Alfred Deakin speaks in support of the Immigration Restriction Bill

[A speech by Alfred Deakin in support of the Immigration Restriction Bill (the main basis of the White Australia Policy), in the House of Representatives, 12 September 1901.]

Second Reading
House Hansard
Thursday, 12 September 1901

Mr DEAKIN (Ballarat, Attorney-General) – The honorable member who has just concluded has, in his last few sentences, summed up the situation as regards the measure before the House. He has also indicated, and very properly so, that in this Bill we find ourselves in the presence of a problem infinitely vaster than the particular issue which we shall require to debate when we come to consider the clauses in committee. The fact is that compared with this measure — great and important as are the Bills which have been previously submitted — none of them is so fraught with possibilities — none of them gives rise in the minds of thoughtful men to so much anxiety. None will have touched a chord of deeper determination to deal with the issue involved in the most determined manner.

We here find ourselves touching the profoundest instinct of individual or nation — the instinct of self-preservation — for it is nothing less than the national manhood, the national character, and the national future that are at stake.

I also re-echo the statement which has been made during this discussion, that in dealing with the question in its largest aspect we are not wasting words. We are not unnecessarily occupying time or travelling from the matter in hand in declaring the purpose of this measure, and the ultimate policy of the people of Australia in regard to the coloured races which surround us, and are inclined to invade our shores. Statements of that kind, when made deliberately and without heat, are none the worse for being emphatic. There is no seal upon our lips, and no closure that can be applied to us when we speak with unqualified and inflexible firmness what we believe to be the demands of the people of Australia. This debate ought to be, and probably will be, read elsewhere, and it becomes honorable members on either side of the House, through some of their representative speakers, to signify their acceptance of their responsibility, their recognition of what is meant by this measure, and their intimation of what is implied by it. At this early period of our history we find ourselves confronted with difficulties which have not been occasioned by union, but to deal with which this union was established. No motive power operated more universally on this continent or in the beautiful island of Tasmania, and certainly no motive operated more powerfully in dissolving the technical and arbitrary political divisions which previously separated us than the desire that we should be one people; and remain one people without the admixture of other races. It is not necessary to reflect upon them even by implication. It is only necessary to say that they do not and cannot blend with us; that we do not, cannot, and ought not to blend with them. This was the motive power which swayed tens of thousands who take little interest in contemporary politics — this was the note that touched particularly the Australian born, who felt themselves endowed with a heritage not only of political freedom, but of an ample area within which the race might expand, and an obligation consequent upon such an endowment — the obligation to pass on to their children and the generations after them that territory undiminished and uninvaded. A coloured occupation would make a practical diminution of its extent of the most serious kind. It was this aspiration which nerved them to undertake the great labour of conquering the sectional differences that divided us. We, therefore, find ourselves to-day confronted with the possibility of dealing in a practical way, and for the first time in the history of our union, with the question which assisted so largely to unite us. We are fortunate, since at the very outset of our career, and indeed when the foundations of the Commonwealth of Australia were being laid, that the Convention which drafted the Constitution was alive to the vital character of this problem.

Fortunately we are better equipped than our cousins across the Atlantic. Our Constitution marks a distinct advance upon and difference from that of the United States, in that it contains within itself the amplest powers to deal with this difficulty in all its aspects. It is not merely a question of invasion from the exterior. It may be a question of difficulties within our borders, already created, or a question of possible contamination of another kind. I doubt if there can be found in the list of powers with which this Parliament, on behalf of the people, is endowed — powers of legislation — a cluster more important and more far reaching in their prospect than the provisions contained in sub-sections (26) to (30) of section 51, in which the bold outline of the authority of the people of Australia for their self-protection is laid down. We have power to deal with people of any and every race within our borders, except the aboriginal inhabitants of the continent, who remain under the custody of the States. There is that single exception of a dying race; and if they be a dying race, let us hope that in their last hours they will be able to recognise not simply the justice, but the generosity of the treatment which the white race, who are dispossessing them and entering into their heritage, are according them.

In regard to the people of every other race within our midst, we have special power to legislate. We have power over emigration and immigration, of which this measure proposes to take advantage. We have the power of dealing with the influx of criminals, without restriction of race or colour. We have the undefined powers relating to external affairs, and the connexion of the Commonwealth with the islands in the Pacific, the exact meaning of which no one to-day can exactly define, and very happily so. I undertake to say that those provisions, like certain sections of the American Constitution, may slumber for a certain time — in our own case, perhaps, not a long time — but they can be interpreted, and will be interpreted, to meet whatever may be the necessities of any situation that arises outside the boundaries of the Common wealth affecting the future of this country, or of the multitudinous islands of the Pacific. So we enter on the consideration of this great matter fully equipped in our Constitution. The responsibility of dealing with it rests directly on our shoulders. It is that burden which we are now endeavouring to lift.

We inherit a legacy in the shape of the aliens which have been already admitted within our borders. The programme of a “white Australia” means not merely its preservation for the future — it means the consideration of those who cannot be classed within the category of whites, but who have found their way into our midst. Unfortunately the statistics of the last census are not sufficiently advanced in this regard to enable one to say definitely the number of those within our territory who are capable of being dealt with under sub-section (26) of section 51 of the Constitution. But I should say that at a very moderate estimate, based on reference to the last census, there are from 70,000 to 80,000 aliens already in Australia. A certain number of these may be naturalized, and a certain number may have been British subjects before they came here.

An Honorable Member. – These are not European aliens?

