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7. CHAPTER VII

RETURN TO NEW SOUTH WALES—RE-ELECTION TO PARLIAMENT— THE FIRST MARTIN MINISTRY; ITS FALL—LEGISLATION TO SUPPRESS BUSHRANGING—COWPER'S DIFFICULTIES AND INCONSISTENCIES IN FINANCE—MY ASSOCIATION WITH SIR JAMES MARTIN.

I REMAINED in England until late in October, 1862, when I returned to Sydney by the ship Spray of the Ocean, making the long sea passage in a little over eighty days. Some few months after my return I was induced to offer myself as a candidate for East Maitland in opposition to the re-election of Mr. J. B. Darvall, who had joined the Cowper Ministry as Attorney-General. Mr. Darvall had been strongly—it might be said bitterly—opposed to that Ministry, and his acceptance of office from Mr. Cowper was received with surprise and much disapproval. Still I think I acted indiscreetly in entering into the contest, though I had a very warm and influential support. I was nominated by Mr. J. N. Brunker, afterwards Minister for Lands, and I polled well, though I lost the election by a narrow majority. Early in 1864 I was invited to become a candidate for Braidwood, but declined to offer myself. In my absence, however, I was nominated, but the candidate on the spot, who had actively canvassed the district, defeated me by ten or twelve votes. In the same


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month, April 1864, I was elected to the Legislative Assembly for Kiama, by a majority of two to one. On re-entering Parliament, I took my seat on the Opposition side of the House. Much had been done of which I disapproved, and more had been omitted which in my judgment ought to have been attempted to be done. I was by no means in accord with the regular Opposition, and I found other members very much in my frame of mind. So things drifted on in vague distrust and uncertainty during the Session. Mr. Martin (afterwards Sir James), with Mr. William Forster and Mr. Geoffrey Eagar, was in office at the head of his first Ministry; and he certainly had managed affairs so as to cause much dissatisfaction. The Government had indulged in a recess of six months, and met Parliament on October 18, when there was not sufficient time for transacting the public business before the close of the financial year. An amendment on the Address, after a debate of some days, was carried on November 2 by thirty-six to twenty-nine votes. As the immediate consequence of this motion, Parliament was dissolved on the 10th. The Elections proved very disastrous to the Ministers. The Premier and two of his colleagues were defeated in Sydney by large majorities, and the discomfiture of the Martin party extended throughout the colony.

When the new Parliament met, the Ministry was defeated on the Address by forty-two to fourteen votes. Efforts had been made by Mr. Martin to arrange a treaty with the colony of Victoria for the non-collection of the Customs duties on the borders of the two colonies; but


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the negotiations had terminated unsuccessfully. Attempts to put the finances of the colony in a sounder state had not proved more fortunate in results. And in the interior the outrages of bushrangers had become alarming.

Mr. Cowper was recalled to office, forming his fourth Ministry, on February 3, 1865, which lasted till January 21 following. This Government was one with a very uncertain hold on the feeling of the House and the country, and during the eleven months and eighteen days of its existence it had three different Treasurers, three different holders of the office of Attorney-General, as well as other changes in the occupants of office. It was a Ministry of shifts and contrivances and had no power to effect good. I received myself the doubtful compliment of the offer of office from Mr. Cowper, while he was looking out for means of gaining new support. The head of the Post Office up to this period (the latter part of 1865) had been a permanent appointment; it was now proposed to make the Postmaster-General a member of the Ministry. I waited upon Mr. Cowper by invitation at the Colonial Secretary's office, when, with the utmost cordiality, he informed me that he had sent for me with the approval of all his colleagues to offer me the office of Postmaster-General, with a seat in the Cabinet, and with an undertaking that Parliament should be invited to make the salary equal to the salaries of the other Ministers (the salary at the time was, I think, 950l.) I acknowledged the Premier's courtesy and consideration, but told him briefly that I must decline his offer; that I did not feel that I could


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co-operate with the gentlemen with whom he was associated. In point of fact, I felt keenly that it was a culpable neglect that no worthy endeavour had been made to reconstruct the Legislative Council on an elective basis during the five years allowed by Mr. Wentworth for the trial of the nominee principle. I felt also keenly dissatisfied that nothing had been done, or worthily attempted, in the cause of popular education. I disagreed with the Government in their financial proposals as far as they had been foreshadowed.

