― 331 ―



THE federation of the Australian colonies has occupied the minds of the best men who have ever studied the problems of Australian progress. There is scarcely one man of any intellectual grasp who has not looked forward to a time of union. Even those who have favoured the idea of separation have nevertheless foreshadowed the colonies, not as disunited but as united states. Probably no single mind, capable of comprehending the subject in all its immensity, has ever clung to the notion of the colonies planted in Australia remaining separate political organisms for ever. Such fixed and unalterable separation would carry with it the germs of internecine jealousy, contention, aggression, reprisal, and open war. Kindred ties must in time degenerate into foreign relations. The forces, which in union make the strength of a State, would dissipate themselves in petty rivalries and wasteful strifes.

These pages afford no fitting place for tracing the history of federation, and I must confine myself to a consideration of the question so far as my own opinions and efforts have been concerned with it. But to show how early the question was taken up in what may be

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termed the history of our constitutional politics, I will cite three authorities. So far back as July 28, 1853 (three years before the advent of Responsible Government), Mr. W. C. Wentworth expressed this opinion in a Report to the Legislature of that day: ‘One of the most prominent legislative measures required by this colony, and the colonies of the Australian group generally, is the establishment at once of a Legislative Assembly, to make laws in relation to the intercolonial questions that have arisen or may hereafter arise in them.’ Mr. Wentworth did not say that a federal legislature would be required towards the close of the century, but ‘at once,’ thirty-nine years ago. It is not, therefore, an inference or a surmise, but a matter of certainty that, if Mr. Wentworth were still living, he would be a decided advocate of federation, for he was decided in its advocacy at a time when the reasons in support of it were not one hundredth part so strong as they have since become by the amazing expansion of Australian progress. On October 20, 1856, a few months after the introduction of Responsible Government, Sir Edward Deas-Thompson, a man of many statesmanlike qualities, who had held the office of Colonial Secretary for the last thirteen years, said in the Legislative Council: ‘The time, I look upon it, is not far distant when the colonies will adopt some federal arrangement;’ and enumerating matters which in his judgment could only be satisfactorily dealt with by federal authority, he added, ‘there are seven great questions which ought to be submitted to some general Federal Assembly representing all the Australian Colonies.’ In the following

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year, on September 8, 1857, a committee of the Legislative Assembly of Victoria, presided over by Sir C. Gavan Duffy, reported strongly in favour of federation. Besides the chairman, there were upon this committee several men of eminent fitness for the enquiry, among others Sir John O'Shanassy, Sir Archibald Michie, Dr. Evans, and Sir James McCulloch. The following are the opening paragraphs of the report which show the clearness and decisiveness of the conclusions arrived at and the just reasoning which led to them:—

The necessity of a Federal Union of the Australian Colonies for legislative purposes, and the best means of accomplishing such an union if necessary, have been referred to the present committee. They have given these questions of national polity the prolonged and deliberate consideration which their importance demanded.

On the ultimate necessity of a Federal Union, your committee are unanimous in believing that the interest and honour of these growing States would be promoted by the establishment of a system of mutual action and co-operation among them. Their interest suffers, and must continue to suffer, while competing tariffs, naturalisation laws, and land systems, rival schemes of immigration and of ocean postage, a clumsy and inefficient method of communicating with each other and with the Home Government on public business, and a distant and expensive system of judicial appeal exist; and 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 of the 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 invariably become confederates or enemies. By becoming confederates so early in

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their career the Australian colonies would, we believe, immensely economise their strength and resources. They would substitute a common national interest for local and conflicting interests, and waste no time in barren rivalry. They would enhance the national credit, and attain much earlier the power of undertaking works of serious cost and importance. They would not only save time and money, but attain increased vigour and accuracy by treating the larger questions of public policy at one time and place; and in an assembly which, it may be presumed, would consist of the wisest and most experienced statesmen of the Colonial Legislatures, they would set up a safeguard against violence and disorder—holding it in check by the common sense and common force of the Federation. They would possess the power of more promptly calling new States into existence throughout their immense territory as the spread of population required it, and of enabling each of the existing States to apply itself without conflict or jealousy to the special industry which its position and resources render most profitable.

As was natural in a situation so new, the first conceptions were imperfect—it may be admitted, quite inadequate to the great ends to be accomplished; but the conviction of the necessity for some form of union was clearly and firmly expressed. Since these early utterances of far-seeing men, during the whole period of Parliamentary Government, arguments have been advanced on the platform and in the public Press, sometimes with much force and eloquence, in favour of an early union of the colonies. My own efforts, by voice and pen, had extended over many years before the Melbourne Conference of 1890, so much so that personal appeals were often made to me by leading men of the other colonies to set on foot a movement for complete

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Australian union. At a great banquet in Sydney, in commemoration of the Centenary, Mr. Gillies, then Prime Minister of Victoria, made the following appeal to me in the presence of a thousand guests from all parts of Australasia:—

I had not the good fortune to hear all that Sir Henry Parkes said this evening; but I can assure him, that in all his aspirations for the future I believe there is not a gentleman from the other colonies here present but will join him to the acclaim, and there is not one solitary proposal he may make for the union of the Australasian colonies, in which they will not be prepared to join, and to do everything which in them lies to carry out that great purpose. We all know what union means, and what disunion means. Disunion has been exhibited on several occasions by the colonies, certainly not to our credit; and I believe, whatever differences of opinion we entertain, that all the great colonies of Australasia ought to be united, that the sooner they are united, for a great many important common reasons, the better, and that, when they are united, they will be able to speak with a more perfect and more useful voice than ever they could speak separately.

Certainly some of my proposals and suggestions in earlier years took a tentative form. At one time, many years ago, I suggested the union of New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia, as having interests more in common, and lying more compactly together (excluding the northern territory), than the other colonies. And it may be that this idea will yet be adopted in some scheme of limited federation not embracing all Australia. Let us, however, hope that the whole of the colonies will be interpenetrated by the vivifying sense of supremacy in union, as against irreparable

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weakness in disunion, and that they will come together, and unite themselves for ever in the ties of kinship and political destiny.

In one of my tentative endeavours I committed the error of suggesting the scheme of the Federal Council, which is now dragging out a consumptive existence under an enabling Act of the Imperial Parliament. I had not then learned that the adage of ‘half a loaf is better than no bread’ was one of ill sound to a nation rapidly approaching its majority. My fault was this:—At a conference held in Sydney in January 1881, of which I was chairman, I submitted the following memorandum:—

In respect to the Federal Council Bill now submitted, the following positions are assumed as hardly open to debate:—

  • 1. That the time is not come for the construction of a Federal Constitution with an Australian Federal Parliament.
  • 2. That the time is come when a number of matters of much concern to all the colonies might be dealt with more effectively by some federal authority than by the colonies separately.
  • 3. That an organisation 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.

The Bill has been prepared to carry out the idea of a mixed body, partly Legislative and partly Administrative, as the forerunner of a more matured system of Federal Government. Care has been taken throughout to give effective power to the proposed Federal Council within prescribed limits without impairing the authority of the colonies represented in that body.

No attempt has been made to constitute the proposed Council on any historical model, but the object has been to meet

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the circumstances of the present Australian situation, and to pave the way to a complete Federal organisation hereafter.


January 21, 1881.

Though the Bill was framed, it was never adopted or recommended by the Conference, and within a few months afterwards, from maturer thoughts on the subject and consultation of authorities, I abandoned the scheme as a thing that must prove abortive upon trial. On further reflection it seemed to me next to impossible, that a small body, not elected by the people, and possessing no executive powers, could satisfactorily deal with matters too largely of a federal character to be submitted to one of the Australian Parliaments. My abandoned Bill remained in this state until the latter part of 1883, when it was taken up by another Conference or Convention, and made the basis of the existing Federal Council Act. I did not even know what was being done, as I was in England and did not return to the colony until the August following.

The first movement worthy of the noble object of bringing all Australia under one National Government arose from my initiation in October 1889. The correspondence which then took place is so important in relation to what has been done, and to whatever may be done in the future, that it does not appear to me that any explanation is necessary in giving the principal letters in these pages.

