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6. 6 More Men Of 1891

DECOROUS AS WERE THE PROCEEDINGS of the 1891 Convention as a whole, there was by no means perfect harmony within its several delegations. There was in the first place an open antagonism between Parkes and Dibbs which gave smouldering evidences of activity even in the public debates. While ostentatiously admitting the President's right to the Chair, Dibbs could not throw off his familiar role of leader of the Opposition sufficiently to allow him to regard the propositions submitted by his rival dispassionately. They emanated from Parkes and as such it was his duty to defeat or at least to mutilate them as much as possible. As Sir Henry evidently leant to the liberal view of the right of the popular Chamber to superior power, he became an ardent advocate of a strong Senate; as Sir Henry was a professed Free Trader he declared Protection a condition precedent to all union, ‘the bedrock of the whole structure’. At the Conference of 1883 he as a Free Trader had introduced the fiscal question in order to defeat the federal aims of Protectionist Victoria, but having failed to secure support to a motion in the New South Wales Assembly declaring that the Parkes Government had not made its policy sufficiently in favour of free exchange, he had after a very brief delay announced his own conversion to Protection and produced another motion condemning them for their Free Trade platform. He now re-introduced the fiscal question on the inter–colonial stage once more, this time as a Protectionist in order to defeat the federalising tendencies of the Premier of New South Wales. Finally after much boasting of a private ‘bombshell’ of his own which he proposed to ‘let off’ at a later period, he made his final effort to sow dissension in his own colony and its Parliament by the announcement that he intended to propose Sydney as the capital of the future Federation. From this time forward Dibbs remained absolutely hostile to the rest of the Convention and to every other delegate of his own colony. He was in fact an opponent of Federation and recognised as such, so that he was driven for solace to seek the society of such members of his


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own party in the local Parliament as chanced to attend the Convention. Though rarely alluded to by his associates, he was regarded on every hand as the Ishmaelite of the Convention.

Sir Henry Parkes had to some extent brought this upon his own head by his endeavour to exclude Dibbs, though leader of the Opposition, from the New South Wales delegation—an unworthy attempt on his part, prompted by the personal vindictiveness which he occasionally displayed, which met with well-deserved failure. When the retaliation came, his curses upon the ‘traitor’ as he termed him were not loud but deep and continuous in private. He referred publicly to his propositions and plots as swept away by himself as he would ‘a cobweb or any other offensive substance that obscured the light’ and for the rest contented himself with a mixture of the leonine indifference and contempt to which his appearance and posings admirably lent themselves. His pachydermatous power of resistance to attack was one of his capacities utilised especially when in office as he utilised every capacity unless carried away by spleen or temper. This he too frequently permitted himself, when in irresponsible opposition or when he deemed his foe weak enough to be crushed. But his invulnerability was greatly helped by the sense of humour that redeemed so many of his defects and enriched his abilities.note

Dibbs was isolated not only in the Convention but among his New South Wales colleagues, even his old Cabinet associates Jennings and Barton condemning his tactics and supporting Parkes. Among the Victorians for purely local and personal reasons Munro was equally solitary. Colonel Smith, his ostensible ally, remained aloof because aggrieved at his exclusion from the Victorian Cabinet. Munro's attempt to covertly introduce his Attorney-General into the Convention cost him the confidence of all the rest of the delegates. Chosen while the previous government was in office, the Premier Mr Gillies, the Attorney-General Sir Henry Wrixon and the Chief Secretary, Mr Deakin, had been selected to represent the Ministerial side of the Assembly. A Caucus of the Opposition had chosen Mr Munro, its leader, and Colonel Smith, while the Council selected Mr Cuthbert, then Minister of Justice and Mr Fitzgerald who had more sympathy with the late than the present government. At Mr Munro's suggestion it was agreed that all the Victorian delegates should meet each morning at his


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hotel so as to exchange opinions before commencing the work of the day. Accordingly on the first morning all assembled except Sir Henry Wrixon, then returning from England and due to arrive in a few days. There had been a rumour that an authority which Mr Munro had obtained from the Victorian Parliament, authorising the Governor-in-Council to fill any vacancy or provide for any absence in the representation of the colony, was to be used to introduce the new Attorney-General as a member until Sir Henry Wrixon's arrival and probably retain him afterwards. He was not present at the gathering and the subject was not alluded to by Mr Munro, though immediately upon the assembling of the Convention he read the Commission and the Attorney-General entering took his place. Such an incident occurring at the very outset terminated once and for all the relations between Mr Munro and his colleagues. There were no meetings held from that time forward and no consultations even in the Chamber. He sat alone and acted alone. Though friendly, all the Victorians thereafter acted independently.

The South Australian delegation alone was divided into two parties; the Ministerial headed by Playford and sympathised with by Bray was confused to some extent because the Attorney-General, Kingston, was largely influenced by Cockburn and Gordon who regarded the whole movement as premature, and considered that the looser the type of Union adopted the better. They openly expressed their preference for a Confederacy as distinguished from a Federal Government and desired to see the new central authority as far as possible dependent upon the States. When the struggle between the partisans of the House of Representatives seeking the rule of the majority, and the upholders of the Senate demanding the predominance of the States and the Senate or States Chamber came to a division, there were only Playford, Kingston and Bray found upon the side of the popular Chamber, although in local politics Cockburn and Gordon were reckoned even more radical and democratic. The more Conservative but more Federal South Australians, Sir John Downer and Sir Richard Baker, while warm defenders of Senatorial supremacy, were staunch Federalists and without sympathy with the Confederate ideal. On the critical issue as to the two Houses, Downer carried three colleagues with him to Playford's two. The Queensland delegation as a whole worked well together and though divided on this main issue preserved a general unity. The Western


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Australians usually voted solidly and with the exception of Mr Hackett followed Forrest and Sir James Lee Steere almost unquestioningly.

