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11. 11 Antagonisms in Adelaide

THE CONVENTION WHICH ASSEMBLED in Adelaide on March 22nd 1897 at the outset possessed antagonisms within its several delegations which needed little encouragement to discover their malignancy. In New South Wales the three Ministers, Reid, Carruthers and Brunker cherished some resentment towards Barton, Lyne and O'Connor, the Protectionist leaders of the local Opposition. McMillan and Wise—Free Traders—the one a candid friend of the Ministry and the other as a friend of Parkes, hostile to Reid, leant rather to Barton and his friends. Abbott and Walker, though acknowledging no party ties, sympathised more with McMillan than with [the] Ministers. Reid could not forget that although Premier of New South Wales he held but the second place to Barton in the national poll, watching events with an evident determination to attain what he considered his due position in the Convention. In South Australia party lines were drawn with absolute distinctness—Kingston, Holder, Cockburn as Ministers and Gordon as their late colleague on the one side with Baker, Symon, Downer, Howe, Solomon and less aggressively Glynn on the other. Not only was political passion strong in all, but personal antipathies were violent. Kingston had once challenged Baker to a duel and had been arrested walking with a loaded revolver in his pocket at the part of a public street which he had named as place of meeting. After this Baker refused to meet or speak to him except officially and in public. Symon's correspondence with him, in France or the Western States, would have justified half a dozen duels. Downer detested him for private as well as party reasons, while Howe and Solomon were both more than partisan in their hostility. In Tasmania the sentiments were milder except in the language of Douglas. In Western Australia Leake made a few futile efforts to assert himself against Forrest and in Victoria Fraser and Zeal regarded with apprehension the too liberal action of their Premier, while for exactly opposite reasons Higgins censured them from the opposite point of view. But in these three colonies the members on the whole


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worked amicably and in all the five [colonies] party differences were at once sunk upon any provincial issue or upon any truly national question.

At the very outset there was an illustration of the rivalry of the colonies. Reid consented that the Convention should meet in Melbourne, which meant that Turner would be its President and Isaacs undertake the formal control of business. It was believed that Kingston had consented to this and appeared to have agreed not to object to Melbourne. But this did not prevent him from making an underground treaty with Tasmania and Western Australia under which they consented to support the choice of Adelaide. When this little arrangement was unmasked, great was the wrath in the Turner Cabinet and indeed among the New South Wales representatives also. A stay in Melbourne was looked forward to with pleasurable anticipation but in Adelaide, the City of Churches, it was quite another matter. Remonstrance however was in vain and greatly grumbling, the Victorians and New South Welshmen took the road to the capital of South Australia. Here at once local intrigue of fiery hatred and vehemence was unmasked. Baker, Symon, Downer, Howe and Solomon were cut to the quick by the unexpected contingency of the election of Kingston to the Presidency of the great National gathering. They were prepared to support or if necessary to move the appointment of any rival to the throne and at once set themselves to work with zeal to defeat his nomination. Barton declined to contest the post and Reid appeared to have no ambition for it, but for all that New South Wales had its nominee ready and from what transpired it appeared that the reason for the abstention of Barton and Reid was not that they did not desire the honour, but that both were already pledged to their Speaker, Sir Joseph Abbott, for whom the whole of their delegation was privately but actively canvassing. The decision rested with the Victorians who held the balance of power and who, unanimously declaring for the observance of the precedents of all previous intercolonial conferences, rendered opposition hopeless. Kingston had secured the support of the Tasmanian and Western Australian Premiers when the place of meeting was fixed. The manner of selection was not the most flattering. A Caucus was held at which Turner proposed and Barton seconded Kingston, both of them simply quoting the previous practice as their justification. After an embarrassing silence as there was no other nomination he was declared elected and the meeting closed grimly. His nomination in the Convention was


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entrusted to Abbott who protested to the Caucus that he had not made any effort to win the coveted post and desired this opportunity of proving his concurrence and [it was] seconded with equal frigidity by Berry, while the silence and scowls of his local enemies proved how bitterly they detested his elevation.

