previous
next



  ― 19 ―

2. Chapter II. The History of Australian Federation.

THE dangers which attended the existence in a remote part of the world of a group of separate colonies became apparent as soon as the first of those colonies obtained the most rudimentary form of self-government. An Imperial Act of 1842 provided for the establishment of a Legislature in New South Wales, of whose members two-thirds were to be elected by the inhabitants of the colony. In a few years the Legislatures of New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land were in conflict on the tariff, and Sir Charles Fitzroy, the Governor of New South Wales, in recommending the disallowance of an Act of the Council of Van Diemen's Land, indicated at once the danger and the remedy. He considered it “extremely desirable that the colonies in this part of Her Majesty's dominions should not be permitted to pass hostile or retaliatory measures calculated not only to interrupt their commercial intercourse with each other, but to create feelings of jealousy and ill-will which, if not checked, may lead to mischievous results.” It appeared to him that, “considering its distance from home and the length of time that must elapse before the decision of Her Majesty's Government upon measures passed by the Legislatures of these colonies can be obtained, it would be very advantageous to their interests if some superior functionary were to be appointed to whom all measures


  ― 20 ―
adopted by the local legislatures affecting the general interests of the mother-country, the Australian Colonies, or their inter-colonial trade should be submitted by the officers administering the several governments before their own assent is given.” The necessities of trade which called forth this, the first suggestion of a single control, have been to the last the central fact upon which the federal movement has depended, at once the most formidable obstacle— “the lion in the path”—and the great impelling force.

That the evils foreseen by Sir Charles Fitzroy would grow with the increase in the number of the colonies was apparent to the Committee for Trade and Plantations to which in 1849 Earl Grey referred the subject of the better government of the Australian Colonies. The Committee reported that the separation of Port Phillip from New South Wales—which they recommended—would probably be followed by differences in tariff which would become a grave inconvenience as the number of settlers on both sides of the dividing line increased; and to prevent this they proposed that a uniform tariff for Australia should be fixed by the Imperial Parliament. For the adjustment of this tariff from time to time there was to be a General Assembly, representative of all the colonies, to be summoned from time to time by a Governor-General. The mode of constituting the General Assembly was indicated, and to it were to be committed, besides the tariff, postal communications, inter-colonial transit, the erection and maintenance of beacons and lighthouses, port and harbour dues on shipping, and the regulation of weights and measures. The General Assembly was to have power to establish a General Supreme Court with original and appellate jurisdiction, and generally to enact laws upon subjects referred to it by the Legislatures of the colonies. Finally, there was to be allowed to the General Assembly a power of appropriating funds for the purposes committed to it.note




  ― 21 ―

The Constitution Bill of 1850, introduced by Earl Grey, adopted the scheme of the Committee for Trade and Plantations for the establishment of a general executive and legislative authority in Australia to “superintend the initiation and foster the completion of such measures as those communities may deem calculated to promote their common welfare and prosperity.” The scope of the General Assembly was extended in the Bill by a proposal to put the “waste lands” of the colonies under that body as a means of preventing the dissipation of the resources of the colonies by the competition of different land systems, and the Government promised consideration to a suggestion that a Supreme Court should be established for the settlement of disputes between the colonies. Neither in Parliament nor in the colonies was the measure cordially received. In England the fact that the colonies had not asked for such superintendence and supervision, in Australia jealousies among the colonies and of the Colonial Office combined to make the scheme unpopular. The General Assembly clauses passed the Commons, but were withdrawn in the Lords. The amendments required could hardly be made without communicating with the colonies. Meanwhile the immediate object of the Bill—the separation of Port Phillip from New South Wales—was pressing, and the establishment of a General Assembly could be dealt with at some future time.

That part of the scheme which concerned a General Executive, however, did not require legislative sanction; and Earl Grey had not abandoned his scheme. Accordingly, in 1851 Sir Charles Fitzroy was appointed “Governor-General of all Her Majesty's Australian possessions, including the Colony of Western Australia,” and the Lieutenant-Governors were instructed to communicate with the Governor-General in matters of common interest. Not less important were the Commissions appointing the Governor-General Governor of each of the colonies, for they enabled him by a visit to any colony at once to


  ― 22 ―
assume the administration of government there.note But Earl Grey left the Colonial Office in 1852, and the nursing policy was abandoned. In the future, suggestions for the government of Australia must come from the colonies themselves, and on matters of common concern the Home Government must be well assured that the colonies were thoroughly agreed before any action could be taken. In 1855 the Lieutenant-Governors became Governors, and in 1861 the Duke of Newcastle determined not to renew the commission of Governor-General in the Governor of New South Wales, on the ground that such a title indicated “a species of authority and pre-eminence over the Governors of other colonies which. … could not with justice be continued, and if continued could not fail to excite dissatisfaction very prejudicial to their common interests.”

In Australia the expediency of a general, or as it soon came to be called a federal, government for Australia demanded too much political foresight to capture the popular imagination. Earl Grey's hopes were, however, shared by Wentworth and Deas-Thomson in New South Wales, and by Mr. Charles Gavan Duffy in Victoria. In 1853 Committees of the Legislative Council in New South Wales and Victoria were preparing Constitutions embodying responsible government in those colonies. Wentworth succeeded in inducing the Legislative Council of New South Wales to declare in very emphatic terms for a scheme substantially the same as Earl Grey's, and Victoria more guardedly recorded an opinion in favour of occasionally convoking a general assembly for legislating upon subjects submitted to it by any legislature of the colonies. The Constitution Bills forwarded to England, however, dealt purely with the affairs of the two colonies respectively, and a Government whose hands were very full in 1855 did not see its way on the thorny path of constitution making for the colonies.

But Wentworth, who had returned to England, and Mr. Gavan Duffy, who had come to Victoria, and Deas-Thomson


  ― 23 ―
pursued the subject with zeal; and the year 1857 was one of promise for the federal cause. The “General Association for the Australian Colonies,” under Wentworth's auspices, adopted a Memorial to the Secretary of State, which indicated matters in which the difficulty of securing joint action had already been experienced, and, after urging the duty of Her Majesty's Government to anticipate the wants of the colonies, sketched out the scheme of a permissive bill for the establishment of a General Assembly. The Legislatures of the colonies were to appoint an equal number of representatives to a Convention for framing a Constitution for a Federal Assembly. There was no mention of a federal executive, and the expenses of the Federal Assembly were to be apportioned amongst, and provided by, the Legislatures of the colonies. The body contemplated was in fact not very different from the Federal Council established in 1885. The list of federal subjects is, however, an extensive one, and bears witness to the growing inconvenience of separation. The reply to the Memorial was written by Mr. Herman Merivale, and was a non possumus. The Secretary of State was sensible of the difficulties which had been experienced, and was aware that they were likely to increase. He did not think, however, that the colonies were prepared to give such large powers to the Assembly in respect to taxation and appropriation as were involved in the tariff and many other matters to be submitted; and even if they were to assent in the first instance to the establishment of such a scheme, the further result, in his opinion, would probably be dissension and discontent. He would readily give attention to any suggestion from the colonies for providing a remedy for defects which experience might have shown to exist in their institutions and which the aid of Parliament was required to remove. If the establishment of some general controlling authority should be impracticable, he trusted that much might be done by “negotiations between the accredited Agents of the several Local Governments, the results agreed upon between such Agents being embodied