Mr DEAKIN – No; I should say there are about 80,000 coloured aliens in Australia. Of these, probably somewhat less than one-half are Chinese, and apparently about 9,000 are Polynesians. The remainder are recruited from a variety of people, mainly those of the neighbouring countries of Asia. We find on our hands this not inconsiderable number of aliens who have found admission to these States, either before there was the protection, such as several of the States now enjoy, or who are still able to find their way into States which, like Victoria, are, unhappily, not protected to the same degree.

It has to be remembered in connexion with this question that so long as any of the States of the union remain without having their doors closed, as much as other States, the protection which those other States enjoy is absolutely defeated and rendered of no effect. From the States which have no restrictions, immigration is sure to flow, and is flowing overland into those which have certain restrictions. What we have to face, therefore, is not an Australia protected to the full extent of State powers, but an Australia which, being only in part protected, is scarcely protected at all — excepting in regard to the Chinese. Even in regard to these, there are considerable differences between the restrictions imposed in the various States. We find ourselves to-day, it may be said, with, at all events, a half-open door for all Asiatics and African peoples, through which entry is not difficult, and through which, as the experience of the honorable member for Southern Melbourne proves, there is still entry from time to time. It was with a full recognition of those facts that the first plank in the Government platform, as submitted at Maitland, and emphasized at every opportunity since, was the plank which for ease of reference was called the declaration for a “White Australia.” It was for this reason that so much stress was laid on this issue, and it is for this reason that since the Government took office, no question has more frequently or more seriously occupied their attention, not only because of this one proposal now before the House, but with regard to executive acts that have been and will be necessary.

There have been determinations which hereafter may have important consequences arising out of our administration, as well as other measures which will be submitted to Parliament, all having in view the accomplishment of the same end. That end, put in plain and equivocal terms, as the House and the country are entitled to have it put, means the prohibition of all alien coloured immigration, and more, it means at the earliest time, by reasonable and just means, the deportation or reduction of the number of aliens now in our midst. The two things go hand in hand, and are the necessary complement of a single policy — the policy of securing a “white Australia.” The Bill now before us is to be supplemented in a few days by a special measure called for by the circumstances of the Pacific Islanders who have found their way into this country under State guarantee and with State encouragement. In addition a measure will be necessary to bring the Chinese restriction laws in the various States absolutely into line, so that the strictest conditions imposed in any State shall be imposed in all the States. . . . This chain of legislation, supplemented by executive action, should prove, within a very short time, a means of considerably reducing the number of those aliens we now have within our borders.

The origin — the source of our action — requires some little exposition to those who look at us with old world eyes. One can well understand the attitude of the statesmen of Europe, absorbed in their own affairs, and in the control of large populations within comparatively narrow areas, approaching amazement when they regard what appears to be the arrogance of a handful of white men, most of them clustered on the eastern littoral of this immense continent, adopted before they have effectively occupied a quarter of the continent, and with the great bulk of its immense extent little more than explored, or with a sparse settlement. Those European statesmen may well view with surprise the anxiety exhibited here in this respect.

There are those who mock at the demand of a white Australia, and who point to what they consider our boundless opportunities for absorbing a far greater population than we at present possess, who dwell, if commercially-minded, on the opportunities for business we are neglecting by failing to import the cheapest labour to develop portions of our continent which have not as yet been put to use. But the apprehensions of those abroad, even when cursorily examined, are soon seen to proceed from a far narrower outlook than that which belongs to those who feel themselves charged with the future of this country.

We should be false to the lessons taught us in the great republic of the west; we should be false to the never-to-be-forgotten teachings from the experience pf the United States, of difficulties only partially conquered by the blood of their best and bravest; we should be absolutely blind to and unpardonably neglectful of our obligations, if we fail to lay those lessons to heart. Cost what it may, we are compelled at the very earliest hour of our national existence — at the very first opportunity when united action becomes possible — to make it positively clear that so far as in us lies, however limited we may be for a time by self-imposed restrictions upon settlement, however much we may sacrifice in the way of immediate monetary gain — however much we may retard the development of the remote and tropical portions of our territory — those sacrifices for the future of Australia are little, and are, indeed, nothing when compared with a compensating freedom from the trials, sufferings, and losses that nearly wrecked the great republic of the west, still left with the heritage in their midst of a population which, no matter how splendid it may be in many qualities, is not being assimilated, and apparently is never to be assimilated in the nation of which they are politically and nominally a part. It is we, and not our critics, who in this matter are adopting the broader and more serious view — the view which the future will approve. It is a view which, when explained, will, even by critical statesmen, be necessarily admitted to be sound — one in which a democracy, in some respects impatient, is imposing on itself as a restraint in the interests of the future generations who are to enter into and possess the country of which we at present only hold the border. This note of nationality is that which gives dignity and importance to this debate.

The unity of Australia is nothing, if that does not imply a united race. A united race means not only that its members can intermix, intermarry and associate without degradation on either side, but implies one inspired by the same ideas, and an aspiration towards the same ideals, of a people possessing the same general cast of character, tone of thought — the same constitutional training and traditions — a people qualified to live under this Constitution — the broadest and the most liberal perhaps the world has yet seen reduced to writing — a people qualified to use without abusing it, and to develop themselves under it to the full height and extent of their capacity. Unity of race is an absolute essential to the unity of Australia. It is more, actually more in the last resort, than any other unity. After all, when the period of confused local policies and temporary political divisions was swept aside it was this real unity that made the Commonwealth possible. It prevented us from repeating the ridiculous spectacles unhappily witnessed in South America between communities called republics, the same in blood and origin, but unable to develop together or live side by side in peace.

Mr Wilks – Why not carry that idea out in the Bill?