On my refusal of Mr. Cowper's offer, Mr. James Augustine Cunneen was appointed Postmaster-General as ‘a member of the Government without a seat in the Cabinet.’But this condition of office only existed for a short time, and has never been repeated.

At an earlier period of the year 1865, on August 10, in a speech to my constituents, I had spoken of the state of public affairs in the following terms:—

When the Treasurer came down with his budget he was in a plight very much resembling that of a schoolboy, who has got into a predicament, where he is forced to disclose something very bad of himself. As the words came out of his lips the tears were all but coming down from his eyes, and he told the House with fear and trembling that he did not know what to do for money. There were many others in the same bad way it was to be feared. Well, as the Government must have more revenue, he voted for the plan they proposed for raising it by a system of stamp duties. It was right that the electors should know that in these money measures the Assembly must either accept or reject the proposals of the Crown. Members could not substitute financial notions of their own for those of the Minister, and thus when the Minister told them that the public credit was at stake in their measures, a great responsibility was cast


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on the Legislature. He did not much approve of this system of stamp duties. He feared it would be found very vexatious in its working, and expressed himself to that effect at the time, but he voted for the Bill from the case of necessity put forth in its support, and he was there to take his full share of responsibility in assenting to it. There were some considerations too which induced him to assent to the Stamp Act on its merits. The public burdens hitherto had fallen very unequally on the different classes of society. The possessor of large properties and the man who only possessed a tobacco-pipe and pannikin paid the same rate of taxes, which was not just, and these stamp duties, objectionable as they were in many respects, would certainly fall principally on the classes identified with property. Still, upon mature consideration of the subject, he thought a system of stamp taxes was not suited to the circumstances of a new country, and the sooner a better system was substituted for it the better for all. But something else came after the Stamp Act. That wonderful financier, Mr. Smart, had a wonderful way of doing business. One morning when he thought the session was drawing to a close, he read in the newspapers that Mr. Smart was about to come down again upon us with a second budget. Two budgets in three months was enough to frighten us from our propriety. And sure enough Mr. Smart came down with two new Bills for imposing more burdens. He again pulled a long face and said he thought he had enough, but he found he had not. The first dip into the people's pockets was unsatisfactory, and he must dip again. We then had the famous Package Bill, which in its first inception imposed an equal duty on all packages of goods coming into the country, whether a case of gooseberries or onions from Tasmania, or a case of gold watches or silks from England or France. But the greengrocers rose up as one man, and the fruiterers moved in deputation upon the Treasury. It was represented that the gooseberries coming in one day would spoil before the Customs could be moved to permit their landing on the second, and the great gooseberry interest was too much for the Minister. The Government could not stand up against a cargo of rotten fruit and vegetables, and


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so gooseberries and other articles of colonial produce were exempted from the operation of the Bill. But the Package Act as it now stood levied the same amount of duty on a parcel worth 10s. as it did on a parcel worth 500l. Then there was another Bill for increasing the duty on all articles then dutiable. He had from first to last opposed both these Bills. He based his opposition on the ground that this bit-by-bit plan of submitting the financial measures of a Government was foreign to the parliamentary practice of England, and ought not to be tolerated. But if this objection had not existed he should have opposed these measures on their merits, as about the rudest and clumsiest ever devised by any Government. He should now with their permission say a few words on the present state of things, and the public questions presenting themselves for consideration in the future. The present condition of the colony demanded an earnest and honest investigation of the causes of the prevailing depression. And this was clearly the duty of the politician. Men who undertook the responsibility of interfering with the public interests beyond the province of the ordinary duties of the citizen were clearly bound to free themselves as much as possible from prejudice, to close their eyes to consequences affecting their own individual interest, and to endeavour to bring whatever ability they possessed to bear faithfully on all questions which they had power to influence. But at a season of popular discontent like the present, when it was felt on all hands that the affairs of the State were seriously disordered, and the forces which were available for giving us strength as a community were in a large measure misused or lost, it specially behoved public men to do their utmost, in justice to themselves and to the public, to discover why we are passing through this period of unnatural adversity, and then endeavour to supply the natural remedies. How was it that 400,000 people of British origin in free possession of a territory capable of sustaining a population of 40,000,000, and in a land abundantly blessed with all the natural elements of wealth, were nevertheless in a condition of commercial stagnation and suffering, in some respects positively worse than that super-induced