  ― 24 ―
in Legislative measures passed uniformly and in concert by the several Legislatures.” More important were the steps taken in the colonies. Independent action was taken in New South Wales and Victoria by the appointment of committees of the Legislature to consider the subject of federation. Mr. Charles Gavan Duffy's Committee was the first to conclude its labours, and its report is a striking statement of the case for federation. After affirming that there is unanimity of opinion as to the ultimate necessity for federal union, the report proceeds:—“We believe that the interest and the honour of these growing states would be promoted by establishing a system of mutual action and co-operation amongst them. Their interest suffers and must continue to suffer while competing tariffs, naturalization laws, and land systems, rival schemes of immigration and of ocean postage, a clumsy and inefficient method of communication with each other and with the Home Government on public business, and a distant and expensive system of judical appeal exist. The honour and importance which constitute so essential an element of national prosperity, and the absence of which invites aggression from foreign enemies, cannot perhaps in this generation belong to any single colony in this southern group, but may, and we are persuaded would, be speedily attained by an Australian Federation representing the entire. Neighbouring states of the second order inevitably become confederates or enemies. By becoming confederates so early in their career, the Australian Colonies would, we believe, immensely economize their strength and their resources. They would substitute a common national interest for local and conflicting interests and waste no more time in barren rivalry. They would enhance the national credit, and attain much earlier the power of undertaking works of serious cost and importance.” Finally the Committee recommended a conference of New South Wales, Tasmania, Victoria, and South Australia, and laid down with minuteness the questions which such a conference would have to consider. The New South Wales


  ― 25 ―
Committee recognized the difficulties that attended an attempt to deal with the subject, but shrewdly observed that those difficulties were likely to increase rather than diminish. In 1858 the four colonies had agreed to a conference, and in 1860 the new colony of Queensland gave in her adhesion. All this, however, was not without reservation. South Australia was of opinion that the project of a Federal Legistature was premature, but believed that there were many topics on which uniform legislation would be desirable. Queensland, as was to be expected from her newly won independence, foresaw obstacles to the creation of a “central authority tending to limit the complete independence of the scattered communities peopling this continent.” A change of Ministry in New South Wales led to a change of policy there, and despite urgent representations from Victoria and Tasmania, the proposed conference never took place. The fiscal conference held in 1863 for the purpose of attempting an agreement on the tariff declined without instructions to consider federation.

The six colonies of Australia were now well started on their career as separate countries; and as they developed separate interests and separate policies, the prospects of union became more and more remote. The tariff had been a source of trouble from the beginning. The difficulties were of more than one kind. The geographical situation of the colonies was such that goods imported into the colony with the lowest duties could readily find their way into other colonies, and in this way evasion of the revenue laws was systematized, for it was impossible for the colonies to bear the expense of a service capable of guarding their frontiers. It was for this reason that the need for a uniform tariff was insisted upon in the early years. Even when there was no desire to evade the higher revenue duties, it was often the case that the port of a particular territory was either by natural situation or the course of trade in another colony. Agreements were made which in a rough and ready way provided a remedy. New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land for some years mutually


  ― 26 ―
gave free admission to goods. In 1855 an arrangement was come to by New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia whereby, first, no import duties were to be taken on goods crossing the Murray, the frontier of New South Wales and Victoria; and, secondly, goods coming by water carriage up the Murray for New South Wales or Victoria paid duty at Adelaide, New South Wales and Victoria dividing equally the proceeds of collection. This arrangement subsisted until 1864, when negotiations for a revision of the system of distribution broke down. The agreement with some modifications was renewed, and was finally terminated in 1873. A modified system of intercolonial free trade, by which each colony admitted free goods bona fide the produce of any other colony, was suggested by South Australia in 1862, but received little encouragement. There was in fact another obstacle than the inability to agree. All the colonies were restrained by Imperial Acts from establishing preferential or differential duties; and this applied equally to their relations with each other as with the outside world. The colonies set themselves therefore in the first instance to secure the removal of these obstacles, and intercolonial conferences asked the Home Government to permit reciprocal arrangements among the colonies. At first these proposals met with little encouragement. Successive Secretaries of State—the Duke of Buckingham in 1868, Earl Granville in 1869, and Lord Kimberley in 1870—felt that they could not with propriety ask Parliament to assent to a measure whereby one part of the British Dominions might differentiate against another; and the Home Government was affected by the fear of complicating foreign relations. The Colonial Office, however, pointed out that the objections and the difficulties of the Home Government would be removed by a “complete customs union,” or by any arrangement which made the Australian Colonies one country instead of several countries. In 1873 the resistance of the Imperial Government gave way before the insistence of the colonies; and the Australian Colonies Duties Act, 1873, removed all obstacles to


  ― 27 ―
tariff arrangements amongst the members of the Australian group. The removal of legal restraints had, however, no other result than to mark the width of the gap between the colonies. The question between them was no longer the mere adjustment of tariff regulations so as to meet the financial necessities of all and to secure to each its fair share of revenue collected. Protection had taken firm root in Victoria; and it was not long before that colony was as much concerned to protect her agricultural products and her pastoral industry against her neighbours as to protect her manufactures against the “pauper” labour of Europe. The way was thus barred to the free exchange even of Australian products, for Victoria would hear of it on no other terms than that her manufactures should find a free market in the other colonies. Protection begot retaliation; and after an unsuccessful attempt to effect a fiscal union in 1881, it became evident that in the interests of peace the tariff must be laid aside for a time.

The impossibility of establishing a customs union, and the bitterness of feeling which attended the tariff differences, gave little hope for the cause of federation. Still there were other matters in which disunion meant inconvenience and even danger; and in 1870 Mr. Charles Gavan Duffy obtained a Royal Commission in Victoria on the best means of accomplishing a federal union of the Australian Colonies. The time was one in which the foreign relations of the Empire, both with Europe and America, wore an unusually threatening aspect; and there were not wanting responsible statesmen both in England and the colonies who believed on the one hand that the colonies were a source of entanglement and weakness to England, and on the other that the connection with England was the one thing which threatened the peace of the colonies. There were also plentiful elements of discord within the Empire, and the recent confederation of the Canadian Provinces was generally regarded as a step towards independence. In the not unlikely event of war, the colonies were in a peculiarly exposed condition, for the Home Government


  ― 28 ―
had just carried through the withdrawal of Imperial troops from the colonies in pursuance of the policy approved by the House of Commons. The report of Mr. Charles Gavan Duffy's Commission bears the impress of the times. Urging as before the importance on sentimental grounds of creating a united nation, the report declared that the colonies presented the unprecedented phenomenon of responsibility without either corresponding authority or adequate protection. They were as liable to all the hazards of war as the United Kingdom, but they were as powerless to influence the commencement of war as to control the solar system; and they had no certain assurance of that aid against an enemy upon which the integral portions of the United Kingdom could reckon. This was a relation so wanting in mutuality that it could not be safely regarded as a lasting one, and it became necessary to consider how far it might be so modified as to afford greater security for permanence. Reference was made to the former relation between England and Hanover, and between England and the Ionian Isles, which showed that two sovereign states might be subject to the same Prince without any dependence on each other, and that each might retain its own rights as a free and sovereign state. The only function which the Australian Colonies required to entitle them to this recognition was the power of contracting obligations with foreign states; “the want of this power alone distinguishes their position from that of states undoubtedly sovereign.” “If the Queen were authorized by the Imperial Parliament to concede to the greater colonies the right to make treaties, it is contended that they would fulfil the conditions constituting a sovereign state in as full and perfect a manner as any of the smaller state cited by jurists to illustrate this rule of limited responsibility; and the notable concession to the interests and duties of humanity made in our own day by the great powers with respect to privateers and to merchant shipping, renders it probable that they would not on any adequate grounds refuse to recognize such states as falling under the rule.” “It must not be forgotten that this is a


  ― 29 ―
subject in which the interests of the mother-country and the colonies are identical. British statesmen have long aimed not only to limit more and more the expenditure incurred for the defence of distant colonies, but to withdraw more and more from all ostensible responsibility for their defence, and they would probably see any honourable mode of adjusting the present anomalous relations with no less satisfaction than we should.” The Imperial Government might ascertain the views of the African and American colonies and take the necessary steps to obtain its recognition as part of the public law of the civilized world.note The circulation of the report elicited expressions of opinion from a number of public men in the colonies (amongst them Mr., afterwards Sir Henry Parkes) as to which Sir C. G. Duffy has since remarked that “a dozen years had not apparently ripened the question for action, but apparently had raised a plentiful crop of new objections.” The truth was, however, that to men unaccustomed to the refinements of public law, Sir Charles Duffy's neutrality scheme suggested separation. There was small faith in the sanctity of neutrality, and the general opinion was probably expressed by the gentleman who observed that “no enemy who had the means or power to attack us would respect our neutrality.”

