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8. 8 Stagnation and Revival

THE CONVENTION having been parliamentary in its origin required to submit its work to its parents. In a short time its fate became manifest. New Zealand at once made it plain that no such Union would be acceptable, since she looked forward to an independent policy and separate individuality in the southern seas. From this time she disappeared altogether from the Federal stage. Western Australia indicated the role she intended to follow as one of dependence upon her elders. When they had agreed to terms of partnership she would be prepared to come in, but until then remained quiescent. South Australia and Tasmania commenced to consider the measure but [on] realisation of the fact that they too could accomplish nothing of themselves, hung back waiting for a lead. Queensland though ready for action allowed herself to be paralysed by the uncertain attitude of New South Wales. Victoria alone and as usual fulfilled her obligations. The Bill was debated and amended by both Chambers of the Legislature and though their views were not brought into harmony, a compromise could have been agreed upon if the situation had encouraged them to complete their work. Political quiet within the colony certainly assisted her when, as in every instance from 1883 to 1898, she proved her loyalty to Union. But as in 1883 so in 1891 the movement was frustrated in New South Wales. Her geographical position enabled her to isolate Queensland again as in the Federal Council. Wealth and population rendered her better able to stand alone than any of her southern sisters. Her backwardness in development encouraged the anticipation that postponement would increase her relative importance. Sydney jealousy of rivalry looked forward to a time when pride of place would be accorded them and enable them to claim the title of capital of the confederation. Moreover it had been the lot of New South Wales at each crisis to be under the domination of peculiar personalities.

Sir Henry Parkes, zealous as he was for federation, was still somewhat divided in his ambitions, regarding the Premiership of his colony as a prize not to be lightly parted [with] even if in order


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to retain it he put the national cause in peril. Whether he would have succeeded if he had at once introduced the Bill, whether his tactics were not the best even in its interest or not, the fact remained that he postponed it for his social legislation with the result that he was ejected from office. After delaying until he received a pledge that the Bill would be taken up and pressed forward, Mr Barton joined the new Premier and its chief enemy Sir George Dibbs as his Attorney-General. The stress of the financial crisis leading up to the failure of the Banks overshadowed every other issue. When Sir Henry found himself approaching the end of his career, his anxiety to crown his labours by the accomplishment of the Union deepened and strengthened. His efforts were in vain. On his occasional visits to Melbourne he painted with lurid colours and with fiery scorn the portraits of the men who stood between him and his goal, devoted himself to literature and more than once announced his final retirement from the scene. The least temptation however always sufficed to bring him to the front again. His alliance was sought by the little band of academic federalists who acknowledged Mr Barton as their chief, and with whom when out of office he still in a languid way endeavoured to keep the patriotism of Union alive. On one occasion he even attended one of their meetings held in a room which also served to contain the samples of a dealer in tinned provisions. A very short discussion convinced the practical old politician that nothing was to [be] gained from such a gathering and accordingly with characteristically insolent humour, he seized and opened a pot of jam. ‘Do you know this brand?’ he enquired of his astonished hosts, all of them men of exemplary politeness and most of university education. They did not. He tasted it and pronounced it good, sent out for bread and closed the conference with a meal of crust and jam. With such allies any effective campaign was impossible but he never failed to watch for a turn in the tide of popular favour and it was only when utterly defeated at the polls, penniless, almost friendless and dying, that he relinquished the struggle. Had he served the Federal cause with the same ardour in his earlier career in all probability it would have been successful but he postponed it too long to his party and personal ends, until it grew beyond his grasp, affording him merely the last satisfaction of being one of its martyrs. With him passed from the scene the most powerful, the most picturesque and the most picaresque of Australia's Federal fathers.