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by the accumulated mismanagement and improvidence of ages in older countries? This could not be the normal state of things. The colony had suffered heavily of late years from the visitations of Providence; but neither failing crops, nor floods, nor droughts, were sufficient to account for the long prevailing depression that spared no branch of industry and seemed to afflict the most valuable classes with the greatest severity. In this working-day world of ours the most valuable thing—and viewed in its true light the most honourable thing —was human labour; and in a new country this precious attribute of man, which dimly reflected Divinity itself in its creative power, ought to find endless employment. One could not travel through any district of this colony without seeing a thousand things which required to be improved by human labour. No man possessed houses or land which would not be rendered more valuable if more labour were expended upon them. No man occupied any position which subjected the forces of nature in any degree to his control who would not be able to improve that position if he had more labour to assist him in his operations. And yet the fact could not be explained away that in this rich and extensive country, occupied by a handful of population, and where of all precious things labour was the most precious, and of all the things wanted labour was most wanted, there were men willing and able to work who had great difficulty in finding employment. This was one of the strange and startling facts of the present time. Could it be that there were too many industrious men in the country—that we had too much of what we most wanted? No man not very ignorant nor absolutely insane would say that such was the cause. The cause was to be found in the defective nature of our industrial machinery and our economical agencies. In every occupation of life our energies were impelled by a too speculative spirit, and the idea of permanency had not sufficient hold of the mind. Our aims were too extravagant and our efforts in consequence were to a great extent spasmodic and self-exhaustive. A colonising population had a natural tendency to waste its strength in this direction, constantly striving to grasp too much and constantly missing


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the true end of all exertion—that secure possession of a sufficiency of earth's blessings which, tempered by repose and enjoyment, constitutes happiness. Everywhere we might see objects commemorative of this waste of life; houses built in inaccessible situations, works begun to remain unfinished, traces of enterprises that started to life on the wildest calculations and failed. These ideas of extravagance and this misdirection of energy infected the Government as well as the people, and the consequence was that in proportion to these fruitless efforts the productive power of the community was lost.

Amongst the measures of the Cowper Government was a Bill for the suppression of bushranging, which passed into law under the name of the Felon's Apprehension Act. This measure was unprecedented in the severity of its provisions; it authorised the outlawry of any bushranger, under certain conditions, by a special warrant issued by a Judge of the Supreme Court, and empowered any person, whether a constable or not, to apprehend such outlaw, alive or dead, without being accountable for using deadly weapons, and it gave a reward of one hundred pounds for any such apprehension. It further provided that any person who harboured bushrangers or supplied them with firearms or ammunition, or rendered them assistance, or gave false information to the police concerning them, should forfeit all his real and personal property, and be liable to imprisonment with hard labour for five years. Though I supported the second reading of this Bill, I spoke and voted against its severe provisions in committee. The evil which had grown up was very great and alarming, but the remedy appeared to many reasonable minds to have that fatal flaw so often derived from times of extreme


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excitement, of going too far and in too fierce a spirit. What was wanted at the time was not so much a severer law as more vigour and vigilance, and a clearer and more penetrative judgment in carrying the law into effect. Though the second reading of the Felons' Apprehension Bill was carried by 37 to 4 votes, the late Prime Minister and Attorney-General, and two of his colleagues, voted in the small minority.