Australia was in fact beginning to have foreign affairs very near her door, and the policy of more than one great Power began to develop in the Pacific in a manner which would compel Australia to adopt a counter policy, to maintain which she would require at her back the whole strength of the Empire. It was in 1870 that an intercolonial conference first discussed the subject of defence and the Pacific question. Present interest centred upon Fiji, where the lawlessness of the relations between natives and European traders had long been a grave scandal; and after many negotiations and inquiries, the islands were ceded to Great Britain in 1874. In 1864 France sent her first consignment of criminals to New Caledonia; and Australia,


  ― 30 ―
which in the eastern colonies had long got rid of transportation, saw the last arrival of convicts in the west in 1867. The colonies were not disposed to view with equanimity the establishment of the hated thing so near their shores; and their sentiments no doubt magnified the dangers of escaped convicts finding a city of refuge on Australian shores. There was reason to believe that France, anxious to increase her possessions and extend her system, intended to annex New Hebrides and to use them for the wholesale transportation of her most hopeless criminals. An agreement in 1878 between England and France that neither should annex the islands did not altogether allay apprehensions, and the designs of France have always been and are now regarded with suspicion in Australia. In the Samoan group, important German and American interests were established, and wound themselves about the complicated internal politics of the islands, so that action by the Governments became necessary, and the intervention of the United States in 1875 was soon followed by that of Germany.

In 1883 federation was “in the air.” The junction of the New South Wales and Victorian railways at Albury led to an exchange of courtesies—then not too common—between the politicians of the colonies, and many pious wishes were expressed for federation. There the matter might have ended, but that events outside Australia suddenly gave a stimulus to action. The suspected designs of Germany upon New Guinea had for some time aroused anxiety in Australia. At last, the Government of Queensland sent a commissioner to take possession of New Guinea, and, aware that the Home Government was likely to disapprove of the step, at once took action to secure the support of the other colonies, in which she had some success, notably with the colony of Victoria. The Secretary of State (Lord Derby), while repudiating the act of Queensland, took the opportunity of pointing out that:

“If the Australian people desire an extension beyond their present limits, the most practical step that they can


  ― 31 ―
take, and one that would most facilitate any operation of the kind and diminish in the greatest degree the responsibility of the mother-country, would be the federation of the colonies into one united whole which would be powerful enough to undertake and carry through tasks for which no one colony is at present sufficient.” In November and December, 1883, owing principally to the exertions of Mr. Service, the Premier of Victoria, the first Australasian Convention met at Sydney to consider the subjects of “The Annexation of Neighbouring Islands, and the Federation of Australasia.” The Convention consisted of Ministers from the Australian colonies and New Zealand, and in the later stages of the proceedings, Fiji was represented. The Convention promulgated what has been called the Monroe Doctrine of Australia. It resolved that “the further acquisition of dominion in the Pacific south of the equator by any foreign power would be highly detrimental to the safety and well being of the British possessions in Australasia and injurious to the interests of the Empire.” Other resolutions of the Convention urged the annexation of New Guinea, protested against the transportation of French criminals to the Pacific, and demanded that the understanding of 1878 in regard to the New Hebrides with France should be observed by that Power, or, if it were possible, that the New Hebrides should be acquired by Great Britain. Of these measures, the Convention declared that the colonies were prepared to bear the cost, thus removing what had hitherto been a great obstacle to the Home Government meeting the wishes of the colonies in the extension of responsibilities. But it was not the mere acceptance of a policy with which Mr. Service would be content. In the course of the correspondence which followed the action of Queensland, Mr. Service, following up his emphatic declaration at Albury, said: “That Confederation can now be effected in all its fulness I do not hope, but that some basis can be agreed upon for a federal union of both a legislative and executive character capable of dealing with those important questions which are immediately pressing, and which will


  ― 32 ―
gradually develop into a complete Australian Dominion, I have the greatest hopes. Conferences hitherto have produced a minimum of result. Resolutions have been passed over and over again, but as there existed no common legislative body to give them force the greatest part of them remained a dead letter. A limited federation now would give practical effect to the wishes of the colonies on those points on which they are agreed. A common danger —the outpouring of the moral filth of Europe into these seas—a common desire—to save the islands of Australasia from the grasp of strangers—render federal action a necessity, and federal action is only possible by means of a federal union of some sort.” The result fell short of his aims; but it marked a great step forward, for the Convention of 1883 gave birth to the Federal Council of Australasia. At an Intercolonial Conference in the summer of 1880–81, the usual variety of matters had been discussed, and it was clear that the colonies were completely at issue upon the tariff. Sir Henry Parkes, however, chose the occasion for submitting a series of resolutions on the subject of federation, and laid before the Conference a Draft Bill which he proposed should be introduced in the several colonial legislatures. The resolutions affirmed that the time was not come for the construction of a federal constitution with an Australian Federal Parliament; that the time was come when a number of matters of much concern to all the colonies might be dealt with more effectually by some federal authority than by the colonies separately; that an organization which would lead men to think in the direction of federation and accustom the public mind to federal ideas would be the best preparation for the foundation of federal government; and that the Bill framed should be the forerunner of a more mature system. The resolutions were discussed and the Bill considered, but nothing came of it. A proposal of Sir Graham Berry (Victoria), that the Federal Council should be endowed from the sale and occupation of the public lands of the colonies did not tend to encourage confidence in the disinterestedness of Victoria's


  ― 33 ―
zeal in the federal cause. The scheme which had fallen flat in 1881 was revived in the Convention of 1883. On the motion of Sir Samuel Griffith (Queens land), it was resolved:

“That it is desirable that a Federal Australasian Council should be created for the purpose of dealing with the following matters:

1. The marine defences of Australasia beyond territorial limits.

2. Matters affecting the relations of Australasia with the islands of the Pacific.

3. The prevention of the influx of criminals.

4. The regulation of quarantine.

5. Such other matters of general Australasian interest as may be referred to it by Her Majesty or by any of the Australasian legislatures.”

A committee was appointed to draft the necessary Bill; and on the report a Bill was approved on the motion of Sir Samuel Griffith:

“That this Convention, recognizing that the time has not yet arrived when a complete federal union of the Australasian colonies can be attained, but considering that there are many matters of general interest with respect to which united action would be advantageous, adopts the accompanying Draft Bill for the constitution of a Federal Council as defining the matters upon which in its opinion such united action is both desirable and practicable at the present time, and as embodying the provisions best adapted to secure that object so far as it is now capable of attainment.” In 1884 all the colonies of the Australasian group (including Fiji) except New South Wales and New Zealand adopted addresses praying for legislation on the lines of the Bill, and in August, 1885, the “Federal Council of Australasia Act” received the Royal assent.

The time from 1863 to 1883 is the time of Intercolonial Conferences; and not fewer than ten such conferences had been held with a view to uniform action in various matters of common concern. Postal and telegraphic communication


  ― 34 ―
and the navigation of the Australian coasts urgently called for agreement. As a result of a conference in 1867 New South Wales passed an Act proposing to create a Federal Council to carry into effect resolutions as to ocean mail service. At one time the colonies were supporting in rivalry three lines of steamers, and instead of the public getting the advantage of competition, letters were detained in the several colonies for the proper line. As we have seen, the withdrawal of the Imperial forces brought defence into the programme in 1870, and in the same year the Pacific question was first discussed. In the early years the land system, the goldfield regulations, and the transportation of convicts to Western Australia are discussed. The early importance of uniform land laws has been referred to; and in later times there has been some disposition to regard the vast area of unappropriated lands in several of the colonies as an Australian asset.note The anomalies and scandals of the defective administration of the law through inability to co-operate in the service of legal process and the enforcement of judgments were ventilated from time to time. The inconvenience of carrying appeals to England was from early times the ground of a demand for a General Court of Appeal for Australia. South Australia and Victoria were for some years active in promoting the establishment of such a Court, and in 1861 South Australia found a sympathetic Secretary of State in the Duke of Newcastle. It was not until the conference of 1881 that the matter passed beyond the stage of a discussion


  ― 35 ―
and a Bill was agreed to, which, saving the Prerogative, provided for an Australian Court of Appeal. But it was entirely in accordance with custom that the matter should end there. The tariff as a subject of conference has been already considered; and the other principal matters suggested for joint action were the regulation of Chinese immigration, and the suppression of another “undesirable immigrant,” the rabbit.

