The Intercolonial Conference of 1888: The march to a White Australia

The following is an extract from a newspaper detailing the events of the Intercolonial conference of 1888 regarding the Chinese Question.  The following conclusions were decided during the conference:

1. That in the opinion of this Conference the further restriction of Chinese
immigration is essential to the welfare of the people of Australasia.
2. That this Conference is of opinion that the necessary restriction can best be
secured through the diplomatic action of the Imperial Government, and by
uniform Australasian legislation.
3. That this Conference resolves to consider a joint representation to the Imperial
Government for the purpose of obtaining the desired diplomatic action.
4. That this Conference is of opinion that the desired Australasian legislation
should contain the following provisions.:
1 That it shall apply to all Chinese, with specified exceptions.
2. That the restriction should be limitation of the number of Chinese which
any vessel may bring into any Australasian port to one passenger for
every 500 tons of the ship’s burthen.
3. That the passage of Chinese from one Colony to another without consent
of the Colony which they enter be made a misdemeanour.

The first sitting of The Intercolonial Conference upon the Chinese question was held in the Executive Council Chamber at the Colonial Secretary’s office yesterday afternoon The delegates present were:-

New South. Wales: Sir Henry Parkes, Premier; Mr. J. F. Burns, Colonial Treasurer.

Victoria : Mr. Duncan Gillies, Premier; Alfred Deakin, Chief Secretary.

South Australia :  Mr. T. Playford, Premier; and Mr. C C. Kingston Attorney-General.

Queensland: Mr. J. M. Macrossan Minister for Works and Mines.

Western Australia: Sir Malcolm Fraser, Colonial Secretary.

Tasmania: Mr. P. O. Fysh, Premier.

The New Zealand delegate, Mr Richard Olliver, M.L.C., has not jet arrived, but he is expected to reach Sydney before the conference closes. Mr Gillies, Mr. Playford, Mr. Kingston, and Sir Malcolm Fraser arrived by the express train from Melbourne at noon and were’ received at the Railway Station by Sir Henry Parkes.

They afterwards drove to the Crown and Anchor Hotel, where they have taken up their; temporary residence. Mr. Deakin, Mr. Macrossan, and Mr Fysh have been in-Sydney for the past few days awaiting the arrival of the other members. The first matter under consideration was the selection of a gentleman to preside over the deliberations. On the motion of Mr. Playford, seconded by Mr. Gillies, Sir Henry Parkes was appointed president. Mr. Gillie’s proposed that Mr. Budge, clerk to the Executive Council, should be elected secretary to the conference. The motion was seconded by Mr. Fysh, and agreed to.

Some discussion took place with reference to the question of the admission of the press to the meetings of the conference .- Mr.-Burnss proposed that the sittings should be open. The motion was seconded by Mr. Macrossan, but it was.strongly opposed by Mr. Gillies, who pointed out that the Victorian delegates were anxious : to return to Melbourne as soon as possible in order to complete their preparations for the meeting of Parliament next week, and it was to be feared, if the sittings were open, that the proceedings might be unduly protracted. A meeting of the Cabinet was to be held on Friday night, at which the whole  of the Ministers ought to be present, and he and his colleague would have to leave Sydney on Thursday evening at the latest in order to attend it.

If the press  representatives were present members would make set speeches and, in fact, deliver addresses to their constituents; and it was possible that the sittings of the conference might not terminate even on Friday, and in that case the  Victorian delegates would have to depart before the matter was finally settled. Mr. Deakin thought it was desirable. that the representatives of the press should be present. The question was one of such importance that the fullest publicity’ was desirable.; The South Australian  delegates opposed the admission of the press.

Mr Macrossan urged that as the question was one that had been before the public in all its phases for many months past, there was no object to be gained by conducting their deliberations in secret. He certainly felt that the conference ought to be an open one. After some further discussion, the motion was withdrawn.

A suggestion was made that a Government shorthand writer should be appointed to take the official report of the proceedings ; but it was held that the same objection would apply to that as applied to the admission of the press, and the proposal fell through.  The dispatch from the Secretary of State for the Colonies received by each of the colonial Governments setting forth the views of the Imperial authorities was read. The document, which is marked confidential, is not likely to form the basis of any settlement of the difficulty.

Mr.  Playford submitted to the conference three resolutions which formed the subject of a preliminary discussion. The first resolution is to the effect that ‘Chinese immigration should be further restricted’; the second, that the Imperial Government should be asked to interfere diplomatically to settle the Chinese question in accordance with the Australian view ; The third is, that a committee should be appointed to draft a bill for the purpose of obtaining uniformity in Australian legislation on the subject. No decision was arrived at with regard to the resolutions, which will be further debated this evening.

