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13. CHAPTER XIII

IN OPPOSITION—AN UNAPPROPRIATED SURPLUS A PUBLIC EVIL—MY SECOND ADMINISTRATION—SIR HERCULES ROBINSON AND CONDITIONAL DISSOLUTIONS—THE TRIAL OF ‘NEW BLOOD’—MY WITHDRAWAL FROM POLITICAL ACTIVITY—WEAK GOVERNMENTS—UNION OF THE OPPOSITION—AGAIN ‘SENT FOR’—MY THIRD ADMINISTRATION

MY place for the next two years was in Opposition. I regularly attended the House and took my full share in the debates. Mr. Forster, the new Treasurer, made his budget speech on April 1, and estimated his surplus at the end of the year at 857,305l. 12s. 8d., which proved to be an under-estimate. Holding the opinion that large surpluses loosely held in the Treasury may become the source of pernicious public transactions, I moved on May 16, the following resolutions, which were carried without division:

(1) That the experience of the last three years has established the fact that the revenue derived from all sources is largely in excess of the necessary expenditure of the Government.

(2) That the existence of a large cash surplus at the credit of the Government is unsound in principle and policy, and ought not to be continued.

(3) That the existing surplus ought to be expended without unnecessary delay, not less than 150,000l. per annum, in


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promoting immigration from Great Britain and Ireland, and the balance in carrying out works of public improvement.

(4) That a measure ought to be passed into law for regulating the introduction of immigrants, and that the proposals and plans for all public works to be carried out by the expenditure of the said surplus ought to be submitted for the approval of this House.

The Government sustained repeated defeats during its rather uneasy existence, and on March 6, 1877, I moved:—

That the retention of office by Ministers after having suffered, within nine sitting days, four general defeats on motions expressive of condemnation and want of confidence, is subversive of the principles of the Constitution.

This resolution was carried by 31 to 28 votes. When the House next met the Premier announced that Ministers had advised a dissolution which, as no Appropriation Act covered the period necessary for a General Election, Sir Hercules Robinson had granted, on the condition that the requisite Supply should be first obtained. It has always struck me as almost unaccountable that a man of such clear insight as Sir Hercules Robinson did not see that he was inviting an Assembly, flushed with victory over the Government, to refuse Supply. No Assembly would refuse Supply to a Government with the power of dissolution in its hands, for fear of the use that would be made of it as evidence of obstructing an appeal to the electors, from which members would know they could not escape. But to make it an open condition that members should grant Supply for the express purpose of terminating their parliamentary existence, is


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simply leaving it to them to say whether they will be dissolved or not dissolved. In this instance, the House very soon said ‘No’! When the Treasurer moved that the House go into Committee of Supply, Mr. Piddington, the Treasurer of the late Administration, moved as an amendment:—

That whilst this House is anxious to proceed with the public business on the formation of an Administration entitled to the confidence of Parliament, it declines to grant supplies to a defeated Government under circumstances which would in all probability result in two general elections within a short period of time.

Mr. Piddington's amendment was passed by thirty-three to twenty-seven votes. Of course there was no dissolution; and, giving the Governor credit for the highest motives, it seems to me quite clear that it would have been far better if the advice of the retiring Ministers had been unconditionally accepted. The Assembly had become demoralised and distempered, and amidst criminations and recriminations the minds of many well-meaning members had become befogged, and a dissolution was needed to clear the political atmosphere.

I was commissioned to form a new Administration, and the new Ministers entered upon office on March 22. It was the only short-lived Ministry with which I have been connected. It lasted until August 16, or four months and twenty-five days. We had as smooth a time as the toad under the harrow of which we are often told. Leading members of the Opposition would talk for hours on an item of fifty pounds in the Estimates,


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and insist upon every explanation we offered being more fully explained; and these were the Estimates which our predecessors should have passed long before we accepted office. We did little and had little satisfaction in what we attempted to do. Eventually the management of the Assembly was taken out of our hands by moving and carrying the adjournment against us. Thereupon, I too advised a dissolution, and received from Sir Hercules Robinson the reply that he could only deal with us as he had dealt with our predecessors—accept our advice on the condition that we obtained the necessary Supply. My immediate answer was that I must press His Excellency to accept our resignations. So we made way again for Sir John Robertson.

It was during this short Administration that I received through the Governor from the Secretary of State (Lord Carnarvon), the offer of the dignity of a K.C.M.G. I had previously received the offer of the C.M.G., which I had declined, not that I undervalued the distinction, and I was fully aware that educated Englishmen would accept the C.M.G. who would not consent to be made a Knight Bachelor; but, though I count myself a loyal and dutiful subject of Her Majesty, I honestly had no desire to be decorated. When the new offer was made I consulted friends and one or two members of my own family, and the result was that I accepted the honour so graciously bestowed, with the flattering sense that I had won it honourably. The same may be said of my acceptance of the Grand Cross which was conferred upon me by Her Majesty


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ten years afterwards. I never took any step which could be construed into seeking any mark of my Sovereign's favour, but I hold that residence in a distant colony in no sense impairs the status of the subject, and that he is entitled equally with his fellows at the seat of Empire to any dignity or elevation which the Sovereign may be pleased to extend to him.

