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10. CHAPTER X

MR. DIBBS AGAIN PRIME MINISTER—GENERAL ELECTION—RALLYING CRY OF THE NEW GOVERNMENT ‘PROTECTION’—DEFEATED—FORMATION OF THE FIFTH PARKES MINISTRY—THE NOMINEE PRINCIPLE IN THE LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL—ITS EVIL WORKING IN NEW SOUTH WALES—STRANGE ABUSE OF IT IN NEW ZEALAND—MY EXPLANATORY STATEMENT IN PARLIAMENT—THE LAND BILL SUCCESSFULLY PASSED —MR. MC MILLAN AND THE STATE OF THE FINANCES—THE DEFENCES OF THE COLONY—MY SYMPATHY WITH THE EARLY VOLUNTEER MOVEMENT—GENERAL EDWARDS ON THE SOLDIERLY QUALITIES OF OUR MEN—LETTER FROM LORD CARNARVON ON THE SUBJECT— PRESENT STRENGTH OF THE FORCES

MR. DIBBS undertook the formation of a Ministry. Though the estimates of expenditure were nearly all passed, the sudden and unexpected Ministerial crisis left the country without the Appropriation Act. When his Ministry was formed and sworn on January 17, Mr. Dibbs applied to the Assembly for a temporary vote of credit, which, in my judgment, he was justly entitled to, but a majority thought otherwise, and Parliament was at once dissolved without Supply. During the elections, the public service was carried on by irregular means similar to the unconstitutional course resorted to by Sir James Martin in 1871-2. The opening speech admitted that the course which Ministers had been ‘compelled to adopt,’ was one which must be condoned by Parliament.




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The new Prime Minister issued his manifesto, and in bold words declared his determination to reverse the fiscal policy of the country. In his published address to his constituents, he said:—

Being favourable to a change in the fiscal policy of the country, we were bound to take, as we have taken, the very first opportunity of asking the judgment of the people as to whether they will empower us to bring about that change. The situation must be vigorously dealt with.

The time has arrived when the inauguration of this change ought to be no longer delayed.

I joined with my political friends in fighting for the flag of Free-trade throughout the elections, and we won by a narrow majority, but my feeling was very strong not to assume Parliamentary leadership. When the new Parliament met, the valiant Prime Minister had lost his courage. It was proposed to postpone the change which before the electors was ‘to be no longer delayed.’ The millennium of dearness and restriction was not quite come. The Governor was made to say in the opening Speech: ‘It is not intended to submit any proposals for fresh taxation during the present Session.’ The Government pleaded that ‘the very first opportunity’ might be allowed to slip by, and that ‘the situation might be vigorously dealt with’ at a more convenient season.

In the meantime, I had to consider my own position as an individual member of Parliament released from political obligations. Smarting under the recollection of the treatment I had received in the desertion of


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Government supporters on Mr. Want's motion, I had no desire for a repetition of that experience. I felt that I had done nothing to justify their withdrawal of their belief in me when it was a question of my conduct against the conduct of an unfriendly critic, and I felt keenly that an injustice had been done to an honourable man and a public officer, for whose appointment I was largely responsible, and in respect to which I had scrupulously considered the public interest alone. I took no step to induce any man to regard me as one intending to assume a responsible place in the state of parties which the ballot-box had revealed. I wrote to Mr. William McMillan, who had acted as chairman at several meetings, stating distinctly my unwillingness to be more than a member of the party. I had never shrunk from sharing in the struggles of the forlorn hope or from fighting an up-hill battle, however great the odds against us, but I was not prepared to undertake leadership where any falsehood, however black, concocted by opponents, would receive the partial countenance of professed friends. Notwithstanding this attitude on my part, at a numerously attended meeting of the Opposition, with Mr. McMillan in the chair, I was unanimously elected leader. It was difficult to decline this handsome testimony of the confidence of a great party, which I had not sought and which came upon me without a single expression of dissent.