Mr DEAKIN – If the honorable member will wait a moment he will see that is the very point I am endeavouring to arrive at. I do so without apology for touching on the aspects with which I am at present dealing, because, as I have said, these utterances of ours are not for home consumption only. I am speaking not merely for myself, but for the Government, when I say how entirely and absolutely they realize the fundamental character of the principle which lies below their declaration for a white Australia, and that it may be seen that there is no uncertain note, there is no divided feeling, there is no conflict of opinion within this House, or without it; that the unity of Australia must be secured on this question if not on any other; that we stand shoulder to shoulder with practically an inconsiderable minority against us, so small as to be scarcely discoverable. At the very first instant of our national career we are as one for a white Australia.

I say that because, if I may be pardoned for prophecy, it seems to me that this declaration for Australia is likely to stand with the declaration in the United States made some 70 or 80 years ago, received with derision where it was not ignored when made, but which, with every succeeding decade, has advanced towards greater influence, and a wider acknowledgment, until at last, practically the whole civilized world, however unwillingly, has been compelled to accept the Monroe doctrine as applied by the United States of America. We may have in the future some development which may call for the application of the Monroe doctrine in the Pacific. But far more important than that, and a far more significant declaration at the present time, is this for a white Australia. It is the Monroe doctrine of the Commonwealth of Australia. It is no mere electioneering manifesto, but part of the first principles upon which the Commonwealth is to be administered and guided.

Various attempts have been made in this direction even before union. I need not recapitulate them, but it is with some pride I recollect that my native State has been to the front in this movement from the very earliest days. It was in 1849 that Port Phillip emphatically and in the most decisive manner possible refused to permit a single convict, even from the mother country, to be landed upon these shores. It was in 1855 that the first Legislative Council of Victoria passed the first legislation in this hemisphere for the exclusion of the Chinese, and I had the honour of being a member of the Government which, in 1883, conveyed, without any qualification or reservation, its intimation to the British Government of the day that, much as we appreciated the difficulties under which they had been placed by all that followed from the unhappy tragedy of Phoenix Park, no one of the men connected with that tragedy, even if under the shelter of the law as informers, should be permitted to land in this country.

Mr Barton – And that attitude was taken up all over Australia.

Mr DEAKIN – We were first challenged in the port of Melbourne, and that was our reply. The first occasion on which my honorable colleague, the Minister for Trade and Customs, and I were officially associated was when we sat on the conference which met in Sydney in 1888 to consider the then threatened invasion of the continent by Chinese immigrants. It was then that we drafted a programme, which was followed thereafter, not only in regard to the Chinese, but which was, in 1896, adopted by a conference of Premiers in regard to coloured aliens generally. My right honorable and learned friend drew the Bill, and I drafted the declaration for submission to our colleagues, which was wired to the British Government. This informed them of the vital importance that Australia as a whole attached to this question of purity of race, and that we relied upon two means to protect us. The first was the diplomatic action of the mother country, which we invoked, and did not invoke in vain, and the other was uniform legislation throughout Australia; then a difficult thing to secure when six States had to be dealt with, but now, happily, within the province of this single Legislature. From that conference flowed a series of Acts which were accepted in the mother country and put a stop to the serious inflow of Chinese, reducing it thereafter to a very small proportion. In 1896 a conference of Premiers decided to apply exactly the same provisions to all other Asiatics besides Chinese. Four or five of the colonies, if I recollect aright, passed measures upon the lines of the Chinese Acts, naming the people proposed to be excluded and applying to all coloured Asiatics, without qualification, the provisions which had been previously accepted in regard to the Chinese. In 1897 the Premiers visited the mother country.

Mr V. L. Solomon (South Australia) – Did South Australia pass such an Act?

Mr DEAKIN – Yes. New South Wales, New Zealand, South Australia, and Tasmania passed these measures, not one of which, by the way, was accepted by the Home Government. In 1897, at a conference of Premiers the explanation of this apparent departure from the previous endorsement of legislation of this character was made by the then and now Colonial Secretary, Mr. Chamberlain. It is published, so far as Victoria is concerned, in the correspondence subsequently presented to Parliament.

Here we begin to pass from a general consideration of the question to the particular consideration of the form of this Bill. Honorable members who are aware of what the policy of the Government is, and who know how they have realized from the very first moment the importance of this issue, have asked from time to time during this debate why the Government adopted the particular form of this measure, and why they have not put upon the face of it a prohibition of the particular Asiatic people whom it is desired to exclude. They put that question as if it was not within common knowledge, as if the Government was in possession of some private and secret information of somebody’s wishes, and as if the very conditions upon which any measure of this kind requires to proceed, if immediate acceptance is to be looked upon as a certainty, had not been laid down in the most public fashion and communicated to the people of all the States.

What Mr. Chamberlain said to the Premiers who met him in London in 1897 related to Bills couched in just such terms as those which it is now suggested should be adopted by this Chamber in preference to the Government proposal in this Bill.

Mr. Chamberlain said –

I wish to direct your attention to certain legislation which is in process of consideration, or which has been passed by some of the colonies

I am quoting now from page 15 of the Victorian copy of the correspondence — in regard to the immigration of aliens, and particularly of Asiatics.

I have seen these Bills, and they differ in some respects one from the other, but there is no one of them, except perhaps the Bill which comes to us from Natal, to which we can look with satisfaction. I wish to say that Her Majesty’s Government thoroughly appreciate the object and the needs of the colonies in dealing with this matter. We quite sympathize with the determination of the white inhabitants of these colonies, which are in comparatively close proximo to millions and hundreds of millions of Asiatics, that there shall, not be an influx of people alien in civilization, alien in religion, alien in customs, whose influx, moreover, would most seriously interfere with the legitimate rights of the existing labour population. An immigration of that kind must, I quite understand, in the interests of the colonies, be prevented at all hazards, and we shall not offer any opposition to the proposals intended with that object

Honorable members will observe that no opposition is to be offered — but I ask you also to bear in mind the traditions of the Empire, which make no distinction in favour of or against race or colour and to exclude, by reason of their colour, or by reason of their race, all Her Majesty’s Indian subjects, or even all Asiatics, would be an act so offensive to those peoples that it would be most painful, I am quite certain, to Her Majesty to have to sanction it.