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Telegram from the Honourable Duncan Gillies, M.P., Victoria, to the Colonial Secretary, New South Wales.

Melbourne, October 22, 1889.

I duly received your telegram of the 15th instant, proposing consultation with regard to General Edwards's important representations on our defences. What I discern is that it is not merely consultation that this vital matter demands, but consideration and determination by somebody having the necessary powers for giving effect to its conclusions. A Conference in the matter might certainly arrive at certain resolutions which, I fear, would, like former ones, be barren of results, the local Parliaments possessing no power for the necessary Federal legislation; this could only be given by the Imperial Parliament. Now we have in the Federal Council a body instituted in view of this very emergency, and endowed with the needful authority and powers. You will see in subsection (i) of section 15 of the Imperial Act, 48 & 49 Vic., cap. 60, that ‘General Defences’ is the first in the list of matters which may, on being referred to it by the Legislatures of two or more colonies, be dealt with by the Federal Council. This Council, as you know, consists of Ministers and other representative men, and can deal with the whole matter satisfactorily. It can not only consider and devise a practicable scheme, but can embody it in the form of legislative enactment. If the Federal Council be not accepted for this purpose, what else is possible? To create a new Federal Body for defence alone, when you have a Federal Body in existence, having power to deal specially with defences, would certainly seem strange, and outside of Australia would not increase Australia's prestige. We are surely not required to create a new Federal Council, for every new Federal difficulty to be solved in the Federal Council. The requisite machinery stands ready for use. If you consider the matter during your recess, and decide to recommend to your Parliament to give in its adhesion to the Federal Council, the thing is accomplished, and we shall present for the first time the spectacle of an united

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instead of a divided Australia. Whether this shall be now, or be postponed to a future day, and to other men, rests very much with you to say. It might be necessary to have a preliminary talk to determine the form of submission by the Parliaments of each colony to the Federal Council, but beyond that, should you join, the matter is all plain sailing.

Colonial Secretary's Office, Sydney,

October 30, 1889.

Sir,—Your telegram, explanatory of your views in favour of bringing the machinery of the Federal Council into operation in giving effect to the recommendations of General Edwards for the federalisation of Australian troops, reached me last week in Brisbane. Being extremely anxious to meet your wishes, I lost no time in re-examining the provisions of the Federal Council Act; and I regret that I cannot concur in your view, that the Council possesses the requisite power to constitute, direct, and control an united Australian army. The sub-section of clause 15, to which you specially referred me, appears to supply evidence to the contrary. The two words ‘general defences’ are included in a long list of secondary matters, such as ‘uniformity of weights and measures’ and the ‘status of corporations and joint stock companies,’ and it would be a very strained interpretation that could give to those two words so used a definition of legal authority to deal with a matter second to none other in the exercise of National power. It is not for me to say what is the precise meaning of the words on which you rely; but it is contended that they cannot be construed to mean the creation, direction, mobilisation, and executive control of a great army for the defence of the whole of Australia.

For more than twenty years I have had the question of Australian federation almost constantly before me; and I cannot be accused of indifference to it at any time, merely because I had become convinced from earlier examination, while others were adopting the scheme of the present Federal Council at a later period, that no such body would ever answer the great objects of Federal Government. Leaving the provisions of the

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Act as to the legislative capacity of the Council, we are at once precipitated upon an impassable barrier, in the fact that there does not exist in it or behind it any form of executive power. Supposing, for example, that the Federal Council's recommendations, or enactments, for the movement of Australian soldiers could be accepted, there could not be found anywhere a corresponding executive authority to give effect to them.

The vitally important recommendation made by General Edwards is one, in any light from which it can be viewed, of national magnitude and significance. The vast sums annually expended by the Continental Colonies for defence works and services would be of greatly enhanced value in time of public danger, if the scattered and unconnected forces locally maintained could be brought under one command, and, whenever advisable, directed to one field of operations. I am satisfied that this cannot be done by any existing machinery. The Executive Governments of the several colonies could not act in combination for any such purpose, nor could they so act independently of each other. The Federal Council has no executive power to act at all. The Imperial Parliament, on the application of the colonies, could, no doubt, pass an Act to constitute the Federal Army under one command, and to authorise its operations in any part of Australia; but the colonies could never consent to the Imperial Executive interfering in the direction of its movements. Hence, then, this first great Federal question, when looked at fairly, brings us, in spite of preferences or prejudices, face to face with the imperative necessity for a Federal Government. And why should we turn aside from what is inevitable in the nature of our onward progress? It must come, a year or two later possibly, but in any case soon.

I hope I need not assure you that this Government is anxious to work in harmony with the Governments of the sister colonies in the matter under consideration, and is desirous of avoiding subordinate questions coloured by party feeling or collateral issues. It is a question to be put to the mind and heart of Australia, in view of the destiny of Australia, and on which it is hoped all sections of the collective population will unite without regard to

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narrower considerations. Believing that the time is ripe for consolidating the Australias into one, this Government respectfully invites you to join in taking the first great step, namely, to appoint representatives of Victoria to a National Convention for the purpose of devising and reporting upon an adequate scheme of Federal Government. With much deference to the views of the other colonies, it is suggested that, in order to avoid any sense of inequality in debate or any party complexion, the number from each colony should be the same, and should be equally chosen from both sides in political life; and that, in the case of each colony, the representatives should be elected by Parliament and receive commissions from the Governor in Council. It is further suggested that six members from each colony would be a convenient number, both in regard to combining a fair representation of the two Houses, and at the same time not making the Convention too unwieldy. In each case four members might be taken from the Assembly, two from each side; and two members from the Council, one from each side. In the case of Western Australia, where only one House exists, possibly only four members might be elected. If New Zealand joined, the Convention would as a result consist of forty members.

The scheme of Federal Government, it is assumed, would necessarily follow close upon the type of the Dominion Government of Canada. It would provide for the appointment of a Governor-General, for the creation of an Australian Privy Council, and a Parliament consisting of a Senate and a House of Commons. In the work of the Convention, no doubt, the rich stores of political knowledge which were collected by the framers of the Constitution of the United States would be largely resorted to, as well as the vast accumulations of learning on cognate subjects since that time.

Although a great and pressing military question has brought to the surface the design of a Federal Government at the present juncture, the work of a national character which such a Government could, in the interest of all the colonies, most beneficially and effectively undertake, would include the noblest objects of

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peaceful and orderly progress; and every year the field of its beneficent operations would be rapidly expanding. I devoutly hope that you will be able to take the view which I have briefly explained, of the necessity now pressing upon these colonies to rise to a higher level of national life, which would give them a larger space before the eyes of the world, and in a hundred ways promote their united power and prosperity.

Permit me, in conclusion, to say that you place much too high an estimate on my individual influence, if you suppose that the accession of New South Wales to the Federal Council rests with me. In my judgment, there is no person and no party here that could persuade Parliament to sanction the representation of this colony in the present Federal Council.

I have the honour to be, Sir,

Your most obedient servant,


The Honourable Duncan Gillies, M.P., Premier,


Letter to the Honourable J.A. Cockburn, M.P., South Australia.

Colonial Secretary's Office, Sydney,

October 31, 1889.

Sir,—I have the honour to invite your attention to the question of the federalisation of Australian troops as raised by the memorandum of General Edwards. It is submitted that a careful consideration of the subject will lead to the conclusion that nothing short of a Federal Executive can carry out the General's recommendation.

In reply to a telegraphic despatch (I believe a circular) from the Government of Victoria, I have written giving a fairly full summary of the views of New South Wales on the matter, which we hold to be one of the first importance. I now enclose a copy of this letter, which I hope will receive your consideration.

This Government is anxious to approach the great question of a Federal Australia, which we believe is imminent in spite of all adverse circumstances, in a true federal spirit, untrammelled by any preconceived notions as to conditions, with an earnest

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desire to act in unison with the other colonies, and fully prepared to make our share of sacrifice to arrive at so noble a consummation.

I have, &c.



[Copy of Despatch to the Honourable Duncan Gillies, of October 30, 1889.]

