at, on the average, _£i 10s. 1 id. per week, whilst black labour, even in Australia, costs on the average only 14s. ijd. per week. Therefore white labour is more expensive than black labour by more than 100 per cent. A great deal has been said1 on the sentimental side of this question, about the wretched provision made for Europeans employed on the plantations. Honorable members have painted harrowing pictures, and have spoken of their fellow men as if they were a helpless lot of creatures, who had to be fed and put to bed by their employers; as if the conditions under which they slept and the sanitary conditions surrounding them" were matters in which they could not help themselves at all. I have yet to be convinced that a genuine British workman, whether of first, second, or third grade, will live in insanitary conditions, like the lowest class of Chinese, unless he chooses to do so.

Mr Watson - They have to do it or give way to the blackfellow.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - We were told by the honorable member for Hindmarsh that some of these men were receiving as much as 35s. per week, and it is absurd to ask us to believe that where a body of British workmen are grouped together in an industry of any kind with continuous . employment, they cannot afford enough out of even moderate wages to supplement in some way the accommodation supplied by their employers. Is it not farcical to attempt to appeal to our sympathies by telling us that these men have to sleep on bare boards? Have we not seen men on) selections sew bags together, and by filling them with ferns, make ai very respectable bed ? Have we not also seen them erect four posts, and by spreading a corn sack over the top, construct a very comfortable hammock?

Mr Watson - The conditions on the sugar plantations are quite different.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member should not fight this question at $he sacrifice of reason and logic. He knows very well that corn sacks can be obtained for "a song " in any part of Australia; and it is absurd to say that European workmen are subjected1 to incurable hardships bv being called upon to sleep on "bare boards." Men who would put up with such conditions can be nothing more than hopeless idiots. I am using a practical argument, based on personal experience, and I say that the men referred to could improve their conditions, so far as bedding is concerned, by the expenditure of 6d. each. We are told that the men are required to live in the midst of insanitary surroundings. How can that state of affairs be brought about if the men take the trouble to look after themselves? Is it to be believed that fifty British workmen living together cannot obviate insanitary conditions by taking a little extra trouble as to how they conduct some small part of their daily life. The conditions in such circumstances depend to a verv large extent upon the men themselves. The more remote a man is from civilization, the easier it is for him to keep the place in which he eats and sleeps in a sanitary condition - as sweet and clean, indeed as any drawingroom in the city. This attempt to excite our sympathy upon a point which does not touch the question before the House, is an indication of a somewhat weak case. It has no real application to the issue before us, -because any one with any knowledge of practical life must know that the inconveniences and discomforts to which reference has been made, could easily be obviated.

Mr Watkins - Then why does not the employer obviate them?

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Why do not the workmen help themselves?

Mr Watkins - The accommodation provided forms part of their payment.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - All I suggest is that each of the men should spend 6d. on a gunny bag.

Mr Watkins - Why should they?

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If the honorable member's remark indicates the class of workmen that is employed on the canefields, I am not surprised at what we have been told as to the condition's in which they live.

Mr Watkins - I contend that the honorable and learned member is not putting the case fairly.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I shall leave the House to judge for itself. The honorable member for Wide Bay made an exceedingly sensible speech, but I think even he has exaggerated the facts to which I have referred, though perhaps less than any other honorable member. He said that the bounty had proved a great success, and I should like to refer to Dr. Maxwell's report, in order tosee whether that statement is borne out. Opinions differ considerably upon the question as to the results brought about in the more northern districts. We know that in the northern parts of New South Wales sugar-growing by means of white labour has been a success, without any bonus at all . As we move northwards, however, we find that the success or non-success of white labour is merely a question of degree. In the southern districts of Queensland no great difficulty has been experienced. In the middle districts, no doubt, a good deal of difference of opinion has existed as to the suitability of white labour for performing work in the cane-fields. But so far as the northerndistricts are concerned, I think it would be futile to attempt to grow sugar profitably by means of white labour; unless, of course, the Commonwealth is to go on paying bonuses to enable growers to pay un-economic wages.

Mr Storrer - The people up there do not say so.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - No; and honorable members who come from there do not say so. I know that they are imbued with a theory to which they hold with the tenacity of bigots.

Mr Higgins - There are bigots on both sides.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I have not heard of any bigots on the other side of the White Australia question, so far as this House is concerned. I suppose that I am about as rigid a free-trader as any one in the Chamber; and yet I am willing to extend the period for the payment of the bounty so long as conditions are appended whichwill prevent false hopes from being raised in the minds of the people of Queensland. I should like to direct attention to two or three passages in Dr. Maxwell's report, bearing upon the question whether or not the experiment which has been carried on during the last four years has proved successful in the northern portion of Queensland. I findthat in the northern district there were thirty-six growers in 1892, and only 124in 1905. With all the artificial aid given, there has been an increase of only eighty-eight growers in that district. I do not think that that indicates very great success. Dr. Maxwell says -

In the Northern District, the situation is otherwise. In that district settlement is sparse ; and, so far, has not been increased by the provisions in favour of white sugar production.Neither white people prepared to settle upon the land, nor white labour ready to work at the higher wage that the bonus would provide, are on the ground, in the same proportionate state of readiness that obtains in the Southern District.

He says further -

Therefore, if an increase of excise,with a corresponding increase of bonus, is made, it is likely to induce or force an immediate substitution of white for coloured production in those districts where the natural and economic conditions allow at once of the change.