I took my place in the Assembly and moved an amendment on the address, which, if carried, would inform the Governor that the House ‘declined to proceed with any business whatever while his present


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advisers retained office.’ After a lengthy debate, characterised by much warmth, my motion was carried by sixty-eight to sixty-four votes, giving a majority of four against the Ministry. On the following day Mr. Dibbs and his colleagues resigned after a reign of fifty days. But in those fifty days Mr. Dibbs did more violence to the Constitution than any man who had previously held his high office, however long his occupancy of it. It is not any part of my design to disfigure these pages with a catalogue of Mr. Dibbs's political sins; there are two objections—it would be too long, and it would be too unpleasant. But it is part of my design to condemn political abuses, and to exercise whatever power I may possess to guard the country against political crimes in the future. It is marvellous that a man of so kindly a nature as Mr. Dibbs should do the things which he notoriously has done, apparently without the faintest consciousness that they were wrong. It may, perhaps, be accounted for in some measure by the fact that he entered into politics late in life, or it may be accounted for by the oft-repeated explanation of his present colleague, Mr. Edmond Barton, that he is a ‘conundrum.’ I shall only dwell briefly upon one of the political outrages of which Mr. Dibbs was guilty during his fifty days. When he had appealed to the electors, and must have known that he was defeated in his appeal, he nominated nine gentlemen to seats in the Legislative Council to join in making laws for the country for the term of their natural life. The enormity of this act will be seen by persons unacquainted with politics, when it is explained that, in a time of crisis when the retention


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of power is uncertain, Australian Ministries have generally abstained from making any appointment even to the Civil Service. In April, 1892, Mr. Dibbs indulged himself in making nine other nominations to the Legislative Council. At this time Mr. Dibbs had been three times Prime Minister, but the united lives of his three Ministries only amounted to two hundred days, and in that space of time, little more than half a year, Mr. Dibbs had appointed, adding to these two batches two or more solitary appointments, a full score of life-legislators. But this is the best side of his offence against the Constitution and the people; the worse side has to be stated. These appointments were party appointments of a glaring type; almost all were well-known Protectionists. In the first place the number of appointments in the given time was beyond all reason excessive: in the next place they were all of a partisan colour. It seems but right to take my own case as Prime Minister for an illustration. My tenure of office as Chief Adviser of the Crown has altogether extended over eleven years and nine months; and if I had recommended as large a number relatively to our respective terms of office as Mr. Dibbs, I should have sent at least four hundred gentlemen into the Legislative Council. I next come to political character. I always maintained that Ministers were bound to avoid party appointments, and to consider both sides and all sections, and in point of fact I have nominated repeatedly to the Legislative Council the bitterest opponents I ever had in political life. I believe all other men who have held the principal office in Government, except only Mr. Dibbs, have acted


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from considerations similar in their nature to those which weighed with me.

But what must be the pernicious effect of Mr. Dibbs's conduct in respect to the Council? The next Free-trade Ministry, which will come swiftly, would be justified in recommending the appointment of a score of Free-traders merely to neutralise the damage which Mr. Dibbs has done to that House of Parliament. An evil example in performing the functions of State is proportioned in its evil consequences to the stamp of authority impressed upon it. It is easy for the worst of men to outdo Mr. Dibbs in bad conduct; and nobody can foretell who may follow Mr. Dibbs.

But Mr. Dibbs's appointments have doomed the nominee Council to destruction. What argument and eloquence have failed to do, his reckless and ungovernable desire to make all things within his reach subservient to his party ends has done in awakening the apprehensions of all thoughtful men to the dangers of the nominee principle. Mr. Wentworth's misgivings as to the safe operation of the principle, when he limited the trial of it to five years in the first instance by the letter of the Constitution itself, is now more than confirmed by thirty-six years of experience. By step to step in degeneracy the Council has visibly declined before the eyes of all men. Even in a conservative sense it has utterly broken down, and the time seems to be coming when the Lower House, the outcome of manhood suffrage, will be the more dignified and self-respecting Chamber.

In a country like New South Wales, where all men


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are politically equal, it seems passing strange that the people should have permitted a power to be vested in the Executive for the time being to appoint legislators for life. It might have been foreseen that, sooner or later, such power would be used by men to gratify their personal preferences or to subserve their party ends. It probably never entered into the wildest dream of Mr. Wentworth, when haunted by his fears of democracy, that a time would ever come when a coarse and vulgar interpretation would be given to the profligate political war-cry, ‘the spoils to the victors,’ and that every shred of authority would be converted into a flagitious patronage, from the messenger to the member of the Upper House of Parliament.

But the nominee principle has worked inimically to the members whom it has selected as its favoured peers. Withdrawn from all sense of responsibility, under no obligation to consider the feelings or the opinions of the people, the door opened to them by an unseen hand to privileges which they have not won, with little to do and nothing to fear, it is not surprising that they grow stiff-necked. It has worked detrimentally to the public interest in another direction, which perhaps no one foresaw, and for which nobody can be held answerable. Members of the Council grow old like other men, and become physically incapable of performing their duties; but there they are, and there they remain. No one can ask them to resign, and it is very seldom that they think of it themselves. So this vicious principle continually works to impair the collective strength of the Council itself among other depressing and enfeebling


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consequences. There can be little doubt that the Council will be reconstructed on an elective basis at an early date.

