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15. Chapter XV The Convention Resumes

THE Convention resumed its sittings in the Chamber of the Legislative Assembly.

During the adjournment the Bill had been considered in detail in both Houses of the Parliaments of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania, and many suggestions for amendment were made, but few of these were of importance.

The work in Sydney differed from that in Adelaide. There was no general debate at the outset. Even then the Draft Bill was only partially dealt with. The main discussion turned on the question of provision for possible deadlocks. This fact is a strange commentary on the go-by given to that question in the Convention of 1891, and the omission of any such provision in the Draft Bill as settled in Adelaide.

Under the able guidance of the President, Chairman of Committees, and the Leader of the Convention, our debates seldom got into a tangle, but there was a most troublesome one over the deadlock proposals. A test amendment revealed the fact that there was a two-to-one majority in favour of making some sort of “safety valve,” but what form that should take created numerous difficulties, behind which was the desire of the less populous to make the Senate as

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strong as possible, opposing the desire of the more populous States to get some sort of appeal against the Senate's decisions if a crisis arose. How the appeal should be made, and what should happen after it was made, gave rise to keen debates and intense struggles in which political strategy played a far more prominent part than usual.

After many attempts the result was—there might be a dissolution of the House, or a dissolution of both Houses, and on failure to agree after appeal to the people, a joint sitting. This was agreed to by 23 to 13.

As I was in favour of the joint sitting proposal I voted for it, even with the proviso that there should be a three-fifths majority, to which I was opposed, and hoped to remove afterwards. That was eventually done.

The burning questions as to the rivers and the railways were left over for a Melbourne Session to begin on January 20th, 1898. A number of the other clauses were also left over.

Owing to my absence from Sydney I was unable to deliver the Financial Statement until October 14th. I was then able to announce that the reforms in the Civil Service, whilst making it more efficient than before, had reduced its cost by about £300,000 a year.

A Bill was introduced by a private member to provide that the Federal Bill, when referred to the electors, should not become effective unless an absolute majority of the electors voted. On the second reading we strongly opposed the Bill, but it was carried by 46 to 27. In Committee there was a proposal to

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make it necessary that the number voting for the Bill should be 100,000.

I suggested as a compromise 70,000 to 80,000 votes, stating that I would have seriously to consider my position, and that of the whole movement, if 100,000 were carried. An amendment for 80,000 votes was proposed, and I accepted that to prevent the 100,000 from being inserted. When 70,000 was afterwards proposed I felt bound to stand by my agreement to accept 80,000, and voted against it. On the third reading, as on the second, my colleagues and I voted against the Bill, but we were beaten by large majorities on both occasions. I mention this to show the strength of the opinion of members, and to reply to many attacks made upon me for accepting the 80,000. If I had not it would most certainly have been 100,000.

As arranged, the Convention resumed its labours in Melbourne on January 20th, 1898. This was the last sitting. We had, therefore, to make a final effort to put the Bill into a generally acceptable shape.

There had always been a good deal of badinage between Sydney people and Melbourne people over the climatic conditions of those cities. As the heat during our Melbourne session was phenomenal, both in intensity and duration, the Sydney visitors had for once, at any rate, the best of the fun.

To give the reader some notion of the length of the debates in the three sessions, I may mention that the Adelaide proceedings were printed in one volume of moderate size, those at Sydney in one volume of 1,110

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pages, whilst the Melbourne debates filled two volumes containing 2,544 pages.

Nearly every contested issue between the supposed interests of the populous and less populous Colonies—between those who wished to expand federal control over the rivers and railways of New South Wales and those who resisted them—had to be fought out once more.

Towards the close of the proceedings, after a number of private conferences between delegates from the smaller States chiefly, an entirely new clause was proposed and carried by 21 to 18. This clause was afterwards known as the “Braddon” clause, often as the “Braddon blot,” Sir Edward Braddon, the Premier of Tasmania, being its sponsor. This clause required that three-fourths of the net revenue from Customs and Excise duties should always be returned to the States.

One of the notable changes of mind on the part of the Convention occurred in connection with Old Age and Invalid Pensions. The proposal to add these, which had been rejected before, was rejected again at the beginning of the Melbourne session by 25 votes to 20. At the end of the session it was resolved by 26 to 4 to include them amongst the federal powers. The change was made in the hope that it would improve the prospects of the Bill.