A Ministry formed by Sir John Robertson was sworn on August 17; but on September 19, on attempting to suspend the Standing Orders to enable a Consolidated Revenue Bill to pass through all its stages in one day, the Government was defeated by twenty-eight to twenty-seven votes. So again, in little more than a month, advice was tendered for the dissolution of Parliament, and was again met by the Governor with the condition that Supply must be first obtained. The Ministers on this occasion informed His Excellency that they could not accept a dissolution with any condition annexed to it, and tendered their resignations, thirty-four days after their assumption of office. Mr. Alexander Stuart first, and then Mr. S. C. Brown, was asked to form another Ministry, but, both failing, Sir John Robertson was desired to withdraw his resignation, and an unconditional dissolution was granted.

The elections did not prove favourable to Ministers, and on the opening of the new House on November 28, the following amendment to the Address, moved by Mr. J. S. Farnell, was carried by thirty-three to thirty-one votes:—

We feel bound to express our grave doubts as to the satisfactory conduct of public business until your Excellency can


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secure the advice of members of this House entitled to its confidence.

Resignation of course followed, and I was requested by Sir Hercules Robinson to form a new Ministry. But there was a feeling among many members of the Assembly in favour of ‘new blood,’and, failing to obtain the co-operation of gentlemen whom I considered best qualified to conduct the affairs of the country, I returned my commission. A Ministry was then formed by Mr. Farnell, which entered upon its official life on December 18, and continued to hold office without much interference until December 6 following, when it was defeated by forty-one to twenty-two votes on the second reading of a ‘Bill to regulate the Alienation, Occupation, and Administration of the Crown Lands.’

Sir John Robertson was now sent for to form a Ministry, and succeeded so far as to submit his list of names for approval, but, for reasons never fully explained, he suddenly abandoned his task; and at the same time resigned his seat in the Legislative Assembly.

During Mr. Farnell's tenure of office the Opposition consisted virtually of two wings, one led by Sir John Robertson, and one whose political sympathies were with me. But in reality I took but little part in the proceedings of Parliament, and devoted myself more closely than at any other period of my public life to my personal affairs. I had been so sobered by the waste of public time, and the disasters that must ever arise from weak and distracted governments, that I was fairly weaned from the political ambition which had stirred me in previous years. It would have been a


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happy thing for me if I had continued to ‘turn a deaf ear to the charmer.’But the Opposition held a meeting and united the two sections, electing me in my absence as their leader. Mr. James Watson (Treasurer in the next Government) was deputed to inform me of the result. I attended the meeting (which was waiting for my answer) with a feeling of reluctance, and after some discussion accepted the position assigned to me. When the House met the same day I gave notice of the following resolution:—

That an Address be presented to the Governor, respectfully informing His Excellency that this House declines to proceed with public business while the present Ministers are allowed to retain office.

My resolution was carried by 30 to 21 votes. The Farnell Ministry at once resigned, and I received His Excellency's commission to form a Government, which was completed the same day, and continued in office from December 21, 1878, until January 4, 1883, and proved to be the longest-lived Ministry of New South Wales.

This Government did a large amount of work both in Parliament and in its executive capacity. My first step, on receiving my commission, was to put myself in communication with Sir John Robertson, and I took this step without consultation with anyone. There was much political agreement between him and me, and we had been separated chiefly by the acerbity of personal feeling and that disposition to attribute wrong motives which grows from men not frankly meeting


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each other. As his friends in Parliament had joined in nominating me, I felt it would be nothing more than a graceful act to offer him a place in the Administration. As he had retired from the Assembly, I proposed to recommend his appointment to the Upper Chamber, and submitted for his acceptance the position of Vice-President of the Executive Council without ministerial office. He fell in with this arrangement in an equally cordial spirit, and the following names were submitted to his Excellency the Governor:—

                 
Sir Henry Parkes ..  Colonial Secretary. 
Sir John Robertson ..  Vice-President of the Executive Council; Representative of Government in the Legislative Council. 
James Watson ...  Colonial Treasurer. 
Francis Bathurst Suttor .  Minister of Justice and Public Instruction. 
William Charles Windeyer  Attorney-General. 
James Hoskins ..  Secretary for Lands. 
John Lackey ...  Secretary for Public Works. 
Saul Samuel ...  Postmaster-General. 
Ezekiel Alexander Baker .  Secretary for Mines. 

The Parliamentary achievements of the last four years had been very slender and unsatisfactory. There had been four changes of Ministry and two dissolutions. Perhaps the most serious consequence of frequent political changes is the displacement of experienced and the introduction of inexperienced men. In such commonplace commotions, so distasteful to men of culture and strength, the material for feeble and short-sighted Ministers rises to the surface, and, what is worse,


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a feeling of disgust restrains able men whose time is of value from offering their services to the country. This directly leads to frivolous discussion and foolish attempts to strain the forms of Parliamentary usage, often for no better object than to enable members to indulge in some petty personal spite. If majorities give the boon of life to a Ministry, it is impossible for the Ministry at such times not to absorb some of the impurities from a source so disturbed or distempered. These remarks are intended to apply to Parliamentary government in old countries; but the evil is of aggravated form in new communities, where nearly all men come to the business of legislation and government from occupations not at all calculated to fit them for the performance of the grave duties to which they have been elected. Of all public afflictions to which a free people may be subjected, a weak Government is by no means the most endurable. It is so occupied day by day in trying to find and retain props as a substitution for inherent stability, and its steps are so beclouded by uncertainty of vision, that it has no clear-sighted strength for the proper work of Government. Precedent tyrannically controls its flabby energies, and when it is brought face to face with difficulty it is barren of all resource. It was after a protracted season of political misfortune that my third Administration began its existence.

END OF THE FIRST VOLUME.

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