It has lately been announced that the Ministry of New Zealand recommended to Lord Glasgow, within a month of his arrival, a perfect stranger, to appoint fifteen new members to the nominated Council of that colony. The Governor very properly refused. It is now stated (June 27, 1892) that a former Prime Minister, Sir Robert Stout, has published a letter in the newspapers denouncing Lord Glasgow's conduct and advocating ‘a single Chamber, with an elective Governor.’ This is sufficient evidence of how impossible it is for some men to learn that calm and unimpassioned view of the affairs of Government which is, perhaps, the noblest feature of statesmanship. The very checks implanted in the constitutional law by the instinct of prudence, and for the purpose of public safety, are to be swept away the moment they are felt to be inconvenient to minds incapable of comprehending the true principles of Government.

On the defeat of Mr. Dibbs, I was again commissioned by Lord Carrington to form a new Administration. A number of comparatively young men of much promise had taken their places on the Free-trade side of the House. They had shown zeal, ability, and political firmness in the elections, and some of them in the previous Parliament. They could not be, and they ought not to be, overlooked in allotting men to portfolios. In the Government which I succeeded in forming, half the Ministers were entirely new to official life,


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and those who have had experience in Cabinet-making will know the ominous drift of meaning which that description conveys. It is pardonable in a young man of spirit and ability to imagine that men never lived in the world before his time. In talent, energy, and character the new Government was equal to any that had gone before it. The new Treasurer, Mr. McMillan, was a man possessing good reasoning powers, a clear knowledge of financial business, and a high-toned eloquence; the new Minister of Public Works, Mr. Bruce Smith, besides being a clear and logical speaker, had studied economic questions as a pleasurable pursuit, and was acknowledged to be a man of excellent business capacity; the new Minister of Public Instruction, Mr. Carruthers, was a young man of untiring energy and remarkable ability, and to him more than to anyone else the Women's College within the University owes its existence. I make this passing reference to the more prominent of the new men to enable me to express my belief, now our official relations are at an end, that they have before them honourable careers of public usefulness.

On April 3 I made a statement to the House explanatory of our proposed course in dealing with public business, from which I quote the following passage:—

We propose to make this Session—and we know we can only do this with the assistance of honourable members; but we know we have a fair claim to ask that assistance—we propose to make it a short Session for the consideration of the Land Bill of which my honourable friend, the member for East Maitland, has


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given notice. We intend that Bill—and I can say this without anticipating his explanation of it—to meet the most pressing grievances of the different classes intimately concerned in the occupation of the soil. We believe that in the hands of my honourable colleague, the Secretary for Lands, we shall be able to produce a Bill which will be acceptable to those great classes— I mean the free selectors and the pastoralists, and those classes which lie between those two great bodies, namely, the men who have mixed farms, but carry on other pursuits than the average pursuit of a free selector, and who are introducing an industry into this country the most valuable of all others, that of English yeomen—that of the Australian yeoman I should say, because I want all our feelings, all our aspirations, all our interests identified with the soil of this country, of which I am really as much a native, if not more a native, than the men who were born here forty-five years ago, for I have lived here fifty years, or close upon it. With the assistance of honourable members we intend to limit this Session to the fair, dispassionate, and searching examination of this Bill, and we ask honourable gentlemen sitting on all sides of the House to lend us contributions from the store of their experience to make this Bill as good, as acceptable, and as just to all classes as it is possible to make it. Beyond that we ask the House to go with us in passing into law a number of small measures for giving effect to the provisions of the Public Works Act.

Mr. J. N. Brunker, the Minister of Lands, moved the second reading of his Land Bill on May 15. Mr. Brunker was a man who, by his personal conduct and general bearing through a long life, had secured the respect and confidence of all classes, and he possessed an extensive practical knowledge of the relation of classes settled on the public estate, and of the working of former Land Acts. He explained and supported his Bill in a well-reasoned speech which was very favourably


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received. The Bill provided for the correction of certain abuses, amended defects in the legislation of 1884, offered special facilities for the acquisition of larger holdings by what might be termed a class of middlemen on the Western plains, and it created a judicial tribunal for hearing and deciding cases of dispute. The debate on the second reading, though marked by much agreement in opinion, extended over nine nights, when the Bill was read the second time by 68 votes to 3.

The measure was discussed very fully in committee in both Houses, and generally with approval. In due course the Bill received the Royal assent. It made a great change in the law; it did not satisfy everybody, but it was received with widespread opinion in its favour.

