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  ― 174 ―

II

The proportion of lawyers in the first Commonwealth Parliament was high. Amongst them were Sir Edmund Barton, Alfred Deakin, H. B. Higgins, Sir Isaac Isaacs, Sir George Turner, Sir George Reid, P. McManus Glynn, C. C. Kingston, Bruce Smith, Sir Josiah Symon, Sir John Quick, R. E. O'Connor, Sir John Downer, Sir Richard Baker, Senator Keating, Senator Clemons, and a host of others, more or less distinguished. Much discussion took place on the interpretation of the Commonwealth Constitution.

H. B. Higgins, afterwards a High Court Judge, was prominent in discussing legal points. He suffered from a serious impediment in his speech. Therefore he spoke with great difficulty, and slowly and evidently used as few words as possible, but invariably he made his meaning plain and impressed the House.

Sir Isaac Isaacs was also a potent voice in debates. His speeches were appreciated because of his clear enunciation, his correct English and precise reasoning. Later he showed his capacity for high office when he was Federal Chief Justice and subsequently Governor-General of the Commonwealth. He had a good sense of humour. One day he told me he had just come from court where a man charged with assault and robbery was defending himself, and in an endeavour to prove an alibi he called a friend to give evidence that at the time the offence was committed he was several miles away from the scene. The first question he put to his witness was, “Where was I, Joe, when I knocked down that man?”




  ― 175 ―

A most difficult task in the first House of Representatives was allotted to C. C. Kingston, who as Minister for Customs had to pilot through the chamber a protectionist tariff when the Opposition was pledged to a revenue tariff. The members of the Labour Party held the balance of power, but were free to vote individually as they wished on tariff questions, and the majority of them were either revenue tariffists or lukewarm protectionists. A born fighter, he took his work seriously and fought with vehemence. The strain was too much for his health, and he had not been many years in Federal Parliament when failing health compelled him to abandon strenuous work. As an advanced Radical, had his health remained good, it is possible he might have become Prime Minister of a coalition between the Labour Party and the more advanced members of the Government and Opposition parties. The intense hostility between Kingston and Forrest, though both members of the Ministry, was marked. Each was an autocrat and neither could abide the other.

Once, shortly after I became a member of the Federal Parliament, Kingston came to me and spoke about an individual of good repute whom we both knew in South Australia, a man who had been working for a small salary and was ever trying to make money by gambling in mining shares. A parcel of scrip he held had been forfeited for non-payment of a call. Soon after the forfeiture the shares had a most sensational rise in their market value. The story we heard was that he had not seen the announcement of the call and therefore did not pay it. He felt sore and bitter when the price rose to about twenty times its


  ― 176 ―
former value and thought he had been swindled. Then he committed the unfortunate criminal act of forgery in an endeavour to show that the shares he held were valid and sold them. He was tried, found guilty and received a heavy sentence.

In Kingston's opinion the defence had not been properly conducted, the facts had not been brought out as they should have been, and in any case the punishment inflicted had been much too severe. There was no criminal record against the accused, and we knew him to be peaceful and law-abiding.

Kingston had a petition asking for leniency. He signed it, got the signatures to it of four or five members of the Federal Parliament who knew the man, including myself, and he saw the South Australian authorities and the judge.

“That's all right,” said Kingston to me as we met in one of the corridors of Parliament House. “I had some difficulty about it, but he's to be released this morning. I'm glad I managed it.”

Next day I saw him again. He had a telegram in his hand and a puzzled, troubled look on his face as he said, “We're in a blasted mess.”

He handed me the telegram, which stated that the man, whom we had got released after less than half his sentence, had left the prison the previous morning. Somehow he got a revolver and ammunition, and in the evening he tried to rob a bank and was caught in the act.

Prison environment had seemingly converted him into a desperado at war with society.

“The blasted fellow,” said Kingston, “must have lost all sense of decency and gratitude. He was told


  ― 177 ―
that we got him out and he might have thought of the awkward position he has put us in.”

For the second offence he received several years' hard labour.

R. E. O'Connor, who was leader for the Government in the Senate, was popular. There was no man in either House whom all parties held in higher respect. Even those who differed from him politically paid tribute to his honesty of purpose. A majority of the Senate were pledged to a revenue tariff. Perhaps no other man could have successfully steered the protective tariff of the first Federal Government through that chamber. When the High Court was constituted, his legal knowledge and experience and his judicial mind were recognised as eminently qualifying him for the bench, but regret was felt that his services were to be lost in the Commonwealth Parliament. His health, however, was far from good. He knew it, and by accepting judicial office he unquestionably prolonged his life a few years. He was sixty-one when he died.

The first Federal Treasurer, Sir George Turner, a practising lawyer, was less interested in points of law than in endeavours to avoid unnecessary Government expenditure. Cautious and a believer in the policy of “safety first,” there was nothing spectacular about him. A plain man and a hard worker, his financial speeches were masses of figures and unembellished statements of fact. As Premier and Treasurer of Victoria he was the type that was needed to straighten the finances during a troublous period, and he well deserved the credit he received for his careful management


  ― 178 ―
of the public money. Similar competency was shown by him during the early years of the Commonwealth. In those days expenditure was restricted. I can recall the look of horror that came into his face when Sir John Forrest, referring to a proposed public work, grandiosely remarked, “What's a million?” as if a million were but a few pence.

