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4-263 (Text)

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author,male,Griffith, Samuel Walker,47 addressee
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Clark, 1975
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In common with the rest of the community the Government have of late had their attention directed to the present condition of the sugar industry in Queensland, and especially to the difficulty of obtaining labour for carrying it on. It cannot be too often impressed upon our minds that we all directly or indirectly depend for our livelihood on the products of the land of the colony. Any serious falling off in its productiveness, from whatever cause is therefore a matter of national concern. It has been urged that a revival of the sugar industry, which is at present in a condition of depression and uncertainty, would result in a restoration of prosperity throughout the colony. But while I am unable to attribute to this cause alone so much of the prevailing depression as some people are disposed to think, many other causes being apparent not only in Queensland but throughout the rest of Australia, I have arrived at the conclusion that it is the imperative duty of the Government, and perhaps more especially of myself, to whom rightly or wrongly much of the blame or credit of the existing state of things has been attributed, to review the present position, and to state plainly what we think is the right policy to be adopted by the country at this time. The urgency of the case induces me to adopt the present somewhat unusual mode of declaring that opinion.
You are aware that I have been for many years one of the most determined opponents of the introduction of servile or coloured labour into Queensland. My objection has not been on account of the colour of men's skins, but I have maintained that the employment of such labour under the conditions to which we had become accustomed was injurious to the best interests of the colony regarded as a home for the British race, and principally for the following reasons: 
1. It tended to encourage the creation of large landed estates, owned for the most part by absentees, and worked by gang labour, and so discouraged actual settlement by small farmers working for themselves; 
2. It led to field labour in tropical agriculture being looked down upon as degrading and unworthy of the white races:
3. The permanent existence of a large servile population amongst us, not admitted to the franchise, is not compatible with the continuance of our free political institutions.
To these reasons was added, so far as Polynesian labour is concerned, the discredit that had been brought upon Queensland by the abuses that for some years prevailed in the South Sea Island trade.
I recognise the force of those reasons as fully as ever. It was, however, answered that tropical agriculture could not be performed by white men, and that the employment of coloured labour was therefore inevitable. This statement I always doubted, and careful inquiries made from time to time led me to reject it altogether.
My objections to Polynesian labour were, however, from the first, less strong than to the introduction of Asiatics. The people of the Pacific Islands are not so numerous as to be a permanent danger to our social or political institutions, and I have always regarded their employment as a temporary and transitional expedient. It was not, therefore, until 1885 that I was induced, under circumstances to which I need not now refer, to propose to put a limit upon the time within which they might be introduced And this proposal, which was accepted by the Legislative Assembly without division, though not without dissent, was, I believe, supported as much on the ground of the scandals which had attended the labour trade as for any other reason. ,
Let me now invite your attention to what has happened since then.
In the first place, the system of large estates worked by gang labour has fallen into disfavour. The owners are not only willing but anxious to sell or lease portion of their estates to farmers who will themselves grow the cane and sell it to the manufacturers. And it is recognised, I think generally, that in future the culturation of the cane and the manufacture of sugar must be in different hands.
In the second place, it has been established by actual trial that sugar is a profitable crop to be grown by small farmers, if they can command a sale for it to the manufacturers at reasonable prices.
And this system is already carried on with great success, notably in the Bundaberg, Mackay, and Herbert River districts.
In the third place, it has been proved that in Queensland cane can be grown by white labour.  I am aware that this position is still disputed, but it is admitted by most of the more liberal-minded planters with whom I have been in communication.