Mr. Cowper's financial proposals broke down completely, and, deluded by the soft phrases of his opponents, he adopted their policy, after having utterly failed in his own. His Treasurer resigned after this failure; but Mr. Cowper faced the new difficulty and informed the House on December 20, ‘that in consequence of the refusal of the committee to sanction all the proposals of the late Colonial Treasurer for raising revenue, it was necessary to have recourse to new methods.’He proposed to levy a duty on imports of 5 per cent. ad valorem as one part of his new scheme. I made a speech against this proposal of which the following are the opening sentences:—

That when the Honourable Chief Secretary submitted his resolution, amidst the rather noisy cheers of the House, he thought the honourable gentleman must have felt rather uncomfortable. At all events there were heard most distinctly amidst those loud cheers two separate sets of voices. There were the cheers of self-gratulation and rather pardonable exultation on the Opposition side of the House, amongst the late Ministry and their friends, who had succeeded in imposing their protectionist views on this Free-trade Government; and there were the insolent cheers of an unintelligent triumph on the other side—the triumph of the successful double-dealing and man[oelig]uvre of


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their slippery chief. But this kind of thing was only a thing of the hour, and there would come a sober time of reckoning even if they were successful to-night. If he could have been induced by any considerations, in view of something less desirable that might be substituted, to have given his vote for doubling the tea and sugar duties, he certainly should have been prepared to have voted for doubling those duties rather than for the proposition that had been made tonight. But he certainly could never have been induced to do that, because it did not follow that if this thing was intolerable, we should accept something that was scarcely less tolerable. He did not wish to misstate the arguments that had been urged either for or against the proposition; he did not wish to mislead the sense of the committee. He was fully aware that the arguments, whatever they might be worth, against the proposition submitted by Mr. Samuel, the honourable member for Wellington, were based upon what were conceived to be an inequality in the incidence of taxation. But quite a different class of arguments rose up against such a proposition as this. Here we have a proposition for increasing the burdens of the country in a manner that, even if it should be successful in raising the trifling sum estimated, would carry with it derangement and injury to the infant commerce of the country in all its branches. Any interference with that very tender and important branch of the public interest—the intercolonial commerce—was to be deprecated in the strongest possible terms. And all this was to be done for the purpose of raising 130,000l.! Because, after listening with the greatest attention to the honourable member for West Sydney (Mr. Joseph), he was much more inclined to take that honourable gentleman's estimate of the probable revenue from these new duties than that of the Collector of Customs. Large deductions would have to be made for the free list, and for the large amount of goods transhipped to other parts of Australia; and there would also be large deductions by reason of the system that now obtained of overvaluing the imports, which of course would prevail no longer. He would call attention to the remarkable speech by which this proposition was submitted.


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A great deal was said to us about schemes of retrenchment, but these schemes were indicated in such dim phraseology, and were propounded in such a hypothetical way, that scarcely any honourable member could expect to see them carried out. Then there was something said about an income tax. But how was it that there was no promise of bringing in such a tax? All that was said was that it might be desirable to see whether the House would consider the propriety of giving their support to an income tax. But there was no mistake whatever as to what the honourable gentleman said about the ad valorem duties. They were submitted all ready to be crammed down the throats of the people because it was known that on the Opposition side of the House there were certain gentlemen who could not do other than vote for these duties. Did any honourable member believe for a moment that, if these ad valorem duties were passed, there would be any great pains taken to make reductions in the public service, or that any serious attempt would be made to introduce an income tax? But we were asked to swallow this nauseous dose of ad valorem duties, surrounded as it was by a coating of promises of the most vague and dim character. Were the committee prepared to accept these ad valorem duties? Let it never be forgotten that the whole of the members who sat on the Government side of the House who had seats in the late Parliament opposed the very same proposition as this when brought forward by the Martin Ministry.

Within the next few days the Cowper Ministry was a thing of the past, having been defeated on a direct vote by overwhelming numbers. The Opposition at the time consisted of two groups, one of which sided with me, while the other followed Mr. James Martin. We held some opinions in common, and were not in accord on other questions; but it was obvious enough that no efficient Government could be formed except by the union of the two parties.

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