The failure of intercolonial conferences and its causes are referred to by Mr. Service in the passage cited above. The conferences were indeed a valuable means of educating opinion amongst politicians as to the need of some closer and permanent union of the colonies. But as a practical method of getting business done they were almost useless. First, there was the difficulty of securing assent to a conference at all. If the matter to be settled was a competing claim on the part of two colonies, as in respect to rights in the River Murray, or the adjustment of border duties, the party in possession, who had something to lose and nothing to gain, was well enough satisfied with the status quo. Then time and place to suit the Governments of seven or eight colonies—for New Zealand and Fiji were interested members of the Australasian group—formed another obstacle; and the common action aimed at seemed a long way off when a prompt answer, or any answer at all, to an invitation to conference was by no means a common courtesy. When after months of correspondence the conference assembled, it would be found that some colony whose presence was of importance could not send representatives. As a conference of States, the meeting had all the marks which distinguish such a body from the deliberative assembly of a nation. Every delegate was charged first and foremost with the promotion of the interests of his own colony; the conference was in fact a “congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests, which interests each must maintain as an agent and advocate against other agents and advocates.” The vote was taken by States, so that the smallest colony had


  ― 36 ―
equal voting power with the greatest. This, however, was of small importance, because the majority had no power to bind the minority; the dissent of a single colony prevented Australia from speaking with one voice to the Home Government, and was often fatal to effective action in matters within the powers of the colonies themselves. Nor did unanimity in Council, even when it was obtained, by any means, ensure unanimity in action. The delegates were not plenipotentiaries; they had in most matters no power to bind; they could only bear a report and offer advice to their principals. The neglect of a colony to carry out the measures agreed upon was itself calculated to promote ill-will and to give rise to accusations of bad faith, which would have been more serious had not failure been so much the rule as to count amongst the things expected. It was said by Mr. Service in 1883 that of twenty-three subjects discussed in the conferences not more than three had been dealt with effectively, and of those agreements which required uniform legislation not one had been carried out. When the matter involved communication with the Home Government, the presentation of a resolution to the Secretary of State was but the beginning of negotiations which had to be carried on with every member of the group, and which rarely failed to disclose differences of opinion amongst the colonies. The proposed amendment of the law concerning fugitive offenders may serve as an example. In 1867 the conference had passed a resolution calling upon the Home Government to enlarge their jurisdiction in criminal matters. The Secretary of State pointed out that the differences in the criminal law of the various colonies presented certain difficulties, and invited suggestions, and particularly a draft Bill, for the best mode of giving the powers required. Some colonies were in favour of one course, others proposed another; some did not take the trouble to answer the letters of the Colonial Office. Three years' delay would have taxed the patience of a more sympathetic Secretary than Earl Granville; and in 1870 the Minister announced the decision of Her Majesty's


  ― 37 ―
Government not to proceed further in the matter, on the ground of “the want of unanimity of opinion both as to the proper mode of proceeding and as to the scope of the proposed legislation.”

Called into existence by the pressure of external conditions at a time when the commercial policies of the colonies were unfavourable to complete union, the Federal Council was no more than an attempt to provide a remedy for the most obvious of the defects of the intercolonial conferences. A constitutional body could be summoned, a conference was merely invited. The conferences met at irregular intervals; the Council was to meet at least once in every two years. A conference could only recommend legislation; the Council could make laws. A conference had no corporate existence; the Council was a permanent body, and under the powers conferred by the Act (§ 24) it proceeded at its first meeting in 1886 to appoint a Standing Committee to act out of session, which should, through its chairman, communicate with the Secretary of State. Thus the Council lightened the burden of negotiation with the Imperial Government. The functions of the Council were mainly deliberative and advisory; above all things it was to have been the articulate vote of Australia. The legislative function was subordinate; federal judiciary or executive there was none. Altogether the Federal Council of 1885 fully merited the description applied by Sir Henry Parkes to his scheme in 1881—“an unique body” “formed upon no historical model.”

In constitution the Council was modelled on the conferences. The members of the Council were the colonies, and while the Council itself had a permanent existence, membership was purely voluntary, and terminated at pleasure. Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania, and Western Australia were the only constant members, and in 1891 Western Australia was unrepresented. Fiji was represented only at the first meeting of the Council, and South Australia withdrew from membership after a single session. But more serious was the fact that New Zealand


  ― 38 ―
and New South Wales never became members at all. Sir Henry Parkes was in England when the Convention of 1883 adopted the scheme, and when he returned to New South Wales joined forces with those who were opposed to federation in any form. In 1881 Sir Henry Parkes had been one of those who believed that the great thing was to get a union of some sort as the foundation of a more complete union in the future. In 1884 Sir Henry Parkes believed that the Council would impede the federal movement; and his “unique body” had become such a “ricketty institution” that to join it would be to wake a “spectacle before the world which would cover the country with ridicule.”

The representatives of the colonies in the Council were delegates nominated and not elected; until 1895, when the representation of each colony was increased, they were always Ministers or ministerial supporters. Save in a few matters, the Legislative powers could be exercised only on the initiative of the legislatures of the colonies. Every power of the Council was restrained by the fact that it could neither raise nor appropriate revenue; even its own expenses had to be provided for in the budgets of the colonies. Lord Derby, well aware of the difficulty of settling colonial contributions, even when the colonies were ready to provide money, had urged that the Council should have powers of expenditure; but the colonies would not hear of it. The power of the purse must lie in a body chosen by popular election, and in such a body the equal representation of communities of very unequal powers of contribution would be impossible. Financial powers would have involved the creation of an assembly in which the colonies would have been represented according to their population; and the claims of equality of states would have involved the establishment of a Second Chamber. The expenditure of money would have required an executive. But this would have been exactly that complete federal union for which, according to the Convention of 1883, the colonies were not yet ripe, and for which the


  ― 39 ―
Federal Council was only to prepare the way. Sir Henry Parkes was right when he said that the Council could not by any mere process of expansion undertake the subject of national defence; those who would give a constitution to a nation must build anew. Changing membership and the hostility of New South Wales prevented the Council from becoming an efficient instrument even for its limited purposes. After 1895 the Conference of Premiers overshadowed the Council in dignity and importance, while for co-operation in special matters—military, marine, postal, and statistical—there were frequent conferences of officials. The best that can be said of the Council—but that is not a little—is that, for from exhibiting a natural jealously of schemes which involved its own extinction, it did good service in fostering the cause of national union.

The next step in the federal movement is connected with the subject of defence. At the Colonial Conference held in London in 1887, important conclusions were arrived at both as to naval and military defence. In regard to the former, an agreement was come to between the Imperial Government and the Australasian Colonies whereby the latter were to contribute the sum of £126,000 per annum for the provision of the Australian Squadron. The agreement was ratified by Acts of the Legislatures of each of the colonies and by the Imperial Parliament in the Imperial Defence Act, 1888. As to military defence, it was agreed that there should be a periodical inspection of the Australasian forces by a General Officer of the Imperial Army. The further proceedings concerning this inspection themselves offer an interesting illustration of the futility of all attempts at concerted action by the divided colonies. Immediately after the conference, a correspondence begannote which soon developed the usual differences of opinion, and Sir Henry Parkes on behalf of New South Wales withdrew from the arrangement altogether. At last, the Imperial Government undertook to


  ― 40 ―
bear the cost of sending Major-General Edwards, the officer commanding the forces in China, to report on the defences, and in May 1889 the offer was accepted. The report was presented in October 1889, and was virtually a recommendation of the federation of the colonies for purposes of defence, and as one incident of defence, of the establishment of a common gauge for the railway system of Australia in place of the existing three gauges by which communication was impeded.

