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12. Chapter XII The '95 General Election

THE usually placid atmosphere of the Legislative Council became full of electricity upon the news arriving that the House would be dissolved. Not only did Mr. Want give notice on behalf of the Government of sweeping changes in the constitution of the Chamber, Mr. C. E. Pilcher, a very able King's Counsel, and a very good friend of mine, but a Tory of the old school, gave notice of radical changes too.

The changes we proposed, shortly described, abolished life tenure, limited the number of Councillors to 60, one-fifth to retire annually, and substituted a term of five years. Appropriation Bills were neither to be amended nor rejected. If not returned to the Assembly within one month they could, on resolution, be presented by the Speaker for the Royal Assent. Other Money Bills could be amended, but not rejected, by the Council. If amended, the Assembly was given power finally to determine the shape of the Bill. If not returned within one month such Bills could also, on motion, be presented for the Royal Assent. Ordinary Bills, if rejected in two consecutive sessions, could be submitted to the electors; and if the total number of votes polled did not exceed 100,000 that fact was to be considered equivalent to a negative.

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The House was dissolved upon July 5th, 1895, and the General Election took place on July 25th.

There was a most exciting fight. We pushed our attacks upon the Council to an extreme, and its members vigorously responded. They never had a chance of success, as our fiscal proposals combined on our side all the Free Traders and all the land taxers too.

Sir Henry Parkes opposed me for King Division, and was defeated. Sir George Dibbs was also defeated for Tamworth.

The result left us in possession by a very large majority. Upon the issues submitted to the electors we had 81 in a House of 124 members, divided as follows:—

Ministerialists . . . .  63 
Labour Party  18 

In the interval we appointed nine Liberals to the Legislative Council. One of these, Dr. (now Sir William) Cullen is now Chief Justice of New South Wales.

When the new House met, Mr. (afterwards Sir William) Lyne was elected Leader of the Opposition in place of Sir George Dibbs.

We at once brought in again the measure which caused the crisis—the Land and Income Tax Assessment Bill—and the second reading was carried by a majority of 37.

I had to make a fresh Financial Statement. Owing to the crisis the dates of some of the proposals had to be altered.

Photograph facing p.120. Queen Alexandra

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Upon the system of charging the whole cost of works not proper subjects for permanent loans to the year in which it was voted I made an alteration, spreading the cost over thirty years, providing a sinking fund for repayment within that time. A large number of useful and urgent works, which would last far longer than the thirty years, could thus be carried out without any permanent addition to the Public Debt.

Our Supplementary Estimates were only £64,000 instead of an average of about £475,000 for the previous five years.

The drawings out of the Treasurer's Advance Account for services not covered by votes of Parliament during the six months January to June were £28,000, or at the rate of £56,000 for a full year, instead of an average of £400,000 during the four years before we came into office, 1890–3. During those years the drawings were as follows:—

1890 .  £461,000 
1891 .  414,000 
1892 .  £361,000 
1893 .  394,000 

In our expenditure there were “Special Appropriations.” These were statutory obligations, paid as they fell due, and not included in the ordinary votes. The items under this head were often under-estimated. In 1891 the estimate was exceeded by £285,000, in 1892 by £202,000, and in 1893 by £203,000. In my first half-year it was only exceeded by £1,873.

I mention these facts to show that our Administration had reduced the chaotic condition of our finances to something like order. Of course I had to warn the heads of departments against under-estimates of expenditure,

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and I had to forbid any overdrawing on votes without my personal authority. I can point to the disappearance of confusion and wrangling over the public finances from that time onward with great satisfaction.

I wish it to be clearly understood that much of the previous confusion was the result of a bad system, rather than the individual fault of any particular Treasurer. We only claim the credit of beginning a better state of things under a new system. It must also be remembered, as to 1893, that the banking panic in that year upset all calculations.

