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13. Chapter XIII The Convention At Work

THE Convention began its sittings on March 22nd. At first there were only four Colonies represented: New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and Tasmania. That made a House of 40. A few days later Western Australia was added, which made the number 50. This Convention, when compared with that of six years before, showed great changes in its membership. Sir Henry Parkes had passed away. Sir Samuel Griffith had become Chief Justice of Queensland. Queensland was not represented at all. Nor were there any delegates from New Zealand. Sir George Dibbs had become the Managing Trustee of the Savings Bank of New South Wales. Mr. Gillies had become Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Victoria.

The chief names repeated from 1891 were those of Mr. Barton, Mr. McMillan, Sir Joseph Abbott, from New South Wales; Mr. Alfred Deakin, from Victoria; Mr. Kingston, Sir John Cockburn, Sir Richard Baker, Mr. J. H. Gordon, Sir John Downer, from South Australia; Sir Edward Braddon and Sir Philip Fysh, from Tasmania.

At a Conference of Premiers held the night before the meeting of the Convention I suggested that Mr. Barton should be placed in charge of the business, as


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he had been one of the framers of the Draft Bill and I had been a prominent opponent.

As the meeting took place in South Australia, the Premier of that Colony, Mr. C. C. Kingston, was elected President, a choice that would have been a good one in any case. Sir Richard Baker was elected Chairman of Committees.

It is impossible to speak too highly of the services of those three gentlemen at the three sessions in Adelaide, Sydney, and Melbourne. Of course, Mr. Barton had the most difficult post. Even his great fitness was taxed sometimes almost to breaking point. That was when burning questions were being fought out and personal influence became an indifferent second to State interests.

The debates were often intensely vigorous, and sometimes developed sharp conflicts. Looking over the reports of the debates, I see, too, many reasons for picking myself out as the chief offender in the heated exchanges which occurred during the sittings of the Convention.

As the smaller communities were to have as many Senators as the larger, their representatives were anxious to give the Senate powers as nearly equal to those of the House of Representatives as they could, with one notable exception to which I have referred elsewhere. Responsible government was to them—or most of them—a thing that went without saying in their local Parliaments, but an unwelcome feature in the federal scheme.

The most critical point in all our proceedings at Adelaide arose upon the question whether the 1897


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draft should remain as drawn by the Committee, giving equal power to the Senate over all proposed laws, “except laws appropriating the necessary supplies for the ordinary annual services of the Government which the Senate may affirm or reject but may not amend.” I submitted an amendment making proposed laws imposing taxation also laws which the Senate could not amend. Even the 1891 Bill had provided that such Bills should not be amended by the Senate. I felt that no Bill could be accepted if the Senate had equal powers with the House of Representatives over taxation. Apart from questions of relationship between the two Houses, which were vital in this case, it seemed to me that hopeless confusion might arise from equal powers over the basis of public finance—taxation. The experience of the United States, where equal powers exist, was far from encouraging. If it be true that “no man can serve two masters,” it is even truer that no system of public finance can serve two masters. On the question of principle no reply that was offered seemed to dispose of my view that “if you nationalise the area and incidence of taxation you must nationalise the power and representation of the taxpayers.” I quite admitted that “if our finances were based upon an equal contribution by each of the States my contention would disappear.” Sir George Turner declared that this amendment was the “crux of the situation.” Mr. Kingston took a similar view, saying that the rejection of my amendment would mean the “forfeiture of responsible government.” After a memorable debate my amendment was carried by 25 to 23. Mr. Kingston


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and Mr. Glynn, of South Australia; Mr. Lewis, Mr. Brown, and Mr. Henry, of Tasmania, by voting with us, made a solid sacrifice of State interests in order to destroy one of the lions in the path.

In the Draft Bill as it came from the Constitutional Committee at Adelaide the first thing I observed was omission of the 1891 arrangement, which made “river navigation with respect to the common purposes of two or more States or parts of the Commonwealth” one of the subjects of the federal legislative power. I always objected strongly to this as vague and possibly subversive of our powers of irrigation in dry seasons. The new proposal was, I conceived, a thousand times worse because it took over the control of the use of our rivers altogether. It was as follows:—

“The control and regulation of navigable streams and their tributaries within the Commonwealth and the use of the waters thereof.”

Since the Murrumbidgee and the Darling began and ended entirely within New South Wales, I regarded the proposal to hand over those two rivers as an impossible concession. Schemes of intensive culture for which the river waters were necessary were the only chance we had of making our remote interior a hive of human industry.

A committee was set going to formulate a scheme of finance. It consisted of three delegates from each of the six states. Mr. McMillan was Chairman of that Committee. The Premiers were ex officio members of that and all other Committees.

Two broad divisions of the matter presented themselves. One was as to the period before, and the


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other as to the period after, the enactment of the Federal Tariff. It was generally admitted that on these points the scheme of the 1891 Bill was faulty if not unworkable.

I secured a provision that the uniform tariff must be imposed within two years after federation. This was important, because tremendous conflicts over its details were certain. Besides, as the one State with a free trade tariff, and with duties levied against her in all the other States, New South Wales had the strongest reason for that speedy settlement, which alone could bring inter-State free trade into force.

I suggested another change to which I attached great importance. In the 1891 and 1897 drafts the Supreme Court was to be established by Act of Parliament. This gave it only a parliamentary tenure. I urged that its foundation should be in the bedrock of the Constitution. The power of establishing the Court was therefore exchanged for the enactment that “the judicial power of the Commonwealth shall be vested in one Supreme Court to be called the High Court of Australia.”

Another important change was the provision enabling Parliament to establish an inter-State Commission to enforce equality and freedom of trade upon rivers and railways.

A very wise alteration was made regarding proposals to amend the Constitution. The 1891 Bill provided that proposed changes should go from Parliament to a convention chosen by the electors. The 1897 draft provided that the reference should be to the electors themselves.




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As I had been so often censured over my dealings with the subject of federation, I may be forgiven if I conclude these observations upon the Adelaide sittings of the Convention with some references to my federal work made in the Convention before my departure for Sydney:—

“We owe so much to Mr. Reid in the origin of this Convention, and for the fair and conciliatory spirit in which he has invariably addressed himself to the business of this Convention, that we can assuredly offer him the slight tribute of offering him a public good-bye. That at least is due to him and due from us to him.”—MR. DEAKIN.

“I agree with the sentiments that have fallen from Mr. Deakin, and think that we will unanimously pay Mr. Reid this small mark of our high esteem and appreciation of his enthusiastic and eloquent advocacy of Federation, his sound reasoning, his geniality, his unflagging industry, and his unfailing courtesy.”—MR. KINGSTON.

“No one is more sensible than I am of what Mr. Reid has done for the cause of Federation, and especially in connection with the carrying of this Federal Enabling Act, not only in the interests of the people of his own Colony, but for the whole of the people of Australia.”—MR. BARTON.

“I only desire to endorse what has been said by my hon. friends Mr. Deakin and Mr. Kingston. We owe a great deal to Mr. Reid. He has initiated this movement, and he has forwarded it in the most admirable manner by his tact as much as by his eloquence, and it is only a small compliment to bid


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him good-bye and send him forth rejoicing.”—SIR EDWARD BRADDON.

“When I interjected I was certainly under the impression that my hon. friend the Premier of New South Wales would be more pleased if we kept to our work than if we went to see him off. As that is not so, I would not attempt to stand in the way of this Convention bidding good-bye to my genial friend, and I must express the warm hope that we shall meet him again in another part of Australia—I shall not say what part—to finish the good work which he has taken such great pains in carrying out.”—SIR GEORGE TURNER.

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