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III

A considerable part of the work of the first Federal Parliament consisted of legislation to create the necessary machinery to carry on the national duties entrusted to the Commonwealth. Most of the Bills were


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of a non-party nature, but there were features of them that were contentious, though not highly so. They chiefly related to the public service, and the amalgamation of the six post and telegraph departments and six defence departments and the institution of the high court.

A decision of vast importance was the institution of a common policy for the establishment and maintenance of what has come to be generally known as “A White Australia.” It meant a determination that Australia—the last of the world's great spaces that remain to be populated—shall be reserved for the surplus population of Europe. This policy to Australians is almost as much as if it were a national religion. It was in the first Federal Parliament that it was decided to adopt the education test for immigrants, a test that may be applied to all immigrants, but in practice is only applied to certain foreigners who desire to become permanent residents. Another vitally important decision of the first Commonwealth Parliament was that Kanaka labour should not be further employed on the sugar plantations of Queensland.

The real division between the Government and the Opposition was the tariff. The issue was whether the Customs duties should be solely for revenue purposes, as the Opposition contended should be the case, or have a strong protective incidence, which the Government favoured. New South Wales had a revenue tariff and Victoria was protectionist, but the Commonwealth Constitution provided for interstate free trade. Border Custom Houses or “Border Barbarisms,” as they were called, were abolished. In all the colonies the tariff had been a bone of contention, and it was not surprising


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that fierce discussions should be aroused in the Federal Parliament on the objective of the first federal tariff.

To those of us who were free traders it appeared clear that we were but an infant nation—we had then a population of less than four million—holding an empty continent with inexhaustible pastoral, agricultural and mineral resources which constituted the country's real wealth. Why should we handicap those engaged in the development of those resources, the products of which could not be protected, in an endeavour to establish industries that merely built up Australia's big cities by artificial means? First make the continent populous and wealthy by encouraging the primary industries, and secondary industries would spring up naturally and under healthy conditions. These, briefly, were the arguments we presented.

We were utterly routed. The duties imposed by the first Australian tariff were high, but, as we pointed out, protectionists were never satisfied and would go on crying out for more and more duties. This prediction was in accordance with what has actually happened.

Lobbying was carried on to a great extent during the progress of the tariff. It was a source of constant irritation. Representatives of factories in the suburbs of Melbourne alleged that if duties were not imposed these factories would be closed down and hundreds of men thrown out of work. It was of no avail to point out that for every additional man protective duties might cause to be employed, the increased cost of developing back-country industries would throw two or three men out of employment in the industries of mining, wool production and wheat growing. To


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protectionists the vision of the greatness of the Commonwealth was obscured by the smoke of suburban factories. It seemed impossible for them to think continentally.

The atmosphere of Melbourne was strongly protectionist, and men, being only human, cannot remain uninfluenced by their environment. Had the first Parliament sat in Sydney amidst the free-trade atmosphere created there by Sir Henry Parkes, the struggle over the tariff would probably have resulted differently. Those members of the Federal Parliament who believed this felt that the framers of the Constitution were wise in deciding that the Legislature should meet in a federal capital far removed from the parochial influences of any of the state capitals. Hence it was that many of us favoured the selection of a site for the capital as soon as possible and the removal of the Legislature and Federal Government offices thence.

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