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Friday, 25 November 1910

Senator CHATAWAY (Queensland) . - I do not propose to delay the Senate, but there are one or two matters to which I wish to refer before the Appropriation Bill is read a first time. Some statements have been made with regard to the way in which the Estimates are presented to the Senate. Our practice has been getting worse and worse year by year, ever since Federation commenced. What is occurring this year simply puts the coping stone on an evil that previously existed. We cannot say that this Government originated the practice. For years we have been dealing with the finances in an utterly inadequate manner. This Parliament has abandoned the old-fashioned idea that the Budget should be brought in at the earliest possible moment after the conclusion of the financial year, and should then be discussed at length practically before any other business is dealt with. I am not saying that the present Government is specially to blame, but the evil is one which the Government might have taken steps to cure. I hope they will do so next year. A day or two ago, I asked the Honorary Minister a question as to whether, in connexion with the Vancouver mail contract, the Government were pressing the Canadian Government to make Brisbane a port of call. The Minister gave me a noncommittal reply ; but when I put a further question, he said, " Yes. the Government are pressing the claims of Brisbane." The correspondence has since been tabled. I venture to say that the Minister will find nothing in it to justify the reply that he gave that the Government have been pressing the claims of Brisbane upon the Canadian Government. Brisbane is, it is true, mentioned in one of the cablegrams in which the Government expressed a desire that Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne should be ports of call.

Senator McGregor - What more does the honorable senator want?

Senator CHATAWAY - It is astonishing to think that, in a matter of this kind, the whole of the correspondence on the subject amounts to a few cablegrams, and that neither the present Postmaster-General nor his predecessor took the trouble to write a despatch in proper form to the Canadian Government urging their views. There is a very good reason why Brisbane should continue to be a port of call. Long after the Commonwealth was established Queensland continued to pay her share of a subsidy which she and New South Wales had originated to keep the Vancouver mail service going.

Senator Guthrie - Western Australia made special payments until the expiration of the bookkeeping system.

Senator CHATAWAY - Western Australia never had anything to do with this particular service, and, consequently, has no grievance in connexion with the matter. Another matter to which I wish to allude is this : I ask the representatives of the Government to consult with the Minister of Trade and Customs as to the desirableness of altering the statutory rules under which increasing quantities of cheap imitation rum, made chiefly in Holland, but also in France, are being brought into Australia. It is sold as rum without any intimation being conveyed to the public that it is merely an imitation article. The spirit is distilled from molasses, the product of sugar beet. If any honorable senator chooses to look up the dictionary definition of rum, he will find that it must be distilled from cane molasses. I have consulted the latest and most authoritative dictionary of the English language - a work so up-to-date that the last volumes of it have not yet been published. I refer to the New Oxford Dictionary, which defines rum as " a spirit distilled from various products of the sugar cane, sugar syrup, and so forth." Curiously enough, the following note appears after the definition -

The name has also been improperly applied to spirits made in imitation of this from beetroot and other materials.

