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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 50

The Recidiviste Question

The Recidiviste Question.

Mr. Griffith said: Mr. President, I rise to move,—"That an address be presented to the Governor of Tasmania, praying that His Excellency will be pleased to cause to be laid before this Council such information as he may consider expedient with respect to the action that has been taken by Her Majesty's Imperial Government as to the proposed deportation of relapsed criminals to the French possessions in the Pacific." I do not propose to say very much on this subject, but I may briefly call attention to the present position of the question. Two resolutions on the subject were adopted by the Convention in 1883, as follows:—

"That the Convention protests in the strangest manner against the declared intention of the Government of France to transport large numbers of relapsed criminals to the French possessions in the Pacific, and urges Her Majesty's Government to use every means in its power to prevent the adoption of a course so disastrous to the interests of Australasia."

"That the Convention expresses a confident hope that no penal settlement for the reception of European criminals will long continue to exist in the Pacific; and invites Her Majesty's Government to make to the Government of France such serious representations on this subject as may be deemed expedient"

Hon. members of the Council are aware that at that time a measure was before the French Parliament providing for the deportation of relapsed criminals, and it was anticipated that New Caledonia, or the neighbouring islands, would very probably be adopted as the place for deportation. I do not think we have to complain that the Imperial Government did not receive our remonstrance in the same spirit in which we made it. A great deal of correspondence has taken place on the subject since, some of which, of course, cannot be made public and laid on the table of the Council, but I think it will be interesting and valuable if a record of what has been done in the matter between the meeting of the convention and the assembling of the Federal Council, and which can be published, is made to form a part of the records of the present session. Amongst other things that took place, as you, sir, and all other non. members are aware, was the preparation of a measure by which in the event of common action not being taken by the Federal Council action might be taken by the separate colonies individually, which, at the request of the other colonies, I undertook to frame. That was treated as confidential, although I believe the general nature of its provisions was pretty well known both in the colonies and in England. On referring to the correspondence that has taken place, which is contained in the Blue Books laid before the Imperial Parliament, we may be tolerably well satisfied that at the present time there will be no very largo number of recidivistes transported to New Caledonia. After the principal Act was passed, a bill was brought into the French Parliament, and, I think, carried, although I have no official information on the subject, providing for an appropriation of money to give effect to the Act that we are accustomed to call the Recidiviste Act—the law of the 27th May, 1885; but that Appropriation Act related entirely to expenditure for the colony of Guiana. Under present circumstances, therefore, there need be no immediate cause for alarm. At the same time we have no reason to relax our vigilance. In the meantime, I think it would be advisable to ask His Excellency to cause to be laid on the table such correspondence as will bring the history of the matter up to the present time. All the page 43 information is contained in correspondence in possession of the Governor of the colony. I therefore beg to move the motion I have read.

Mr. Dickson seconded the motion.

Mr. Berry said: Mr. President—In rising to support the motion I will take the opportunity of referring to a mode in which this Council may obtain information with regard to important matters. The short session which we are likely to hold would scarcely be utilised to its fullest extent if the Council had no other way of obtaining information than by an address to the Governor. Although i t is highly desirable that any information that the Governor can communicate to the Council should be so communicated, and that we should be in possession of all information from that source, still it is very frequently the case that information of a very important character may not be officially in the possession of the Governor, and yet may be substantially in possession of one or other of the Premiers of the various colonial Governments, I think it would facilitate our general knowledge on these important questions, and consequently enable us to deal more promptly with them, even if only in the shape of discussion, were one to apply to them, than to avail ourselves solely of the source of information in the motion now before the Council. I am under the impression that recent information which has not, in all probability been communicated to the Governor, indicating something more than a probability that the French Government still contemplate the sending of criminals to New Caledonia under the new Act; and I think it would be important that not only the information which the Governor of Tasmania can communicate to this Council, but also information of any character of a later date that is in the possession of the Premiers of the various colonies represented here, should also be communicated at the earliest date to the Council, in order that we may know the exact state of affairs with regard to any contemplated deportation of criminals in a neighbouring community. The first notice of motion on the paper was postponed by Mr. Dickson rather suddenly, and I am rather inclined to regret it. Considering the brief period we still have at our disposal before the session terminates, as little time as possible should be lost in bringing these important questions forward. I presume the hon. member has some reason for postponing the motion, but I hope and trust that at the next sitting of the Council he will be prepared to go on with his motion, which I regard as a very important one. But my chief object in rising to support this motion was to suggest that if there are any other sources from whence important intelligence can be made available to this Council we should not hesitate to obtain it, so as to enable us to consider in what way, if any, we can deal with a question of this importance. With these remarks I beg to support the motion of the hon. member from Queensland.

