free web hosting | free hosting | Business Web Hosting | Free Website Submission | shopping cart | php hosting

The Labor Party And White Australia

Part Five:

How 'White Australia' Defeated William Morris Hughes
Over Conscription In 1916

Kevin McCauley

Sydney: 2004

William Morris Hughes depicted in Claude Marquet's I'll Have You, Australian Worker, (13 December 1917)
"I'll Have You"
[The Prime Minister, William Morris Hughes, depicted in Claude Marquet's illustration, in the Australian Worker, 13 December 1917]


Labor Senator John Mullan
The Labour Call, 26 October 1916
Report Of Proceedings... [ALP, 1916]
Australian Workers' Union Resolution, 1917
"Menace Of Imperial Federation", Worker, 1917
Queensland Anti-Conscription Campaign
The Worker, 1916
"The Great Betrayal", The Worker, 1916


This pamphlet is the fifth of a series on the history of the Labor Party. It will take into account not only the anti-conscriptionists in the Labor Party and the labour movement, generally, but shall also look at the Victorian Socialist Party (VSP). The fight against conscription was the first major test for Australian nationalism after Federation.

The defeat of conscription was a massive victory for Australian independence and showed the Imperialists that Australia was not a vassal state of the British Empire.

Had conscription been introduced there can be no doubt that the White Australia Policy would have been in grave peril.

Kevin McCauley
Sydney, 2004

Making Out The Case Against Conscription

Keep Australia White. Vote No.
"Keep Australia White. Vote No."
[anti-conscription illustration, 1917]

Labor Senator John Mullan

"I take the full responsibility of saying that no legislator who has had his eyes about him, and has read of the things as they appear here and in neutral countries, can deny that if the people of Australia today really knew the dangers to which they are exposed, they would lynch every legislator who advocates the policy of further denuding this country of its manhood. I make that statement deliberately, and I challenge its contradiction by those who advocate conscription. I cannot say all I would like to on this matter, but perhaps the hour of trial will come to Australia with appalling suddenness when perhaps it is to late, and then an infuriated and betrayed Australia will be looking for the men who were responsible for this policy of sending away our manhood at this juncture. I am going to prove my statements on no less an authority than the Prime Minister himself, for this what he said a a public meeting in the Melbourne Town Hall a few weeks ago:

'We have nailed White Australia to our mast, yet we are but a tiny drop in a coloured ocean. We are five million of white people, and we live within cooee of a thousand millions of coloured people, who jostle one and other for want of room.'

Those sentences from the Prime Minister's speech are worth a thousand speeches against conscription for they carry on their face the strongest condemnation of the policy now advocated by the government."

Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates, 22 September 1916, p. 8807

The Labour Call, 26 October 1916

"Then he has made a point of the coloured labour cry and assures us no cheap or coloured labour will be admitted to Australia during the war. Not withstanding this, it is common report that Maltese have been admitted and a steamer is cruising off the coast with a number of Maltese on board. The big mining companies say they cannot get labour to carry on with and they must have men or shut down. Where are the men coming from Hughes says it is a lie that coloured labour will be admitted to these shores. He is so accustomed to this word that it is forever on the tip of his tongue. Lie and liars are his favourite expletives. No matter what Hughes says to the contrary time will prove that coloured labour will be brought here to carry on the sugar and other industries. Conscription means the importation of labour from low-wage countries. Inevitably for Australia, every white labourer who is by conscription made an economic drone has to be replaced by some other sort of labour."

Report Of Proceedings Of The Special Commonwealth Conference Of The Australian Labour Party Called To Deal With Matters Arising Out Of The Conscription Issue, Melbourne 4 - 9 December 1916, pp. 21 - 22

"Mr. Rae moved: 'That any proposals for Imperial Federation involving the slightest surrender of Australia's self-governing powers in return for a voice in the Empire's foreign policy, would be disastrous to Australian ideals, and should not, therefore, be entertained.'

Mr. Rae said that whilst there was a feeling in Labour's circles against any binding form of Imperial Federation, there were many who were not alive to the general danger of these schemes. It seemed wise, therefore, that some kind of warning should go forth on the subject. There were Australian politicians prepared to go overseas for the purpose of forging additional bonds, so that they themselves could get titles at the expense of what were the real views of the people. Personally, he felt satisfied that, if any elaborate scheme of Imperial Federation were brought about, our autonomy would be dragged down and they should have nothing to do with any proposal which would in any way assail Australian autonomy. As to the Old Country, he hoped there love and regard for it would ever remain, but whilst saying that he wished to point out that enlargement of jingoistic sentiment had to be closely investigated, for it might involve Australia's self-governing powers in disaster. Mr. Blakely seconded the motion. He said he was not altogether satisfied with the steadfastness of British statesmen to the White Australia ideals, and if, as Australians, they took part in any Imperial Council, they would be bound in honour to observe the decisions of such a Council. Supposing a decision of the Council ran counter to White Australian ideals, where would they be? A great portion of the British Empire was peopled by black races, and that fact should always be considered in relation to Imperial Federation proposals. Australia, he thought, might very well continue on its existing lines of self-government without imperialistic entanglements liable to menace effective autonomy."