Sir Henry Parkes at once made the report the basis of a propaganda, and while there is room for difference of opinion as to where the balance would lie in taking account of Sir Henry Parkes's activity in the matter of federation, his efforts at this time to arouse public interest must be accounted a great national service. He had difficulties to encounter both in his own and in other colonies. Victoria was anxious that New South Wales should make trial of the Federal Council; but Sir Henry Parkes would have none of it. Believing that the time was ripe for consolidating the Australias into one, he invited each of the other colonies to appoint through their Legislatures six representatives, who he suggested should be chosen equally from both sides in political life. In the end he consented to a conference, which should meet for purposes of preliminary consultation merely; and on February 6th, 1890 a conference of the seven colonies met at Melbourne. The true purpose of the conference was, in the words of a delegate to “decide whether there is such a wave of public opinion through these colonies that it has removed the question from the mere sentimental airiness in which it has existed for some years past, and has brought it into the region of practical politics.” It was moved by Sir Henry Parkes, seconded by Mr. Alfred Deakin (Victoria), and unanimously resolved that “the best interests and future prosperity of the Australasian Colonies would be promoted by an early union under the Crown, and that the time was come for the union of these colonies under one Legislative and Executive Government on principles just to the several colonies.”


  ― 41 ―
The members of the conference pledged themselves to endeavour to induce their Legislatures to appoint delegates to a National Australasian Convention, empowered to consider and report upon an adequate scheme for a Federal Constitution; and the conference resolved that such a Convention should consist of not more than seven members from each of the self-governing colonies and four from each of the Crown Colonies. The Parliaments of the colonies appointed their delegates, though the discussion in New Zealand made it clear that that colony withdrew from more than a friendly interest in the scheme. The National Australasian Convention met at Sydney on March 2nd, 1891, and sat until April 9th. On March 18th the following resolutions were, after exhaustive debate, agreed to:

“That in order to establish and secure an enduring foundation for the structure of a federal government, the principles embodied in the resolutions following be agreed to:

1. That the powers, and privileges, and territorial rights of the several existing colonies shall remain intact except in respect to such surrenders as may be agreed upon as necessary and incidental to the power and authority of the National Federal Government.

2. No new State shall be formed by separation from another State, nor shall any State be formed by the junction of two or more States or parts of States, without the consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned, as well as of the Federal Parliament.

3. That the trade and intercourse between the federated colonies, whether by land carriage or by coastal navigation, shall be absolutely free.

4. That the power and authority to impose customs duties and duties of excise upon goods the subject of customs duties and to offer bounties shall be exclusively lodged in the Federal Government and Parliament, subject to such disposal of the revenues thence derived as shall be agreed upon.




  ― 42 ―

5. That the naval and military defence of Australia shall be entrusted to federal forces under one command.

6. That provision shall be made in the Federal Constitution which will enable each State to make such amendments in its Constitution as may be necessary for the purposes of the federation.

Subject to these and other necessary conditions, this Convention approves of the framing of a federal constitution, which shall establish:

1. A parliament which shall consist of a senate, and a house of representatives, the former consisting of an equal number of members from each colony, to be elected by a system which shall provide for the periodical retirement of one third of the members, so securing to the body itself a perpetual existence, combined with definite responsibility to the electors, the latter to be elected by districts formed on a population basis, and to possess the sole power of originating all bills appropriating revenue, or imposing taxation.

2. A judiciary consisting of a Federal Supreme Court, which shall constitute a High Court of Appeal for Australia.

3. An executive consisting of a Governor-General and such persons as from time to time may be appointed as his advisers.

The work of framing a constitution upon these lines was delegated to three Committees to deal respectively with constitutional functions, finance, and judiciary. The deliberations of these Committees were finally put into form by a Drafting Committee consisting of Sir Samuel Griffith, Mr. (now Mr. Justice) A. Inglis Clark (Tasmania), Mr. Barton (New South Wales), and Mr. Kingston (South Australia). The result was the “Draft of a Bill to constitute the Commonwealth of Australia.”

The preliminary discussions in 1890 had made it clear that Sir Henry Parkes's plan of a Dominion of Australasia on the model of the Dominion of Canada was impracticable; and the scheme adopted followed in its main outlines the Constitution of the United States. Important


  ― 43 ―
amendments in detail have been made in the scheme, principally in the direction of democratizing the Constitution; but the Draft Bill of 1891 contains in substance the Constitution which received the Royal Assent in 1900 and came into operation on January 1st, 1901.note On the motion of Sir Samuel Griffith the Convention recommended that provision should be made by the Parliaments of the several colonies for submitting for the approval of the colonies respectively the Constitution adopted by the Convention; and it was further recommended that as soon as the Constitution was accepted by three colonies the Home Government should be requested to take the necessary steps to put it into operation.

With so great an advance and with such fair prospects, federation seemed now to be within reach. Sir Henry Parkes took steps to carry out his part of the bargain in New South Wales. But his Government was soon in difficulties, and in order to placate the different sections of its supporters was compelled to give federation a subsidiary place in its programme. In October, 1891, the Parkes Ministry went out of office, and though the new Ministry included Mr. Edmund Barton, a prominent federalist, the Prime Minister, Mr. Dibbs, if he were in favour of union at all, desired unification rather than federation. Victoria, South Australia, and Tasmania dealt with the Bill in a tentative fashion; the other colonies did nothing. All were in fact waiting for the signal from New South Wales, and the signal did not come. Sir Henry Parkes in despair urged that if the question were too big for the Parliaments, “the Australian people should take the matter into their own hands, and elect a Federal Congress representing all the colonies and the whole people.” The next few years were years of financial


  ― 44 ―
crisis, in which Governments had more than sufficient to do, first in staving off disaster, and next in “balancing the ledger”; and though the crisis itself had illustrated the dangers of division, Sir George Dibbs's proposal in 1894 for the unification of New South Wales and Victoria received scant attention. The country, however, was beginning to take Sir Henry Parkes's advice, and a popular movement was organized which, if it did not take federation out of the hands of Parliament, at least supplied a force with which Parliament must reckon. The Australian Natives' Association interested itsef in the cause from its first demonstration in 1884, and from 1893 federation leagues were formed in various parts of Australia. At the end of 1893 a conference of delegates from the various organizations met at Corowa, and on the motion of Dr. (now Sir John) Quick (Victoria) adopted a scheme for the popular election of a Federal Convention which should frame a Federal Constitution to be submitted to the electors, and, if approved by two or more colonies, to be forwarded to the Imperial Government. The next step was taken at the Conference of Premiers held at Hobart in January, 1895. The Premier of New South Wales (Mr. Reid) submitted, and the Conference adopted, the following series of resolutions:

1. That this Conference regards federation as the great and pressing question of Australasian politics.

2. That a Convention consisting of ten representatives of each colony, directly chosen by the electors, be charged with the duty of framing a Federal Constitution.

3. That the Constitution so framed be submitted to the electors for acceptance or rejection by a direct vote.

4. That such Constitution, if accepted by the electors of three or more colonies, be transmitted to the Queen by an address from the Parliaments of those colonies praying for the necessary legislative enactment.

5. That a Bill be submitted to the Parliament of each colony for the purpose of giving effect to the foregoing resolutions.

Mr. (now Sir George) Turner (Victoria) and Mr. Kingston


  ― 45 ―
drafted a Federal Enabling Bill, which was in its main features passed by New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and Tasmania, and with an important difference by Western Australia. In four of the colonies a minimum vote for the Constitution was required—50,000 (afterwards raised to 80,000) in New South Wales, 50,000 in Victoria, and 6000 in Tasmania and Western Australia; subject to this, a bare majority of votes cast was sufficient to declare the consent of the colony. In Western Australia the ten members of the Convention were to be elected not by direct popular vote, but by the members of both Houses of Parliament sitting together and voting by ballot. In Queensland the Bill was lost in the first instance through the disagreement of the Houses as to the mode of election. The divergent interests and aims of the northern, central, and southern parts of the colony (for the reconciliation of which a sectional federation of the Colony of Queensland has more than once been proposed), and a general lack of knowledge on, or interest in, federation, both among the politicians and the scattered population of her vast territory, were the main causes that nothing was done, and the Convention met and finished its labours without the assistance of the northern colony.

