§ LORD LAMINGTON
asked the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies whether the attention of His Majesty's Government had been directed to the Pacific Island Labourers Act of the Commonwealth of Australia, wherein (1) power was given to deport Islanders who came to Australia under the laws of the Colony of Queensland, which sanctioned their permanent residence in that Colony if so inclined; and (2) which provided no obligation to return these Islanders to their proper villages on their respective Islands, or to ensure their safety on their landing there. For a number of years South Sea Islanders had been imported into Queensland for the purpose of working the sugar fields. They were usually engaged for a period of three years, and then returned to their homes; but under the Act of 1884 the number of men imported was allowed to increase so long as they engaged in certain branches of tropical agriculture. The Pacific Island Labourers Act, recently passed by the Government of the Commonwealth, gave power to deport these Islanders to the Islands from which they originally came. He thought 552 it was exceedingly hard that these men, having acquired certain habits of civilisation, and, in many cases, property in Australia, should be compelled against their will to leave what was practically their home without any compensation. Unless they were taken back to the exact locality on the Islands from which they came, these people were almost certain to be killed and possibly eaten. No other race, not even the Chinese, would be treated as the Pacific Islanders were to be under this Act. The Queensland Act of 1880 contained a clause which made it compulsory that they should be returned to the villages on their respective islands from which they came, but there was no such provision in the new Act. When this serious defect was pointed out, Mr Barton stated that the Pacific Islanders Labourers Act ran with the Queensland Act, or, rather, that it did not in any way repeal the Queensland Act. That might be so, but it was not to be supposed, now that the traffic was to be stopped, that the Queensland Government would take any further interest in carrying out the provisions of the Queensland Act. The principle laid down by the Secretary of State in reference to another Act recently passed was that distinction of race or colour should be no disqualification. But here a cruel disqualification was being inflicted on men who had been working for years in the interests of the development of the Colony, and who were to be forcibly deprived of their present means of existence without compensation. Some guarantee for their proper protection on their return ought to be given. He hoped that representations on the subject would be made to the Commonwealth Government.
*THE UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (The Earl of ONSLOW)
My Lords, this being a very important Act, I need hardly say that the matter has been considered by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, but I do not gather that the noble Lord desires that the Secretary of State should take any action in regard to it. The subject is one which is entirely within the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth of Australia. It is one which affects them entirely, and they 553 must be left to deal with it in their own way. The noble Lord has suggested that a very serious evil may happen to these labourers when they return to their own country—that, instead of being received with acclamation, their fellow-countrymen will, I think the noble Lord went so far as to say, kill them and probably proceed to eat them. That is certainly a very alarming outlook, but I trust that the noble Lord's fears are somewhat exaggerated. Although as I read the Act, there is nothing in it which provides for the repatriation of these labourers to their own particular villages, the attention of the Commonwealth Government will be called to the matter and a hope expressed that every care will be taken, as I am sure the Commonwealth Government would desire, to see that when these men are sent back, they are sent back to their own villages, and under such conditions that they may be expected to be willingly received there. The great majority of these men are not British subjects, and they are really living in a state of barbarism. You can hardly expect that the Commonwealth Government should open its shores freely to people who are in a state of barbarism or, at any rate, semi-barbarism; and I think the noble Lord will admit that it is entirely within the right of the Commonwealth Government to exclude these men if they think fit. I have no doubt that the Colony of Queensland may consider it a great hardship that these men are not allowed to come and work in the sugar fields, but that is a matter of internal administration in which, I am sure, the noble Lord, with his knowledge and experience of Australia, would not think it would be proper for His Majesty's Government to interfere.
§ LORD LAMINGTON
said that, as the Act stood at present, there was no security that the Islanders would be returned to their respective villages. All he asked was that a clause should be inserted to this effect similar to the clause in the Queensland Act of 1880.
*THE EARL OF ONSLOW
The Secretary of State will draw the 554 attention of the Commonwealth Government to the point which the noble Lord has raised.
§ LORD LAMINGTON
also asked the Under Secretary for the Colonies whether any communication had been received from the Lieutenant-Governor or Government of Queensland referring to the Pacific Island Labourers Act of the Commonwealth of Australia.
*THE EARL OF ONSLOW
Nothing has been received except the document with which, probably, the noble Lord is familiar—namely, the representation or petition of the Prime Minister of Queensland to the Senate of the Commonwealth. I can lay that on the Table of the House, if it is desired, although it has been already published.