These results have not, however, been attained without the troubles which invariably attend the trying of new experiments. Successive Governments have endeavoured to assist the enterprising experimenters, by giving facilities for the introduction of European labour of various kinds and by aid to central mills. But these endeavours have been counteracted from two different directions. While some of the planters have loyally tried to make the best of the altered conditions and prospects - and I am glad to know, in many instances, with conspicuous success - others for a long time set their faces against any change, and did all in their power to compel a return to the old objectionable state of things. On the other hand, amongst the working population, whose interests I had perhaps too exclusively in view, there has arisen a body of men, claiming to be leaders of thought, who have by their speech and action rendered it impossible that the experiment of the employment of white labour in tropical agriculture should be fairly tried. There are not at present in Queensland a sufficient number of Europeans able and willing to do the necessary work, and to take the place of the Polynesians who are gradually leaving the colony, and of whom no more can be introduced under the existing laws. Yet every opposition has been offered to the introduction of any additional labour, the opinion has been promulgated that field labour in tropical agriculture is degrading, and the employment of white labour in that industry has been denounced except at rates of wages which the industry cannot pay. In short, these men will neither engage in the work themselves, nor, so far as they can prevail, allow anyone else to do so.
In the meantime the planters as well as the smaller farmers already engaged in sugar culture do not know where to turn for the necessary labour to cultivate and take off their crops, while the many others who are anxious to engage in the industry on the new conditions are deterred from doing so for the same reasons. The immediate prospect is that many of the mills will be closed and some removed, and the productiveness of the lands of the colony, instead of being largely increased, will be seriously diminished.
We are then in this position: - On the one hand, it is proved that the sugar industry offers a field for the settlement of numberless families upon the land, where they can live and bring up their families in comfort. The danger of the aggregation of large estates is past; and it is shown that Europeans can engage in the industry with success when certain preliminary work has been done. On the other hand, in many places that preliminary work has not yet been done, and where it has been done the necessary European labour is not here, and cannot at present, nor for some time to come, be brought here.  And before it can be brought here under existing conditions there is great danger that this means of employment for it will to a great extent have disappeared.
At the last general election the question of the continued introduction of Polynesian labour was treated as settled in the negative, and I accept my full share of the responsibility for that result. But, in my opinion, the altered condition of things not only justifies but demands a reconsideration of the whole position.
And it seems to me that there are only two alternatives - to do nothing, and let the sugar industry slowly struggle on until the necessary European labour can be introduced and acclimatised, with the possible result that in the meanwhile it may be greatly diminished, if not altogether extinguished; or to take some action to bridge over the interval which must necessarily elapse before the change of system can be brought about. This can only be done by making immediate provision for the supply of some labour which is at once available. With such a supply I believe that in a few years the existing large plantations would be divided amongst small farmers, while large numbers of farms, now held by selectors would be devoted to the cultivation of sugar-cane for sale to central mills. Such a result, which is now no longer a matter for fanciful conjecture, is, I think, worth striving for, and we ought to adopt the means most likely to bring it about.
The only form of labour that is, under existing circumstances, immediately available for the purpose seems to be Polynesian labour. And I think, as I have said, that this labour is less open to objection than any other form of coloured labour. If, then, the system, now happily inaugurated, of small farmers is to be carried on to a final success, I can see no alternative but to permit for a time at any rate the resumption of Polynesian immigration.
Adequate provisions must of course be made, and they can be made, for preventing abuses in the introduction of the labourers, and for preventing them from entering into competition with white labourers in other occupations, and it should be provided that the immigration shall continue (unless, of course, otherwise determined by the legislature) for a definite but limited period of, say, ten years. By that time I have no doubt that such further developments will have taken place as will enable the sugar industry to be carried on without fear of our reverting to the former system, with its dangerous incidents and consequences, and in the meantime I believe that a valuable impetus will be given to the producing interests of the colony. 
those who keep steadfastly in view the great end of settling a European population upon the lands of the colony, and the maintenance of our free political institutions, will not, if under existing circumstances this end can only be attained by a temporary change in the means, be deterred by the fear of a charge of inconsistency from proposing the only practicable means. I believe that the adoption of this course at the present time will tend to that end, and for the reasons I have given, I am satisfied that the social and political welfare of the people will not now be imperilled by it. 
I should add, that while my colleagues concur in the conclusion, I am alone responsible for the political retrospect, and for the arguments.