In my Budget Speech I referred to a matter which afterwards became of great importance—the conversion of the Public Debt. Altogether too much importance was attached to that project, and there were extravagant notions of its benefits. If the security for public bonds is good the conversion will not yield much, except, perhaps, when the bonds are falling due. A man who holds an undoubted bond for £1,000, yielding, say, 4 per cent., is not going to take 3¾ per cent. on a new bond offered to him unless he is offered advantages that will equal the difference. In the case of a bond covered by a doubtful security the case is, of course, quite different.

I began a system of raising loans in the local market, and it is interesting to note that since my time and before the War the total of such loans represented a considerable portion of our debt.

Later in the session I moved the second reading of a Bill to reform the Public Service. The previous measure had failed utterly because, although there was under it a Public Service Board, that body had no

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substantial powers, either of control or initiation. There had been no classification, no limitations on the power of appointment, no protection of the interests of civil servants from outside appointments over their heads, and there was no independent supervision, either of the officers, their conduct, or their work. All these defects had reduced the Service to a lamentable state. Composed as a rule of capable men, there were, nevertheless, many incapable and undeserving officers who blocked the promotion of better men. There was no law affording a fair trial to officers charged with misconduct; there were no regulations for the entrance or examination of cadets. The different departments were treated as if they were separate services, instead of links in a chain. The financial result of all this was that extravagance was rampant.

In spite of these faults in the system then prevailing, the heart of the Civil Service was sound, and the great majority of the civil servants were efficient, upright, and zealous.

The main changes proposed and afterwards approved by both Houses were as follows:—

  • 1. A Board of Commissioners, three in number, appointed for seven years—only removable during their term of office by a Resolution passed in both Houses of Parliament—having full power to classify the service, fix salaries, recommend promotions and appointments, and with authority to frame regulations for the approval of the Governor in Council.
  • 2. All vacancies to be publicly notified.

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  • 3. Competitive examinations.
  • 4. Seniority to be subject to fitness and aptitude.
  • 5. Salary to be readjusted in accordance with the value of the work.
  • 6. No promotion from a lower to a higher grade without examination.
  • 7. All competitions open to men in all, even the manual, grades.
  • 8. The Board to deal with applications for further assistance.
  • 9. No appointments from outside unless Governor in Council declared that there were no officers in the Service qualified to fill them.
  • 10. No unnaturalised foreigner to remain in or be appointed to the Service.
  • 11. Regulations to be framed for the admission of women to the Public Service.
  • 12. Officers between 60 and 65 liable to be called on to retire. After 65 officers only to remain if Government so desire.

The relations between the proposed Board, and the Executive, and the Parliament might be stated thus: The Board controls, the Executive may veto, Parliament may interfere.

The pension system was abolished. With us it had always been ill-conceived and financially unsound—and each new officer was to be compelled to insure his life.

Our Bill to reform the Constitution of the Legislative Council was introduced in the Council, as it dealt with that body chiefly. It had an unfriendly reception and a stormy passage, and was thrown out by a large majority.

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We sent the Land and Income Tax Assessment Bill up in the shape in which it was sent previously. This time the second reading was passed by a majority of 30 to 11.

In Committee a number of amendments were made, mostly in one direction, but many were decided improvements. The main contest was over the exemptions which, as to income, the Council reduced from £300 to £160, and as to land omitted altogether. The third reading was carried by 20 votes to 15. We accepted a number of the amendments made by the Council, but disagreed as to the rest.

The Council refused to abandon any of its amendments. We still disagreed, and requested a free Conference. This request was complied with, and a Conference met.