Sir Henry Parkes's place in New South Wales and soon in


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Australian politics was taken by Mr G. H. Reid who soon discovered as conspicuous and as curious if not as complex a personality. A clear-headed young civil servant who won a Cobden Club prize for an essay on Free Trade, a fluent and assiduous member of a Debating Club which included Barton, Want, O'Connor and many other young aspirants, his earlier years were characterised chiefly by indolence and geniality. In his prolonged bachelorhood he became most distinguished as a squire of dames. His first appearance in politics was beside, and partially in opposition to, Sir Henry Parkes when he stood as a candidate for one of the four seats of East Sydney. In those days the formal proposal of candidates took place on the hustings where they first addressed the electors. Sir Henry, as senior sitting member and Premier, opened in one of his favourite poses as the old well-tired and well-known veteran and with a covert sneer at the unknown young man who ventured to seek election with him. Listening attentively until he had concluded, Reid took a Hansom and driving to the Park hard by thought out his reply and how he should weave it into the speech already prepared. He returned in time to speak in his turn, as he was last on the list, and at once gave the crowd and Sir Henry a taste of his quality. ‘It was true that he was unknown and must remain so unless they were willing to accord him the opportunity of showing what was in him, and it was also true that his rivals and especially the Premier were all well known. But that was not altogether to their advantage. They were well known, too well known, known as men who had won office and held it, won K.C.M.G.'s decorations and enjoyed them. They were well known for what they had done for themselves but he doubted if they were equally famous for what they had done for the electors. It was his ambition if he ever should achieve a reputation to be known for the services he had rendered and not for the prizes he had appropriated.’ Parkes looked and listened with consuming wrath but with thorough appreciation as the novice at one stroke won the rapturous applause of his hearers, probably foreseeing the result of the voting when the unknown man was returned at the head and he was relegated to a subordinate position in the poll. Reid's parliamentary career begun thus brilliantly was followed not long after by his accession to office as Minister of Education, where gradually his incorrigible idleness and indifference in administration and in the House earned him the reputation of a mere speech-maker. He lost his seat at an election and his office at the same time. He had already


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lost his little practice at the Bar and was promptly informed by the wealthy parent of the young lady to whom he was engaged that under the circumstances their betrothal must be considered to be terminated. In middle life he was obliged to begin again to earn his living at the Bar, to painfully watch for little briefs and with difficulty kept his head above water. His laziness prevented him from becoming learned in the law and the same reputation diminished the number of his jury cases. He never made much headway in his profession and when he returned to politics it was as a mere junior in his profession, with what appeared to be the ineffaceable stamp upon him of the politician of whom much has been expected, who has been tested and has absolutely failed.

The hard discipline of these years turning the young into the middle-aged man had apparently left little trace upon him when he renewed his parliamentary career, though really he was now prepared to endure any toil and pay any price to gratify his ambition and thought he saw a great opportunity at hand. Parkes, who never allowed personal animosities to stand in the way of his designs and was capable of admitting his bitterest assailants into his Cabinet, would have willingly included Reid in one or more of his later Ministries. But partly from a belief that Parkes's power was waning and association with him dangerous, and partly from antipathy, Reid declined the overtures. He had some years to wait which he spent in somewhat spasmodically but consistently angling for a popularity that very slowly came. As a member of the Free Trade party he owed a nominal allegiance to Parkes whom he pertinaciously harassed for his failures to carry out the entire party programme. One of his first bids for a hostile leadership was made when the Convention of 1891 concluded its labours. Mr Reid was then the first to take the platform in avowed and uncompromising hostility to the measure, associating himself for the purpose with the Labour party in particular and rallying support from all possible sources first against Sir Henry Parkes and then against Mr Barton. With the assistance of Mr Want, the leading advocate in criminal and shipping cases, a brother bachelor and master of violent invective, he contributed largely to the defeat of the Bill in New South Wales. During one of Parkes's temporary retirements he was chosen leader of the Free Trade party by a narrow majority, and from that moment clung to the position with tenacity and fought for it with energy against the Protectionists in front and the irrepressible Sir Henry on


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his flank. By consummating an alliance with the Labour party and dauntlessly staking his fortunes upon a thorough policy of Free Trade and land taxation, he carried the country twice, defeated Sir Henry himself in the King division of Sydney and established himself as undisputed master of the political life of New South Wales. Unsuspected resources of determination, subtlety, humour and audacity developed rapidly under pressure of circumstances until he reduced his colleagues, none of them considerable before, to utter insignificance and overshadowed the whole of his following. The utter weakness and incompetence of Mr Lyne, the Opposition Leader, of course contributed greatly to this result, but the main cause undoubtedly was the platform and parliamentary ability of the new Premier. His foresight warned him that the one danger in his path would arise from the federal situation, and accordingly he sought to further isolate and undermine Parkes by assuming the leadership of the unionists in New South Wales. In spite of the agonised protests of the dying chief he accomplished his purpose and for the first time appeared upon the intercolonial field as Federal leader of the first colony of Australia.