An even more sudden change was made in connection with the taking over of the Public Debts of the Colonies. On February 28th Sir George Turner carried by 25 to 8 an amendment that Parliament “shall” take over the debts. This was in the morning of that

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day. I arrived by the express from Sydney late in the day, and appealed to the Convention to reverse its decision. In this Mr. (afterwards Sir Frederick) Holder gave me most powerful support. We both pointed out that the “shall” presented all the existing holders of the State bonds with a Commonwealth guarantee, without any consideration whatever, and thus destroyed any hope of making favourable terms for the conversion of the debt. The next day, I am glad to say, the “shall” was altered to “may” by 19 to 18.

On the burning question of the conflicting claims of navigation and irrigation there was again a series of strenuous debates, with the following results:—

  • 1. The Federal power given over the River Murray in Clause 52, as settled in Adelaide, was withdrawn.
  • 2. A clause was inserted prohibiting the Commonwealth from doing anything to abridge the right of a State, or of the residents therein, to a reasonable use of the waters of rivers for conservation or irrigation.

Another burning question—that relating to the powers of the Commonwealth over State railways—was settled, after long discussion, by giving the Commonwealth power to forbid by law any undue or unreasonable preference; but this power was limited in two ways: (1) only the Inter-State Commission could adjudge any particular rate to be unjust and unreasonable, and (2) in considering such questions it was provided that due regard should be paid to the financial responsibilities of any State in connection with the

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construction and maintenance of its railways. The railways in New South Wales were really the stumbling-block.

The deadlock provisions also came up again, and provoked a long controversy. I supported an attempt to get the three-fifths majority at a joint sitting altered to a simple majority. I had accepted the three-fourths majority in Sydney because I greatly wished to secure some sort of provision to remove any serious Parliamentary deadlock that might arise. Dissolutions, even of both Houses at once, might leave the deadlock as grave as ever. The joint sitting was most likely to secure a settlement. There was no certainty, however, of any reasonable ending at all if the majority had to be three-fifths, because 66 of the members voting might be beaten by 45!

Mr. Higgins moved that the majority of three-fifths should be struck out and a simple majority inserted. I supported him, but we were beaten by 27 to 10.

The Bill was finally settled and the Convention adjourned sine die on March 17th.

A few days before I left the Convention I expressed my dissatisfaction with the shape in which the Bill then stood.

Shortly after my return to Sydney I addressed a very crowded meeting of citizens of Sydney, in order to give them and the people of the Colony an account of the proceedings of the Convention and an analysis of the provisions of the draft Bill. My duty as a representative at the Convention to give a full and candid review was, if possible, doubled by my position as Premier of the Colony.

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The following is from one of the newspaper descriptions of the meeting:—

“The gathering was a magnificent one. It was certainly one of the largest political meetings ever held in the Town Hall. The meeting could not very well have been larger. The whole of the hall was filled in a few moments. So also was the platform.

“No one knew exactly what attitude Mr. Reid was going to take. He was therefore ‘supported’ by persons of all shades of Federal belief. There were Federal delegates present as well as gentlemen who would have been delegates had the country elected them. Rabid Unionists were to be noted sitting quietly by the side of those who would not agree to Federation at any price. At ten minutes to eight o'clock Mr. Barton stepped to a front seat on the platform, and was received with loud cheers. The greatest reception, however, was reserved for the Premier, who, surrounded by several of his colleagues in the Ministry, and preceded by the Mayor of Sydney, came to the front just as the Town Hall clock chimed eight. The audience rose and cheered again and again, hats and handkerchiefs being waved in the air.

“The Premier received a splendid hearing. There was no actual disturbance from the beginning to the end. There was just a little interruption at the commencement. Mr. Reid, however, speedily managed to get his audience interested in the somewhat dry subject of the meaning of the Commonwealth Constitution. When he began speaking he held a few notes in his hands, but as soon as he warmed up

