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7. CHAPTER VII

THE FOURTH PARKES MINISTRY—CONDUCT OF THE DIBBS PARTY—THE PLOTTERS CHECKMATED—APPEAL TO THE COUNTRY—VICTORY AT THE POLLS—OBSTRUCTION OF THE BEATEN MINORITY—THE JENNINGS CUSTOMS DUTIES BILL REPEALED

ON the collapse of the Jennings Ministry, His Excellency Lord Carrington, on January 15, 1887, sought my assistance in the formation of a new Administration. So little was the subject in my thoughts that I was at some distance in the country when His Excellency's messenger reached my house at Parramatta, and I did not return until late in the evening. I proceeded to Sydney and saw the Governor that night, when I received His Excellency's commission in very handsome terms.

Provision had not been made for the public service of the year 1887, and a temporary Supply Bill had to be brought in to cover the current month of January. Following the usual custom in any such emergency, I intimated through the Governor, that I should be obliged if Sir Patrick Jennings would obtain this necessary supply, the necessity for which arose from the negligence of the retiring Ministers. On the meeting of the Assembly, it soon became apparent that bad blood was in high flow. Though the outgoing Ministers


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had quarrelled among themselves, they came to an understanding against their successors. Indeed it was obvious that they had accomplished more than they had aimed at: the malcontents had only meant a new shuffle of the cards, but they had lost possession of the pack altogether. On the pretext of demanding the names of the new Ministers (which the House knew well enough would be formally announced, in regular course, on the motion being made to declare their seats vacant), instead of granting Supply, the adjournment of the House was moved and carried as a vote of censure. At an Executive Council next morning, the Ministers were sworn, on accepting their respective offices, except myself. I was sworn as Vice-President of the Executive Council without office, the office of Colonial Secretary being left vacant. A new piece had now to be put upon the stage. Having obtained the Governor's assent to an immediate dissolution, I went to the Legislative Assembly alone, my colleagues being all out by reason of their acceptance of office. I now asked for Supply, not to cover the period necessary for the re-election of Ministers, but for the re-election of a new Parliament; and looking at the surprised and angry faces before me, I dared them to refuse it on their peril! Of course there was a little whirlpool of passion, but the sudden prospect of meeting their constituents had a wonderfully cooling effect. The supply asked for was of course granted.

I felt satisfied that the electors throughout the country were with me, but I held now, as at all times, that the battle is never fought out till it is won. All


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that I could do I did everywhere, in every electorate, on every hustings. I issued the following address to my own constituents in St. Leonards, where I was returned without opposition:—

To the Electors of St. Leonards.

Gentlemen,—Having been commissioned by Her Majesty's Representative to form a new Administration, and having succeeded in that task, I have found it my duty to advise an immediate Dissolution of Parliament, to which the Crown has assented. In this turn of events, I appeal to you with every confidence to elect me again to the Legislative Assembly.

I have undertaken the labours of office at a time of unexampled difficulty. The financial position may be stated in a few sentences. When I retired from office, a little over four years ago, the Government of which I was a member left to their successors a surplus of nearly 2,000,000l. I return to office now to take over from our predecessors a deficit of at least 2,500,000l., created by improvident expenditure, in many cases amounting to reckless extravagance, and by the sudden stoppage of the revenue derived from the sales of land, without any provision being made to supply other revenue in its place. During the four years of our administration, ending with 1882, the average public expenditure was 5,881,861l. a year. During the four subsequent years of our successors, the average annual expenditure has not been less than 8,255,600l. When we retired at the close of 1882, the public debt was under 19,000,000l.; at the present time, the public debt is over 41,000,000l. These facts require no words from me to impress their significance upon the minds of all thoughtful men.

Clearly the first duty of His Excellency's advisers will be to address themselves to the urgent work of extricating the country from its present deplorable condition, and restoring it to a position worthy of its splendid resources and the generous spirit of its people. Amongst the measures to be adopted for this purpose will be an amendment of the Land Act of 1884, to


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facilitate permanent agricultural settlement on the soil under conditions suited to its varying capabilities, to confer upon the pastoral tenants such clearly defined rights of tenure as will afford security for the investment of capital in their important operations; and, in carrying out these main objects, to obtain for the mass of the people, who are not directly interested in the public lands, such adequate returns of revenue, not involving excessive rents or oppressive conditions, as will justly diminish the general burdens of taxation. In any legislation on this subject, I am strongly of opinion that the utmost care should be taken to guard the national estate from being squandered or improvidently treated for the mere purpose of obtaining revenue.

Another measure to assist in adjusting the present financial derangements will be a legislative enactment for the better management of the public railways. These great national properties must be at once withdrawn from all political influence, and worked on principles of economy and efficiency, and of commercial benefit to the State as well as of general convenience to all classes of the people.