Letter to the Honourable Sir H.A. Atkinson, K.C.M.G. New Zealand.

Colonial Secretary's Office, Sydney,

October 31, 1889.

Sir,—I have the honour to bring under your notice the great and pregnant question of establishing a Federal Government for Australia, or, better still, for Australia. I am not sufficiently informed to understand the feeling of the Parliament and people of New Zealand as to federal relations with the Continental Colonies. It may be readily seen that aspects of the main subject will forcibly present themselves to you, which will not, in the same light, be conspicuous to us; but I hope I shall be pardoned if I point out that in the event of the federation of the Australian colonies (which is only a question of a brief difference of time, in any case) an entirely new condition will arise for New Zealand, who will no longer be one of seven separate colonies, but a single colony in relation to a Federated Australian Power.

I simply hope New Zealand will join in this great movement. From my point of view, her interests in the broad light of this event are the same as ours.

I have written to the Government of Victoria giving a fair summary of the views of this Government on the question which presses upon us for solution at this juncture, and I beg to enclose a copy of my letter for your consideration.

I have, &c.



[Copy of Despatch to the Honourable Duncan Gillies, of October 30, 1889.]

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Letters similar in import to the one addressed to South Australia were addressed to Queensland, Tasmania, and Western Australia. Mr. Gillies, who acted with great consistency, frankness, and courtesy all through our negotiations, replied to my ‘proposals’ on November 13. In the meantime I was receiving communications from many quarters, some of them from persons in the highest positions. As things went on, naturally enough, new views opened to me, and suggestions were offered from far and near. I give the November letters:—

Premier's Office, Melbourne,

November 13, 1889.

Sir,—In dealing with your present proposals for a General Federal Parliament of Australia and a General Federal Government—specially urged now in view of the suggestions of Major-General Edwards on the organisation of the Australian forces, and the importance of securing some effective plan of combined action for defence—it is necessary to make some references to our correspondence a few months ago on the same subject.

This was then marked ‘Confidential,’ but inasmuch as your present circular letter, now under acknowledgment, deals with the whole question, the communications referred to have necessarily lost their confidential character. I therefore take the liberty here of directing your attention to my letter of August 12, with the view of saying that the general opinions I then expressed as to the practicability at present of constituting a Federal Parliament and Federal Government remain very much the same. But, although I have cause for grave doubts as to the success of such a movement at present, there are no reasons that I am aware of which should stand in the way of so serious and important a proposal being fully considered in all its aspects. To ensure that consideration, I would suggest to you that, instead of going through the form of the Parliaments appointing representatives to a Convention, it should be accepted

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as sufficient if the representatives of the various colonies at the Federal Council were to meet yourself and representatives from New South Wales to discuss and, if deemed necessary, to devise and report upon an adequate scheme of Federal Government.

The members of the Federal Council are representative public men, who possess the confidence of their respective colonies, and who could well consider this question without any undue usurpation of authority.

It may be accepted without demur that the number of the present members representing each of the colonies could with advantage be increased, so as to give a larger and wider selection (the desirability of which has been already recognised), but if this cannot be effected immediately, we may nevertheless accept the representation as it is. Appointments by Parliament for this specific purpose would be surrounded with many difficulties, one of which would be an objection to Parliament committing itself, without sufficient consideration, to the determination that the time was ripe to establish a Federal Parliament and Federal Government. The discussion and consideration of this important question by its Federal Council representatives would leave the Parliaments quite unfettered, and would, I submit, be more acceptable; and certainly it could leave no room for suspicion in the mind of Parliament that the members of the Federal Council were being discredited and intentionally thrust aside.

Connected with this question of the establishment of a Federal Parliament and Federal Government is still that other one which must be solved—whether a Federal Parliament and Federal Government be agreed to or not—and that is, to determine the steps to be taken now which will enable Australia to unite her forces in any emergency, and thereby make her defences effective. Even if the Federal Government be agreed to, it must take four or five years before it can be brought about, and should the proposal not be agreed to—should all not be able to see eye to eye—are we to remain a concourse of disintegrated atoms, so far as defence is concerned, and be prepared to sacrifice

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the national interests of Australia, rather than subordinate our individual preferences to obtain united action?

I have indicated that, whatever be the result of our discussion on the great Federation question, provision should at once be made for united action for defence, and I was therefore pleased to notice that you had re-examined the provisions of the Federal Council Act to see if relief could not be found there. This I look upon as a most favourable augury, because if relief could be found there you certainly would not refuse to accept help even if obtained from a quarter hitherto somewhat despised. To accomplish the purposes which are of primary importance in the matter of Australian Defence it is, I submit, not necessary that the Federal Council should possess or exercise executive authority. What is necessary is that it should legislate for Australia, and this it could do if all the colonies referred to it the subject of ‘General Defences’ to be legislated upon.

Under this head would be included:—

  • A General Discipline Act, in which provision could be made for the troops of one colony serving in another colony, and setting out the circumstances under which they could be sent or withdrawn.
  • The provisions necessary for placing such troops under the same authority as the local forces.
  • Provision to fix their pay and allowances when on service outside their own colony.
  • Provision for the appointment of a General Commanding Officer seconded for service in Australia, and such other provisions as may be necessary to secure the strongest defence for Australia on any emergency.

The object of these provisions is simply to enable the colonies of Australia to do what they cannot do now, viz.: act together in time of need. For this purpose the Council requires no executive authority: let it give the powers indicated above and the colonies can do the rest.

That a Federal Government clothed with the authority of a Federal Parliament could do much more, and do it much better,

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goes without saying. At this moment we have to deal with an essentially practical question, which demands solution, viz.: How can we secure united action for defence purposes? That question can be solved in the way I have indicated. Is that solution to be rejected because we may not be able at present to obtain a better one? I hope not.

It has certainly been urged by some that the Federal Council may pass its Acts but could not enforce them for want of executive authority; and they would, therefore, be a dead letter should any colony refuse to give effect to them. Very true, because they would simply be enabling Acts; but the assumption of the whole situation is—that every colony on this continent is anxious to be clothed with the power to act unitedly in the matter of defence, and that their troops should be enabled to stand shoulder to shoulder with the troops of other colonies in any emergency. If this assumption be wrong, then we are idling our time in further considering the matter. If, on the contrary, the assumption be correct, may I ask which colony will refuse to help when help is needed, or refuse to provide the necessary funds to do its part in the defence of Australia? It is not the first time that these colonies have acted together in matters involving a large expenditure of public money, without a thought of evading any responsibility; and, as we have required no Acts in the past, there is no reason to anticipate the necessity for Acts of coercion in the future to enforce payments of any honourable obligations.

You urge that from the use of the words ‘general defences’ it cannot be contended that they mean the creation, direction, mobilisation, and executive control of a great army for the defence of the whole of Australia. I quite agree with you, and I have never before heard of such a contention, nor, so far as I know, has it ever been contended that the Federal Council can have, under its present constitution (whatever may be referred to it), the power to create ‘a great army for the defence of the whole of Australia,’ nor that it can have the executive control such an army.

Neither of these things is at this stage necessary for our

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purpose; nor for years would it be possible to obtain them, if to-morrow it were agreed to establish a Federal Government. What we have, and desire to make the most of, is a small compact little force in each colony capable of good and effective work, if a law were enacted to make their mobilisation possible, as well as to secure their proper direction and control. It is to urge the importance of making this law speedily that I have invited your attention to the way in which the powers of the Federal Council can be exercised.

When we meet to discuss and consider these weighty questions in all their aspects, I sincerely hope that some satisfactory agreement may be arrived at; and I shall, indeed, be much gratified if we can agree on the larger question of the establishment of a Federal Parliament and Government; but I earnestly hope that in any event we may at least see our way to unite in securing, through the Federal Council, such legislation as will enable those recommendations of Major-General Edwards to be carried out which you have properly described as ‘of national magnitude and significance.’ It would be a sad disappointment should we fail in satisfactorily dealing with this lesser question, which, after all, is the practical matter which confronts us at the present time.

I attach a copy of my letter of August 12, in case you should have forgotten or mislaid it.