The following memorial has been submitted to the conference by Chinese merchants resident in Sydney, on behalf of themselves and other Chinese resident in Australia and New Zealand :-” That by article 6 of the Treaty of Peking, made on the 25th day of October, 1860, between her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland and his imperial Majesty the Emperor of China, it was, amongst other thing; provided that the Chinese, in choosing to take service in the British colonies or other parts beyond the seas, were to be at perfect liberty to enter into engagement with British subjects for that purpose, and to ship themselves and their families in British vessels at the open ports of China. 2. Your memorialists would respectfully refer to the rights given to British subjects to reside in and own property in China, and to travel therein. 3. Upon the faith of the above Treaty, and upon legislation passed in the various Australasian colonies, Chinese have come to the Australasian colonies. Some have married European women there. Many are still residents there, while others have left temporarily, and have in such case obtained certificates authorising them to return within a certain time. 4. The Chinese merchants .and traders resident in the Australasian colonies from limo to time require, In the ordinary course of their business, to visit the other Australasian colonies, and your memorialists would respectfully point to the great hardship that would be inflicted on them if provision be not made for them visiting such colonies. 6. Your memorialists would respectfully point out that, in the proposal to impose a poll-tax so high as the sum of £100 per head upon any Chinese coming to any one of the Australasian colonies, that such amount is unduly severe and unnecessarily high on the one hand, while on the other the very magnitude of the tax would hold out inducements to breaches of the law. 6. Your memorialists would also respectfully point out the hardship Chinese would be liable to if provision be not made for the performance of existing engagements with the Chinese in reference to their right to return to the colonies, if so returning within the time specified in their exemption tickets. 7. Your memorialists would also point out the hardship and injury to the Chinese who may have become  naturalised British subjects, and who now own . property in any of the Australasian colonies, if they be not allowed, after due examination, to return to their homes. 8.- Your memorialists would respectfully refer to the fact of the general reduction during their last  few years of the numbers of the Chinese resident in Australia (with the exception of Port Darwin under special circumstances). 9. Your memorialists would respectfully refer to the proposal to exclude Chinese from mining, it being well known that the Chinese only follow the Europeans, and make a living here Europeans, cannot, and the mining by the Chinese means the saving to the country of a large amount of wealth that would otherwise be lost. Your memorialists therefore humbly pray that your honourable conference will take this memorial under favourable consideration. And your memorialists will every pray, &c. :-Quong Tart, Sydney, merchant ;. James Ung Quoy, Sydney, merchant; loen Tab, Sydney,, merchant; Sun Kum Try, Sydney merchant; O’uyik and Lee, Sydney, merchants ; W. Gmdtown,- Sydney, agent.

The names attached to the memorial represent different provinces in China, the conference has already, discovered that there is no such treaty as that referred to in the first paragraph of the memorial. ‘ The document evidently refers to the convention of Peking, the fifth article of which, provides that ” As soon as the ratification of the Treaty of 1808 shall have been exchanged, his Imperial Majesty the Emperor of

China will by decreed command the high authorities of every province, to proclaim throughout jurisdictions that Chinese choosing to take service in the British colonies or other ports beyond the sea, sea at perfect liberty to enter into engagement British subjects for that purpose, and to ship themselves and their families on board any British vessel at any of the open ports in China. Also, that the high authorities aforesaid shalt  in concert with her Britannic Majesty’s representative in China, frame such regulations for the protection of Chinese emigrating as above. The article in question allows no reciprocal priviledges, and it is not likely to receive the serious consideration of the Conference. The views of the various delegates have only been partially expressed thus far with regard to the question.

Mr. Gillies is in favour of limiting the influx of Chinese even to prohibition, but he doubts whether local legislation is after all, the most satisfactory or even the most efficient means, to be employed. He thinks it quite possible that the influence of her Majesty’s Government with that of the Emperor of China might effect more than drastic measures adopted here, it can hardly be supposed that in a nation like China which numbers its population by hundred of millions,  Government can really regard with very much conern the question’ of whether or not a few thousands depart from Australia. It is therefore possible that a good deal might be accomplished through diplomacy, whilst stringent legislative measures might engender international bitterness. ‘

The attitude of . Mr. Macrossan on the question is well known. He was a very active member of the committee appointed in Queensland to collect, subscriptions for fighting the A. S. N. Company when they introduced Chinese labour. Mr. Macrossan is the exponent of the views of the majority in the new Legislative Assembly in Queensland, and they have nearly all expressed themselves freely during the recent electoral campaign with regard to Chinese labour. The total exclusion of the Chinese labour from the colonies is what the Queensland delegate will aim at. He is in favour of Chinese travellers, students, and merchants being allowed to visit Australia, but what is wanted here is what the Americans have succeeded in obtaining.