Dr. Macgregor: Mr. President, I fully agree with the opinion of the hon. member who has moved this address, that it is highly desirable that all papers connected with this important question should be laid before this Council. I do not think, sir, that the great interest that existed with regard to this matter two or three years ago can be considered to have much abated. The question certainly has lost as yet none of its original importance. One cannot help thinking, judging from the English and Continental Press, that the great importance of this question is under estimated in Europe. I have noticed very frequently, especially in the Continental Press, that we are considered to be a little too irritable on this point, but it is impossible for people living in this part of the world to forget the very important consideration that the French convicts sent out here, are not sent out as settlers or colonists, but are deported here because it is felt that they constitute a moral and social danger in their own country. That being so it is impossible for us to forget the fact that they may very likely prove a moral and social danger to us living in the neighbouring colonies. When in New Caledonia recently I had the opportunity of seeing a large number of convicts that had just arrived. They numbered 359, and were brought out in a transport, and landed about a month ago. As far as I could ascertain these were not relapsed criminals, but ordinary convicts, but, after all, that appears to be very much a question of degree, and I am not at all sure that ordinary convicts, associated for a number of years with a larger number of relapsed convicts, are not in the end just as likely to be as bad men as the relapsed convicts themselves. As far as one could see very great care is exercised in trying to prevent those convicts from escaping. I believe that five ships of war are constantly retained about New Caledonia, and one can notice that there is a very large force of armed guards, and as far as the performance of their duty goes, I believe that those ships and guards do it as well as it is possible for it to be done, but experience shows that in spite of all these precautions those men do sometimes escape. While visiting the colony of New Caledonia, what appeared to me to be, perhaps, the most important question in regard to the whole subject is the future of the convicts sent there. What is to become of them? It must be manifest to anyone who sees New Caledonia that it will be impossible for these men to settle there permanently after expiration of their sentences, and it, therefore, appears to me to be just as important for us to watch what is to be done with these men—whether or not they are to be taken away to some other place—as it is important for us to observe the fact of their being brought there. The one question seems to me to be just as important as the other. I believe that the question of the future of the convicts has occupied the consideration of the authorities of New Caledonia, and that being so, for the present perhaps it is unnecessary to say more on that point than simply draw attention to it, as one that appears to be of the greatest importance in the consideration of this question. In dealing with this subject, I am not looking at it from a purely theoretical point of view. In the colony of Fiji we have already experienced a certain amount of inconvenience from some of these convicts. Several of them have reached that colony. Whether they are relapsed convicts, or escaped con- page 44 victs, or time-expired convicts, I am not in a position to say authoritatively, but this I know, that we have already suffered from their criminal propensities. Only the other day one of them was brought before a magistrate and convicted of theft. He was sent to the common gaol, but our gaol arrangements are not of a sufficiently elaborate nature to enable us to deal with these men. He escaped, and the Government was put to a very great deal of trouble in recapturing him. He was caught on the evening of a certain day, but before morning he had again made his escape, and had to be caught a second time. Now, although it is true that we have a very small white population, and that there is not so very much danger of the contagion of crime to our white settlers from these convicts or ex-convicts, still we have a very large native population, and it is impossible to say what danger might be caused to that portion of the community by the escape of a few of these men amongst them. The Government of Fiji always tries to bear in mind that in addition to ruling the native race there, it has a special and important duty to perform in regard to them, and that is that the race should as far as possible, and as speedily as possible, be elevated. Now, that is a task which will not be facilitated by the mixture of French criminals amongst them. This is a question, therefore, that we take a very deep interest in in the Colony of Fiji, and I am glad that the matter has been brought up, in order that the Council may keep an account of what has been done, and what is now being done, in regard to the question, and that we may agree to be on the watch to see what is done in the future. I was very pleased with the moderate tone of the remarks made by the hon. member who moved the address, which I think was very proper in dealing with a question of this nature which affects a great nation on friendly terms with us, and I trust we will always be able to proceed in the same calm and deliberate way in dealing with it.