There were ten managers for the Council and ten for the Assembly, and the proceedings were private. The Conference sat on Thursday, Friday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, November 21st, 22nd, 26th, and 27th. I found the managers for the Council determined to stand by their important amendments. Although the General Election compelled the Council to swallow the Bill in some form or other, the managers were evidently instructed to fight on some vital points an unyielding battle. This would have compelled me to advise the Governor to appoint a sufficient number of new members to the Council to carry the Bill against all opposition. I did not wish to push our victory to such an extreme. I thought it to be my duty, however, to let the Acting-Governor, Sir Frederick Darley, know how things stood, and the course I

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would have to take if the managers would not come to terms with us. Something must have happened during the adjournment between the 22nd and 26th, because the Council managers, when we met again, began to listen to reason. They agreed to an exemption from land tax up to £240 in each case, and to an exemption from income tax of £200. There were a number of other items upon which we agreed. I yielded a number of points that did not impair the integrity of our proposals, as we were supremely anxious to pass our fiscal policy into law.

When the agreement arrived at was reported to the Council so much resentment was expressed that it seemed to be clear that its managers were sent into the Conference bound to make no substantial surrender. The only explanation possible was fear of a “swamping” process. That process would certainly have been applied if the managers had not listened to reason, and I fancy they knew that pretty well. As one of the managers said, “We know that if we had not given way an atom the House would have been annihilated.” One Councillor was so bitter that he paid me an undeserved compliment. He said, “Our managers left us in order to bring the Premier's scalp back—they have left their own. The laurels which adorned the brows of our best men are all transferred to him.” The agreement was then passed without a division.

In the Assembly we had also to face many indignant members, but the Conference results were agreed to by 51 to 27 votes.

On October 23rd, 1895, I moved in Committee

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that it was expedient to bring in a Bill to enable New South Wales to take part in the framing, acceptance, and enactment of a Federal Constitution. I began by urging hon. members to remember that we had reached a stage in the Federal movement at which we should abandon oratory and devote ourselves earnestly to the practical phases of the enterprise. I did not omit, however, a well-earned tribute to the great services rendered by Sir Henry Parkes at an earlier stage. I did not disparage, either, the valuable labours of the 1891 Convention. The pressing question was how best to restore the subject to life and give it another chance of satisfactory settlement. The Bill of 1891, whatever our opinions might be as to the merits of some of its provisions, was a very able measure, splendidly drafted; but the movement had lacked one essential element, and that was an earnest adherence to the Federal movement by the great body of the people.

The Government had considered whether they should follow the lines laid down by the Parkes and by the Dibbs-Barton Governments, and we had determined that the movement must be put upon an entirely different basis. Hence we proposed that a new Convention should be summoned, and that its members should not be chosen by the Parliaments, but elected by the people.

The chief measures of the session, which began on August 13th and ended on December 19th, 1895, were:—

  • The Australasian Federal Enabling Act.
  • The Public Service Act.

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  • The Land Tax Act.
  • The Income Tax Act.
  • The Customs Duties Act (reducing the tariff to five heads).
  • The Land and Income Tax Assessment Act.

I should also mention an Act establishing the Accounts on a cash basis, as from July 1st, 1895, leaving the votes passed up to June 30th to remain open as before, so that the new Accounts should contain no deficiency to start with and no uncertainty for the future. We also passed an Act to put all deficiencies up to June 30th into Treasury Bills. This included a deficiency on the Accounts, January to June, 1895, amounting to £240,000.

My opponents, who were naturally very keen after their heavy defeat on the taxation proposals, started a great controversy over the way in which I presented the Public Accounts. They tried to saddle me with the deficiency of my predecessors, although it was their own declared intention to provide for it by Treasury Bills. They persistently declared that my Accounts were all wrong. To do this with any show of plausibility they had to ignore the Acts agreed to by Parliament, which were intended to give the new system of Accounts on the cash basis a fair start. To denounce my Accounts as wrong, and then to endeavour to prove the charge by stating the real figures to be what the law declared they should not be, was an extreme of unfairness which I strongly resented.

Sir Henry Parkes passed away on April 27th, 1896, at the age of 80. I saw him once whilst he was lying

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very ill, but his death took place whilst I was in South Australia.