The views of the Tasmanian Government, as expressed by the Premier (Mr. P. O. Fysh) yesterday, are to a certain extent more moderate than those held by the members of the conference representing the other colonies. This is accounted for by the fact that there has been little or no agitation in Tasmania on the Chinese question, with the exception of a public meeting which was held in Hobart in July last, at which resolutions were passed asking the Legislature to enact a restrictive measure for the purpose of checking the influx of Chinese into Tasmania of a similar character to that already existing in other colonies. Such a measure was passed by the Tasmanian Parliament last session, and with this measure Tasmania is likely to rest content, for the present at least, unless the result of the present conference may cause Tasmanian opinion to still further follow in the direction which it has already assumed in the neighbouring colonies.

Mr. Fysh is not prepared at present to state whether Tasmania will concur in any resolutions adopted by the conference in favour of further restrictive legislation, as a great deal depends on the character of the measure introduced, and Tasmanian public opinion will be far more likely to be influenced by a desire that Australian legislation shall recognise, not only the selfish interests of its insular position, but the wider field of national interests generally coupled with the term Imperial. The efforts of Tasmania will be turned in the direction of assisting rather than impeding the Home authorities in what it is hoped will continue to be their desire of concluding such treaties, whether with China or other countries, as will be consistent with inter-national friendly relations. Mr. Fysh comes accredited with full powers to represent the Tasmanian Government, not only on the Chinese question, but on any other points which may arise with regard to intercolonial matters: but, of course, any legislation agreed to by tire conference will have to be submitted to the Tasmanian Parliament.

The Tasmanian Chinese Restriction Act, which imposes a toll tax of £10 per head and limits the number of immigrants to one per 100 of a vessel’s tonnage, has been found, according to Mr. Fysh quite sufficient for the purpose of chocking the influx of Chinese. Mr. Fysh, however, agrees with that portion of Mr. Gillies’ memorandum to the Home Government which pointed, out : that the legislation already in existence had proved to be sufficiently stringent, as was shown by the fact that whilst in 1881′ over 1500 Chinamen arrived in Victoria, the number of arrivals since the passage of the Restriction Act had been reduced to less than 500 a year. If a more restrictive measure is passed in Tasmania, it will be solely upon the grounds of those broader interests which should lead, in Mr. Fysh’s opinion, each colony to co-operate with the other on this all important question.

This broader view may lead the Tasmanian Parliament ultimately to agree to a more restrictive measure, but Mr. Fysh evidently holds the opinion that no circumstances have yet arisen which call for any further restrictive legislation. With regard to the position taken up by Lord Knutsford. Mr. Fylh points out that the dispatch which was sent by Lord Knutsford to all the colonies in January lost, has not yet been officially replied to by the South Australian Government, and that up the present time there has, therefore, been no united expression of Australian opinion on this question offered to the Home Government by which their , deliberations, might be assisted. The Tasmanian Premier considers that the position taken up by the Home Government is a perfectly correct one, and sees no reason for complaint about it.

Tasmania has joined – in representations to the Home Government, urging them to conclude, as speedily as possible, a treaty with China definitely settling this vexed question, and this matter amongst others will be brought under the consideration of the conference. Tasmania, says her representative, wants to strengthen the hands of the Home Government, and not to cause irritation between a friendly Government like

China, and the British Empire. Any legislation which tends in this direction will, Mr. Fysh states, be hailed with gratification by the Tasmanian people. Mr. Fysh’s stay in Sydney will be only a short one, as he cannot remain in here after Friday next, important legislative business compelling him to leave on that day for Tasmania.

The conference had arrived at no conclusion with regard to the general question when the sitting (shortly before.5 o’clock) closed for the day. The members will resume their deliberations at half-past

9 o’clock to-day. At half-past 12 o’clock the delegates will be entertained by the Ministry at a harbour picnic on board the Government lannch frenuler. Amongst the gentlemen who have been invited to are present are-Sir John Hay, President of the Legislative’ Council ; Sir Frederick Darley, Chief Justice; the Hon. J. H. Young, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. Major-General Richardson, and Colonel Roberts

Sydney Morning Herald, 13th June 1888

Nativist Herald