It will be observed that there is no question of refusal. There is an intimation that if pressed the demand must be granted, but that it would pain Her Majesty to grant it; an intimation that it will be granted, but a request that “I must ask you to consider that it will be painful to Her Majesty.” I now omit some parts of the report relating to what Mr. Chamberlain said as to the relative antiquity of Hindu families. Then, proceeding to touch the matter in hand again, he said —

I say, you, who have seen all this, cannot be willing to put upon those men — (meaning the Hindus) — a slight which I think is absolutely unnecessary for your purpose, and which would be calculated to provoke ill-feeling, discontent, irritation, and would be most unpalatable to the feelings not only of Her Majesty the Queen, but of all her people.

Mr V. L. Solomon (South Australia) – Has not the honorable and learned member omitted a considerable portion of that report?

Mr DEAKIN – Yes, I pointed out that Mr. Chamberlain had made a reference to the relative antiquity of the Hindu families. I have missed nothing except that. Of course, this is a public document. Every one will be able to see what I have read; nothing is concealed by my omitting the part referred to. Mr. Chamberlain proceeded —

What I venture to think you have to deal with is the character of the immigration. — I must be understood as reading, but disagreeing with this part of the statement — It is not because a man is of a different colour from ourselves that he is necessarily an undesirable immigrant, but it is because he is dirty, or he is immoral, or he is a pauper, or he has some other objection which can be defined in an Act of Parliament — the last I have no objection to — and by which the exclusion can be managed with regard to all those whom you really desire to exclude. Well, gentlemen, this is a matter I am sure for friendly consultation between us. As I have said, the colony of Natal has arrived at an arrangement which is absolutely satisfactory to them, I believe: and remember they have, if possible, an even greater interest than you, because they are closer to the immigration which has already begun there on a very large scale, and they have adopted legislation which they believe will give them all that they want, and to which the objection I have taken does not apply, which does not come in conflict with this sentiment, which I am sure you share with us; and I hope, therefore, that during your visit it may be possible for us to arrange a form of words which will avoid hurting the feelings of any of Her Majesty’s subjects, while at the same time would amply protect the Australian colonies against any invasion of the class to which they would justly object.

That was a plain, frank, and quite friendly request on behalf of the British Government to the Australian colonies, that in excluding those whom they wished to exclude they should adopt a certain course. It was put as plainly as possible that our object was entirely sympathized with, and that what we asked would be done, but, in return, the counter request is made that we shall do what we desire in the way of exclusion without casting any slur upon subjects of the Empire, and without offence to other peoples whom we wish to keep at a distance from our shores. That was a perfectly reasonable request, providing that it can be proved that the means suggested will be effective, or that they can be supplemented by other means which, operating with them, will make them effective to secure the desired end.

Mr Poynton – How will this produce a white Australia?

Mr DEAKIN – If we exclude all coloured peoples we go a long way towards obtaining a white Australia. I understand the honorable member to imply that, while the educational standard may exclude a great many, it will not exclude all of these, as there are races whom it is desired to exclude who are quite capable of fulfilling all the conditions imposed in the Bill?

Mr Poynton – Yes, and races which are not British subjects.

Mr DEAKIN – I shall not take advantage of the objection that the persons who annoy us most, the Syrians and Afghans, who seek to make a living by peddling; the Polynesians, from whom there is little danger once the State legislation has been dealt with, and 99 per cent. of the Chinese who come here — would fail to pass the test imposed by the Bill. The Chinese and Japanese who arrive belong to poorly-paid classes, and are the least educated and least informed of their countrymen. It is not the highly-cultured who come here. The number of such people who come here in any one year could be counted upon the fingers of both hands. So that, for the present immigration the provisions of the measure would be operative. Similar provisions have already been operative in State Acts. The best proof that Mr. Chamberlain’s suggestion was not received in an unfriendly spirit by the colonies is that, since he made it, the States of New South Wales, Tasmania, Western Australia, and the colony of New Zealand have all passed Acts framed upon the model of the Natal Act, and embodying an educational test. The conference at which Mr. Chamberlain’s suggestions were made was held in 1897.

Mr Watson – But the New South Wales Act was passed only in December, 1898.

Mr DEAKIN – A return has been laid on the table showing the immigration and emigration of certain peoples year by year. It refers to seven specified classes of persons and a general class. It is as full as the State figures allow, but, unfortunately, some of their records are very incomplete. The total arrivals in New South Wales from 1896 to 1901, counting in part of this year, which would have been affected by the provisions of this measure if passed, and including Chinese, amounted to 739, and the departures to 2,296. It must be remembered that for half of that period New South Wales did not enjoy the protection of the Natal Act, which was passed at the end of 1898; but since then there has been a great improvement.

Mr Glynn – How can departures be affected by this measure?

Mr DEAKIN – They are not said to be affected by it, but in seeking to determine the future of Australia, we must take into consideration the circumstance that not only is there a certain influx, but there is also a certain efflux of these peoples, and we have reached a very happy condition of things when we can reduce the influx, below the efflux, because then we are on the right road to the reduction of our alien population.

In the six years which I have mentioned, three times as many of these people left New South Wales as arrived. In Queensland, during the same period, 6,700 Polynesians arrived and 4,700 departed, showing an increase in their number of 2,000. Of other peoples who would have been affected by this measure, if it had been passed, no fewer than 8,000 entered the State and only 6,000 left, so that as against an influx of 739 in New South Wales, there was an influx of 8,000 into Queensland, and as against an outflow from New South Wales of 2,296 there was an outflow of 6,000 from Queensland.