Mr. Dickson: I cordially agree with the hon. member for Victoria in saying that all possible sources of information, at the disposal of the different colonies who are represented at this conference, should be placed before hon. members, so that the fullest light may be thrown on the subject under consideration; and it is not altogether apart from that view that I postponed the notice of motion standing in my name to a future day. I consider this question of the deportation of French criminals to the Pacific of very great importance indeed to the whole of Australasia, and having witnessed the disastrous effects felt in the colony of which I have the honour to be representative by the landing of these escapees from New Caledonia, I feel that it is only my duty to add my voice to the general and considerate remonstrance which these colonies, I trust, will continuously offer to the deportation of French criminals into any part of Australasia. This, as I have said, I consider one of the most important questions, concerning not only the present, but the future of Australasia, and it is a question which is, perhaps, too apt to be lost sight of by English statesmen in connection with the growing importance of these colonies. We have no definite or distinct assurance that the deportation of these criminals will cease, but I believe, sir, that if a continued remonstrance is presented by these colonies, and continuously couched in the moderate and respectful language in which it has been conducted on this and previous occasions, that even the French Republic will not be inaccessible to the united voice of the Federal Council of Australasia represented through the Colonial Office. We have had considerable difficulty in dealing with this question in Queensland. I believe I am justified in saying that Queensland has had a constant influx of these escapees from Now Caledonia, and the most disastrous effects have been felt. Not only has it tended largely to give additional work to the police of the colony, but it has been a constant menace and source of disquietude to the inhabitants of the different towns in the seaboard of Queensland, and what we have felt in the first place on account of our proximity to New Caledonia will undoubtedly be felt if the evil be continued to a still larger extent in the more populous cities and towns in the South. I, therefore, consider, sir, that it is the duty of this Council, not only at the present time, but in all future occasions, unless this system is terminated to raise a general remonstrance against any attempt on the part of the French Republic to deport more criminals to Now Caledonia. I think that this is not so much a matter as to the character of the criminals—although we know from sad experience in Queensland that the criminals so deported are of the most expert class in burglary and other crimes—as to the danger if the system be continued that it will in time largely infiltrate the criminal class of Australasia. I am, therefore, very glad this motion has been brought on, and that the opinion of the Council has been expressed, and I trust that that opinion will continually be insisted upon, and that by all legitimate and moderate means representations will continue to be made to the French authorities of the in-advisability of deporting to the islands of the Pacific those criminals who have and will, no doubt, very largely tend, when they escape to our shores, to increase the criminal classes in Australia.

