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is assumed that the Labour Party in Australia is as antiImperial as our Trade Union Congress—the loss of Ministerial seats is interpreted as indicating the refusal of the Australian “man in the street” to dally with Preference. But what are the facts f As the Times correspondent already quoted, who is anything but an enthusiast, points out, though the Commonwealth election was “general” in the Constitutional and geographical sense, each of the contests in the six Federated States was fought on different issues. It was only in New South Wales that there was a straight fight between the old issue of Free Trade and Protection, in which the Free Traders, under Mr. Reid, gained a complete victory. But it must not be forgotten that even Mr. Reid, while abusing Mr. Chamberlain in one breath, declared himself in the other, as is his wont, a warm Preferentialist, and declared for a preference of 50 per cent. in favour of the Mother Country on the existing tariff, thus attempting to outbid Mr. Deakin and the Protectionists, who, while unable to promise any reduction in the present Australian tariff, which is the financial foundation of Federation, are prepared to give British imports a preference by increasing the existing duties against foreign imports. It should also be noted that Mr. Watson, the Leader of the Labour Party, has declared himself in favour of the principle of Preference, so it would seem that all the parties in Australia are a long way ahead of their prototypes at home. We can see little justification for the suggestion that Mr. Deakin is “trifling with the question ” in suggesting increased duties on foreign goods. It is a failure on the critic's part to understand that exceedingly simple word “Preference,” which means generally, favouring Imperial trade over foreign trade—a principle which works differently according to each fiscal system. Thus in a free importing country like Great Britain, Preference would necessitate the imposition of duties on foreign imports, from which colonial imports would be exempt, while in Protectionist communities, such as our Colonies, Preference means either the reduction of existing duties on British imports, leaving them as they are upon foreign imports, as proposed by Mr. Reid, or alternatively the increasing of existing duties on foreign imports, with an exemption in favour of British imports, as proposed by Mr. Deakin.
While New South Wales, the premier Colony, was the scene of a fiscal battle with very little reference to Preference, the contests elsewhere were decided on different issues. There was, it is true, some discussion of the Fiscal Question in Victoria, but the arena was almost monopolised by the struggle between Socialism and anti-Socialism, though the sixteen Ministerialists returned in that colony were presumably all Protectionists and supporters of Mr. Deakin, and therefore in favour of fiscal peace apart from the possibilities of Imperial Preference. In South Australia and Tasmania, on the other hand, there was the ordinary struggle between the ins and outs, while the elections in Queensland and Western Australia were pure Labour conflicts in which Labour was completely victorious. Not the least interesting feature of the Commonwealth Elections was the appearance of the newly enfranchised women at the polls for the first time. They apparently voted in large numbers, though so far as can be ascertained their vote merely served to swell the general vote, and was not marked by any peculiarities. In other words, they followed their male relations, and like the men they fell a prey to the strongest organisations. There were three lady candidates for the Senate, two in New South Wales and one in Victoria, who all secured substantial polls, but without gaining any seats. The Times correspondent tells us, in concluding his interesting analysis, that, speaking generally, the electors of the Commonwealth have remained apathetic as regards the Preferential Policy, as they do not regard it as a live question until it has assumed a more practical shape in Great Britain. We cannot altogether agree that a refusal to commit themselves upon this momentous issue necessarily indicates indifference on the part of great self-governing communities who are naturally anxious to respect the self-governing susceptibilities of the Mother Country. Whenever Colonials show a keen sympathy in Mr. Chamberlain's programme, they are accused by our Cobdenites of desiring to impoverish the British working classes for their own selfish interests. If, on the other hand, they remain reticent they are accused of indifference and apathy by the Gallios of the Press. In answer to all such reflections we need only refer our readers to the very remarkable contribution which we are privileged to publish this month from the pen of Mr. B. R. Wise, the AttorneyGeneral of New South Wales—who requires no introduction from us—after reading which they will be able to judge for themselves as to whether Mr. Chamberlain's policy is likely to meet with permanent indifference in the Australian Commonwealth.