The new Treasurer, Mr. McMillan, made his exposition of the public finances on April 10. He estimated the expenditure for the year at 8,913,000l., and the revenue at 8,938,000l., giving him a credit balance on December 31, of 25,000l.

During this time I gave much attention, as other demands upon my time would permit, to the defences of the colony. It is a curious circumstance that military matters are seized upon by vapid and idle minds in all countries as the most fitting subjects for the exercise of their ingenuity in discovering startling abuses and instituting model reforms. The tales of the proverbial ‘old soldier,’ dark hints from discontented subordinates, eavesdroppings picked up by incontinent gossipmongers in obscure clubs, are palatable food for


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these devouring minds. New South Wales has its motley sect of military unbelievers who have set up a creed of their own. But in reality the expenditure in this important branch of the public service, though necessarily heavy, has been well directed, and the General commanding and his staff are above reproach, as are in my belief all the officers engaged upon the works of construction, with the exception of fraud in the case of one constructor, and remissness in supervision in connection with that particular work. Blunders and mistakes, and in some instances waste, have occurred, as they would occur in any large undertaking on earth, where heavy expenditure was inevitable, and new experience had to be gained.

From the first enrolment at the time of the Crimean War I had always taken a warm interest in the Volunteer movement. I had formed the opinion in the early years of my political life that the country must depend upon its own resources for its defence. I urged this view in the Legislature and by such means as were at my disposal. One of my early political friends was Sir William Charles Windeyer, one of the present Judges of the Supreme Court. He joined the Volunteers and rose to the rank of Captain, when his professional engagements compelled him to retire. We often exchanged ideas in those days on the subject of the defence of the colony, which was attractive to both of us. My friend Windeyer was a young man of high spirit, bold and decisive in the common incidents of life, with a strong capacity for public affairs. He would have made as


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good a soldier as he has made a sound Judge. During my first tenure of office I conducted through the Assembly the Volunteer Regulation Act.

When in office in later years I always had too large a burden upon my shoulders, with the incessant duties of First Minister added to the cares of a great Department, to give much time to the technical consideration of questions of defence, but I was in continuous communication with the officers in charge, and at times with Lieutenant-General Sir William Jervois, General Schaw, Lieutenant-General Sir J. Bevan Edwards, and other men of large military knowledge and experience, and when in England I had conversations on the same subject with Lord Wolseley and other distinguished soldiers. I kept in view the chief points of defence as explained and insisted upon by these high authorities, and to a large extent they have been covered by the defence work carried out before I last retired from office. Splendid guns of modern type, which had been warehoused for years, were put in position, and a complete system of submarine mines had been organised. As to the physical character and style of the Australian Volunteer, few persons will rate him below the average of other countries. In a letter addressed to me in August 1889, General Edwards says:—

We had an excellent show on Saturday—3,577 on parade—and I felt it a very special personal compliment that so many should have come, and from such long distances, and at so much inconvenience.

I am very glad they got home dry. You have splendid


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material, and considering the amount of training they receive, their appearance and steadiness were quite wonderful. While you have such men as these, animated by such patriotic zeal— the independence of Australia is safe—provided they are duly and properly organised, and this they may be without any great additional expense.

In another letter General Edwards—speaking of another colony, not New South Wales—hits the weak point in our social relations to the Volunteer. Beyond doubt the sympathy of the well-to-do classes might be more in accord with the movement. Any blunder or defect is made the most of by these supercilious critics, and little hearty support is extended to the rank and file of the service. The General, whose observations in society were keen, says:—

The upper classes hold themselves aloof. The employers of labour also throw obstacles in the way of the men enrolling themselves, and refuse to employ them if they are absent from their work for military duties.

In connection with the defences, I give an interesting letter from the late Earl of Carnarvon which I received from him when he was on the point of leaving Australia in 1888. I had made the acquaintance of Lord Carnarvon many years ago, at the time of the annexation of Fiji, when, in the absence of the Governor, Sir Hercules Robinson, I had occasion to communicate confidentially with him as Secretary of State. Both in England and in Australia we had many conversations, and we frequently corresponded on Australian affairs. While in England in 1882, I gave evidence


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before the Royal Defence Commission of which Lord Carnarvon was Chairman, and he probably wrote to me with a greater freedom arising from this acquaintance:—

Dear Sir Henry Parkes,—We probably reach King George's Sound to-morrow, and I shall bid my final farewell to Australia; but I cannot go without a few lines on a subject which I have very much at heart, and on which I had hoped to have had some conversation with you, but for the press of business which engrossed your time during the centenary celebrations at Sydney.