Definite Announcement Wanted

"Mr. Mutch believed that Conference should pronounce definitely against any form of Imperial Federation and schemes established for the glorification of persons in high places endeavouring themselves omnipotent in the governance of countries. Any form of Imperial Federation would land Australia in hopeless complications and it was much better to stand out of any such proposals, he moved as an amendment. 'That the Australian Labour movement is opposed to any form of Imperial Federation and we recommend to the next Inter-State conference that the same be made a plank of the platform'. Mr. Gill seconded the motion. Mr. Cary supported the motion. He did not object to Imperial unity as Imperial unity, but his agreement with any scheme would depend of course, on the details. 'Imperial' was used largely as a geographical expression, and it would be most unwise to declare against Imperial Federation altogether until one knew what was the basis of the proposals. Mr. Mutch: 'I would have no objection to a democratic federation.' Mr. Larcombe said that Mr. Mutch was seemingly of opinion that any Imperial Federation would be composed of Tories, that in the future that it was possible that Labour might be administering the affairs of the Empire in other parts, as had happened in Australia. Apart from that altogether, the resolution preserved Australian autonomy and was preferable to the amendment that declared definitely against any form of Imperial Federation whatever. The motion was carried."

Australian Workers' Union Resolution Adopted 27 January 1917. Official Report Of The 31st Annual Convention Of The Australian Workers' Union (Held In Sydney January - February 1917), p.16

Mr. Last moved that, "in view of the possibility of Australia being dragged into a scheme of Imperial Federation, which would abrogate our rights and privileges under responsible government, and seriously undermine that paladium of our liberties - the Commonwealth Constitution - this convention of the Australian Workers' Union places on record its stoutest opposition to this Dominion of the Empire being governed by the plutocrats of England which the proposed scheme would involve."

Mr. Last said that any scheme of Imperial Federation which Australia might be dragged into at present was liable to assail seriously the autonomy at present enjoyed here, and delegates should realise what the danger was. The franchise for the British parliament was somewhat analogous to that of shire councils in the Commonwealth, but even if adult suffrage were in existence Australia, on a population basis, would be outnumbered by delegates from the other British dominions. Australia would, for instance, be hopelessly vetoed when the teeming millions of India had to be taken into account. A scheme of Imperial Federation under existing circumstances would be goodbye forever to our system of responsible government, and an attack on the principles of a White Australia, which they all held dear. Mr. Holloway seconded the resolution which was carried.

An Extract From W.G. Miles, Frequent Contributor To The Worker. "Menace Of Imperial Federation", Worker, Brisbane 31 May 1917

"The people of Australia are good democrats. They are accustomed to their politics being conducted in the light of day. They are prepared to trust their leaders to act only on the clearly expressed 'will of the people'. It is through this very trust that they are being drawn into a position which will result in their powers of self government being seriously reduced, and their chance of achieving Australian ideals rendered well-nigh hopeless. The trail was laid years ago, it is being well-followed up, a complete Imperial Federation with an Imperial Parliament in London is no longer a dream, but the undoubted aim of all enemies of democracy throughout the Empire. In 1910, there were secretly formed in various parts of the Empire societies called Round Table groups, whose express object was to devise means for bringing about Imperial Federation."

An Extract On Conscription Compiled And Issued By The Committee Of The 'Queensland Anti-Conscription Campaign'

"They have captured parliaments, they have procured living conditions and living wages. They have forced the politicians to provide old age pensions and invalid pensions, and to also supply every mother with money enough to sustain her through the most trying period of her life. These union lads, through industrial organisation, have accomplished miracles, and conscription proposals to bring them back menacled a fettered, with their hard won rights ruthlessly wiped away by the sweater and black labourite. The lad who went to the war left his freedom in your hands, if you vote conscription you will rivet the chains of political, industrial and military slavery on him. He will be a conscript for all time. He will lose freedom of speech and action,, and be used as a scab and strikebreaker under military law. The returned soldier, the wounded hero, will be as dirt in the hands of the military caste if you make him a conscript. As the Queensland government robbed him of one shilling per day he was entitled to after South Africa so they will rob him again and neglect and despise him. When the war is over he will be no longer required, and, like a sucked orange, cast aside. The conscription crowd never did ever have any time for the worker, and when the war is over the old spirit will appear afresh. If you value the fine pension system, the maternity scheme, the living wage ideal, and your splendid unionist built institutions. Vote no"

Vote yes Mum, or else they'll take Dad
"Vote yes Mum, or else they'll take Dad"
[Scaremongering for families]

The Worker, Brisbane, February 17 1916

"Once conscription is brought into force, men are taken over body and soul for arbitrarily imposed under the military system. That service might be imposed on them here in Australia, it might be imposed on them away in the trenches of Europe, and it might embrace any every duty from sighting and firing a rifle down to the mining of metal and manufacture of arms and munitions. The average worker would not object to this service in time of great national peril - in fact, he would willingly embrace it - if he could be assured that a certain section of the community would be prevented from that bowelless exploitation of the people which invariably takes place at such a time. But how can he be assured of such a thing when, under the present system, he sees the capitalists of Australia - the interest hungry vampires - brazenly fastening themselves on the vitals of the nation and shamelessly sucking their four and a half per cent from the life-blood of the community. Is it to be wondered then, that he demands a conscription of wealth which the Tory press and certainly allegedly democratic organs airily brush aside as impractical?"

"The Great Betrayal", The Worker, Brisbane, 7 September 1916

"Belgium preferred death to dishonour, but the name of Australia, raised so high by the recent exploits of her sons will now be held up to cheap ridicule all over the world as willing to back down on her most cherished principles 'under circumstances'. It is not the conscription question alone that clothes this most treacherous action with vital importance. There is the fact now staring us in he face that no plank in the Labour platforms sacred in the hands of some of the guardians of the party's conscience. As those false trustees have deliberately broken their word in respect of perhaps the most important item in the agreement, what guarantee have the people that the same thing will not be done in regard to our White Australia Policy, old age pensions, maternity bonus, preference to unions, new protection, or any other?

The Blood Vote

The Association for the Advancement of Australian Culture