It was in Tasmania that the greatest rent came, for though local political differences existed they were slight as compared to the broad division created by the contest of the Convention between the advocates of popular and of Senate rule. Adye Douglas was the champion of the ‘stalwarts’, not so much because he was irreconcilable as to the principles at stake, but because he was by disposition and training essentially a fighting man. With him every question was a party question and most of them personal questions. He did not argue upon any of the constitutional, abstract or logical aspects of the issues. He was concrete, local and personal throughout. Each colony was an entity in his eyes and as a Tasmanian he waged war in an explosive subterranean way on behalf of his colony against all comers. It was to the interest of Tasmania that the Senate should be strong, and consequently those of her representatives who voted for the compromise which was eventually carried, were renegades, perverts, recusants and traitors. His very vehemence choked his public utterances and it was only in conversation that he was enabled to free his mind in regard to them. Yet in the very height of his passion and tempest of his wrath, the twinkle returned to his eyes at any touch of humour, showing the man himself underneath the advocate, undisturbed by the hurricane of his own denunciations.

Very different was the demeanour of [Sir George Grey] the ‘old man eloquent’ from New Zealand to whom the Federal theatre was welcome as the last stage upon which he was likely to make a figure. To the principles of Federalism he too paid scanty regard. The leadership of the Convention was not for him, neither in the Chair nor the practical task of drafting the Constitution. It was as the Champion of the single vote that he found his means of distinction and he appeared to view every proposition solely from that standpoint. When however he gave his vote at the test division against the House of Representatives and in favour of the Senate, it is to be feared that he was actuated by personal antipathy to Parkes as much as by any other motive. As New Zealand was only represented by courtesy, the proper course was for her delegates to have refrained from taking part in a division which might have wrecked the whole project and dissolved the Convention without any result. Sir Henry Atkinson, high-minded, scrupulous and unimpassioned, alone followed this course. Captain


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Russell, the coming leader of the Conservative party in New Zealand, voted as such beside Sir George Grey, the discarded leader of the Liberal party. But even this temporary union was fortuitous; though only three persons represented their colony they were as far apart in character and career as men well could be. Sir Henry Atkinson, a radical by birth and a socialist in ideal, had become leader of the Conservatives of New Zealand and of the moderate Liberals who recoiled from the combination of Caesarism and radicalism in the unpractical policy of Sir George Grey. Sir George, an aristocrat by training and a radical by revolt against his class, as well as from general humanitarian sympathy, had keenly felt his failure as a parliamentary chief and was prepared to give scant shrift to the institutions he had failed to control. Captain Russell on the other hand belonged to the numerous class of the well-to-do who, beginning on the narrow basis of class prejudices, are broadened in their views partly by experience but most by the necessity of making concessions, which are given grudgingly and as ineffectively as possible, in order to gain seats or maintain their party.note There was no sort of unity therefore between these three and they acted with perfect independence of each other throughout. Sir Henry's failing strength and disinclination as an outsider to interfere with continental developments rendered him almost a silent member, yet his love of work and knowledge of detail led him to follow the debates with the closest attention. He opened his lips only some half-dozen times and on each occasion only to utter a few terse sentences. His leading interests were the social legislation of the future, the Imperial destiny of Great Britain and the honest and economical administration of local affairs. Captain Russell on the other hand dealt in a dilettante way only with a few of the largest issues involved, while Sir George Grey watched eagerly for every opportunity of expressing the vague enthusiasms and violent antagonisms which composed his political creed.

The one occasion on which the composure of the Convention became somewhat ruffled in public debate was when Sir Henry Parkes, with an arrogance of manner which added weight to his words, stigmatised the views of Cockburn and Gordon as ‘monstrous’. The spirited reply made by Gordon, brief and polite but apt and courageous, was not only his best contribution to the debates but probably the best retort of the Convention and was admirably delivered. After this Sir Henry treated him as was


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his custom partly from policy and partly from appreciation, with careful courtesy. Sir George Grey seized the occasion to make a telling rejoinder to Sir Henry's depreciation of Congress because of the Sumner incident by a reminder as to the recent Bradlaugh tussle in Palace Yard. He spoiled his point however by wandering off into reflections upon Australian goodness and greatness and incidental references to himself as a ‘man who really loved his fellow-men—who for years had been a companion with them in their difficulties of every possible kind’ and who had mourned over the gallant explorers and their lack of reward or recognition Neither to this nor any other of his criticisms did Sir Henry deign any direct reply. As his manner was, he bided his time and when an opportunity presented itself in which he believed it was possible to prevent Sir George Grey from obtaining a vote upon his proposal for the introduction of a clause making all State constitutions alterable by a vote of their electors, ‘with the utmost respect to the distinguished gentleman’ he submitted that it was out of order. Sir George Grey replied with considerable acerbity and much repetition in his usual inflated style, that ‘this attempt to stop a consideration of the kind is one that will strike with astonishment every part of the civilised world which is regarding what is being done by this Convention. I feel sure that one common wonder will seize the minds of all men.’ But if Sir George Grey was not appreciated even after such an appeal, there was no inclination to submit to the despotism of the Premier of New South Wales. After discussion he ungracefully withdrew his objection with the remark that it was unjust to him ‘for even Sir George Grey to venture to say’ that he desired to stop discussion. Sir George Grey, anxious to make it clear that he owed him no thanks and gave him none, retorted that his critic had withdrawn simply because he could not sustain his position. He was manifestly exultant though undemonstrative and Sir Henry sulky though equally impassive outwardly after this amiable interchange of courteous jealousies.

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