Mr Sawers – Did not they flow out of New South Wales into Queensland?

Mr DEAKIN – There were very few to flow out of New South Wales.

Mr Barton – The returns show that out of 411 arrivals in New South Wales, all but 66 came from the other States.

Mr DEAKIN – Three hundred and forty-five of the New South Wales arrivals came from the other States.

Mr Watson – Naturally the influx into New South Wales would not be so great as into the northern State.

Mr DEAKIN – I agree. As the effectiveness of this measure may be challenged, and honorable members may desire to satisfy themselves on the question, they will find in this return information dealing with all the States. I take as the most striking contrast it affords, that between Queensland and New South Wales. It can be put in two or three words. Queensland without the Act attracted 3,000 aliens, while New South Wales with it attracted 300.

Mr McDonald – Most of them Chinese, upon whom a poll tax of £100 is imposed.

Mr DEAKIN – The number of Chinese coming into Queensland was 4,400, of which only 2,400 left. Leaving the Chinese out of account, the number of aliens coming into New South Wales was only about 400, and into Queensland between 3,000 and 4,000.

Mr McDonald – Does the Minister mean it to be inferred that that has been the effect of the operation of the New South Wales Act?

Mr Salmon – I can understand the impatience of honorable members to obtain information, but I ask as a point of order if these interjections should be allowed. I am very desirous to hear a continuous statement from the Attorney-General, and it has already been indicated to us that all these speeches will probably be read in another part of the Empire, and certain results may flow from them.

Mr SPEAKER – All interjections are out of order, but, so long as they are short, and do not interrupt the thread of the speech which is being delivered, I do not think I should interfere. At the same time, during the last few moments, the interjections have been rather more frequent than I think is to the best interests of the House.

Mr DEAKIN – I recognize the kindness of the honorable member for Laanecoorie in rising to the point of order, but regard the interjections which have been made as quite friendly, and as assisting the elucidation of points. Even though the continuity of my speech is broken, if the House is more fully informed the better result is gained. The most recent communication which has been made public property in which the attitude of the British Government is defined, is the despatch which accompanied the Queensland Central Sugar Mills Bill, when it was returned within the last two or three months. The measure contained a provision which named, as it is desired we should name in this Bill, the classes of persons whom it was sought to exclude by colour, and race. In regard to that proposal, Mr. Chamberlain says —

His Majesty’s Government fully appreciate the motives which have induced the Government and Legislature of Queensland to pass that particular provision of the Bill.

That was not a provision excluding these persons from Queensland; it was a provision excluding them from employment in certain mills in the central division of that State. I should say that there was stronger justification for the insertion of this provision in a measure of that kind without it being considered likely to give offence than in an Act to prevent them from entering the country at all. Nevertheless, even in that modified form, it was taken exception to, on the grounds which are the same as those which I have already indicated to the House in quoting Mr. Chamberlain’s speech to the Premiers. They need not be repeated except for one or two very significant sentences, which show that the Imperial Government has not changed ground, and indicate what it is prepared to approve if Australia desires. Mr. Chamberlain says —

In the first place it embodies a disqualification based on a place of origin — that is, practically a distinction of race and colour. Any attempt to impose disqualifications on the base of such distinctions, besides being offensive to a friendly power, is contrary to the general conceptions of equality which have been the guiding principle of British rule throughout the Empire. Disqualifications by educational tests, such as are embodied in the immigration laws of various colonies, is not a measure to which the Government of Japan or any other Government can take exception on behalf of its subjects; and if the particular tests in these laws are not regarded as sufficiently stringent, there is no reason why more stringent and effective ones of a similar character should not be adopted.

That is a most signal sentence — nothing could be plainer. If honorable members consider that the test of writing 50 words in the English tongue will not exclude those whom we are determined to exclude, it is open to us to increase the educational test, with the hearty approbation of the British Government. Mr. Chamberlain says that, if the lines are not regarded as sufficiently stringent, there is no reason why more stringent and effective ones of a similar character should not be adopted. It is for us to affix an educational standard that shall be exclusive. If we do not, the fault rests with ourselves. It is for us, while considering the effectiveness or non-effectiveness of the Bill, to remember that so long as the particular lines suggested are followed, no limitation of any kind is to be imposed upon us. Mr. Chamberlain then repeats —

But disqualification for certain employments on the sole ground of place of origin is a measure to which any Government concerned may reasonably object: and in the present Bill the aboriginal natives of two continents and of the Pacific Islands are disqualified solely on that ground.

Then he adds —

In the second place, besides being contrary to the general policy on which the British Empire is based, the Bill is objectionable as embodying a provision which is peculiarly offensive to Japan, a power with which His Majesty’s Government is, and earnestly desires to remain on friendly terms. It not only excludes Japanese from certain employment; but in excluding them it places them in the general category of Asiatic races, without any consideration being paid to their state of civilization, a proceeding which is not agreeable to the Japanese Government, as the Consul at Townsville stated in his letter of the 6th November, 1899, to the Chief Secretary.

I will also lay these on the table of the House — they have been published in all the papers.

Mr MCDONALD – Will the AttorneyGeneral explain why the other Bills which contained the same clause were assented to?