In connection with the one principal difficulty to be surmounted, the Civil Service of the colony must be subject to a careful and searching enquiry with a view to a thorough reform. The efforts of the Government will be directed towards simplifying the departmental machinery, reducing the number of persons employed, securing fitness in each office for the duties to be performed, and eradicating the evil of favouritism in appointments. In the performance of this delicate task the most scrupulous care will be taken not to do any injustice to gentlemen who have faithfully served the public, and not to impair the effectiveness of any branch of the service. Under the guise of retrenchment, Ministers will be no parties to sanctioning arbitrary removal or inconsiderate treatment, and we will especially avoid any harsh or summary dealing with the humbler ranks of the Government employés.

For some considerable time past a wave of depression has rolled over nearly every producing and commercial interest in


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the colony, which may be likened to those disturbances of the ocean arising from remote and distant volcanic causes not easy to be distinctly traced. But to a large extent the public distress may be attributed to the feeling of uncertainty and uneasiness which has prevailed, and which can never prevail in any state of civil society without shaking confidence, enfeebling enterprise, and paralysing the active operations of capital. One thing is certain, that in a land, where on all sides nothing is so much needed as human labour, no pair of healthy human hands ought to be seeking employment in vain. In dealing with the problem of the temporary dearth of employment amongst the working population, the Government will avoid giving to any measure of relief the character of pauperism, and will endeavour to absorb this spasmodic labour in some form or other of permanent value. But it is fervently hoped that, with the return of public confidence and the more favourable seasons now set in, this class of labour will speedily flow into the ordinary channels of profitable employment.

As one means of imparting new help and vigour to the administration of affairs, and economising the public expenditure, it is intended without loss of time to introduce a Bill to establish a well-devised system of local self-government, under which the practical knowledge of well-informed residents may be turned to account in carrying out, more cheaply, and with more regard to actual wants, all district improvements. It is not doubted that the ultimate results in the working of any such measure will be a much larger amount of public satisfaction and a marked saving of public money.

Other questions of scarcely less importance to the cause of good government, including much-needed reforms in the administration of justice, will receive the early attention of the Government.

It remains for me to state the principles of the fiscal policy of the Administration, and above all things I desire that there shall be no uncertain sound on this subject. If we are fortunate enough to secure the confidence of the new Parliament, one of our first measures will be to repeal the mischievous


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Customs Duties Act of last year. We shall raise our Customs revenue under a tariff more limited than in former years, and virtually throw the ports of the colony open to the civilised world. If resort must be had to any new form of taxation, it certainly will not be an income tax, but we shall seek to devise a comprehensive and equitably-arranged system of property taxation which shall reach all classes in proportion to their ability to pay.

In meeting the old, mouldy, worn-out, empirical doctrine of Protection, we face it as deadly enemies. All that can be said in its support has been said a million of times during the last two centuries of British history while it yet flourished in the rank soil of monopoly and corruption, and was watered by a sea of tears from the drooping eyes of breadless men, women, and children. While giving credit to many of its advocates amongst us for their conscientiousness, it is impossible to respect their narrow intellectual efforts to furbish up for our acceptance the hundred-times-exploded fallacies of a past age. In this country the most eminent servants of the people, Dr. Lang, Stuart Donaldson, the Macarthurs, Charles Cowper, William Forster, the Plunketts and the Butlers, John Robertson—all the builders, with one exception, of the noble fabric of our Constitutional liberties—have been champions of Free-trade. The country never was more prosperous, never made more rapid progress, than under the fullest effect of its Free-trade policy. The persons who now seek to thrust down the people's throats the stifling creed of Protection are for the most part comparatively unknown, have never rendered any service to the country, and perversely blind themselves to the great lessons of modern civilisation. On the wide stage of British progress the noblest powers of intellect, the richest acquisitions of learning and culture, the grandest records of great services, from Adam Smith and William Pitt to Bright and Gladstone, have been devoted to the cause of Free-trade. During the lifetime of the two statesmen last named, Great Britain has exhibited to the world a magnificent march in national prosperity, for which no example can be found in any former age. If we


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turn to the United States, the honest enquirer who looks for the fruits of Protection discovers mammoth monopolies which exercise a blighting and disastrous influence on the national life, side by side with factories created by artificial laws which are closed against their operatives from inability to find markets; and a working population, nominally free, but in many instances ground to the dust by the weight of taxation and the want of sympathy from the swarms around them for ever struggling for no earthly object but to grow rich, and the class of millionaires above and beyond who live in splendid waste and idleness.