In March, 1897note the Convention elections took place. There was everywhere a large field of candidates, and the contests in the four colonies where the election was by popular vote did a good deal to stimulate interest and to dispel the illusions which abounded on the subject. In every colony the delegation was fairly representative in the sense that the candidates elected were well known in the Parliamentary life of the colonies.note




  ― 46 ―

The number and percentage of the electors voting in the several colonies were:note

       
Victoria, . . .  103,932 or 43·5 per cent. 
New South Wales, .  142,667 or 51·25 ”. 
South Australia, . .  42,738 or 30·9 ”. 
Tasmania, . . .  7,582 or 25·0 ”. 

On March 22nd, 1897, the Convention held its first session in Adelaide. Mr. Kingston, Premier of South Australia, was elected President, and Mr. Barton, who had received a larger number of votes at the polls than any other member, was acclaimed leader of the Convention. The proceedings closely followed the order of 1891. A series of resolutions was submitted and debated. These affirmed, “That, in order to enlarge the powers of self-government of the people of Australasia, it is desirable to create a Federal Government which shall exercise authority throughout the Federated Colonies,” subject to certain principal conditions which were substantially identical with those which were the basis of the Bill of 1891. It was significant, however, that the reference to the “Senate” or “States Assembly” was more guarded than before; there was nothing said of equal representation; the States Assembly was to consist of “representatives of each colony to hold office for such periods, and be chosen in such manner as will best secure to that Chamber a perpetual existence combined with definite responsibility to the people of the State which shall have chosen them.” By common consent the Draft Bill of 1891 was taken as the foundation of the work of the Convention.

Three Committees were appointed as before, and their work was submitted to a Drafting Committee consisting of Mr. Barton, Mr. R. E. O'Connor (N.S.W.), and Sir John Downer (South Australia). The character of the debates was significant that the Convention “meant business.” There was the sharp clash of interests; and the struggle between large and small States over the financial powers of the Senate, the contest over the rights in the rivers, railway


  ― 47 ―
rates, and the adjustment of financial relations indicated that there were great material interests at stake. On April 23rd the first consideration of the Bill was concluded, not without clear indications that there were some matters which must be revised. The Convention then adjourned; and in accordance with arrangement, the Bill was remitted to the various Parliaments for consideration and for the suggestion of amendments. The second session of the Convention began at Sydney on September 2nd and ended on September 24th. The financial questions were sent to a committee. A large number of amendments were considered, for the proceedings in the Legislatures of New South Wales and Victoria had indicated that the larger colonies were in favour of some concessions to the claims of population. There were keen debates on the Constitution and powers of the Senate, and various ingenious expedients were suggested for the prevention of “dead-locks.” The third and final session of the Convention began at Melbourne on January 20th, 1898. There the Financial Committee brought up its report, and salvation was found in the “Braddon Clause.” The duels between New South Wales and South Australia on the claims of irrigation and navigation in respect of the rivers, and between New South Wales and Victoria as to railway rates, were fought out at length and with great determination. A solution for dead-locks was found at last, and a jaded Convention gave its assent to clauses affecting the appeal to the Queen in Council, which were then and later the subject of much misunderstanding. The Bill was then finally revised by the Drafting Committee, which had remained in existence throughout and exercised the most scrupulous care over the formal expression of the Constitution. On March 16th the Bill was adopted by the Convention; on March 17th, after calling for cheers for the Queen and for Australia, the President declared the proceedings of the Convention closed.

The Referendum was fixed for June 3rd by New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania, and for June 4th by South Australia. In neither Queensland nor Western Australia


  ― 48 ―
was any move made at this time. It was soon apparent that the opposition to the measure in New South Wales was very serious. First, there was the “democratic” opposition, which was directed to the equality of representation in the Senate, the powers of the Senate, and the rigidity of the Constitution. Secondly, there was dissatisfaction with the financial arrangements, which, it was contended, would throw upon New South Wales a heavy burden of taxation to meet the necessities of Tasmania and Western Australia. Thirdly, there was the fear of the people of Sydney that federation might endanger the commercial position of that city by its inevitable variation of the fiscal policy of the colony, and by enabling Melbourne to “capture” New South Wales traffic. Finally, the old sore of the capital was re-opened, and a claim was made that either Sydney should be made the seat of Government, or at any rate that Melbourne should not. When at last a vote was taken it was found that, although there was a small majority for the Bill, the statutory number of votes (80,000) had not been cast in its favour. In Victoria and Tasmania the Bill was carried by a majority of five to one; and in South Australia by two to one. The voting was as follows:note

         
For.  Against.  Majority.  Percentage of Voters to Electors on the Roll. 
New South Wales,  71,595  66,228  5,367  49·88 
Victoria,  100,520  22,099  78,421  48·94 
Tasmania,  11,797  2,716  9,081  46·5 
South Australia,  35,800  17,320  18,480  39·44 

The number of electors voting shows some improvement on the election of members of the Convention; but the increase is far short of what might have been expected from the amount of attention which had in the meantime been given to the subject in the press and on the platform. It should be added in explanation of the small vote in South Australia that when the vote was taken in that colony the failure in New South Wales was known.




  ― 49 ―

As three colonies had accepted the Bill, it was within the terms of the Premiers' agreement that they should address the Crown to have the Bill enacted. But federation without New South Wales was not a matter of practical politics, and it was everywhere recognized that no effort should be spared to include all the colonies of Australia. After a general election in New South Wales, the Premier (Mr. Reid), who had been the principal critic of the Draft Bill of 1891 and the Bill of 1897-98, presented, and the Legislative Assembly adopted with some amendments, the modifications in the Constitution required by New South Wales. A conference of Premiers was held in Melbourne on 29th January, 1899, and the six colonies were represented, the re-appearance of Queensland being hailed as a pledge of adhesion to the federal cause. The conference agreed to the following amendments: (1) The substitution of an absolute majority of members for a three-fifths majority at the joint sitting of the Houses on the occasion of “dead-locks”; (2) the “Braddon Clause” (sec. 87) to be limited to ten years and “until the Parliament otherwise provides”; (3) the insertion of a clause enabling the Parliament to grant financial assistance to necessitous States; (4) a further guarantee of territorial rights and a special provision relating to Queensland; (5) the application of the “dead-lock” provisions to the amendment of the Constitution. The vexed question of the capital was settled by compromise—it was to be in New South Wales, but not within 100 miles of Sydney, and until the seat of Government should be ready the Parliament was to meet at Melbourne.

Arrangements were at once made for a second Referendum. In New South Wales questions of constitutional preference, which had played an important part in the earlier campaign, went into the background, and the attack was directed against the financial arrangements and the compromise on the capital. But the conditions of the fight were altered by the fact that Mr. Reid was now in favour of the Bill; and it was his influence that carried the day in favour of federation. On June 20, 1899, the New South


  ― 50 ―
Wales poll was taken, and 107,420 votes were cast for and 82,741 against the Bill; majority, 24,679. The poll in the other colonies was:

       
For.  Against. 
Victoria, . . .   152,653  9,805 
S. Australia, . . .   65,990  17,053 
Tasmania, . .   13,437  791 

In September a vote was taken in Queensland, and there was a majority of 7492 in favour of the Bill—For, 38,488; against, 30,996.

Western Australia still stood aloof, in the hope of further concessions in the matter of customs duties and the transcontinental railway, and it was not until after the Bill had received the Royal Assent that a poll was taken in that colony. The voting was—For, 44,800; against, 19,691; majority, 25,109.

Addresses to the Crown praying for the enactment of the Bill were adopted in New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, and Queensland; and the addresses and the Bill were transmitted to England.