Mr DEAKIN – I do not pretend to explain that. I have no means of explaining anything that the British Government has done except what it has itself publicly explained. An explanation of other people’s motives is never worth much at any time, and in this case I do not know what reasons actuated the British Government. The point is that the Government are asked why they have adopted the particular proposals contained in this Bill. I have given the answer, which is perfectly public. The Government had no particular love for this method of proceeding any more than for any other method, but they realized — as honorable members of this House who share their responsibility must realize — that when a reasonable request was preferred in a most reasonable conciliatory manner to the people of Australia, it had to be taken into account. Referring for a moment to the last allusion of the Secretary of State for the Colonies to the Empire of Japan, it has never been my privilege to visit that country or to become acquainted with its inhabitants, but we all know, from the merest acquaintance with current news and with critical literature, how high a position that nation occupies in art and letters, and how worthy they are of the place, in our estimation, generally conceded to the highest and most civilized among the nations of the world. Many of the most competent artists of the day say that in the development of European art the introduction and knowledge of the art of Japan will form one of the chief landmarks of our history. This is an outside illustration, but I mention it in order to point out that a nation which is capable of the achievements which Japan is able to exhibit artistically, politically, and of the industrial expansion now going on in that country, is justified in resenting — as we should ourselves resent — any unnecessary reflection upon its character by another nation.

Japan is justified in resenting any unnecessarily offensive legislation on the part of another nation, just as we might object to being classed with the peoples of the Pacific Islands, as if the Polynesian residents of those islands and ourselves were on the same plane. When it becomes necessary for us to exclude people like the Japanese it is reasonable that we should exclude them in the most considerate manner possible, and without conveying any idea that we have confused them with the many uneducated races of Asia and untutored savages who visit our shores. To lump all these peoples together as Asiatics and undesirables would naturally be offensive to a high-spirited people like the Japanese, and surely without any request from the British Government or without any representations from the Japanese people mere considerations of courtesy, such as should exist between one civilized people and another, should lead us to make this distinction. Considerations of simple politeness, such as honorable members extend to each other in this House, should at least govern the actions of civilized nations in their dealings with one another.

Mr Conroy – Does the Attorney-General advocate Japanese immigration?

Mr DEAKIN – No; I say that the Japanese require to be absolutely excluded.

Mr Wilkinson – They are the most dangerous of all.

Mr DEAKIN – I contend that the Japanese require to be excluded because of their high abilities. I quite agree with the honorable member for Moreton that the Japanese are the most dangerous because they most nearly approach us, and would, therefore, be our most formidable competitors. It is not the bad qualities, but the good qualities of these alien races that make them dangerous to us. It is their inexhaustible energy, their power of applying themselves to new tasks, their endurance, and low standard of living that make them such competitors. I quite agree with the honorable member for Bland that the difference that separates them from us is quite as much in their standard of living as anything else. At all events, the faculties that make them dangerous to us are those which make their labour so cheap and their wants so few. The effect of the contact of two peoples, such as our own and those constituting the alien races, is not to lift them up to our standard, but to drag our labouring population down to theirs. It is the business qualities the business aptitude, and general capacity of these peoples that make them dangerous, and the fact that while they remain an element in our population, they are incapable of being assimilated, makes them all the more to be feared. The Japanese represent the highest class of those who seek to come here, and they are people who are capable of being dealt with on the same footing as any other civilized power. The Government of Queensland met Japan by means of a treaty, and succeeded in a great measure in preventing the introduction of more Japanese into that State. This was a graceful recognition by Queensland of the position of Japan amongst civilized nations, and has enabled that State to check the influx of Japanese without giving any offence to a friendly power.

Mr McDonald – The Japanese immigration has not been stopped.

Mr DEAKIN – It has not been absolutely stopped, but it should be stopped; and it remains for us to provide for the absolute prohibition of this and every other class of colored alien immigration by such means as shall not be unnecessarily offensive to the peoples to whom they belong. We ought to accomplish our ends with their good will, and probably in the case of Japan and of India, with the assistance of the Governments concerned.

Mr Conroy – Does the Attorney-General think that the educational test will block such capable people as the Japanese?

Mr DEAKIN – I think it will for the time being, and for this reason. The Government of Japan, which has high hopes and far-reaching aspirations, does not desire to lose any of its population at present. It has much better employment at home for all its people, particularly the better educated, and desires to keep them nearer at hand than they would be if they immigrated to this country.

Mr McDonald – If the Attorney-General wanted 500 men to-morrow, he could engage them from Japan.

Mr DEAKIN – Perhaps so, but I am speaking I am speaking of what the Government of Japan desires. The honorable member could secure recruits from any country. I disclaim, however, any attempt to enter into questions of foreign politics, not that they are remote from this issue, but because they occupy too much time. Japan wants all the strength she can command; she wants all her men at home. She has great fields opening up for their employment, where they will be of undoubtedly greater advantage to her than here, and we have every reason to suppose that the Japanese Government would meet the Commonwealth even more than it has met Queensland, to the extent of assisting us to make the prohibition absolute, that is, if we approach them with that reasonable consideration due to a civilized power. If the honorable member for Kennedy meant to refer to the possibility of the introduction of the Japanese under the contract system I may say that I am heartily with him in prohibiting that.

Mr McDonald – They have been doing it for years in Queensland.

Mr DEAKIN – The amendment of the honorable member for Bland aimed at the contract system, has the approval of the Government. There is nothing offensive in that, and there can be no difficulty about conceding it.

Sir William McMillan – That deals with more than foreign powers.

Mr DEAKIN – Yes; it deals with a power within the Empire. It deals with British India. There again we have a government that does not desire to lose its people, which has had to be approached again and again to supply coolies for Fiji or the West Indies, and which has only granted the concessions asked for under pressure. It is quite possible for us, through the British Government, to obtain the assistance of the Government of India in rendering the prohibition of immigration from that country most effective — a prohibition that would prevent people from coming here, and obviate the necessity of their being turned back.

