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12. 12 Rivalries in Adelaide

WITH REID MASTER OF THE CONVENTION at Adelaide, and Barton its leader loved by most and respected by all, with Wise and McMillan boldly championing the claims of the less populous colonies and with O'Connor's growing influence, the position of New South Wales was absolutely one of dominance and supremacy from first to last. The ability of the South Australian delegation was admitted but it was recognised that theirs was a poor colony seeking what it could gain, while New South Wales was the giver upon whom she depended. With Kingston in the Chair and Baker in the Chairmanship of Committees her representation fell into [the] hands of Holder, Cockburn and Gordon, whose leanings to the Confederate rather than to the Federal type of union put them out of sympathy with most of the delegates. Holder had not as yet found his feet and Downer was somewhat indolent, so that their undoubted strength was not put forth at this sitting. Far other was the position of Victoria, whose delegates found themselves an unpopular minority and almost in isolation from the first. Her markets were shut against all, instead of open like those of New South Wales. Her Protectionist policy angered the Free Traders and did not appeal to their fellow-Protectionists in other colonies. Her radicalism rendered her specially repugnant to all the Conservatives, while the hereditary rivalry of New South Wales deprived her of support when she was most entitled to expect it. She had little or nothing to yield to her neighbours and was regarded as committed to any scheme of union they might please to frame.

To these heavy handicaps were added many others of a personal nature. Her delegates were practically all new men to the remaining delegates and were known to have been returned upon a ticket. Unfortunately even the able among them had no gifts of humour, no social good fellowship, and no distinction enabling them to win friends or followers. Turner's good qualities as a working member did not at first appear and there was nothing in his manners or address to recommend him to the vigilant critics, who


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saw him not only overshadowed but consenting to be overshadowed everywhere by Reid, and without the presence of Kingston or the style of Braddon. He looked and spoke like a busy little shopkeeper and being pushed forward by unwise colleagues to seize the earliest occasion of speech, delivered an elaborate catalogue of radical proposals just as he would have read a list of goods and chattels at a Sale. He was hastily classed as a mere speaking-tube of a very commonplace character, and practically ignored. That he accepted this treatment with perfect indifference was mistaken for another evidence of his inferiority, surprise being continually expressed that such a mediocrity could be Premier of Victoria. Isaacs was still more unfortunate in the impression he created, for though his acuteness and research soon won remark, his endeavour to command attention by force and his constant appeal to the general principles of democracy fell flat upon his hearers. As this became apparent, smarting under the injustice though resolutely repressing every sign of sensitiveness, he rather increased his first mistake of talking to his constituents by almost confining himself to such matters as would appeal to them. He thus drifted hopelessly out of touch with the Convention and [with] the Constitutional Committee where in a positive manner which seemed arrogant and with a warmth which appeared to be dictation, he laid down the law to his hearers so offensively that they retorted upon him bitterly and rose against him in revolt. Astonished at this unexpected development but not deterred, and too proud to seek sympathy from friend or foe, he took his way alone along a very unpleasant path. Neither he [n]or any of his colleagues took much part in the social festivities of the time and consequently became little better acquainted with their brother delegates when most of them had fallen into friendly groups. So far as Higgins took any action, it was in opposition to the rest of his colleagues and to the rest of the Convention so that he began to be reckoned a mere irreconcilable and the conjoint influence of Turner, Isaacs and Higgins gave the Victorian delegation an unfortunate reputation from which it never recovered during this session, and which was made notorious by a painful incident when the Constitutional Committee decided to remit its conclusions to a Drafting Committee to be put into the form of a Bill.

The Committee would necessarily consist of lawyers and necessarily Barton would be one. The number would be limited to three and the other two chosen from the neighbouring colonies. Kingston for South Australia and Isaacs for Victoria were obviously


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designated for the position, both by capacity and position and both became candidates. When Downer was nominated against Kingston it was regarded as a piece of party action which could not succeed. O'Connor was named also and his personal popularity sufficed to explain this. Lewis of Tasmania declined the contest and the Western Australians followed suit. The candidates therefore were Barton, Kingston, Isaacs, Downer and O'Connor, and they were balloted for accordingly. Sir Richard Baker again gratified his bitter enmity to Kingston by conducting a cabal against him while affecting to be concerned only in ousting Isaacs because of his aggressive conduct, and indeed one or two South Australians to support O'Connor. Some other Conservative members were induced to strike out Kingston in favour of Downer and as a result Barton, Downer and O'Connor were returned giving two members to the always predominating New South Wales by the defeat of the Premier of South Australia and the Attorney-General of Victoria. Able as Downer and O'Connor undoubtedly were, they were no abler and less experienced than Kingston who was a born draftsman and Isaacs who was a most searching critic. Their defeat was occasioned purely by personal motives and from personal dislike and was brought about by a plot discreditable to all engaged in it. The unhappy incident had an injurious effect upon Isaacs, whose hostility to the Bill preceded its appearance and was but partially conquered by his splendid self-restraint and it was a direct insult to the President of the Convention who was shown what treatment would have been accorded him in his own election but for Victorian support. For this Victoria was now punished by exclusion from the Committee altogether, a result that would have been impossible to such a colony, unpopular as its policy was, had it not been for the marked unpopularity which its delegates had aroused. Barton himself, though not a party to the plot, was aware of it and rejoiced in its success, because being a man of strong friendships he found collaboration with the two men out of the whole Convention who were his most intimate friends extremely pleasant. But even in consenting to such personal feelings, though he did not like Kingston and cordially disliked Isaacs, he fell short of the obligations of his high and honourable position. It was by no act of his own but he could and ought to have forbidden it and would have furthered the fortunes of the Bill if he had sacrificed his affections upon its altar. Neither O'Connor nor Downer did more than concur as Barton did, but they too would have taken higher ground if they had resisted