I have the honour to be, Sir,

Your most obedient Servant,



The Honourable Sir Henry Parkes, G.C.M.G.


Melbourne, August 12, 1889.

My dear Sir Henry,—You must not think from the delay that has taken place in answering your two letters—submitting suggestions for making a fresh start in Australian Federation— that I had, for the present, put the subject aside: on the contrary the whole question has from time to time been turned over

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in my mind. I gather from your letters, especially from the last one, that your proposal is to create a Federal Parliament of Australia consisting of two Houses, with an Executive Federal Government constitutionally responsible to the Federal Parliament—the Crown no doubt being represented by a Governor-General. This, of course, would be a Federation on the same lines as the Dominion of Canada. Whether the Parliament so created would in other respects be the same as that of the Dominion would depend on the powers granted to it, and those reserved to the local Parliaments.

It appears to me that, going on those lines, it would be impossible to stop short of granting to it supreme authority necessarily involving the power to levy taxes. I wish I could think that there was any present prospect of bringing this about.

On the various occasions when I urged you to join in the Federal movement, and not leave the parent Colony of New South Wales in a position of isolation, it was with the idea that you might suggest some alteration in the constitution of the Federal Council, which, if made, might make it possible for you to join.

If that were brought about, there is much that could be done for Australia's advantage. In the first place we shall be united; in the second place we could proceed to consider several important questions, which must be dealt with shortly, and which would well come within the province of the Council to deal with. As, for instance, to determine on the united action to be taken in the matter of defence; and to legislate so that the forces of one colony could be made available for service in any other colony; to advise on the best settlement of the Western Australian difficulty. These and others could be effectively dealt with much more so than by any conferences.

It will be within your knowledge that steps are now being taken by the various Legislatures of the colonies represented in the Federal Council to secure an increase in the number of the members, which will not only give more effective representation, but will also add weight to its deliberations.

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In turning the whole question over in my mind, I cannot help being forcibly impressed with the thought—that through the Federal Council, on its enlarged basis—we might be able to consider and formulate the proposals of the larger Federation, and certainly bring about in a much shorter space of time than could otherwise happen the accomplishment of the high purpose you have in view.

It must be borne in mind that for the future the Federal Council will not be represented (as it is now) nearly wholly by Ministers. It will naturally assume a more representative character, and, therefore, if necessary, might be clothed by the special authority of the various Legislatures with power to deal with the question.

Now why should you not join us to do this great work? What is the difficulty? Surely it would be a worthy ambition for you to adopt the best means at your disposal, in fact at your hand, to unite Australia in a Federation which would not only promote her material interests and strengthen her against aggression, but also powerfully aid in uniting and cementing together all parts of the great Empire of which she forms a part. No one at present can do the work but you. You can remove the Federation barrier which has been created by the isolation of New South Wales from all the other Colonies on the Federal movement. New South Wales did put her hand to the plough, and did draw back. It is for you to put your hand to the plough and not draw back. You have at your disposal the means, which I have suggested, if you wish to use them. My advice would be—spend no unnecessary time in trying new means, but make use of the agencies which exist, and which, when being used, will create no alarm in the minds of the timid.

What you may refuse to do to-day, someone else will do to-morrow, and I should be pleased to see you take the pride of place.

My deliberate judgment is, that by far the greatest hope that we can have of the larger Federation becoming a fact in

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the near future lies in working it by means of the smaller Federation which we have in our hands.

Now I have freely written what was in my mind to say.

Yours very truly,


The Honourable Sir Henry Parkes, G.C.M.G.


Colonial Secretary's Office, Sydney,

November 28, 1889.

Sir,—In reply to your letter of the 22nd instant, and in further reference to your previous despatch of the 13th, I beg to state that I wished to be understood in last writing to you as anxious to make clear my position as an individual in relation to the Federal Council; and I again assure you that the action of New South Wales in remaining aloof from the Council, so far as I can form a correct opinion, has never in any material degree rested with me. In point of fact, the Ministers who represented this colony in the Convention of 1883 were unable to carry motions in the Parliament of the time in favour of New South Wales joining the Council, notwithstanding that they were generally supported by large majorities.

It does not, however, appear to be necessary to enter into any further discussion on the circumstances affecting the attitude of New South Wales in 1883 and the intervening years. She now offers her hand to the other colonies, without reserve and without stipulation for any advantage to herself, and invites them to meet on equal ground in the great cause of Australian union, which she believes represents the soundest sentiments and the highest interests of the Australian populations. The cordial spirit of agreement on the main issue that pervades the correspondence of all the Governments leads me and my colleagues, after the most careful reconsideration of the whole question, so far as at present it is advanced, to accept virtually the suggestions offered by you in your despatch of the 13th instant. Though I must be permitted to take exception to some of your reasonings, I am not disposed to raise any serious objection to the conclusion you arrive at in favour of an informal

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meeting of the colonies for the purposes of preliminary consultation. It will be a great step to meet on a common ground.

It seems difficult to meet the argument that any representative body, authorised to discuss in its preliminary stages the question of the unification of the colonies, should be credited for such weighty purpose in the highest popular form known to us under Constitutional Government, and that would be election by the several Parliaments. Nor can I easily see how the Parliaments could be ‘fettered,’ or placed in any condition inconsistent with the genius of Parliamentary institutions, by deliberating and arriving at a decision on Federation any more than on any other subject whatever. I submit that it is the chief function of a Parliament, in the exercise of its powers, to commit itself, or refuse to commit itself, to the question it has in hand. And even in the case of refusal, the great principle imbedded in the foundation of such institutions operates to refer the question to the primary bodies that originate and give shape and impetus to Parliaments. It is more than probable that a question so intimately concerning the whole Australian people, and on which the wishes of the people ought to be kept constantly in view, will not be decided without appeals to the electoral voice; and there can be no truer wisdom in a democracy than that a movement so momentous in its consequences, when its foundation principles have once been clearly stated, should throughout receive the support of the national majority.

Nor can I admit that several years need be consumed in the establishment of an Australian Federal Government. In the North American colonies the difficulties, racial, territorial, and geographical, were incomparably greater than anything that can possibly arise with us. Of all communities that have ever appeared in history, the Australian communities are, perhaps, the most fitted for, and present the fewest impediments to, just National union. Since I first addressed you on the subject, I think the evidence has made itself apparent that the season is ripe for the work of laying, wide and deep, the foundations of the new structure of Government.

If I rightly read the language addressed to me by yourself,

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by the Governments of Queensland and South Australia, and by the other Governments, it is that representatives of this colony should meet the members of the existing Federal Council as ‘representative public men’ to discuss the whole question as now presented, and in the light of what is best for Australia. I only have to add that this colony will be happy to meet the other colonies on these terms.

I have the honour to be, Sir,

Your most obedient Servant,


The Honourable Duncan Gillies, M.P., Premier,


It will be observed that in my letter to Dr. Cockburn, of South Australia, I say: ‘The Government is anxious to approach the great question of a Federal Australia, which we believe is imminent in spite of all adverse circumstances, in a true federal spirit, untrammelled by any preconceived notions as to conditions, with an earnest desire to act in unison with the other colonies, and fully prepared to make our share of sacrifice to arrive at so noble a consummation.’ In this high spirit the Government acted from the first step. In nearly every speech I delivered, I repeated words to the same effect. As a Government we did our utmost to lift the discussion to a level above all huckstering tactics and all attempts at provincial favouritism. And from the first we announced that we were prepared for obstacles, reverses, temporary failures, and for backslidings and desertions on the part of pretended friends; and we never ceased to express our belief, that, ‘in spite of all adverse circumstances,’ the cause would in the end triumph.