An attractive personality in the Opposition was Sir Edward Braddon, over seventy years of age, white-haired and keen-eyed. His sister was the famous English novelist, Miss Braddon, the author of innumerable best-sellers; he said he had never read one of them. He had had a colourful career before coming to Australia. His father was a Cornishman, and Sir Edward was but eighteen years old when he went to India, where he saw much active service, including the Mutiny. After that he was in the Indian Revenue service, but he found time for big-game shooting and was never so happy as when villagers asked his aid (as they did more than once) to rid them of a man-eating tiger. He was fifty years of age when he retired on a pension. Instead of going to England, as is customary with Indian public servants, to spend the rest of his days lounging in London clubs, he settled in Tasmania, took up land, entered politics, became a member of Parliament and occupied several important positions, amongst them the Agent-Generalship and the Premiership.

He often expressed to me his gratification at having succeeded in embodying in the Commonwealth Constitution what is known as the Braddon Clause, by which for the first ten years after Federation the Commonwealth Government had one-fourth of the


  ― 179 ―
Customs and Excise revenue and the balance went to the states. Many called it “The Braddon Blot,” and it had some defects, yet during its operation it served a good purpose.

A friend of mine was Senator Staniforth Smith. We had been associated at Kalgoorlie, of which he had been mayor, and in the elections for the first Federal Parliament he was returned at the head of the poll when six members were required to represent Western Australia in the Senate. His tall, well-dressed figure, his ever-smiling, cheery, handsome face and his genial personality took the electors by storm. More particularly was he a favourite with the fair sex, and the admiration he had for them was warmly reciprocated. After his six years' term as a Senator, he retired from the Federal Parliament and received a position in Papua as Administrator and Director of Education. In 1910 he led an exploring expedition into the Upper Kikori district, where it met with disaster. He and his party were missing for weeks. It was authoritatively reported that he was dead. The news was received with deep sorrow at Kalgoorlie, where he was extremely popular, and at a municipal gathering speeches were delivered deploring his end, and a toast to his memory was drunk in solemn silence. A few days after news arrived that he had reached civilisation safe and sound! No one was more amused at the incident than Staniforth Smith. He took great pleasure in reading his obituary notices in Australian papers.

Another friend of mine in the first Federal Parliament was also a Senator from Western Australia: Ned


  ― 180 ―
Harney, an Irishman and a Trinity College graduate. He was a fine orator of the cultured, courteous, old-fashioned style. He had a wonderful rich deep accent, a delightful touch of the brogue, was full of humour, and he could always arouse a crowd to terrific cheering. His standing at the Bar was high, and he could not afford to neglect altogether his practice, for his allowance as a Senator was but £400 a year, and he spent money lavishly. He was compelled to leave his parliamentary duties frequently during his session in order to appear in the Western Australian courts, and his voyages between Fremantle and Adelaide (the Trans-railway was not then built) were so frequent that he became known as “the member for the Great Australian Bight.”

It was said that on one occasion Harney walked into the Senate, and after listening to the debate rose and made out a powerful case against a certain line of action. He had almost carried the whole House with him when the whip of his party, coming in, passed a slip of paper to him, saying the party had decided to vote in the opposite direction to the one he supported in his speech. Harney read the paper, destroyed it and proceeded to say that in a spirit of fair play he wished first of all to present in as favourable a light as possible the views of those who might be inclined to vote against the way he intended to vote. Then, with tremendous capacity, he demolished all his own arguments one after the other and won back the House to the second viewpoint.

Harney was not more than a couple of years in the Federal Parliament. He went to England, where he practised his profession. Some twenty years later he


  ― 181 ―
was elected to the House of Commons as a Liberal member for South Shields.

At this time I met several times in Melbourne a journalist who had never been in Parliament but whose influence on public affairs was tremendous, and who perhaps as much if not more than any man in the Commonwealth helped to make Australia a strongly protectionist country: David Syme, of the Age. He was tall, spare and thin, seventy-four years of age, grim of visage, keen-eyed and mentally alert, merciless towards political opponents and fanatical. He had warm friendships and pronounced hatreds.

The life-long association, almost love, that existed between him and Deakin had not then come to an end as it did later. It was said that Syme promised Deakin that the Age would adopt a certain attitude on a public question, but a day or two after a leading article appeared definitely committing the paper to the opposite view to what had been agreed on. It was one of the few occasions on which an article in the Age appeared without Syme having seen it. Deakin meanwhile had committed himself. Neither he nor the Age could retreat. The result was a wide breach between the two old friends.

I remember my first meeting with Syme. It was whilst lunching at the Athenæum Club, Melbourne. Knowing that I had come from Western Australia and that the personalities of the Commonwealth Parliament were mostly new to me, he asked me who I thought were the outstanding figures. His hostility to George Reid was not merely confined to opposition to


  ― 182 ―
his revenue tariff policy, but extended to a deep personal animosity. Mostly prompted by a spirit of mischief and a curiosity to see what the reaction would be, I replied:

“Apart altogether from the views he holds, there is, of course, one figure, head and shoulders above all the other members, a man who thinks not for any electorate, town or state, but for the whole Commonwealth, a truly wide-visioned statesman, a really great statesman.”

“And who is that?” asked Syme.

“George Reid,” I answered.

A look of pain, mingled with indignation and anger, came on the wizened face. “You are quite wrong,” he hotly said. “You do not know him or you would not say that.”

My remark seemed to trouble him so much that I was sorry to have disturbed his equanimity. I listened patiently, and he told me at great length his opinion of George Reid. It was far from complimentary.

As I looked up I saw an amused smile on the face of my friend, Dr. McInerney, whose guest I was. As the dour, serious-minded Scotchman continued to warn me against the machinations of Reid, McInerney gave me a comical wink, and I had the utmost difficulty to avoid laughing.

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