On the invitation of the Secretary of State, delegates representing the colonies which had adopted the Bill proceeded to England to confer with the officials of the Colonial Office and the Law Officers in England. The delegation consisted of Mr. Barton (New South Wales); Mr. Deakin (Victoria); Mr. Kingston (South Australia); Mr. Dickson (Queensland); and Sir Philip Fysh (Tasmania). Western Australia, which was anxious to secure amendments to meet the special circumstances of the colony, was separately represented by Mr. Parker, Q.C.; New Zealand, which had held aloof from federal politics since 1891, made representations through the Agent General, Mr. W. P. Reeves, that provision ought to be made whereby New Zealand, which under the Bill might become a State, should be permitted to come in whenever she pleased on the same terms as an Original State; that New Zealand and the Commonwealth might make common arrangements for defence; and that there should be a right of appeal from New Zealand to the High Court of Australia.




  ― 51 ―

Western Australia and New Zealand lodged memoranda containing their cases; and the observations of the Law Officers on the Bill were laid before the Delegates.note The Delegates presented a counter memorandum dated March 23rd, 1900, and thereafter conferences and negotiations followed lasting until after the introduction of the Bill to Parliament. Some minor amendments in the covering clauses of the Bill were agreed to; and the question of the appeal to the Queen in Council became substantially the single matter in dispute. The Constitution (section 74) provided that “no appeal should be permitted to the Queen in Council in any matter involving the interpretation of the Constitution or of the Constitution of a State unless the public interests of some part of Her Majesty's Dominions, other than the Commonwealth or a State are involved.” It was also provided that, save as thus provided, the prerogative to hear appeals as of grace should be unimpaired, but that the Parliament of the Commonwealth might make laws limiting the matters in which leave might be asked. The objections to these provisions were obvious. The questions withdrawn from the Queen in Council were precisely those on which, in the words of the Law Officers, “the Queen in Council has been able to render most valuable service to the administration of law in the colonies, and questions of this kind, which may sometimes involve a good deal of local feeling, are the last that should be withdrawn from a Tribunal of appeal, with regard to which there could not be even a suspicion of pre-possession.” The provisions of the section safeguarding the appeal where the “public interests” of other parts of Her Majesty's Dominions were concerned, were vague and uncertain; and the Commonwealth was receiving extended powers of legislation which might well affect places and interests outside Australia. Finally, the Law Officers urged that “the retention of the prerogative to allow an appeal


  ― 52 ―
to Her Majesty in Council would accomplish the great desire of Her Majesty's subjects both in England and Australia, that the bonds which now unite them may be strengthened rather than severed, and by ensuring uniform interpretation of the law throughout the Empire, facilitate that unity of action for the common interests which will lead to a real federation of the Empire.”

The delegates held that the clause was part of the federal agreement which had twice received the approval of the people of the colonies; that an amendment would make the Constitution no longer the very instrument which the people had accepted, and cited the declaration of Mr. Reid that “there will be no safety or security for Australian union until it is known that the Bill that Australia has drafted for the Imperial Parliament to pass word for word is passed by that august Tribunal word for word.” Finally, they urged that while the real links of Empire were the consciousness of kinship and a common sense of duty, the pride of race and history, the cause of Imperial unity would not be aided by putting in apparent conflict the Federation of Australia and Imperial Federation.

In the later negotiations the Queensland delegate separated himself from his colleagues, and public opinion in Australia was strengthening the hands of the Imperial authorities. A conference of Premiers in Melbourne, after urging that the clause as drafted could not work injuriously to the interests of the Empire, observed that as the only alternatives seemed to be an amendment of the Bill or postponement of its consideration, they did not hesitate to say “that the latter course would be much more objectionable to Australians generally even than the former.” On May 14th Mr. Chamberlain introduced the Bill into the House of Commons, and after some further negotiations an amendment was agreed upon.note The debates in both Houses were marked by a cordial welcome of the Bill from all political parties, and the only criticisms heard were of


  ― 53 ―
the compromise and of the steps taken by the Colonial Secretary to ascertain Australian opinion on the subject of appeals to the Queen in Council. The Bill received the Royal Assent on July 9th, 1900.

Rarely has any group of States been so signally marked out by nature for political union as are the six colonies of Australia. Though new countries, whose whole life lies within a period characterized by great movements of the population of the old world, there is less diversity of nationality amongst them than is to be found in most European countries. Religious differences there are in plenty, but sectarian strife, though bitter enough, affects or interests but few. The State has been strictly unsectarian, and there has been no party of irreconcilables. The population has long been sufficient to enable a united Australia to stand with the nations of the old world; it is at present almost the same as the population of the United States and the British North American Provinces at the time of their respective unions. In distribution of population, the colonies satisfy the condition of union laid down by Mill, “that there should not be any one State so much more powerful than the rest as to be capable of vying in strength with many of them combined,” and again we may glance at the successful union of the Canadian Provinces, where the numbers of Upper and Lower Canada bore much the same relation to each other and the other provinces as do the numbers of New South Wales and Victoria to each other and the other Australian Colonies. The six colonies are the sole occupants of a continent and its adjacent islands with an extent of territory little less than that of Europe. The fears of foreign occupation, once common, have now been dispelled. There is no “No Man's Land”; the territories of the colonies are co-terminous; every colony on the mainland except Western Australia touches the borders of two of her sisters; South Australia touches four. The colonial boundaries are generally no more than conventional lines; and at the present day the judge who goes on circuit from Sydney to Broken Hill travels via


  ― 54 ―
Melbourne and Adelaide, while a large part of New South Wales, the rich “Riverina,” has its natural port at Melbourne. Every colony has an extensive coast line well furnished with harbours unaffected by the seasons. The coast districts are the places of closest settlement; and from the first the sea has been the great highway of colonial traffic, so that the difficulties of internal communication, and notably the absence of great navigable rivers, have not prevented intercourse between the centres of population. In all these respects the Australian Colonies greatly differed from the British Provinces of North America, which fell into four distinct groups, sharply severed from each other by natural obstacles, and finding their access to the world by foreign outlets.note The distances in Australia, it is true, are great—from Brisbane to King George's Sound is 2500 miles. But distance is a relative thing; to men who have made a journey of 12,000 miles and perhaps spent four months in the passage, 2000 miles traversable in little over a week is no more than neighbourhood. That Australians regard distance on the grand scale has been more than once proved to British statesmen. There is nothing in the life or occupations of the people to cause deep divergence among the colonies. The familiar separation is between town and country, not between colony and colony, and while the fact that a great part of Australia is within the tropics would naturally tend to conditions of life there different from those in the temperate parts, there is no policy to which the colonies are more devoted than “a white Australia,” with all that that implies. To the solution of the same problems of government—the holding of the public lands, the regulation of mining, fiscal policy, the relations of the state to religion, national education, and a host of others —the colonies have brought the same stock of political


  ― 55 ―
ideas. They brought with them the same common law; they have received and developed similar institutions.

In these favourable conditions it may be wondered why union has been so long delayed. The wonder should rather be that it has now been accomplished. Writing after the Convention of 1891, Professor Jenks said:note “If the Australian Colonies accomplish federation under existing circumstances, they will succeed in a political experiment for which there is practically no precedent in modern times. All through modern history there has been but one determining cause of political union between communities —physical force or the fear of physical force. In Switzerland, Germany, Austro-Hungary, Sweden and Norway, the United States of America, Canada, Mexico, Central America, the tale has been always the same. No community has consented to link its fortunes with the fortunes of another, save when instigated by fear of violence from that other or a third power. Many attempts have been made on other grounds, many other excellent motives have suggested themselves to thinking men. But the determining cause, the dead-lift over the hill, has always been force or the fear of it.” Common subjection to the Crown went far to satisfy such desire for political union as there was. The Provinces of Canada, separated and remote from each other, had a powerful neighbour from whose territory had proceeded more than one act of hostility, who made no secret of her resentment at the existence of their “political system” on the American Continent, and who in 1865 was flushed with military triumphs achieved for the cause of American unity in the teeth of what she regarded as the active hostility of England. Australia has had no such dangerous neighbour. Partnership in the British Empire, which was in Canada a cause of offence, has been the security of Australia. Since the development of anything like a national life in Australia, the British Empire has been at peace, so far at any rate as world politics are concerned. Protected by the shield of Empire from external dangers,


  ― 56 ―
the colonies have rarely been reminded that they were dependencies, and in general, if they have had ground to complain of the mother country, it has been on the score of indifference to the claims of Empire rather than any pressure of lordship. Within their own territories the work of pioneers has been carried on without fear of a hostile aboriginal population. The absence of national and religious feuds, such as divided Upper and Lower Canada, has been already referred to. If the sea has given every colony means of communication with her neighbours, it has also opened to her the trade of the world. Unlike the River Provinces of Canada, dependent for half the year on the licence of a foreign and often unfriendly Power for their external trade, the development of internal communications has not been matter of life or death to any Australian Colony, though in the latter stages of federal movement the attitude of Western Australia in regard to the projected Transcontinental Railway has recalled, as it has perhaps been suggested by, the story of Canadian Confederation.