It is now (the end of June, 1892) two years and

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eight months since the date of my first letter to Mr. Gillies, and a mighty work has been done; every mind in Australia has been familiarised with the idea of an united People; the intellect of Europe and of America has been attracted to us by our aspirations to live under a Federal flag and a Federal Government. A great Conference has been held, representative of the several Australian Governments, with unanimity in its voice in favour of federation; a great Convention has met, representative of the several Australian Parliaments, with unanimity in its decisions in support of federation. Men in office may come and go—the puppets of temporary power may rise and fall—a great cause may be flouted to propitiate the dispenser of portfolios in a Ministerial crisis; but the people of the colonies— British-born and Australian-born alike—are sound in their resolve to be united. I have myself addressed various audiences on this question of questions—in my own electorate, in other of the populous suburbs of Sydney—in one of the most crowded and enthusiastic meetings ever held in Sydney itselfnote—in the large inland cities—in the Border towns; and every clear exposition

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of the case was received with that ring of cheers which cannot be mistaken for any ebullition of factious or local feeling. The newspaper press is almost unanimous on the subject; the leading minds throughout Australia are in warm sympathy with the cause.

In new countries there is, more plentifully than in old states, a class of men who, by active industry, strong common sense, habits of thrift and sobriety, and sympathy with their fellows, rise to positions of influence without the adventitious aids which are extended to persons born in more favourable circumstances. These men are found everywhere, and they are always central figures in social and political movements. In them natural ability repairs the defects of education, and earnestness supplies the place of eloquence. Among the letters received by me in support of my views many came from this influential class. I select two from the late Mr. James Fletcher, member for the city of Newcastle. Mr. Fletcher held office twice with Mr. Dibbs, and was a consistent member of the party opposed to me. He has been some time in his grave, and he died respected by all classes. The following are his letters:—

October 31, 1889.

My dear Sir,—I have gone as fully into the principles embodied in your circular letter addressed to the Premier of Victoria as the limited time at my disposal would permit.

In the first place, allow me to say that I am, and always have been, strenuously opposed to anything pertaining to what is known as Imperial federation. If we are to have federation, it must be apart altogether from Imperial interference.

The people of the colony must be the judges of what is best

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and most conducive to their own interest, and, in my opinion, the ties between us and the mother-country can only be maintained by our having the executive control in managing our own internal affairs.

The so-called Federal Council, established some five or six years ago, was looked upon by many, yourself included, as somewhat farcical, and the subsequent events prove how correct you and others were in that decision; and I hope you will not consider me harsh in expressing an opinion that the creators of that Council did not grasp the situation, nor comprehend the magnitude of what was to be accomplished by an Australian federation. The defences of the colony, however important, are only one factor of what is intended to be done by a Federal Government. If we are to have a Federal Government, I unhesitatingly say that it must be on the lines which you have so lucidly enunciated in the circular under consideration. Any such Council, to be beneficial, should, I contend, be representative, and to be representative it must be chosen either by the people direct or by the Parliament of each colony.

There may be a difference of opinion as to the necessity of giving effect to your recommendation at the present time; but, considering the magnitude and importance of your project, and the power that such a scheme will exercise either for weal or woe on the future of these colonies, and recognising the well-known maxim that ‘no great legislation should be done in the time of excitement,’ I concur with you that this is a fitting opportunity, in the absence of any national disturbance, to bring about your very desirable proposal.

The petty jealousies existing between the colonies must necessarily be inimical to their best interests, and the progress we have made in the past is due to our vast natural resources rather than to any united efforts of colonial representation.

It is admitted by all who have devoted any attention to the subject, that our arid plains can be made productive by the means of irrigation, in order to accomplish which it will be necessary to break down the barrier which is caused by the existing boundary water-rights of each colony.

  ― 357 ―

Then again the treatment of the Western Australia question by the Imperial authorities points to the necessity for a consolidation of our interests.

Your proposal for each of the colonies to be represented at a Conference is in my opinion a good one. It will tend to dispose of the idea that any one colony desires to dictate to the others, and will therefore break down the curse of all progress —jealousy. In dealing with this question, I hope it will be met with in the spirit of fairness, and that the importance of the subject will raise it above party politics, and that we shall join with you in endeavouring to lay the foundation stone of a great and glorious Australian Empire.

I notice by the press that the gentleman appointed as Governor for Victoria is entrusted with a commission of bringing about Imperial Federation. If such is attempted, I unhesitatingly predict it will cause very strained relations between the colonies and the mother-country, and may not stop at that. I am proud to say that, however much we may differ politically on minor matters, I have always admired the noble stand you have taken in maintaining the full measure of liberty for the people of this colony, and your determined opposition to any attempt of Imperial interference, and trust you will always continue to pursue the same course.

I can only speak for myself, and as such permit me to say, that I heartily approve not only of your worthy intentions, but also of the proposed mode of consummating them, which shall have my support. I have no sympathy with those croakers who say the question is premature. If it be good, and I maintain it is, the sooner we have it the better; and I think, taking into consideration all the collateral circumstances, you deserve every credit.

I am,

Yours truly,


The Honourable Sir Henry Parkes, G.C.M.G.

Colonial Secretary.

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My dear Sir,—I am in receipt of your note of the 2nd inst., and it is gratifying to me to learn that my hurriedly written letter in reference to the Federation of the colonies meets with your approval. I concur in your remarks that the accomplishment of the great principle does not depend upon the persons now in Executive Office, but nevertheless permit me to say that, in my opinion, it will facilitate the accomplishment of the great work to have it commenced at the present time. You are the initiator of the movement, and I trust you will persevere until a Federated Australia is an accomplished fact.

I am,

Yours very truly,


The Honourable Sir Henry Parkes, G.C.M.G., &c. &c.

The Melbourne Conference unanimously concurred in the expediency of calling into existence a Parliamentary Convention (the first ever called in Australia) to frame a Federal Constitution, and the Ministers present agreed to invite their respective Parliaments to elect members to such Convention. In all the six Australian colonies, and also in New Zealand, the elections duly took place. The New South Wales delegates were Mr. William Henry Suttor, Sir Patrick A. Jennings, Mr. Edward Barton, the present Speaker, Sir Joseph Palmer Abbott, Mr. George R. Dibbs, Mr. William McMillan, and myself. All these gentlemen, on my invitation, met at my house to talk over in an informal way the position of the representatives of New South Wales, and their most advisable course of action. When they assembled, the conversation, which was of the most friendly and cordial character, naturally

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drifted into a desultory discussion of the principles which should form the foundation of any Federal Constitution. Thinking over the same subject a day or two previously, I had drafted a set of resolutions which I laid before them. So far as my memory serves me, no objection was raised to any of my resolutions except the fourth, in respect to which it was urged that any mention of the public lands would be inadvisable. The fourth section was accordingly omitted, and it was agreed that I should submit the resolutions in the amended form. The following is my original draft:

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 trade and intercourse between the Federated Colonies, whether by means of land carriage or coastal navigation, shall be free from the payment of Customs duties, and from all restrictions whatsoever, except such regulations as may be necessary for the conduct of business.
  • 2. That the power and authority to impose Customs duties shall be exclusively lodged in the Federal Government and Parliament, subject to such disposal of the revenues thence derived as shall be approved by the Federal and Provincial Parliaments.
  • 3. That the Military Defence of Australia shall be entrusted to armies or corps to be styled the Federal Forces, under one Commander-in-Chief, and such bodies of Militia or Volunteers as may be raised by the Provincial Governments.
  • 4. That it shall be reserved to a High Commission, representing all the Federated Colonies, to enquire into, consider, and recommend for adoption an equitable scheme for the distribution of the public lands, and the

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    satisfying of existing territorial rights, such scheme keeping in view both the necessary strength of the National Government and the just claims of the respective provinces. The Report of such High Commission to be made to the Governor-General within two years from the date of its appointment, which shall be by a majority of at least two-thirds of the Federated Colonies. The final settlement to be made by a Bill of the Federal Parliament, approved, before being presented for the Royal Assent, by a majority of the Provincial Parliaments.

Subject to these and other necessary provisions, this Convention approves of the framing of a Federal Constitution, which shall establish,—

  • 1. A Parliament, to consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives, the former consisting of an equal number of members from each province to be elected by a system which shall provide for the retirement of one-third of the members every seven years, so securing to the body itself a perpetual existence, combined with definite responsibility to the electors, the latter to be elected by districts possessing severally an equality of representation.
  • 2. A Judiciary, consisting of a Federal Supreme Court of not fewer than ten Judges, which shall have power to constitute itself a High Court of Appeal for Australia, under the direct authority of the Sovereign, and whose decisions as such shall be final.
  • 3. An Executive, consisting of a Governor-General, and such persons as may from time to time be appointed as his advisers, and whose term of office shall depend upon their possessing the confidence of the House of Representatives expressed by the support of the majority.