Now the word "rum" is like the words "cotton" and "wool." It is known to represent something definite. This cheap rum is not a bond fide rum, and its introduction is preventing the development of our Australian rum distilling. Only the other day, when the persons engaged in the trade were approached with a suggestion that there should be erected further buildings for the production of this spirit, they pointed out that it would be idle to do so until the importation of this cheap rum from Europe was stopped. I find that, in 1909, 3,269 gallons of rum were imported from France. We know perfectly well that that rum was produced from the molasses of the sugar beet. From the Netherlands about 3,000 gallons of the same spirit were imported. My information is that a large increase has taken place in the quantity imported during the past few months, but I have not been able to obtain the precise figures in this connexion from the Customs Department. I repeat that the introduction of this cheap rum is retarding the developing of our rum industry. I venture to suggest that a very simple remedy for this evil might be applied. The Imperial authorities define rum as "a spirit distilled from molasses in a country growing sugar-cane." Thus any spirit imported into the Old Country under the name of " rum " from a country which is not growing sugar-cane requires to have attached to it a certificate of the country of origin. We are supposed to have in operation an Act to prevent the introduction into Australia of goods under a trade misdescription. Yet here is an article which is a fraud on the public, and which is being imported to the detriment of an Australian industry. There is just one other matter to which I desire to refer. It is the dangerous condition of affairs which appears to be growing up in Papua. When the Deakin Government was in power in 1907, I pointed out that we were allowing native labourers to be recruited, under long contracts, in one part of Papua, and taken to another part some hundreds of miles distant. There are, at present, 5,585 natives in Papua under contract in various industries, in addition to 1,947 who are casually employed. These figures show a considerable increase on the figures for the previous year, which, in turn, disclose ah increase on those for .the preceding year. If we are going to govern Papua or the Northern Territory efficiently, I would suggest that the annual reports upon those Territories must be presented to us within a reasonable time after the close of their financial years. The annual report upon Papua for the year ended 30th June last has not yet reached us, and, but for the return which I asked the Government to supply, nothing would be known in reference to its progress or administration. As honorable senators are aware, if there were no Coronation ceremony in London next year, this Parliament would not meet in the ordinary way until next July. The annual report relating to the progress, finance, and administration of Papua would then have to be presented to Parliament, and, consequently, we should be unable to discuss the affairs of that Territory until fourteen or fifteen months after the close of its financial year. I repeat that, if we cannot secure the annual reports relating to Papua and the Northern Territory within a reasonable period after the termination of their financial years, we shall surrender the hold that we ought to have over the administration of those Territories. I have already mentioned the number of natives in Papua who are engaged under contract. According to Mr. Staniforth Smith, there is an increasing demand for native labour, and an increasing number of natives are willing to be employed. Thus the evil which I am about to point out is an increasing, and not a decreasing, one. In the Northern Division of Papua, in 1906, the death rate amongst the natives under contract was 222 per 1,000, and then a very considerable number was employed. But that mortality rate was the result of an epidemic - I do not suggest that it represents the normal state of affairs in Papua. I may mention that I have worked out the figures relating to the death rate amongst the natives from various reports for 1908, 1909, and 1910. Until the last two reports were available, there was no complete evidence as to the mortality rate amongst Papuans under contract. In the Central Division, in 1908, I find that the death rate was 10.5 per 1,000, in 1909 it was 14.8 per 1,000, and in 1910 it was 37 J per 1,000. In the Eastern Division the death rate in 1908 was 6.4 per 1,000, in 1909 it had mounted to 32.6 per 1,000, which means that it had increased five-fold, and in 1910 it was 96 per 1,000. In other words, it had trebled again. I admit that, in cities like Liverpool and New York, the death rate is as high as 20 per 1,000, but in Australia generally it is, roughly speaking, only 9 per 1,000. In the case of kanakas in Queensland, when an epidemic occurred the deathrate was known to reach 40 per 1,000, but during the last years that they were employed in Queensland the average deathrate reached from 22 to 23 per 1,000. In the North-Eastern Division of Papua, the death rate in 1906 was 16 per 1,000, and in 1910 it was 86J per 1,000. In the Division of Kumusi, the mortality rate In 19 10 was 37 per 1,000, and in Mambare, during the same year, it was 15 per 1,000. I do not say that the Government are responsible for this high rate of mortality amongst the Papuan labourers. But I do say that the mortality rate amongst those who are engaged under contract is steadily increasing; and I advise the Minister of External Affairs, who some time ago visited Papua to personally inquire into the condition of affairs there, to ascertain whether something cannot be done to check this increasing mortality rate. Otherwise we may come under the censure of a large portion of the civilized world. One cause of the high death rate amongst the natives may be that it is the practice to take them from one part of Papua, perhaps hundreds of miles to another part, where they are to be employed. As a result, they usually die of dysentery. Anybody who chooses to read the results which have followed the moving of natives from place to place in South Africa - and I recommend to the notice of honorable senators a book by Hyatt in this connexion - will know that, when natives are moved only a couple of hundred miles, it frequently happens that, owing to some slight change in their, food, they die. Another cause which has much to do with the mortality of coloured men brought into contact with civilization is the fact that they are led to desert their native nakedness and wear cotton clothes. These clothes get wet through, and the natives, not understanding things, continue to wear them, get wet, and die. I hope that some steps will be taken by the Government to fully inquire into this matter. I have heard that there are some members of this Parliament who intend to visit Papua during the recess, and I hope they will look into it on the spot. There is a serious danger that Australia may ac- quire a bad name unless we carefully handle this difficult question of big companies engaging men in one part of the Territory to work under contract in another. Included in the return which has been tabled there is a letter from Mr. Staniforth Smith, in which he says that the term of engagement of these men is usually ten months, and the wages paid to those engaged in agriculture 9s. 6d., and to those engaged in mining us., a month. I believe that the statement as to the rates of wages is perfectly correct, but I have correspondence which was the outcome of the publication of this return somewhere, in which a man who was living in the Territory assures me positively that, so far as agricultural labourers are concerned, the term for which they are engaged is three years. If that be so, the evil to which I have referred is of even a more serious character than might otherwise be supposed.

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