Australia has been without all but one of the great causes which were instrumental in bringing about the Confederation of 1867. Just as the North American Provinces complained that the Foreign Office was disposed to sacrifice Canadian interests, partly from ignorance of local conditions, and partly for the sake of a good understanding with the United States, so the Australian Colonies complain that Australian interests in the Pacific are too lightly regarded, and, if not given away, are bargained away for a compensation which may have some value for other parts of the Empire, but is no direct advantage to Australia.

The material prosperity of the colonies, and at times their phenomenal wealth, has tended to prevent the growth of that “healthy discontent” which is the condition of political as well as economic progress. In 1890 it was Sir Henry Parkes's boast: “There is no one so wealthy as we.” Yet a statesman of Sir Henry Parkes's acumen might


  ― 57 ―
have known that that was not an argument for changing the institutions and the policies to which politicians were never tired of reminding their constituents this happy state of things was due. It was in fact the lean years which gave Australia the serious call to set her house in order.

New colonies, whatever the conditions of their foundation or their form of government, are less states in the Old World sense than trading and industrial communities; their citizenship recalls membership of the “regulated companies” or even the stockholding in the joint-stock companies which have played so great a part in our colonial history. With rare exceptions “politics” means public works, the tariff, or the conditions of holding and working the lands and minerals of the state. The development of the resources of the country is the chief concern of the Government, and the task is one in which the Australian Colonies have been no laggards. These very material interests develop a special kind of patriotism. Every inhabitant of a thinly populated country feels that its territory is an asset in which he has an appreciable share; and the once common distinction in older lands between the man with a stake in the country and the man who has not is meaningless in colonial politics. Every neighbouring colony is a rival concern, or whose doings the shrewd man of business must keep a sharp look out. If there is to be a partnership, each must make the best bargain he can. If your neighbour has a small territory and you have a large one, if his estate wants water and you control the supply, if your railways pay and his don't, you must protect your interests and must be well assured of advantages to yourself before you agree to join him.

The absence of urgent external affairs in Australian politics favoured the growth of that rivalry and bitterness which are common to small contiguous communities. This rivalry and bitterness were intensified by the concentration of population in the capitals. Sydney and Adelaide contain more than one-third of the population of their respective colonies, and in 1891 one third of the population of Victoria


  ― 58 ―
was in Melbourne. The political influence of a capital is more than proportionate to its population, and the natural jealousy of Sydney and Melbourne as rival ports has assumed a national character the more serious because of the scope of Governmental action. The railway wars of Governments are more far-reaching in their effects than the rivalries of companies, for Governments can employ more weapons in the fight.note

In New South Wales and Victoria the guiding principle of railway policy has been to secure its “legitimate traffic” for Sydney and Melbourne respectively. The claim of each of the two great cities to be the seat of government in any federation has been an obstacle to union since Melbourne put forward its claim in 1852 and added insult to injury by urging the special advantage of “a safe and capacious harbour.”note But it may be doubted whether the competition


  ― 59 ―
for the capital has been the most serious incident in the jealousy of the two cities. Speaking of the city states of the Middle Ages, Freeman says: “The highest point which human hatred can reach has commonly been found in the local antipathy between neighbouring cities.” In more than one sense the colonies have been city states.

A great obstacle to federal union has been the fact that with the exception of the tariff, the subjects calling for federal action have been those which in Australia attract little popular attention. The need for union has been apparent mainly to those who have been responsible for the administration of affairs, and it has been some compensation for the inconveniences which have attended the rapid succession of colonial ministries that this class has been large. The legislatures have been apathetic; even when matters had advanced so far that the Federal Council Bill was under discussion, thin attendances in the House bore witness to the lack of interest in New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia. A cynical public readily referred the zeal of a “professional politician” to the billet-hunting nature of his class. For the rest, the description of public opinion in New South Wales in 1884 by W. B. Dalley—himself no enthusiast for federation—though intended by way of contrast to Victoria, where “for some time there had been a strong public opinion in its favour which her statesmen merely expressed,” may serve as a description of the public attitude throughout Australia— some thought it of doubtful ultimate advantage, and an immediate attempt to accomplish it dangerously premature; those who were in favour of it differed as to ways and means; and, finally, there was “a large party, as in all national questions, who give the matter little or no consideration at all, is influenced more easily by a cry than by an argument, and which is consequently disposed to regard the eagerness and activity of other colonies as signs of peril to the interests of their own.” There were those who feared that Australian federation meant separation; there were others who saw in the anxiety of the Home Government


  ― 60 ―
for federation, a design to prepare the way for an Imperial Federation, which to them meant the sacrifice of self-government. Finally, the advent of the Labour Party since 1890 provided an organized body of opinion pledged to resist all schemes which “did nothing for the people”; and the members of this party, with some exceptions who with great courage and at some sacrifice separated themselves from their fellows, were opposed to every practicable federal scheme.

Amid these difficulties—the greatest of them all was indifference—and the great cleavage in fiscal policy, the federal movement had to make its way. The financial disasters awakened a sense of sympathy, and the burden of the common trouble was necessarily shared. In regard to the tariff a modus vivendi became possible, through the acknowledged necessity for developing the intercolonial trade. The growth in the proportion of “native born” to the whole population, the existence of Australian questions and the untiring zeal of a band of enthusiasts in each colony have created a sentiment sufficiently strong to serve as an impulse to action. The votes cast at the first Referendum were an improvement on those cast at the election of the federal convention, and the second Referendum marks an advance in popular interest upon the first. It is easy to point to the fact, that at the convention election only from 25 to 51 per cent of the electors took the trouble to vote, at the first Referendum only from 40 to 50 per cent., and at the second Referendum only 36 to 67 per cent., as compared with from 50 to 70 per cent. at general elections presenting no burning national question. But it is hard indeed for any single public question to compete with the varied attractions of a general election. Local wants are the matters of first consideration, and the member, no matter how distinguished his past services or present position, must never cease to be the parliamentary agent of his constituency or he will soon cease to be a member. That this is so is due not to the baseness of members or constituency. In a country like Australia,


  ― 61 ―
where the central government has functions which elsewhere are carried out by local agencies or by private enterprise, there must be someone to do the business of the constituency with the central government; and the satisfaction of local wants may well mean the difference between prosperity and adversity. After these, there is in a general election, the personal element—the contest in the constituency between two or more known men—and the stimulus of the personal canvass, which counts for so much; more remotely, there is the knowledge that on the result of the election depends the fate of the Ministers. It is “men not measures” that in ordinary times give to politics their interest for the mass of mankind. With the local and the personal element eliminated, it is a tribute to the efforts of the workers on both sides that at the second Referendum 583,865 of the 983,486 electors recorded their votes, and when we observe that 422,788 votes were cast for the Bill and only 161,077 against, we see that it was no mere form which declared that the people of the colonies had agreed to unite. The federation of Australia was a popular act, an expression of the free will of the people of every part of it, and therein, as in some other respects, it differs in a striking manner from the federation of the United States, of Canada, and of Germany.

previous
next