I have been rather drawn away from the point which I was discussing, but there are so many subsidiary issues in connexion with this great question — all of which have to be taken into account — that I am glad to see that the House is disposed to pardon me.

Coming back again to the point which I left before this long divergence, I hope that honorable members will now begin to see why the Government have adopted the proposal embodied in this Bill, and why they continue to press it upon the House with all urgency. There is a second and important reason — as the Secretary for State for the Colonies has said, a measure couched in terms such as would make discriminations by origin and by colour will be necessarily offensive to a great power like Japan, and will offend some semi-independent potentates and powers-that-be in the British Empire of India. Consequently it is reasonable to suppose that representations from the British Government to these powers, or to others who may seem to be affected, may be thought desirable by them before the British Government assents to this Bill. It may, after what has been said, wish to explain to a foreign nation or to the people within its own bounds what the circumstances are under which this Bill has been passed, what the feeling of Australians is, and what is intended by us. This will all mean delay. The proposal of the Government does not by any means imply — and it is not intended to imply — that we have reached finality in regard to our immigration legislation when we have passed this Bill; but it is clear that the Bill, in its present shape, is one that can receive, and no doubt would receive, immediate assent, and may therefore become law within a few days or weeks of the present time. It would come into operation over the whole of Australia. While partial State prohibitions have necessarily failed, complete prohibition, as far as it is possible by this Bill, would be at once established in every part of the Commonwealth, and would give to the whole of the continent more than the measure of protection already afforded by some of the State Acts. This Bill is already stronger than the State Acts, and it could be made stronger still. The Government are prepared to assent to that.

Sir William McMillan – What does the Government propose to do with regard to the Chinese Acts at present in force?

Mr DEAKIN – We propose to assimilate those by raising all to the highest power — whatever the strongest restriction is anywhere, we propose, after the passing of this Bill, that it shall be imposed everywhere.

An Honorable Member – Will that not be offensive to the Chinese?

Mr DEAKIN – It may or may not be, but we must trust to the diplomatic representations of the British Government, where they are well able to make them effectively.

Sir William McMillan – Is it proposed to have the double tests provided for in this Bill and in the State Acts running alongside one another?

Mr Barton – Yes, certainly; but if we apply this Bill in priority, that may not be necessary.

Mr DEAKIN – We shall apply them both, and thus make assurance doubly sure. This Act is not finality. It is so far from being the last word that it is the first word in regard to immigration legislation. But it has this immense value, that it becomes immediately operative.

Mr McDonald – It establishes the principle.

Mr DEAKIN – Certainly, but it is not a principle which is exclusive, and which prevents us from adopting any other principle we may think it fit or necessary to adopt hereafter.

Mr Poynton – It is putting the Government flag up half-mast.

Mr DEAKIN – That is one of the phrases which, when it was used on previous occasions, really meant that the flag of the Opposition was hauled down to half-mast. There is absolutely no hint in this measure of any intention of making it a stopping place. It is one of the chain of measures which the Government themselves propose to pass, and if any other measure beyond this is necessary they are perfectly prepared to pass it. They are as anxious as any honorable member can be to see this proposal assented to. All that they feel called upon to point out is that this great advantage is to be obtained at once by the stretching out of the hand without any suspicion whatever of delay arising, whereas any proposal of the nature submitted by the honorable member for Bland is likely to occasion delay. Although we are justified in relying upon the express assertion of the British Government that we shall have conceded to us all that we desire, still it will be more consistent with our own self-respect, with a consideration of what is due to other nations and to the mother country, if we can achieve the desired result by means which are acceptable to the Imperial authorities than will be the case if we adopt means which are repugnant to them.

During this debate I felt a little pained to hear it implied that in taking this action the Ministry were being affected by some unknown, invisible, secret influence or coercion on the part of the British Government. Such a conception is so absolutely foreign to the facts that I do not know how it could for a moment be entertained. I speak with the knowledge that at all events it has twice been my fortune to visit London on behalf of the State of which I have the honour to be a citizen, and to make important representations upon certain great questions to the British Government. In each case it has been my fortune to be absolutely in opposition to both the Secretary of State for the Colonies, his colleagues, and the officials of his department.

It was my lot in relation to the New Hebrides and other questions to speak in private — as one is able to speak, and as my colleagues did only last year in regard to the Commonwealth Bill — words as considerate, but as plain, unvarnished, and unyielding, as were ever addressed to the ears of any Minister in any part of the world. That was our duty upon the last occasion, as it was my duty upon the first.

What treatment did we receive, although absolutely in opposition to the Imperial authorities? We received the same courtesy and consideration as honorable members extend to each other on the floor of this House, the same recognition that we had entire liberty of opinion and of action. It was recognised that we spoke for a people whose determination alone was to bind us, and that if we could not be influenced by argument in a public way we could not be influenced at all.

I hold that the attitude which the British Government adopted then, and which is adopted to-day in the House of Commons, where from time to time one may hear proposals debated which, in the opinion of a majority, aim at nothing short of the dismemberment of the Empire, must command our admiration. It is simply monstrous to suggest that a country which exhibits that spectacle of liberty and of equity, which is unsurpassed in any part of the world, is at the same time ruled by a Government which by surreptitious means seeks to dictate to the self-governing States the course which they shall pursue. The whole scheme is so much in contrast with patent facts that it simply needs to be stated to carry refutation on its face.

Colonial representatives occupy an unassailable position when they have nothing to hope for and nothing to fear from the British Government. Their loyalty stands out in the greatest relief when they are the spokesmen of a self-governing people, not afraid to make their opinions known, or to return courtesy for courtesy. We occupy as good a position as if we were in the House of Commons itself, represent constituencies as important as any member of that august assembly. We are as much entitled to be heard, and as little entitled to be awed. The whole suggestion of any intimidation from Downing-street which has been put forward is pernicious. It has influenced some honorable members, to my deep astonishment.