The third intrigue which originated also among the South Australians only gradually manifested itself and, though it never reached the light, was at one time likely to be successful. Although all delegates owed their position to the electors and were named in their order at the poll, the Premiers who headed the vote in Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia were seniors on that account. In New South Wales and Tasmania they stood second. But it was their official rank and party leadership which asserted itself in a variety [of ways]. The Convention was dependent upon them for information or the fulfilment of its orders in their respective domains and thus in a sense they constituted a Cabinet of which the members took care to keep in touch one with another. When it became clear that owing to the Premiers' approaching departure for the Jubilee celebrations in London, the proceedings of the Convention would require to be hurried to a close and it was assumed by them that in consequence the meeting must be adjourned, a count of heads was commenced to see if a proposal to sit on and finish the work in their absence would be acceptable. At first it met with almost universal approbation but as the ardent federalists came to perceive that they would probably alienate and certainly could not pledge the absent Premiers to take up a Bill so fashioned and press it forward, the design became repugnant to them and by their influence it was rejected. The last and most painful incident occurred in connection with the choice of a Drafting Committee out of the members of the Constitutional Committee, significant because it furnished a key to a good deal of the public debate in Adelaide. Before this however the decision of a Caucus of the whole, held on the first day of meeting, requires notice though necessarily its proceedings became known immediately after. The Convention consisted of two sections, those who had taken part in preparing the Bill of 1891 and those who now sat in a Convention for the first time. The latter were anxious that as far as possible the Bill of their predecessors should be ignored and that this Convention should now independently begin in the same manner by a series of resolutions upon which a new measure should be built. The members of the 1891 Convention for the most part desired to force an


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acknowledgment of the value of their work by making their Bill the preliminary draft of the new Constitution and thus publicly proving how few the amendments necessary to bring it up to date would be. They would have been defeated out of hand had not Reid and Braddon supported this procedure in the hope of thereby shortening the proceedings. At this stage it was evident that one or two major alterations of that Bill would have perfectly contented Reid and he pressed strongly that they should be made so that the Convention could finish and separate in a very few weeks. Barton, Downer and Deakin among the 1891 men strongly urged a fresh commencement with fresh resolutions, maintaining that either method would lead to the same result but that this manner of reaching it was much more in accordance with the independent elective character of this Convention and would more clearly prove its freedom from any obligation to accept any old clause except upon its merits. The contest was warm; Turner was doubtful; McMillan reluctantly yielded his judgment to that of the majority. Wise, Trenwith, Symon, Isaacs and Quick among the new men stood out strongly for a brand new measure and finally carried the day by 19 votes to 14. Rumblings of discontent were afterwards heard in the Convention because of this decision but it was nevertheless adopted. Had the Western Australian delegation been present it would have been defeated both in Caucus and Convention for they were adherents of the 1891 [Bill] as well as anxious to shorten the proceedings as far as possible.

The Caucus heard a suggestion from Sir Philip Fysh that they should ask Mr Barton to act as leader of the Convention. At all events a few had been consulted as to this course and they approved. Mr Reid had not been consulted and did not approve. Turner proposed it in the Convention, Downer and Symon at once heartily endorsing; Reid then endorsed it as ‘the generous suggestion of Sir George Turner that the whole load should be put upon the shoulders of Mr Barton’, concluding with the remark that his being senior representative of the mother colony was ‘of course an element in the matter’ and that he possessed ‘every other qualification’ for it. Seeing that the selection was inevitable he accepted it with the best grace he could and as indeed he was bound to do on behalf of his colony. It was not that he desired the post for himself. He knew perfectly well that he had neither the constitutional knowledge, capacity as draftsman nor unwearying industry that were essentials in a leader. He would only have exposed his own weakness and have been at the mercy of better


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qualified critics. Even the legal knowledge he discovered during the debates was of the most elementary character and he was obviously timorous of framing amendments without advice, or when he did frame them himself, was compelled to submit to their alteration. The only man to whom he grudged the position he could not occupy himself, was the one man who had surpassed him at the poll. But during the Adelaide session he was upon his best behaviour and under severe self-restraint refrained from anything more than a brush with Barton and O'Connor. To the other delegates his attitude was one of studied politeness. His self-esteem was gratified by his being allotted the first place at all outside functions and by the ease with which he excelled all his rivals by his after-dinner speeches. With great art he assumed a central position on the Convention stage and was solaced by the attention he received on all hands. He played his part as the Free Trade bountiful Premier actuated by sincere Federal impulse to perfection. He boasted of the prosperity of his colony and was vaguely generous in his promises of the sacrifices he was prepared to make. Tasmania rejoicing in the open Sydney market, South Australia grateful for the trade to Broken Hill and Western Australia leaning rather to Barton but expressly limited in her acceptance of any Constitution to one that New South Wales would approve, all followed in his train and hung upon his words. He was the author of the Convention, Premier of the greatest colony, the best platform speaker, rejoicing in platitudes of liberality and largeheartedness, revelling in quip and jest in private where he was always a jolly good fellow as well as in public and thus monarch of all he surveyed, inhaling perpetual incense of flattery and winding the majority around his finger as he pleased. Although he was neither President nor leader of the Convention in Adelaide, he was at once its master and its most popular member, admired and trusted by all the delegates except a few of his colleagues from New South Wales who even then admitted his ability and powers.

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