That a Committee be appointed, consisting ............... to prepare and Report upon a Constitution to establish a

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National Federal Government in accordance with the principles herein set forth.

In drafting the omitted section, I had in view the Northern part of Queensland, the Northern territory of South Australia, and the enormous tracts of land within the boundaries of Western Australia, which never can be turned to proper account by the Government of Perth. The thoughts which occurred to me must have occurred to hundreds of other minds. There is something almost startling in the fact that the Western Australian Government, with its handful of 45,000 inhabitants, nominally holds one-third of Australia. The late lamented J. M. McCrossan, delegate from Queensland to both the Conference and the Convention, uttered some pregnant words in a remarkable speech at the Conference. Mr. McCrossan was an earnest democrat, whose democracy was not of the frothy order, but had a scientific basis and a symmetry in the adaptation of ideas to facts. He was, moreover, an earnest member of the Roman Catholic Church. Mr. McCrossan, unfortunately for Australia, died while serving as a member of the Sydney Convention, comparatively a young man, and every true friend of federation must regret his premature death. I had moved the following resolution as the first business of the Conference, after settling the order of proceedings:—

That in the opinion of this Conference, the best interests and the present and future prosperity of the Australasian Colonies will be promoted by an early union under the Crown, and, while fully recognising the valuable services of the members of the Convention of 1883 in founding the Federal Council, it

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declares its opinion that the seven years which have since elapsed have developed the national life of Australasia in population, in wealth, in the discovery of resources, and in selfgoverning capacity, to an extent which justifies the higher act, at all times contemplated, of the union of these Colonies under one Legislative and Executive Government, on principles just to the several colonies.

In the debate that followed, Mr. McCrossan, speaking on February 12, said:—

There is the question of the public lands. I confess I have not quite made up my mind on that question, although I may say that I think the public lands should be under the control of the Federal Executive. We have two examples before us of the federation of peoples of our own race, in the cases of Canada and America. In the United States of America, the Federal Government has the full and sole control of all the public lands, and no one can say that the public lands of the United States have not been well administered and well managed. In Canada the Dominion Parliament left the control of the public lands to the local Governments. Whether the public lands of Canada have been as well administered as the public lands of the United States I cannot say; probably other members of the Conference are better informed on that point than I am. But we have these two opposite systems to consider between this and the meeting of the Federal Convention, which I hope to see assemble in a few months. In the meantime I think myself that the balance of opinion is in favour of the Federal Government having control of the public lands.

Sir, I believe that the people of these colonies are far more ripe in the cause of Federation than some honourable gentlemen in this Conference give them the credit of being. I thoroughly believe that if the question was put to the colonies to-morrow, as certain questions are sometimes put in Switzerland and in other countries under what is called the Referendum, the majority of the people of Australia would vote for Federation as against

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no Federation. And I believe, also, that they would give their votes intelligently, knowing what Federation meant, what sacrifices would have to be made by the different local Legislatures; knowing, also, that it would mean the establishment of a Federal Executive and a Federal Parliament, with which they would have very little or no intimate connection. Now, if my honourable colleague [Sir Samuel Griffith] believes that, as I think he does, why should he, or any other member of this Conference, be afraid to give expression to the opinion? Why should we, who believe so thoroughly in Federation, be afraid to raise the standard of Federation, which we feel ought to be raised, but which seemingly we are too timid to raise for fear of offending the susceptibilities of timid Conservative people. Then, again, my honourable colleague thinks that the people of Queensland might be opposed to Federation because they are opposed to centralisation, being separationists in some parts of the colony; but the honourable gentleman ought to know, and I think he does know, that those people who are actually the strongest separationists are the most ardent of federationists.

Sir SAMUEL GRIFFITH.—Hear, hear.

Mr. McCROSSAN.—The whole of the people of Northern Queensland, who are separationists, are as strong in the principle of Federation as I am, therefore the argument that the people are opposed to Federation because they are afraid of centralisation has no force or effect whatever, as far as Queensland is concerned. Centralisation has no terror for anyone who thinks upon the subject, if sufficient local autonomy is left to the local legislatures. If we were to have a Legislative Union it would be a different matter; if we were proposing to destroy the local legislatures it would be a different thing entirely; but if we leave sufficient authority, as we ought to do, to the local legislatures, Federal Government or centralisation can only have the effect of making men believe that which we wish them to believe—that they are first Australians, and then Queenslanders, South Australians, or Victorians. Then, again, on the other hand, we must, I think, give to the Federal Parliament the full control of the waste lands of the Crown. I have said already that I am in

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doubt whether I would give the Federal Parliament the control of all the Crown lands, but there is a large amount of waste lands of the Crown almost outside of civilisation which I think the Federal Parliament should have the full control of, and the Federal Parliament should also have the same control over the territorial jurisdiction of such outside parts or portions of Western Australia and the northern territory for the formation of new States. Every power and authority now exercised by the Imperial Parliament over those parts of Australia should be exercised by the Federal Parliament, and I believe that those powers would be exercised by the Federal Parliament in a more beneficial and intelligent manner than obtains at present, because the power would be exercised by those who know the character of the country and the requirements of the people they are dealing with. I believe also that power should be given to the Federal Parliament—as it is given to the Imperial Parliament—to cut up, if thought necessary, the different existing colonies of Australia, and form them into smaller States. I consider that the colonies of Australia are too large for good government. Some of the existing colonies, such as Queensland, South Australia, and Western Australia, are far too large for good government.

Large States are never so well governed as small ones, and, therefore, the Federal Parliament ought to be empowered to cut up the larger colonies into smaller colonies, as the Federal Government of America has cut up the larger States into smaller States when it has been deemed expedient and just to do so. This may be an extreme opinion, but it is one I have held for a long time, and it is one which I am certain will not be opposed by my constituents in Queensland.

I quote these passages from Mr. McCrossan's speech on account of their originality in contrast to the platitudes indulged in by others; and his consideration of what he conceived to be the desirable scope of the discussion

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and the conditions of success in the accomplishment of the great object was not less remarkable. Mr. Playford, who is nothing unless he is literal, had complained of my resolution, which in fact belonged as much to Mr. Gillies and to Mr. Deakin as to me, because it did not embody some definite proposal—did not give some outline of a Government, and he characterised it as ‘bald.’ Mr. McCrossan replied to this objection:—

I thoroughly approve of the resolution proposed by Sir Henry Parkes. I approve of the resolution word for word, with the exception, perhaps, of the word ‘Australasian,’ to which the New Zealand delegates have alluded. Although certain members of the Conference have thought such a motion is too vague and indefinite, I consider Sir Henry Parkes has shown his wise discretion in proposing it. Judging from the speeches which have been made, Sir Henry Parkes must have had the prescience that, if he had proposed a motion more precise and definite, we probably should never have arrived at an unanimous decision upon it. Therefore I approve of the motion most heartily.