Sir William McMillan – Nobody said so.

Mr DEAKIN – The honorable member should not interject because I desire to pass by certain passages in his speech without a single word of reference.

Sir William McMillan – The honorable and learned member is merely doing now the part of misconstruction which has been done elsewhere.

Mr DEAKIN – I wish to avoid every personal reference whatever, but I say that it is a wanton, unjustifiable misrepresentation of the attitude of the British Government in this regard even to imply that their action is directed to defeating the aims of Australia so that we are actually called upon to consider the last and gravest step of all to assert our national rights — that we are obliged, forsooth, to weigh the question of a white Australia on the one hand against that of our loyalty to the Empire on the other. No official or unofficial utterance can be produced to justify such an assertion. It is utterly mischievous and unwarrantable. I am content to refute it by reference to the official records dealing with this question, which show that on the matter of a white Australia the British Government sees eye to eye and stands shoulder to shoulder with us. We have received an express assurance to which we can if necessary hold the Imperial authorities, but to which it is not necessary to hold them, that they will in this matter lend us every possible assistance in their power. They approve of our object. All they ask is that we shall adopt such means to gain our ends as will avoid giving offence to other nations, although it is plainly indicated that they would in the last stage accept the course proposed if Australia absolutely believes that no other course is possible. Any other suggestion misrepresents their attitude, and it is an attitude which should not be misrepresented in this chamber, where they have no representatives who are under any obligation to speak for or defend them.

Evidently what is sought is to put those who are sensible of what we owe to the mother country in the apparent position of being prepared on that account to sacrifice some Australian right or some Australian privilege. The Government, of which I am a member, and myself also, are under no obligation whatever to this or any other British Government that every citizen of Australia is not under. But I did think that in the earliest days of the Commonwealth, when we looked at the charter so recently gained with the unanimous approbation of both Houses of the British Parliament and of the whole British people — an endowment of freedom such as has never been paralleled in the history of the world, conceded to us in the most cordial manner possible and without any question of bargaining or exchange — that we should have recollected at least sufficient of our origin to have prevented the expression of such opinions. We should ill begin our career by repudiating our incalculable obligations to the mother country. Until we are challenged by some act of the British Government which calls for resentment, it is in the highest degree unstatesmanlike and mischievous to set up such a bogy to obscure the issue with which we are confronted.

Mr Joseph Cook (Parramatta, New South Wales) – Why does the Minister beat the air?

Mr DEAKIN – If I have only beaten the air the air would not complain. I have freely expressed all that I think upon this matter, but have said it without being personal. That is the whole position. The difficulties with which we are confronted are not difficulties of our own creation.

Charges have been levelled against the Government measure, and tirades and torrents of meaningless epithets have been employed. It has been said that the Bill is a fraud, that it is underhanded, that it is an hypocrisy, and in some sense a deceit. These charges are made in regard to a measure that is drawn expressly in view of the published and printed declarations of the British Government. When the British Government ask that a particular course shall be adopted and this Government adopts it, we are told that we are adopting an underhand, fraudulent course, and that our object is to deceive the British Government.

The only charge which can be laid against us is that this Bill proposes to ask the House to put a large trust in the Administration of the day, whoever that Administration may consist of. This measure imposes an educational qualification without distinction of race or colour. It can be applied to white as well as to black and to black as well as to brown. It can be applied to all. Then having drawn the Bill so as to place in the hands of the Administration power to apply it to all, the Prime Minister couples it with a declaration that it is not and never was intended to be applied to those white residents of European countries who come here to make their homes with us, and many of whom are among our worthiest citizens and most prosperous settlers. When he indicates that the measure is not intended to apply to Germans, Scandinavians, [interrupted by interjection]

Mr Wilks – For how long?

Mr DEAKIN – Who can tell? It might, be a few months, but who can say? I have no information as to its being delayed at all, except what is contained in the printed and published documents read to-day, which show that nations have to be considered, their susceptibilities studied, and communications addressed to them. They show, also, that if we insist on what is considered unnecessarily discourteous action, and make the burdens of British statesmen heavier instead of lighter, we can follow our own course, and, like spoilt children, get our own way.

But when we have the frank assurance that we have the support and assistance of the British Government in securing this continent for the people of the white race by any means not offensive to other portions of the Empire or foreign powers, we may safely rely on that assurance. No one will insinuate that the British Government may not be relied upon to fulfil its pledges.

We have the opportunity of immediately securing this continent against the influx of aliens, which is already taking place day by day — an influx which is not large, but yet is too large. It is an influx which we can absolutely prohibit at the instant.

The men who came to-day, and were seen riding on a lorry, would, I have no doubt, be unable to write 50 words of English, even if they could speak them, and to prevent such immigration would be a great gain. In addition, when this Bill goes elsewhere it goes explained by this debate. No one welcomes more than the Government the frankness and freedom of speech which have been properly used in the House in regard to this great issue. There will be no mistake as to our meaning when these speeches are read, and when our votes are seen.

Members on both sides of the House, and of all sections of all parties — those in office and those out of office — with the people behind them, are all united in the unalterable resolve that the Commonwealth of Australia shall mean a “white Australia,” and that from now henceforward all alien elements within it shall be diminished. We are united in the resolve that this Commonwealth shall be established on the firm foundation of unity of race, so as to enable it to fulfil the promise of its founders, and enjoy to the fullest extent the charter of liberty under the Crown which we now cherish.

Commonwealth of Australia, Parliamentary Debates, Immigration Restriction Bill, Second Reading, 12 September 1901 [0022], [0023], [0024]

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