The reception which the Bill of the 1891 Convention had received was sufficient warning that no merely parliamentary authority would be held sufficient to prepare a Federal Constitution. The two principal objections of the radical critics of the Bill were that the Convention had not been chosen by the people and the Constitution when drafted should be submitted to the electors for its adoption or rejection and naturally it was sought to remove these stumbling blocks from the pathway of the democracy. Some residents of Corowa (a small New South Wales township opposite Echucanote), where the constant irritation caused by the Border duties kept the federal feeling always sensitive, boldly resolved to hold an open Conference to consider the best means of union. A number of politicians and others interested in the question both from New South Wales and Victoria accordingly assembled there. The initiative was taken by Dr John Quick of Bendigo, who had supported the motion in favour of federation moved in the Victorian Parliament in 1880. Though not actually born on Victorian soil he had no recollection of any other country. As a lad his lot was hard and he was obliged to earn his living on a mine before he was in his teens. Dark, handsome, sturdy and intelligent, the lad possessed a dauntless determination and trustworthiness which enabled him to educate himself so as to qualify for a reporter on


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a Bendigo paper. From thence he passed to the Melbourne Age rising at last to the position of Chief of the Staff and writing an occasional leading article. At the same time he pursued his University course, being one of the first to win the LL.D. degree at the Melbourne University. He commenced practice in what he considered his native city and soon won his way into Parliament where his diligence, information and power of speech soon gained him a prominent place. He was offered a seat in the Gillies-Deakin Cabinet of 1886 but declined it, and not applying himself to the care of his constituency as he might, was unexpectedly unseated. From that time forward he devoted himself to his practice and gradually to the Federal question of which he became one of the Victorian leaders. Mr D'Esterre Taylor, Secretary of the Imperial Federation League and an active member of the Australian Natives' Association suggested, in the course of conversation with Dr Quick on the way to Echuca, that in his opinion the next step would be for the colonies to elect representatives to a Convention as provided in the United States Constitution who should draft a measure to be submitted to a popular referendum. Dr Quick, to whom the same idea had probably occurred independently, acquiesced and moved a resolution to that effect which was carried. He followed this up by preparing and circulating a draft Bill which was widely discussed and generally approved. He visited Sydney where the Federal League accepted it as did the Melbourne League and had an interview with Mr Reid in which the latter expressed himself well pleased with the proposal. Indeed it was an opportune proposal at an opportune time since it enabled him to take up Sir Henry Parkes's work on a more democratic principle, and to take it out of his hands at a time when local reactions were rendering it possible for him to reappear as a popular leader. The Federal Council was once more beginning to lift its head, as the adhesion of South Australia was once more proposed, and it became necessary for him to provide against the complete isolation of New South Wales. To prevent this he invited his fellow-Premiers to a Conference arranging that it should be held in Hobart during the sessions of the Federal Council which was at once overshadowed by a gathering which included New South Wales and South Australia, while a representative of New Zealand was present in the person of Mr Ward, then Treasurer of the Seddon administration. The Premiers of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia supported Dr Quick's proposed method of reviving the Federal issue and with little difficulty


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carried the Tasmanian Premier with them. Sir Hugh Nelson for Queensland and Sir John Forrest for Western Australia did not hesitate to express their distrust of the method of popular election and dislike of the Referendum, but indicated that their colonies would probably accept the scheme with such variations as they thought necessary. An angry debate in the Federal Council, in which the representatives of Queensland and Western Australia openly expressed their jealousy of the Conference and their antagonism to its proposals, produced no effect. Mr Byrnes, then Attorney-General, was the ablest adversary of the new development. Largely by his influence the Queensland Government remained uncertain and finally when every other colony adopted a Bill upon these lines, except that Western Australia retained the method of electing its representatives by its Parliament, Queensland, which when Sir Samuel Griffith (now Chief Justice) was Premier had led the movement, dropped hopelessly to the rear.

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