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  ― 180 ―

26. APPENDIX III: The New Commonwealth, December 1900

[On 29 November 1900, on the eve of the inauguration of the Commonwealth, Deakin wrote for the London Morning Post the first of a series of anonymous weekly articles on Australian affairs which were to continue for many years. The following extract from his second article of 4 December, which appeared in the issue of 8 January 1901, will illustrate the fact that he did not allow the emotions expressed at the end of The Federal Story to obscure the difficulty of the task that lay ahead.]

On the 1st of January the Parliament of Great Britain will be at last enabled to behold, Jove-like, the new power which has sprung full-armed from a head which is aching after even a perfunctory discussion of the future estate of its offspring. The coming new Commonwealth is already hailed as, in some sense, a portent, having discovered to a surprised Europe even in the hour of birth a fervent loyalty to her parent as unforeseen as was her capacity for service. Loyalty to herself she has yet to manifest, for up till now the artificial barriers dividing the Australian Colonies from one another have weakened their prestige and to some extent their sisterly affection for each other. Now that their forces are combined and concentrated for certain definite purposes they attain for the first time the dignity and potency of a national life, of which the future consequences are certain to be conspicuous and of permanent influence within and without their territory. Ultimately their union will be seen to have heralded within them a revolution, perhaps the more profound because entirely peaceful, but none the less a revolution, political, industrial and social, unprecedented in colonial history. With such a prospect apparent to all onlookers or participators in the achievement, the tendency undoubtedly is to form exaggerated expectations of an immediate transformation in our circumstances which calm consideration must show to be unwarranted. Sudden as the birth will be and richly endowed as is the new-born with the amplest charter of self-government that even Great Britain has ever conceded to her offshoots, much time and toil will be required before we can hope to actually enter and enjoy our inheritance.

The Constitution, long as it is, contains merely the framework of government, whose substance and strength must come by natural growth. Ministers will, of course, be appointed at the outset to accept the responsibility of preliminary preparations, but the Governor-General, acting on their advice, can do little


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more in the first three months than take charge of the Departments transferred from the States and arranged for the summoning of a Parliament. From this he will next obtain the requisite legislation providing for the proper control of the public services taken over and the creation of new Federal Departments. Gradually the High Court, the Inter-State Commission, and the High Commissioner's office in London will be created and endowed with the means of discharging their functions. There must be a further period before statutes embodying the policy accepted by the electors can be passed and put in operation. An immense work of administrative organisation must proceed before the new centres of control are firmly established and common principles of action settled through the continent. Fiscal freedom lies still more in advance. The several tariffs of the Colonies now in force require to remain untouched for probably twelve months at least, and the new duties of the Federal Customs House are scarcely likely to be passed without a fierce conflict and prolonged debates.

Others causes of controversy lie thickly around. These are likely to be multiplied and rendered bitter because a considerable proportion of the electors of Federal Parliament are not yet really allied in sentiment nor ripe for concerted action. It is to be feared that the dividing lines which must be drawn before the system of responsible government on the British model can be seen at its best will not appear at the first election, and that much confusion is likely to be occasioned by the absence of even a fairly complete understanding between the representatives who compose the earliest Parliament. These conditions and many unforeseen hindrances will in all probability exasperate the ardent Federalists, fortify the suspicions of their opponents, and disappoint impatient onlookers, especially among the class which has been described by the late Laureate as expecting all things in an hour. Summing up the position, then, it may be taken for granted that the Commonwealth will not begin its reign without much friction, much misunderstanding, and much complaint. Not even an Act of the Imperial Parliament can remove by its fiat the antagonisms of thought, aim, and situation existing among the scattered four millions of independent Australian Britons who are taking their destinies into their own hands on a far greater scale than they have been hitherto accustomed to essay. Because they are enriched by the acquisition of a Federal in addition to a State citizenship they will not be at once inspired with Federal feeling. There will be no complete break with their past. Their horizon will be wider than it was, but in all likelihood will fall far short of the actual field of influence now opened to them. The Union, as begun, will be formal and legal rather than vital. In a few years, no doubt, common interests will supply links capable of standing the strain of local divergences, and by degrees party lines will be drawn,


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determined not as at present largely by geographical considerations, but by principles of national import. …

Each Colony has followed its own line of politics according to what is believed to be its interest. Though men of the same stock, of the same type of thought, and living, broadly speaking, in similar surroundings, our differences, small at first, have been multiplied and increased until some marked divergences have become manifest and have been gradually intensified by various rivalries. When these conditions of Antipodean life are realised it will be seen how vain would be the expectation that the prejudices of years, the ignorance which is the characteristic note of parochialism everywhere, and the inter-colonial jealousies begotten by these are to be dissipated at once by an Act of Parliament, even though drafted and adopted with the approval of the great majority of those whom it is to affect. The Commonwealth Constitution will begin to take effect on the 1st of January, but everything which could make the union it establishes more than a mere piece of political carpentry will remain to be accomplished afterwards. …

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