previous
next

Preface

THIS book aims at being a short summary of what every Australian citizen ought to know in order to understand the question of Australian Federation.

The first part is a discussion of the federal system itself; the second is a historical, constitutional, and comparative sketch of the chief federal governments of the world, from the earliest times to the present day; the third deals with the special problems of Australian Federation. Under these three heads an attempt has been made to describe shortly the principles, the practice, and the proposed application of the federal system.

No space has been wasted in proving what no one now denies—the necessity and the urgency of Australian union. The well-worn platitudes on that subject are out of date; the question is no longer ‘Shall we federate?’ but ‘How shall we federate?’ This book, therefore, is a practical discussion of ways and means, prefaced by an account of those political principles and historical facts which cannot be ignored in the framing of an Australian Constitution.

Federal government has already a vast literature and history of its own, bearing directly on the problems which we in Australia must now face, and upon which every citizen will soon be asked to give a responsible vote. Few, however, will have time or opportunity to read all that has been written on the subject; and it is hoped that an outline of this kind will be useful both as a substitute for, and as an introduction to, a deeper study of the question. Of course the limits of this book, and the wide field to be covered, make exhaustive treatment impossible; but those who desire more detailed information will find references throughout to the leading authorities.




  ― 12 ―

I take this opportunity of referring to a new and interesting work (Federation and Empire, by T.A. Spalding, LL. B.) which appeared too late to be noticed in the text. Mr. Spalding's theme is the federal union (or rather, disunion) of England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland; but incidentally he discusses federal government in general, and challenges some of the accepted doctrines. Especially, he contends that federalism and parliamentary sovereignty are not necessarily inconsistent; that there might be a Federation in which the federal parliament had unlimited power to alter the Constitution. ‘State rights,’ (he argues), though only existing on sufferance, are as real, while they exist, as if they were secured by a ‘rigid’ constitution. This contention is chiefly one of words. It is obvious that subordinate local parliaments could be set up in the several parts of (for instance) the United Kingdom without abolishing the sovereignty of the central parliament; the only question is whether such an arrangement could fairly be called ‘federal.’ Mr. Spalding chooses to call it so, and though we may differ, we can hardly complain. The question can scarcely arise, however, except in those exceptional cases where federation follows upon unification, and therefore means the granting of state rights which previously did not exist. Where federation follows upon disunion, and state rights are reserved, the States will almost certainly insist that those rights shall be adequately secured by a constitution more or less ‘rigid.’ Mr. Spalding's argument, therefore, though pertinent to his own subject, does not specially concern us.

previous
next