The prosperity of South Africa depends on the prosperity of the Transvaal, which in its turn depends on the prosperity of its staple industry, viz., gold-mining, which has for the time being been brought to a deadlock by the shortage of available labour. The situation is discussed in a Blue Book published on the eve of the opening of Parliament, containing important correspondence between Lord Milner, the High Commissioner, and Mr. Lyttelton, the Colonial Secretary. In writing on December 28, Lord Milner, with characteristic candour, recognised that “the immediate prospect is very bad. There is complete stagnation in commerce and enterprise owing to labour difficulty, and it affects almost every branch of revenue, especially the railways.” They must consequently be prepared for a deficit, taking the Transvaal and inter-Colonial Budgets together, of as much as £350,000 on the current financial year. He therefore suggested the advisability of deferring the raising of the first instalment, viz., ten millions, of the War Loan of thirty millions, which it will be remembered was guaranteed on the occasion of Mr. Chamberlain's visit to South Africa by the great houses. There was a strong feeling in the Transvaal “in favour of fulfilling the obligation to contribute the thirty millions even at a considerable sacrifice.” “If, however, his Majesty's Government insist on the obligation being carried out at once without regard to the serious, and in itself wholly unforeseen, crisis which has arisen since the obligation was undertaken, it will, I fear, while putting a most formidable weapon into the hands of those already disaffected, permanently injure the strongattachment which undoubtedly exists among the loyal population to the Mother Country.” Lord Milner reiterated his conviction of the ability of the Colony under normal conditions to fulfil its obligations, explaining that by “normal conditions” he meant “the power to use its present equipment for the production of gold without any question of further expansion.” But to do this it was necessary that they should obtain at least fifty thousand additional labourers for the mines, which he saw no prospect of doing under another year, as they were at the end of their local resources, and even should the prohibition on foreign coloured labour be removed at once, it would be many months before they could obtain a single immigrant, and much longer before they could get a substantial number. To this Mr. Lyttelton replied three weeks later declaring that the Home Government had come to the conclusion “that there is no alternative to postponing the issue of the ten millions war loan.” In a further despatch on January 3, Lord Milner discussed the labour problem at large, which has been brought to a head by the vote of the Transvaal Legislative Council adopting the recommendations in the report of the Transvaal Labour Commission, and calling upon the Government on the motion of Sir George Farrar, “to introduce a draft ordinance providing for the importation of indentured unskilled coloured labourers for the purpose of supplementing the supply of labour on the mines within the Witwatersrand area under such restrictions as will ensure their employment as unskilled workmen only, and their return to their native country on the completion of their contracts.” The High Commissioner fully realised the gravity of this decision, but he had “no shadow of a doubt as to its wisdom.” The existing sources of labour-supply were unequal to the demand, and as a consequence every branch of business was becoming increasingly depressed. The revenue was falling off, many people were out of work, and unless there was a change for the better there would be a considerable exodus of the white population. On the other hand there was nothing wrong with the mines except the want of labour. They were fully equipped for a further production of at least 60 per cent. above their present output, while plenty of capital was awaiting investment on the solution of the Labour Problem. It therefore seemed “unjustifiable to refuse to try any remedy not in itself intolerable for a state of things which is causing grave distress to all classes of people in this Colony, and affecting the whole of South Africa.” No one expected any sudden or very abundant influx of Asiatics; all they could reasonably hope for was such an amount of imported labour as would “substitute steady and substantial progress for the present complete stagnation.” The recent vote of the Legislative Council reflected the present condition of public opinion in the Transvaal, and also indicated the great change which had come over it, as a year ago Sir George Farrar's proposal would have met with very little support, while even so late as August when Lord Milner left for England, opinion, though changing, was about equally divided, while to-day the scale had turned “decisively in favour of imported labour.” He pointed out that the unofficial members of the Council were really representative men who had throughout shown themselves independent of the Government and sensitive to public opinion. They were fourteen in number, of whom nine voted for the motion, while four voted against it, Lord Milner himself abstaining. Of the nine Ayes four were Boers, who spoke as well as voted, while of the other five non-official Ayes two were mining men, two leading men of business, and one a British farmer who had lived in the country for years and enjoyed the confidence of both Dutch and British. Four of the nine supporters were from Johannesburg, and the other five from such diverse districts as Heidelberg, Potchefstroom, Rustenburg, Carolina, and Zeerust. The minority consisted of two members from Pretoria and two from Johannesburg, all of British race. One of the latter was a leading member of the Trade Council, and his vote no doubt reflected the views of a section of the working classes, though “there is every indication that the white miners are now preponderantly in favour of Asiatic labour, while the rest of the artisan class is divided.” On the other hand the Opposition, which consisted of a strong minority of the working classes generally and a certain number of small traders and some professional and commercial men, were “dwindling in numbers and showing nothing like their former keenness.”
While the vote must be regarded as significant, the debate was still more important, and made a deep impression on the public. “I never remember a discussion in which the weight of argument was more completely on one side.” It turned almost wholly on the evidence given before the Labour Commission, which several of the speakers had thoroughly mastered, and the “cumulative effect of which, as brought out in the debate, is overwhelming, and virtually leaves no room for doubt that the choice lies between a long stagnation of industry and agriculture and a resort to imported labour.” The decision of the Council had been received with “ loud approval and a general sense of relief, and I have seen no signs of active opposition to it, least of all in the country districts.” While he was strongly of opinion that the question of labour for the Transvaal mines only concerned the people of the Transvaal, his Majesty's Government might be interested in the attitude of other South African Colonies. In Rhodesia there was a strong demand for imported labour, Natal had steadily refused to interfere in the controversy, while there had been no decisive expressions of opinion either way from the Orange River Colony. It was only in the Cape, and this mainly owing to electioneering considerations, that there had been any serious opposition. On the one hand the Bond was endeavouring to arouse the prejudices of the natives, whose votes were indispensable to their success, against Asiatics, while the Progressives on their side had been obliged to enter into a competitive protest in order not to lose the native vote. At the same time Lord Milner recognised that “there is in every part of South Africa a number of men of unquestionable sincerity who are opposed in principle to imported labour under any circumstances, but I believe it is quite a minority even in the Cape.”