Sir Henry had some faults—who has not?—but his career was, upon the whole, the most striking and most fruitful in great events of any in Australia. He was his own schoolmaster, and he was one of the best examples that can be quoted of the immense value of the education in things that count in real life, which a man with natural ability can give himself. His mannerisms in speech never wholly fell from him —occasionally one saw the cottager's son in them—but his lofty notions of government and the soundness of his Constitutional views, coupled with his massive eloquence, robust English, and immense persuasiveness, made him the truly great man which his remarkable personal appearance suggested. When I stood by his bedside in that last illness, and he took me by the hand, all our previous barriers seemed to disappear. A mutual emotion of regret replaced them.

On July 9th, 1896, I made the Budget Speech dealing with the Public Accounts. The revenue received during the year from July 1st, 1895, to June 30th, 1896, was £32,000 above my estimate. The actual expenditure during the year out of the votes taken for the year under the new system left a cash surplus of £333,000. This, of course, excluded payments under the unexpired votes of the old system, which were provided for in the Treasury Bills already referred to. In view of the attacks made upon me, I asked the Auditor-General to certify to the correctness of my cash balance, which he did in a written reply. If I

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had been foolish enough to load the new system with the expenditure upon the votes passed before that system began, the new system would have been saddled with a large deficiency which did not belong to it, instead of showing the cash surplus which did, which was a folly my opponents could not make me commit. They had then to fall back upon figures arranged contrary to the laws which had been passed.

In this session we removed a great reproach by placing upon the Statute Book a much-needed and long-delayed Public Health Act. We had a Health Board and laws relating to quarantine, but no general law such as had long before been passed in other countries. Preventable deaths and preventable epidemics had been a disgrace to our legislature. Another much-needed power was taken—that of preventing building operations in unhealthy places.

I cannot leave that subject without acknowledging the eminent services in all matters of the public health rendered by Professor (afterwards Sir Thomas) Anderson Stuart, Dr. (afterwards Sir Charles) Mackellar, and the late Dr. Manning (who was the Head of our Lunacy Institutions). Dr. (afterwards Sir Normand) McLaurin also rendered conspicuous service in all these matters.

The scarcity of water in our rivers made the question of water conservation and riparian rights one of vast importance. We passed a measure bringing all the inland waters of New South Wales under the control of the Crown, whilst providing safeguards for existing interests. Mr. (afterwards Sir Joseph) Carruthers, the Minister for Lands, deserves

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immense credit for the way in which this Bill was drafted, and the manner in which he piloted its passage into law.

In respect of factory legislation New South Wales was dreadfully behind. Our measure, which was passed in the same session, proved a remedy for many abuses, and established an efficient system of control over the conditions of labour, especially that of women and young people.

Our Coal Mines Regulation Act was also a large reform, badly needed. There were influential men in the Legislative Council largely interested in coal mines, and their views were quite at variance with those of our Chamber. Considering the difficulty—often proved —of getting a measure of the sort through both Houses, Mr. Sydney Smith—one of the most devoted friends and colleagues any leader could have—deserves great credit for his success in getting his Bill passed into law. It provided for proper ventilation and the competency of those who had responsible posts in the mines.

The election of ten delegates to act for New South Wales, as provided by the Federal Enabling Act of 1895, was held in the beginning of 1897. The whole of the proceedings were of a friendly character and, as we hoped, made the federal project interesting and popular in a way that proved impossible in 1891.

One of the most notable candidates was Cardinal Moran. His Eminence had taken a deep interest in the federal movement, and his qualifications were undoubted. His defeat was caused by a general desire —which some of his own large flock shared—to keep

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the heads of religious bodies out of active politics. The only leading Colonist who had been divine and politician both was the Reverend Dr. Lang.

No one could grudge Mr. Barton his premier position on the poll—his personal and intellectual qualities were so great, and his devotion to the cause of federation had been so conspicuous. It is not unfair to add, as another reason, that for some years he had been out of Party politics, whilst I had been in the front of many bitter battles. The vote that placed me next him was larger than anyone anticipated, and was a source of lasting pleasure to me.