We enter into this conflict with no misgiving as to the result. We know that, come what may, our reward is certain if we fight the battle with true faith and courage. It is a conflict between light and darkness; between freedom and the expansion of human energies, and slavery under a specious disguise with fetters for the mind and the limbs. The working man, whether in the coal mines, on the gold fields, on the farm or the station, on the public works or in any other field of industry, can gain nothing, and would suffer severely from Protection. It is a policy to cheapen his brain and muscle, and to increase the price of his food supplies and every article of clothing or comfort for his humble household; a policy to depreciate the hard-earned sovereign which his wife takes to market to nine-tenths of its purchasing power, or possibly to a lower value. Of all men, the Australian farmer should be an earnest supporter of Free-trade. A tax on imported grain would revive the most odious tax in the worst times of bad government in England, and it could not fail to array, sooner or later, the great majority of the people against him in unnatural hostility. For every pound which could by any possibility come to him by taxation of this kind, two pounds would be taken out of his pocket by the taxation on articles which he must of necessity purchase for his use and comfort. What the farmer requires, and what he ought to have, is something quite different; facilities for acquiring a knowledge of the best methods of treating the land under cultivation, and of the products


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most suited to different qualities of soil and different degrees of climate; and in addition to these things, easy, expeditious, and cheap means of conveyance to market.

The main issues which I and my colleagues submit to the country are good government and commercial freedom. We purpose fighting the battle boldly and in the light of the day. On every hustings we shall plant the flag of Free-trade, with the motto, ‘He who is not with us is against us.’ I appeal to the electors of the whole colony not to swerve from the clear line of public rectitude, but make every candidate for their suffrages speak out the faith that is in him. Let us have no more of the suspicious class of ‘independent candidates,’ which is generally a cover for self-seeking or something worse. Let the electors set their faces against doubtful characters of all sorts and conditions. Let there be no more ‘sneaking in.’ Let those who support a retrograde policy honestly say so before the world. Let those who are anxious for purity and economy in government, for the lightening of the people's burdens, for the maintenance of our good name abroad, and for the restoration of New South Wales to a state of solid prosperity and to her rightful place among the Australian colonies, take sides with the men who, in this trying crisis, are determined, united as one, to use all their powers to accomplish these great ends.

I am, Gentlemen,

Your faithful servant,

HENRY PARKES.

Sydney, January 25, 1887.

The General Election was conducted with much vigour, and in some districts great surprises were experienced in the story told by the ballot-box. I worked myself to the utmost of my energy in support of friends, moving about from one place to another wherever aid seemed to be wanted. But, what was better than individual help, a genuine public spirit was


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called into active play in the constituencies. The result was a Parliamentary majority of two-thirds in support of the new Government.

Parliament met on March 8. The first business was the election of Speaker. The candidates were Mr. James Henry Young and Mr. George Richard Dibbs, late Prime Minister; and Mr. Young was elected by a majority of fourteen in a House of 112 members. The opening Speech was delivered by the Governor on the following day. The first three paragraphs will show the confusion into which the ordinary business of the country had been allowed to drift, and the determination of the Government to repeal the Customs Duties Act of the late Parliament. The Speech said:—

Owing to the irregular state of that part of the business of Parliament on which both the economy and the efficiency of the public service so largely depend, it is necessary that the present Session should not be of extended duration; and it is felt that full reliance may be placed in your wisdom and sense of duty to deal with the important matters which strictly belong to the year 1886 as speedily as may be, consistent with careful consideration. As the Session proper to the year 1887 has yet to succeed the present, it is clear that its opening should not be delayed beyond the month of June, in view of bringing the public business within the limits of constitutional usage.

Notwithstanding the difficulties arising out of the arrears of Parliamentary business, and the necessity for restoring the action of Parliament to a normal and healthy condition, you will be invited to pass into law some measures of the highest urgency and importance.

A Bill will be introduced without delay to establish a Customs tariff, which will be framed to give effect to the emphatic


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verdict of the electoral bodies in favour of the principle of unrestricted freedom in the development of the industrial and commercial interests of the country.

The speech announced, among other measures, a Bill to provide for the better management of the Government railways. The Bill to repeal the Customs Duties Act of the late Parliament, and to simplify the tariff, was duly introduced, and after protracted discussion and many divisions in committee, receiving all through the support of overwhelming majorities, was finally read the third time and sent to the Upper Chamber, where it passed through all its stages in much shorter time. The Bill, which entirely repealed a large number of duties, and reduced the tariff to a smaller number of articles than were included before the passing of the Jennings Act, received the Royal assent and became law within ten months from the enactment of that measure. The session was largely wasted by excessive and rancorous talk which rendered the passing of new Standing Orders necessary. But in spite of the obstructive courses pursued by a small section of members, some useful measures were passed, and the way prepared for much more important legislation. The prorogation took place on July 13, and the Speech contained the following paragraph on the success of the taxation measures:—

I congratulate you upon the important Acts which you have passed for simplifying the Customs tariff and reducing the number of dutiable articles to such narrow limits as will not seriously interfere with the operations of commerce, and for inaugurating a policy, though at present incomplete, which is


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sanctioned by enlightened public opinion, and has been found in the United Kingdom to work with indisputable effect in promoting the welfare of all classes of the people. By these measures you have faithfully given effect to the verdict of the constituencies as recorded in the late elections, and it cannot be doubted that they will prove eminently conducive to the general prosperity.

Among the early acts of the administration Sir Patrick Jennings and Mr. Wisdom (afterwards Sir Robert) were appointed to represent the colony at the Imperial Conference in London.

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