previous
next

II

Both as a journalist and as a member of Parliament I had singular opportunities of meeting the various men who were in public life in Western Australia. Full responsible government was granted in 1890, and I was intimately acquainted and worked with the different Premiers. The first, Sir John Forrest, a surveyor and successful explorer, ruled for more than ten years with autocratic power. Loud-voiced, domineering and far-seeing, he had the courage to carry out public works that were stupendous for so small a population. When the Commonwealth was established and he went into the Federal Parliament, the absence of his great ability and strong personality caused state politics to become unsettled.

The second Premier, George Throssel, was hardheaded and practical, but lacking in imagination, barren of humour and without qualifications for leadership. He was handicapped (his opponents said he was helped) by deafness. A large sheet of cardboard was held by him against his chest, and, putting a corner of it in his mouth, it acted as a sounding-board. When requests were made to him as Premier he acknowledged hearing only what he wanted to


  ― 238 ―
hear. For instance, he never admitted hearing any request for public expenditure. Some said that was why his Ministry only lasted three months.

George Leake, K.C., next became Premier; he had led the Opposition to Forrest, was brilliant, witty and popular. In six months he was succeeded by A. E. Morgans, a mining man and member for Coolgardie. Morgans had been but a few years in Western Australia, had had an adventurous career in Central America, was a Welshman with the courteous, cultured manners of an old-time Spanish aristocrat, had great ability, was opposed to the policy of centralisation, and favoured a railway between Coolgardie and Esperance. His Ministry lasted only thirty-two days. He was the forerunner of that influence that was later to be exercised by new arrivals that the gold discoveries had attracted to Western Australia.

George Leake came back to office, but his second term lasted only six months, when he died. Another lawyer, Sir Walter James, followed. He was cheery, eloquent and democratic. His Premiership lasted two years. An ex-detective, Henry Daglish, then led the first Labour Ministry for a year, and after that Sir Hector Rason was Premier for nine months.

Stability was brought into Government affairs by Sir Newton Moore becoming Premier in 1906. In four and a half years he resigned and went to London as Agent-General. Later he was for many years a member of the House of Commons, and afterwards accepted an important position in Canada. His tact, wonderful knowledge of men, and shrewdness enabled him to win a reputation in three continents—Australia, Europe and America.




  ― 239 ―

Mr. Frank Wilson, a keen business man and decidedly capable, but without broadness of vision or political acumen, succeeded as Premier. A Redistribution of Seats Act passed by his Government aroused great public indignation, and after holding the Premiership for a year his Ministry was heavily defeated at a general election.

A Labour Government came into office under the leadership of John Scaddan, a truly remarkable man; a miner who when elected to Parliament seven years previously was utterly ignorant of all that should make for success in politics; a poor speaker and ill-educated. He was a quick thinker and had the capacity and desire to learn; he was wise enough to realise his own deficiencies, and set to work to make himself efficient. He was seven years in Parliament and had no ministerial experience when he became Premier. The Daglish Labour Ministry had not behind it a majority of Labour members. It had office but not responsibility. When the Scaddan Government was returned the Labour Party held a large majority of the Legislative Assembly seats and the party proceeded to put its policy into practice. Various socialistic ventures were started. Amongst them were Government-owned and controlled hotels, brick-works, sawmills, implement works and ships. Meat preserving works were established at Wyndham in the far north, and the Government purchased the Perth trams. Most of these Government concerns were non-paying, but their supporters claimed that, though they showed a direct loss, yet they were all a source of indirect gain to the community. They said the state ships and the Wyndham meat works helped


  ― 240 ―
the country's development, and other state activities improved public conveniences or lessened the charges made on the goods produced. The merits of state trading concerns has long been the main bone of contention between politicians.

A great service was rendered to Western Australia by Sir James Mitchell. The Labour Party always have had a definite policy. Sir James Mitchell as Minister and later as Premier came into public life with an alternative policy in the form of constructive statesmanship. He never forgot that Western Australia is a vast empty land with immense areas of fertile country awaiting settlement. The policy he advocated was to encourage land settlement and the development of the agricultural areas. To him more than anyone else is due the credit of opening up the wheat belt and establishing thousands of settlers on the land. His broad-visioned immigration policy was not as successful as it deserved, but that was not his fault. The failure of his group settlement scheme to realise expectations was due to errors in selecting the proper type of settlers and to faulty administration of the scheme. The value of his work will be appreciated when ultimately the agricultural resources of the state, including the south-west, have been fully developed. Setbacks and disappointments are inevitable in carrying out great projects, especially in the settlement of new land, but wheat growing and mixed farming have been established on a sound basis in Western Australia as a consequence of his work and foresight.

In Western Australian state politics the struggle during recent years has been between three parties.


  ― 241 ―
There is the Labour Party, who mainly represent wage earners, and opposed to them are the Nationalists, whose stronghold is amongst city and commercial people, and the Country Party, who are the special champions of farmers. As happens in parliaments in most other parts of the world, it is not unusual for the Government of the day, whether it be Labour or otherwise, to put into operation much of the policy of its opponents. The political stage in Western Australia is small, but the drama that is acted is identical in all its features, good and bad, with that of the great parliaments of Europe.

previous
next