CHAPTER XXIV. DEMOCRACY AT WORK
(b) LAND, LABOUR, AND THE POPULAR WELFARE
Immigration - Anti-Chinese legislation - First inter-colonial conference - Land legislation - Torrens Real Property Act - Labour questions - Trade union congresses - Labour politics - Great maritime strike - The Labour Party - Wages board system - Education, 'free, compulsory, and secular' - The Universities - Sea-routes and steam-ships - Railways and gauges.
For the upbuilding of Australia, the first need was population to occupy its empty spaces and set its industries throbbing. The Wakefield system had provided for the application of the proceeds of land sales to the stimulation of a steady flow of immigrants from Great Britain, and a New South Wales committee on immigration which sat under the chairmanship of Chief Justice Forbes in 1835 strongly recommended that the land revenue should be 'held sacred' for this purpose. In 1842 Governor Gipps announced it as his intention to apply 'the whole of the money derived in any shape from land to the purposes of immigration.' But this policy was never consistently followed in any part of Australia.
In the days when the great squatting properties were being formed the landowners were by no means favourable to the encouragement of a constant stream of immigrant settlers. As long as they could obtain sufficient labour to shear their sheep and tend their herds they were content. They did not wish to see the good lands cut up among farmers, but considered that the country would fare better - or at all events that they themselves would derive larger profits - from the allocation of these areas among a wealthy class of sheep and cattle magnates. They were satisfied with convict labour; some advocated the introduction of coolie labour from China. But they were suspicious of the free immigration of a British peasantry and farming class, who would probably - as indeed they did - clamour for the breaking up of the large estates. Various systems of 'bounty,' 'assisted,' and 'nominated' immigration were, however, tried between the period of the thirties and that of the establishment of the Commonwealth, which was empowered under the federal constitution to assume control of immigration. In 1837 and later years George Fife Angas introduced a large immigration of German families to South Australia, where they proved themselves to be very valuable settlers. Dr. Lang also went out as an immigration missionary in behalf of his pet colonies of Victoria and Queensland, and wrote books extolling their attractions.
As early as 1841 a committee of the Legislative Council of New South Wales considered the advisableness of introducing coolie labour from Asia. The Committee reported strongly against the proposal, chiefly on two grounds. First, the introduction of an alien and servile element was deemed to be undesirable because it would alter the racial character of the population. It would prevent the maintenance in Australia of 'a social and political state corresponding with that of the country from which it owes its origin.' Secondly, coolie labour would compete with immigrants from Great Britain, and so seriously lower wages that ultimately coolie labour only would be imported. This view was supported by the ablest of Australian governors, and by statesmen in Great Britain who gave attention to Australian affairs. Sir Richard Bourke wrote that the introduction of coolie labour would mean 'a sacrifice of permanent advantage to temporary expediency'; and Lord Glenelg, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, emphatically declared that the introduction of Asiatic labour would bring agricultural work in Australia into disrepute, and consequently check the immigration of labourers from Great Britain. The clear expression of these views in the late thirties and early forties of the nineteenth century was an interesting prelude to the policy which Australia was hereafter to lay down as essential to her existence as a nation of European origin.
A disposition to exercise a filtering care in the character of immigration made itself apparent as soon as representative institutions got to work. The South Australian constitution had barred that province against the reception of convicts from the beginning; and the first Legislative Council of Victoria passed very stringent Acts against the incursion of expirees and ticket-of-leave men from Tasmania. The influx of Chinese to the gold-fields drew attention to the danger that menaced Australia from the fact that her shores lay within a few days' steaming of the overcrowded areas of Asia. In 1858 there were 33,000 Chinese on the Victorian gold-fields, whilst five years before there had been fewer than 2,000. The antipathy to them existed mainly among the miners and artisans, but there were others also who on broad grounds considered that it was undesirable to permit an admixture of races in this sparsely populated land.