My resolution was passed unanimously by the Conference, and may be regarded as the beginning of federal agreement. Of course I do not commit myself to Mr. McCrossan's views on the division of Australian territory, and it is probable that he only gave expression to them at that time as speculative and suggestive. But as enunciations of doctrine and theory on the founding of new States, his views may be accepted as laying down as a fundamental principle, that excessive area is not necessary, but positively detrimental, to national growth and development. In that general view I entirely concur, though I have been, and am still, quite prepared to leave territorial divisions as

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they now exist, rather than create new obstacles to federation. As a matter of reason and logical forecast, it cannot be doubted that if the Union were inaugurated with double the number of the present colonies, the growth and prosperity of all would be more absolutely assured. It would add immeasurably to the national importance of the new Commonwealth, and would be of immense advantage to Western Australia, South Australia, and Queensland themselves, if four or five new colonies were cut out of their vast and unmanageable territories.note

The memorable Convention met in Sydney on March 2, 1891. I call it ‘memorable,’ because it was beyond all dispute the most august assembly which Australia had ever seen, and because the majority of its members were men who yielded to none of their compatriots in their fitness to do the work which had to be done. If we apply the democratic rule, and apply it strictly, these men had all risen to positions of eminence in their respective countries—some to the highest positions—by their own merits and force of character, without any of the aids of fortune; and their number included all the Prime Ministers of Australia, and nine others, including Sir George Grey, Mr. Gillies, and Sir Thomas McIlwraith, who had held the office of Prime Minister in former Governments. They had been elected by all the Parliaments of the colonies, and, therefore, in a constitutional sense, they represented all the people of Australia. It is difficult to see what

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democracy could desire, if this was not a democratic gathering. The Convention conducted its proceedings with large knowledge and clear argument, and with a personal dignity and a stateliness of debate which secured the public respect.

On the 4th, pursuant to notice, I moved my amended resolutions in the following form:—

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) That the trade and intercourse between the federated colonies, whether by means of land carriage or coastal navigation, shall be absolutely free.
  • (3) That the power and authority to impose Customs duties shall be exclusively lodged in the Federal Government and Parliament, subject to such disposal of the revenues thence derived as shall be agreed upon.
  • (4) That the military and naval defence of Australia shall be entrusted to federal forces, under one command.

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

  • (1) A Parliament, to consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives, the former consisting of an equal number of members from each province, to be elected by a system which shall provide for the retirement of one-third of the members every … years, 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

      ― 368 ―
    possess the sole power of originating and amending 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, under the direct authority of the Sovereign, whose decisions as such shall be final.
  • (3) An executive, consisting of a Governor-General, and such persons as may from time to time be appointed as his advisers, such persons sitting in Parliament, and whose term of office shall depend upon their possessing the confidence of the House of Representatives expressed by the support of the majority.

The debate extended over six days, when the Convention went into Committee to consider the resolutions in detail. After prolonged consideration in Committee, the resolutions were reported with amendments on the 18th. On account of their historical significance, I give the resolutions again with the alterations made in Committee:—

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 means of land carriage or coastal navigation, shall be absolutely free.

  •   ― 369 ―
  • (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.
  • (5) That the Military and Naval Defence of Australia shall be entrusted to Federal Forces, under one command.
  • (6) That provision should 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, to 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 may from time to time be appointed as his advisers.

On motion of Mr. W. H. SUTTOR, the resolutions were adopted.

The new matter introduced is printed in italics; in the Parliament section the word ‘province’ and the words ‘and amending’ are omitted; in the Judiciary

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section, the words ‘under the direct authority of the Sovereign, whose decisions as such shall be final,’ are omitted; and in the Executive section, the words ‘such persons sitting in Parliament, and whose term of office shall depend upon their possessing the confidence of the House of Representatives expressed by the support of the majority,’ are omitted.

Under these instructions the Convention appointed a committee to draft a Constitution, which, when reported, was fully debated in the full House. With much research, much labour, and much care, the Convention did the work for which it had been elected—it framed a Constitution for a Federal Government, which will bear comparison, at the hands of intelligent men, with the most liberal constitutions in the world.

The President declared the Convention dissolved on April 9, 1891. More than fourteen months have passed away since that date, and no step worthy of Government or people has been taken by the Australian Parliaments to bring under consideration the labours of the body which they themselves created for this high duty. Let us endeavour to discover the cause of this strange negligence. There is no evidence that the interest in the question among the people has in any degree abated. The thinking portion of the populations, in the churches, in official circles, in the public press, have grown warmer in support from closer acquaintance with the project of union. Why, then, this delay?

I will take the case of New South Wales. The

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Government, which I had the honour to lead, lost no time in convening Parliament. The financial year is from January 1 until December 31, and Parliament met on May 19, forty days after the rising of the Convention, and when there were seven months and twelve days, covered by constitutional provision for the public service, in which to transact the business of the country. We had two chief reasons for calling Parliament together thus early: (1) To allow ample time for the consideration of the draft Bill of the Convention, and (2) to ensure the passing into law of a Bill to establish a system of local self-government for the country districts. Other important business was announced, but these were the principal measures of urgency. It seems to me impossible for any man to deny that the conduct of the Government was prompt, open, and straightforward. The Governor was made to say in the opening Speech:—

I have called you together at the period which has been affirmed by the Legislative Assembly as the most convenient for the opening of the Session of the year, and while fully half the time, for which the public service is legally provided, remains unexpired, in order that the course of your legislative labours may not be interrupted by the exigency of temporary Supply Bills. It is hoped that the winter season for the sitting of Parliament will be found more conducive to the economy of time, and the lessening of the sacrifices which honourable members are called upon to make in attending to their public duties.

During the recess the National Federation Convention, to which you appointed representatives of this colony, assembled in Sydney. It met on March 2, and concluded its labours on April 9. The scheme for a Federal Constitution, which that body was instructed as its sole work to frame, will be laid before

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you in the form of a carefully drawn Bill—the result of much deliberation, argumentative contention, and necessary compromise. In reference to this important measure—the work of the foremost men in the public life of Australia—no time will be lost in submitting to you a resolution as a distinct part of the policy of my advisers; and I feel the fullest confidence that it will receive at your hands the enlightened consideration, which the great object before you, and the grave character of the national undertaking which was begun with your concurrence and participation, so eminently demand.

A Bill has been prepared, and will be immediately submitted for your consideration, to confer upon the people of New South Wales the advantages of self-government, giving to the inhabitants of defined areas full authority in the direction of the local affairs of their respective districts.

Another matter was mentioned in the Speech which ought not to be omitted here, as it bears an intimate relation to the state of things which followed some weeks later. There was no Labour party at this time in Parliament. That body made its appearance in the general election of the following month. But Ministers had given much consideration to the great strike in 1890; a Royal Commission had been appointed to investigate the causes of industrial disputes, and to suggest remedies. After enumerating other measures, the Speech contained the following paragraph:—

All parties in the State must have viewed with concern and anxiety the repeated disturbances to the legitimate pursuits of industry and trade which have been caused by the lamentable disputes between the class of employers and the great labour classes of the colony. It is impossible to estimate the enormous loss which must have resulted from these disputes. Works have been closed, and ships driven away from our ports; enterprise has been paralysed, and capital alarmed into seeking

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foreign fields of investment; angry and evil feelings have been engendered between men who have never had any personal cause of quarrel; and the cruel weight of the widespread misery has widely fallen, not upon the leaders, but upon the helpless and innocent members of workmen's families. A commission has been sitting for several months past to enquire into, and report upon, this difficult and painful subject. You will be invited to consider a Bill for dealing with the problem presented for solution by the constitution of courts of conciliation, and of tribunals to conduct and determine cases of arbitration in final resort, and to make other provision for the settlement of trade disputes.

On the same day, when the Address in reply was moved in the Assembly, I gave notice of a motion for the consideration of the draft Federal Constitution, which would have brought on a regular debate on the work of the Convention, and afforded every opportunity for members to propose amendments. But this did not suit the arch-plotter against federation, Mr. George Houston Reid, who had made up his mind not to allow, so far as he had power, an open and unprejudiced discussion of the momentous question. In the previous Session Mr. Reid, after endeavouring to elicit opposition, and failing in his endeavours, had voted for the delegates to the Convention: but he made no secret afterwards, first, of his cynical doubts, and then of his open hostility. His position would have been trying to a sensitive nature. He nominally belonged to the Ministerial side; he talked bitterly against the Protectionists on the Opposition benches; he professed to be anxious for a Local Government Bill—indeed he had lately threatened the Government in a noisy public

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meeting if they did not produce a measure of that kind. But he could not restrain himself sufficiently to wait for my motion, which he knew would be the first business. I was the leader of the House, and I had been the duly elected President of the Convention; even if it had not been my rightful place, common courtesy would have allowed me to introduce this particular business, which I was prepared to do the first moment possible. But Mr. Reid calculated that, if he took a course which would embarrass the Government, he was sure of the assistance of the Protectionist opposition. So Mr. Reid moved an amendment on the Address. He knew that if his amendment were carried, Ministers would either resign or advise a dissolution. But neither his anxiety for the Local Government Bill, nor his sense of duty, was powerful enough to hold him back. He had brooded over his amendment for days past, had exhibited it to admirers male and female, and had dreamed of the laurels of victory. In making his motion, Mr. Reid was fluent, as he always is,—fluent as a water-spout after a heavy rain; but his speech was barren of thought, and where not vituperative, simply dull. Mr. Reid was mistaken in his calculations; a large number of the Opposition, knowing well the sentiments of their constituents, voted against him, and his amendment was lost by 67 votes against 35. What was Mr. Reid's next act? The Opposition, thinking that they saw an advantage in the excitement of the moment, took the extreme course of voting against the Address itself, which of course, if successful, would have been the severest vote of censure, and Mr. Reid,

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mastering his intense anxiety for the Local Government Bill, joined in that purely factious vote.