He thereby differentiates between those districts in which the natural economic conditions would allow of the change being made and those which do not offer any such possibilities. Upon page 4 he says -

But a third class of cane-growers exists, comprised of alien occupiers and growers, who are producing by the aid of alien labour, and this class is confined almost wholly to the localities of the Northern District. The question essentially arises whether protection should be extended to this class of producers; and, if so, what proportion of the amount that is being given to those white farmers, who, although they have not yet adopted, are eligible to, and are in part preparing to adopt those conditions that are required to place the sugar industry upon a permanent white basis. . . . The undertaking of substituting white for coloured labour, and of placing a tropical industry upon a basis of white production, constitutes a great experiment. The experiment, in its execution, traverses natural and economic conditions that have to be consulted at every step.

I suppose that there is no man in Australia who combines a special knowledge of this industry with a thorough grasp of the economic and natural conditions of Queensland in a higher degree than does Dr. Maxwell. His testimony appears to confirm the opinion, which some of us have formed; that the production of sugar bywhite labour in certain latitudes of Queensland is an attempt to fly in the very teeth of nature. I shall be very glad if anything can be done to differentiate the northern portion of that State from the remainder. In his report, Dr. Maxwell gives some very valuable information, to which previous reference has not been made. In reply to the question put to him as to the period over which it was necessary to extend the bounty system, he says -

In view of the facts sets forth", it is made apparent that sufficient data and results are not yet in our possession, enabling it to be said, with an approach to exactness, " for what further period it appears necessary to extend the payment of bonus." It, therefore, can only be advised that a further extension shall be adopted.

That statement seems to confirm the view which is entertained by the honorable member for Gippsland, that the period over which this Bill proposes to extend the bounty is not long enough. Though I am a 'free-trader, I so clearly recognise the justice of continuing the bounty for a time - even though it has been pronounced a failure, by one member of the Labour Party, and even though Dr. Maxwell is doubtful as to whether it will ultimately succeed - that I am willing to support its extension for more than five years, provided that the amendment outlined by the honorable and learned member for Corinella be adopted. Under his proposal, a sliding scale would be introduced at the end of three years, and under that sliding scale the bounty would gradually diminish, until it absolutely disappeared. Dr. Maxwell points out -

It is the possibility of failure of the present measure of bonus to meet the difference in cost between coloured and white labour which is, in part, confirming the larger employers of_ wage earning labour in holding to the use of aliens.

That is a very important passage in his report. I do not know whether the Minister attaches as much importance to it as it deserves. Dr. Maxwell points out that, sp long as uncertainty exists in the minds of the cane-growers as to the period during which this assistance will continue to be given, they will" hold on to alien labour," lest the bounty should be suddenly withdrawn. I ask those honorable members, who are more sanguine about the effect of this measure than I am, to note that particular passage. It is practically an intimation that if we limit the bounty to a further term of five years, without notifying the canegrowers whether or not it is likely to be again renewed, they will hesitate to part with black labour, lest at the end of that period they may find themselves in a similar position to that which they occupied before this Parliament legislated for the industry.

Sir William Lyne - Does not the honorable and learned member think that it is wise to limit the bounty to a further term of five years, seeing that the Braddon section of the Constitution will then terminate ?

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not. I am very much impressed with the argument of the honorable member for Gippsland1, that the existing state of things ought to be continued for two or three years longer, and that then the term of the bounty should be extended for a longer period than five years, but only on condition that each year it -is diminished. Some intimation of what is going to take place should be given to the cane-growers. I am quite satisfied that when the people of Australia realize what this experiment is costing, they will not consent to pay ^400,000 a year to continue it. I recognise the merit of the Bill, in view of the fact that the policy of a White Australia has been made the law of this country. Therefore, I am quite willing to extend the period during which the bounty shall be operative for eight or nine years, conditionally upon, the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Corinella being adopted'. I know from experience the disappointment which usually follows the adoption of a sliding scale. I took a very great interest in politics in this State as far back as 1866, and I can remember when the protective policy of Victoria was introduced. I 'recollect the arguments that were used by protectionists at that time, when the free-traders were a much more important section of the Victorian public than they are to-day. The latter argued that all the talk about protection Was merely intended to secure the insertion of the thin end of the wedge. ' They declared that if a protective policy were adopted by, Victoria, it would become a permanent institution. We know that it has continued in force from 1866 until the' present time. The protection afforded to industries during that period has not been diminished; on the contrary, theyare crying out for more. I remember that a number of the, more plausible protectionists used to say : " We ask for only a little assistance at first. You should treat us as you do a child which is endeavouring to walk. Hold us up for a little while, and withdraw your support gradually, and we shall be able to walk alone. Give us protection now, and we shall be perfectly satisfied in a few years to have it withdrawn." What has been the result? Not only has no sliding scale been in existence, but from 1866 till the present time - a period of nearly forty years - the people of this. State have lived under a protective policy, and every year they have sought more protection. At the present time the industries of Victoria are crying out like puking children for " assistance," and threatening that they will be utterly ruined unless the duties upon the commodities they produce are increased. I recognise that, although we may provide in this measure that after a period of three years a sliding scale shall come into operation, under which the bounty payable upon the production of sugar grown by white labour will gradually diminish until it finally disappears, the composition of this House may be entirely changed before that time arrives. In that event, there will probably be a strong popularity-hunting attempt made to revert to the system which at present obtains. That, however, is not our concern. We must throw upon any Parliament, which chooses to adopt that course, the responsibility attaching to its action.

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