You were good enough to give me an opportunity of seeing somewhat of the defences of the harbour, and though my opinion as that of a civilian can necessarily have no technical or professional value, yet the question of coastal defences is one which for many years in one form or another has been so much in my mind that even at the risk of saying what is familiar to you, I feel bound to give you in a very few words my general impression.

You have in New South Wales already spent so much on defences, and you have, I believe, such excellent ‘matériel’ in the shape of new guns, though many of them are not yet mounted, that a comparatively small expenditure, and a not very long time, would enable you to place Sydney in a position of reasonable defence; but I doubt if any impartial and competent expert would advise you that you are at present adequately protected. You know as I do the extremely frail tenure on which peace in Europe now rests, and the great probability that in the event of war you in Australia, as we in England, may become involved in hostilities. Should this be the case we must anticipate:—

  • 1. The shortest conceivable time for preparation.
  • 2. The swiftest and most unsparing attack on all such wealthy and strategically valuable outposts as the great Australian towns.



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  • 3. The absolute inability of the home Government to send you any necessary stores, ammunition, armaments, &c., at all events during the first stages of the war. There will be, I am confident, a run upon our home resources far in excess of the supply.
  • 4. You will probably have to reckon with more powerful guns and more heavily armed cruisers on the part of either Russia or France than would have been the case six or seven years ago when the Defence Commission, of which I was Chairman, made its recommendations.
  • 5. Under such conditions as these the best forts—if made and the best guns if mounted in them—are insufficient for their purpose, unless there is a reasonable amount of practice for the gunners. The other day in Sydney Harbour the practice at a stationary mark in a familiar position was not good; and it is needless to ask what it would have been in the hurry of an attack with a ship moving—with steam and tide—perhaps 18 knots an hour. Unless to a certain extent the probable incidents of attack and defence are rehearsed, and unless men are told off, and all the necessary stores, torpedoes, electric lights, and other implements are allotted to their several places, the confusion will be necessarily such that all chance of making a good resistance will be vain. Pray do not allow men in Sydney to trust, as we unfortunately are disposed in England to do, to patriotism and national vigour, and to take insufficient account of the powers of secret and scientific combination, which modern warfare has developed in Europe.

I could say much more on this subject; but I do not like to say less, for after the free communications which have passed between us I should feel it on my conscience if I did not honestly and fairly tell you the impression made on my mind by what I have seen. You will, I know, understand the feeling with which I write, and will weigh what I have said; and I hope you


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will agree with me, for there is no one whose pronounced opinion could so overbear objects and smooth difficulties on such a subject as this like yours.

There is indeed another question connected with the general subject of defence which has been a good deal discussed in New South Wales and elsewhere, and which deserves, I think, very careful consideration. I mean the expediency of limiting the number of foreign ships of war admitted to your waters, and of allotting to them some position where their movements may be in some degree controlled by your guns and torpedo boats. It is a difficult question from many points of view, but I am clear it is one of very great importance, and far more easily settled in a time of peace than when diplomatic relations are strained by the apprehensions of war.

Believe me, dear Sir Henry,

Yours very faithfully,

CARNARVON.

‘Shannon,’ February 16, 1888.

As I have said, many of the grounds of complaint, such as ‘guns unmounted,’ have since been removed, and the forces at the present time are in a state highly creditable to the colony.

About the same time that I received Lord Carnarvon's letter I received a letter from Sir William Jervois much to the same purport, and the colony is indebted to Sir William for his painstaking labours, extending over a long period, to improve and perfect our system of defence.

On January 19, 1891, according to a return presented to Parliament, the following was the strength of the military forces:—




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General Staff of the Defence Force ..  28 
Artillery Staff ...... 
Permanent Staff ......  11 
Paymaster's Staff ..... 
Permanent Staff in connection with Reserves  13 
Commanding Engineer's Department .. 
Permanent Medical Corps ....  15 
Volunteer Medical Corps ....  91 
Permanent Artillery .....  556 
Permanent Submarine Miners ...  23 
Volunteer Submarine Miners ...  115 
Engineer Corps ......  119 
Volunteer Artillery Corps ....  527 
Cavalry Corps ......  413 
Mounted Infantry .....  300 
Infantry .......  2,699 
Commissariat and Transport Corps ..  39 
Ordnance Department ....  12 
4,976 

In addition to the above the colony possesses a valuable force known as the Naval Brigade, mostly well-seasoned men, and numbering 334 all told. If a time of public danger should come, New South Wales could easily put into the field an army of ten thousand men.

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