After these wasted two days at the opening of the Session, Ministers met in Cabinet to consider the prospect rather than the situation. The Triennial Parliament had only a little over eight months of its life to run out. The heat and temper displayed in the last division which sought to expunge from the records the Address in reply to the Governor's Speech, and other evidence within our knowledge, satisfied us that the tactics of our opponents would be to prevent us from doing useful work, to demoralise us, and then force us to the country,—that, if any pretext could be twisted to serve the purpose, the picture would be drawn before the eyes of the electors, that we had consumed our time in the ‘fad’ of federation (a favourite term of our opponents), and had neglected the legislation so urgently required for the advancement of New South Wales. Two nights had already been spent in debating federation, and it appeared to us, under the altered state of circumstances, unwise to bring on another debate, until some progress were made with the urgent business which belonged exclusively to the colony. The Cabinet came to a decision in accordance with this reasoning. The leader of the Opposition, Mr. Dibbs, now came to the front with a direct motion of want of confidence. No one could complain of this as a party move, but the case was different with Mr. Reid; he, according to his own profession, was a Free-trader of Free-traders; he had personally concurred in the formation of the Government, having first been invited to

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join it; he now walked boldly over, with one or two other disunionist Free-traders, to swell the solid vote of the Protectionists. In that division the two sides were equal, the Speaker giving his casting vote against the motion. This lost to that Parliament all chance of dealing with the cause of Australian union. A few days afterwards the Assembly was dissolved.

East Sydney, Mr. Reid's constituency, returns four members. In the general election, Mr. Reid, who hitherto had always been first or second, was now left last on the poll, with a respectable distance between him and the third man. All the Ministers, with one exception, were returned at the head of the poll. Many circumstances, but chiefly the advent of the Labour party, contributed to confuse the issue of the elections. But in no part of the colony, where the case was clearly put, was the feeling less strong and enthusiastic in favour of federation. I spoke on the subject in various parts of the country—in Sydney, in St. Leonard's at Lithgow, at Goulburn, at Wagga, at Albury, at Deniliquin, at Jerilderie, at Nerandera, and at other places; and while I received unstinted marks of approval, I met with no feeling of dissent.

The new Parliament met in July, and Mr. Dibbs was at once prepared to try his fortunes with another motion of want of confidence. I believe my colleagues shared my own feeling, that, with the new element in the House, we had an unknown region before us, and that we were not over-anxious to win on Mr. Dibbs's motion. To me it seemed that it might be well to let him and his friends try their hands with our

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new masters. But the bulk of the Labour members decided to support the Ministry, and the division gave us a decisive majority. The Labour party behaved honourably enough. They had been elected to obtain legislation for their fellow-workers, and they would not have been honest men if they had not pressed for the introduction of the measures to which they were pledged. So far as we were concerned, we needed no pressure, as most of the Bills so loudly called for were already prepared in our hands. With the Labour force in our majority, we had to choose between proceeding with the legislation, which both we and they believed to be necessary for the well-being of the masses, and giving up office with a large majority in our favour. It was unreasonable to expect the Labour members to agree to our setting aside all provincial—I use the term for the purpose of distinction—all provincial matters, however important, for the great national question of federation. We decided to place federation third in our programme of Parliamentary measures, and so it stood when we had to retire from office. In reality, it was morally impossible for us to deal with federation between May 19 and October 22, when we ceased to be a Government.

In the other colonies no better progress has been made; in most of them nothing whatever has been done. The fault does not lie with the people, but in the multiplicity of petty interests which block the way in Parliament, and in the jealousies and cross purposes of men who have not been elected to deal with a mighty question which is wholly new to their

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experience and extends itself far beyond their accustomed vision.

The Australian Parliaments have upon the whole worked beneficially for the colonies, and many men who have served the electors have deserved well of their country. This may be freely admitted, and yet the fact remains, that men are often elected on no visible or conceivable ground of personal fitness for the business of Parliament. Small local interests are allowed to have inordinate weight, and traits of personal character, not always of the best stamp, act as a loadstone to the votes of certain classes of men. The cricket-ground and the racecourse are nurseries of one order of politicians, and another order is reared in Temperance organisations and debating clubs. And beyond all question, the ecclesiastical craving for power, especially in one church, overrides every other consideration. It is not, therefore, surprising that groups of men are found in every Australian Assembly, who find it difficult to understand the clearest argument in support of an entirely new constitutional structure. This was made painfully evident in recent discussions, where it appeared to be an impossibility for some minds to see, that the Convention of 1891 could not impose an uniform electoral system on all the colonies, and that in each colony, as a question of right, the electoral law must be left with its own legislature. Of course, wherever an element of weakness exists, there will appear men of political cunning and tortuous courses to use it for wrong purposes. It may not be to their own advantage, or to the advancement of any cause in which they

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profess to believe, but it may serve to gratify their ill-will in some direction, or their simple love of confusion.

Seeing that there are in Australia six independent Parliaments, with six distinct Executive Councils, the difficulties in the way of legislative agreement appear to be the more formidable the more they are examined. If the question could be resolved into a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ it would be easy enough. But to analyse, criticise, and synthesise (if I may use the term), a complex political organism seems beyond the functions of a body with many voices and conflicting wills, and in which the most competent and the most incompetent have equal weight in a general vote. It is almost like a skilful clockmaker being associated on equal terms with a sailor and a tailor, a shoemaker and a weaver, a black-smith and a bricklayer, in the making or the repairing of a chronometer. But if done in one House of Parliament, it must be done in both; and if in one colony, still in like manner in the Parliament of each of the other five colonies. The difficulty might in some measure be got over, if the Parliament were elected on the one question of the Federal Constitution, but that would be of no use in one colony, unless the same thing were done in each of the other colonies, because all must eventually join in the required approval. In New South Wales the Government is under a pledge to submit the draft constitution of the Convention for the consideration of Parliament, and it cannot be delayed without a breach of honour when Parliament reassembles. If by moderate counsels and good fortune

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it should be approved with reasonable and relevant amendments, the example will have a powerful effect in the other colonies. In any case the Australian people are masters of the situation.

The Constitution framed by the Sydney Convention is before the world. If we take the ground of the extreme objectors, very slight amendments, hardly touching its principles, would meet their pessimistic views. The cavil which has been raised is more one of phraseology than of principle. Any Constitution that can possibly be embodied in language, if fit for a free people, must be largely—almost wholly—modelled on the Convention Bill. Let the Australian people, from sea to sea—East and West, North and South, take heed of this, and if the question is too big for their Parliaments, let them take it into their own hands. There is nothing to prevent the election of a Federal Congress representing all the colonies and the whole people. A Council of Founders might be chosen to revise the draft Bill of the Convention or to frame a new Bill, to be presented to the several Parliaments for acceptance or rejection. Let it never be forgotten that it is not the approval of the few men who form the Parliament of the day, but the ratification by the people who constitute the nation, either through their representatives or by their direct voice, which is required. It will never do to allow the destiny of Australia to be made the sport of paltering politicians, who are here to-day and gone to-morrow; if the people but once awaken to the full grandeur of the movement, the end of their labours will soon be in sight.