The President: I think I may be permitted to say a word or two on this question. I have in my possession certain papers containing information which, though not officially in the hands of the Council, has been in the hands of the Premiers of the various colonies for some time, and, if not made public, it is desirable that it should be. Probably the motion now before the House will elicit the information in the official form in which it has already come before me. Up to quite recently, within the last week or fortnight, I was under the impression that the danger arising from the influx into New Caledonia of French criminals, under the écidiviste legislation, had been reduced to a minimum, and that the French Government had pretty well given up the idea of sending convicts to that colony, but within the last few days a despatch has come to these colonies, and I believe to each separate Government, which shows that the danger is not over yet, through a letter which has arrived from our ambassador in Paris, Lord Lyons, to whom I may refer as having given his most earnest attention to this subject. (Hear, hear.) I think the page 45 people of Australasia are indebted to Lord Lyons for the way in which he has handled the subject since its commencement. (Hear, hear.) In that despatch Lord Lyons referred to the fact that after the passing of the Récidiviste Bill, it was necessary within six months regulations should be framed under it, so as to fix the mode in which the various classes of criminals were to be dealt with. A sentence or two from that despatch I may now read, "Your Lordship is aware that it is provided by this law that many most important particulars relative to the transportation of habitual criminals and their treatment shall be determined by 'Règlements d' Administration Publiqne,' and that the first of these règlements shall be promulgated within six months of the promulgation of the law itself, and that the law shall become operative on the promulgation of this first règiement. The transported convicts are to be divided into two categories, those in the first to be treated 'individually,' and those in the second, 'collectively.' The first category is to consist of those who show that they have honourable means of subsistence, by the exercise of professions, trades, or handicrafts; those who are considered fit to receive grants of land; and those who are authorised to contract engagements for work or service with the State, the colonies, or with private persons. It would seem that criminals belonging to this category are to be sent to any French colony or possession, and that they are to live there separately, and in a state of liberty, and are to be subject to the ordinary law and jurisdiction. The second category, or those subjected to what is called 'La relegation collective" are to be placed in establishments in which their subsistence is provided for by the authorities, and they are to be obliged to work. They are to be sent to Guiana, or, if necessary, New Caledonia or its dependencies." It will be seen one of the rules is this, that transported convicts are to be divided into two categories. In one of these the convicts are to be treated individually. This category consists of those who are able to show that they can gain an honest living, or by some trade, profession, or handicraft have an honourable means of subsistence. The others are to consist of what they call "collectively relegated," those who are sent abroad as they have been hitherto, to New Caledonia in large numbers on board ships, to be provided for by the authorities and dealt with by them directly. The difficulty is, that the second category, which would seem to imply the worst class, as they comprise those who have no means of living and no trade or handicraft to fall back upon, and who, if not provided for by the Government, must necessarily prey on the community at large. The second category, the "collectively relegated," are to be placed in establishments in which their subsistence is provided by the authorities, and they are obliged to work. They are to be sent to Guiana or New Caledonia and its dependencies. That brings the question fresh before our minds. I must allude to the interest taken by the hon. member for Queensland, Mr. Griffith, who went to a great deal of trouble since the convention met, and brought up a bill at the request of the various colonies to deal with the matter. We all feel the necessity of watching very carefully, but in dealing with a high spirited and proud nation, whilst using every courtesy, civility, and delicacy in our treatment of the subject, I think it behoves us to deal in a firm and resolute manner, such as becomes the importance of the matter to these colonies. It is perfectly manifest that if we are to be subjected to a continual influx of criminals into New Caledonia, it must sooner or later overflow into these colonies, and the very fountains of our social morality will be infiltrated with the moral filth, which must of necessity produce disastrous consequences to future generations. I presume the hon. member who has given notice of this motion expects to receive this information at a sufficiently early date to enable the Council to pass some resolution on the subject, if it is considered desirable. I presume the information is such as is now in the possession of the Governor of Tasmania, and it is not necessary it should be wired home for as the other information, the reply in respect of which I read this morning. I must express my pleasure that this matter should have been brought up so prominently, and I do trust the session will not end until we have given distinct and deliberate, but respectful expression to our views upon this matter. (Hear, hear.)

Mr. Griffith: I wish to point out that the information upon this subject is in possesion of His Excellency the Governor of this colony. All the information which we desire to have formally placed on record, has been forwarded to the Governors of the various colonies. I have seen it, and I think the series of Blue Books up to the Blue Book of August 1885, contain most of what we require from the passing of the resolutions of the convention up to the present time. There would be time if the return is laid on the table soon to deal with the matter further during the present session, if it is considered desirable that it should be further dealt with.

Mr. Lee Steere: On behalf of the colony I represent, I heartily sympathise with the resolution. It may be considered that we are so remote from New Caledonia that we cannot have any particular interest as to the deportation of French criminals. We, however, do sympathise with the other colonics in their endeavours to prevent the criminals landing on the coasts of Australia nearer to themselves than we are. We sympathise with those colonies who are endeavouring to prevent these criminals landing, and I fully agree with the hon. member from Fiji, that we must not be lulled into a false sense of security. The evil is not yet abated. I believe that France will not be able to continue to deport her criminals to French Guiana, for from what I know of the climate, and I have been in Guiana, it is so deadly that I am certain no European can live there, in convict establishments at any rate. If France continues to carry out her wishes in the deportation of criminals she must send them to New Caledonia, or some other islands in the Pacific. It is necessary we should keep ourselves alive to the fact that these criminals will continue to be liable to escape and land on some portion of the main land. I was in hopes the hon. member for Queensland (Mr. Griffith) would have brought before us the bill, that I believe is drawn up, to prevent the influx of criminals. Probably, how- page 46 ever, he has considered it necessary to obtain some further information upon the subject, and therefore has not thought it advisable to introduce it just yet. I can cordially support a motion which has for its object the production of all these papers.

The motion was agreed to.