[Editor: This article is a section from the “Victorian rural notes” column by W. G. M’Kinney. Published in The Australian Town and Country Journal, 13 May 1903.]
The fruit trade and “White Australia.”
A Tasmanian visitor to Melbourne during the present week, who is connected with the fruit trade of that State, says that arrangements are being made over there, in the confident hope that about one million cases of fruit will be available for export next season. During the season just closed 297,000 cases of fruit, chiefly apples, were sent to London, and the equivalent of 3000 more cases sent away in trays, making a total export 300,000 cases. The exports from Tasmania to the other Australian States was about 400,000 cases, the total exports to all parts thus being 700,000 cases. It is gratifying to know that the hopes in respect to the present year are such that the growers expect to have 300,000 more cases available for export.
In view of the growth in the fruit export trade from Tasmania and Victoria, there is some occasion for alarm in the position of semi-hostility that has arisen in connection with the mail contract between here and Britain. The present arrangement with the P. and O. and Orient Companies expires in January, 1905, but in pursuance of the “White Australia” policy it has been intimated by the Commonwealth Government that fresh arrangements would not be made unless all the coloured labour be taken from the boats carrying the mails.
The Home Government is apparently not disposed to fall in with our extravagant ideas in this matter, and should arrangements not be arrived at before the expiry of the present contract, we shall have to make other arrangements; and as the mail boat now provides us with a quick and regular transit for our perishable products, those engaged in the export trade feel somewhat curious in the matter. They wonder if the industry that has been built up during the past few years, and is growing with remarkable rapidity, is going to be placed in jeopardy because of the labour legislation of the Commonwealth, which seeks to keep not only Australia for the white races, but the high seas as well.
Up to the present time there is ample evidence before the producers that their interests are being sacrificed to this new Commonwealth policy, word having come to hand from India and Japan that our products are being boycotted out of numbers of the best markets because of our systematic boycott of the human beings from those countries. If we add to this trouble the further drawback of having to pay two or three times as much to send our perishable products to England as we do at the present time, the producer will have little occasion to thank the legislators for bringing this state of things about.
As matters at present stand, the coloured labour on the mail boats question has an ugly flavour, for if the British Government remains obdurate in its refusal to acquiesce in our coloured labour legislation, then there will be no alternative but for us to secure our own shipping service for the export trade, at what ever additional cost circumstances might ordain.
The Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW), Wednesday 13 May 1903, page 59