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temptation. Isaacs' tendency to minute technical criticism was sharpened so as to bring him not infrequently into collision with the Committee when the measure came on for debate, and though this diminished with time it reappeared at the very close of the proceedings and threatened the adoption of the measure by his Ministry. The effect of the indignity to him was to still further alter the attitude of most of the Victorian delegates and to render them even more careful to subordinate themselves and their colony. Instead of moving amendments they induced others to undertake their carriage and in every way sought to mitigate the animus so evident against them by discreet self-suppression. No other delegation laboured under such a disability and though not entirely harmonious among themselves, and only holding third place in point of debating ability, they certainly exhibited more patience and diplomacy under fire than any of the others, and before the close of the session had sensibly improved their position. For one thing the sincerity of their Federalism was transparent and though this was mistakenly ascribed to the necessities of their colony, it shone out amid the doubts and divergencies which gradually arose so as to win for them on this account the confidence of the whole of their colleagues. They might be radical but as it became clearer that unlike South Australia which had its eye upon the river waters and traffic of New South Wales and unlike New South Wales which desired a financial settlement to suit itself, though it must be disastrous to less prosperous colonies, the patient attitude of the Victorians was gradually brought into relief and their alliance sought by the contending parties. No one Victorian came conspicuously to the front above his fellows but the whole delegation by slow and steady stages under these favouring circumstances began to be conceded the authority which ought to have [been] theirs from the first. Not that this was recognised in South Australia where the newspapers, partly under influence of press representatives of Victorian Conservatism, and partly because they recognised in them the most determined antagonists to the Confederate principles, were consistently hostile. They too paid some court to the New South Wales delegates who held the same views as the Victorians but there was no sympathy whatever exhibited in any quarter for their nearest neighbours, so that summing up the situation as a whole, it may be said that except perhaps in the case of Tasmania whose delegation was divided on the test question of the amendment of money bills by the Senate, no colony as such exercised less influence or possessed so little favour, as


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Victoria. Even Western Australia, because its representatives voted as a man and its trade was very valuable to South Australia, was more courted and in a sense more influential.

It would be unjust to Mr Reid to say that he created the situation but he certainly appreciated and utilised it to the full. New South Wales shone like the sun in the heavens rejoicing in her strength and in the plaudits of all beholders, while Victoria if she appeared at all proved but a pale and changeful reflection of [her] glory. At a very early stage of the proceedings he executed his first volte-face and while at the outset the most eager supporter of a forward policy which should conclude the Convention's work so as to allow the Premiers to leave for England in good time, he no sooner realised that an adjournment was possible and that it would be to Sydney, than he commenced to dwell upon the necessity for the inclusion of Queensland and the unwisdom of any undue haste that might prevent her from coming in. Those colleagues of his who always contended that he had simply adopted the Federal movement to serve his own electoral ends were at once upon the alert, believing that they recognised the beginning of an attempt on his part to wreck the agitation. They were only reconciled to the adjournment when it became clearly inevitable. The inner side of the Committees was afterwards so well indicated in public debates that it is unnecessary to deal with it here. Barton, with less coolness than Griffith who was occasionally splenetic when hard pressed, took as he did the real burden of the work but the debates on this occasion were longer, fiercer and more oratorical than in Sydney. We had a Bill before us instead of resolutions and it was criticised phrase by phrase. Kingston, though more active than Parkes had been, spoke rarely and briefly. Baker utilised all his opportunities, since as Chairman of Committees he must be silent in the Convention. Downer, Deakin and Quick were more active than in public. Reid and Turner occasionally attended, though mainly occupied on the Financial Committee where the whole scheme elaborated by Turner was upset by Reid, who rollicked in this privacy as a hippopotamus might if he had climbed into a ferry boat and was determined to upset it unless given his own way. He obtained it so completely and with such adroitness that Turner practically never recovered his self-confidence and realised his inferiority in sophistry and subtlety so keenly, that he could hardly ever be persuaded to meet him in any conference again and required much stimulus and assured support before he would consent to enter into any negotiation


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with him, so powerful was his personality and so supreme was he by the consent of all his fellows. The one other piece of private and effective work was accomplished on the trip to Broken Hill, where by the efforts of the Victorians, Zeal, Higgins and Deakin, a sufficient number of the Tasmanians were satisfied that they must be content to allow the Senate to make suggestions and not amendments in money Bills unless they wished to shipwreck the whole Bill. Barton, O'Connor and Wise had already strengthened their friends in this matter and by this last success the peril was just avoided and no more. Neither Mr Reid nor his Ministerial colleagues lifted a finger or took the slightest pains to assist the Bill in any particular by personal exertion during the very trying days and weary nights during which it was threatened by Conservative influences in South Australia.

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