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to his subject he discarded them entirely, and quoted clauses and sections of the Bill without referring to any documents. This was the great charm of Mr. Reid's address. He avoided useless details, and dealt only with generalities. Nevertheless, he recited the main portions of the proposed Constitution with exactness and clearness, and as he avoided technicalities and spoke in his usual happy colloquial style it was easy for everybody to understand him. He specially pointed out that he intended to deal with the Commonwealth not as a partisan and not as an advocate, but with the deliberate impartiality of a judge addressing a jury. He was very candid over the matter, and explained his likes and dislikes without stint. But he was careful to explain as follows:—‘When I am dealing with this blot or that blot in the Bill, do not think that settles the matter, because no body of men could frame a perfect measure.’ The improvements of the Commonwealth Bill of 1898 as compared with the Draft Bill of 1891 were duly pointed out. So also were various matters which Mr. Reid regarded as blemishes upon the proposed Constitution. One of the chief points of interest was the discussion of the Federal Tariff. The Parliament would require at least six millions of money; but that did not necessarily involve a Protective policy. If Federation became an accomplished fact Mr. Reid said he would fight the battle of Free Trade in the Federal Parliament as he had fought it in New South Wales. This sentiment was received with ringing cheers.

“But what was Mr. Reid going to do? This was

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what the audience desired to know after the Premier had been speaking for an hour and three-quarters. Was it his intention to bless the Bill or to curse it altogether? So far no one could say. He had, so far, simply dealt with the measure after the same fashion that a judge sums up to a jury, quoting the case for and against. But the declaration had to be made. Mr. Reid spoke of the blessings of union. At this there was an outburst of cheering. He recognised there would have to be a federated Australia some day, and he dwelt upon the grandeur of such a nationality. The audience became enthusiastic. Let them, he remarked, look at the Bill honestly and fearlessly, and decide on their own consciences for themselves. ‘So far as I am concerned,’ he announced amidst terrific applause, ‘I feel I cannot become a deserter to the cause.”’

A very exciting campaign followed. A number of my own friends and supporters, all the leaders of the Labour Party, and some of the members of the Opposition, headed by Mr. Lyne, opposed the Bill as it stood. Many members of the Ministerial and Opposition parties, under the very able leadership of Mr. Barton, Mr. Richard O'Connor, Mr. McMillan, and Mr. Bruce Smith, Mr. Dugald Thomson, and Mr. B. R. Wise—all men of great ability, eloquence, and influence—conducted an enthusiastic campaign in support of the Bill. They denounced those even who would agree to the Bill if amended, as if they were all enemies of federation. As the conflict became keener, their eulogies of the Bill became more extravagant, and my warnings became more and more emphatic. I had

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publicly declared my intention to vote for the Bill, in spite of its drawbacks, and I felt that laid on me a heavier obligation to leave no one in doubt as to its defects. The more emphatic I became in my analysis, the more irritated the extremists on both sides became. One set denounced me for seeing so many defects in the Bill, the other set for not seeing more. If I had shut my eyes to its defects and magnified its merits I should have been extolled by those who shouted “Yes”; if I had seen nothing but defects I should have been extolled by those who shouted “No.”

The point that quite fairly exposed me to attack was the fact that, whilst I criticised some parts of the Bill so strongly, I intended to vote for it. The position of an ordinary elector who said, “Well, there are some parts of the Bill I don't like at all, but I am in favour of federation, and I will vote for the Bill in spite of its faults,” could not be attacked. But it is difficult for leaders to escape abuse if they pursue such a course. They become a target for both sides. That was my fate. It earned for me the epithet of “Yes—No!” I did not wonder at it, and did not resent it, because that is a reproach to which everyone who looks fairly at both sides of a burning question will always be exposed. It can be said of every judge who holds the balance fairly between any plaintiff (“Yes”) and any defendant (“No”).

The poll was taken on June 3rd, 1898. When the ballot boxes were closed, and the counting began in every polling booth in the State, the excitement of the day reached a climax. Mr. Barton and his lieutenants were assembled in the Empire Hotel in a room facing

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the board on which the Sydney Morning Herald displayed the progress of the count. As “Yes” sailed ahead they naturally rejoiced; as “No” crept up, naturally they did not. At one period of the evening, towards the close of the record, some enthusiast, or wicked wag, in charge of the board suddenly displayed for “Yes” a total which surmounted the statutory and indispensable number of 80,000 votes. The scene among Mr. Barton's assembled friends, as described in the newspapers, will not easily be forgotten. Speeches full of delirious joy and triumph were made—to be followed by a hideous chill when the index fell thousands lower a few minutes later.

The final result of the poll was 71,595 votes for the Bill, and 66,228 votes against it. The Bill, therefore, failed to reach the statutory limit by 8,405 votes.

Parliament was not summoned until the Referendum was over. In the Governor's Speech at the opening of the session there was the following paragraph:

“The Government are not prepared to abandon their efforts to arrive at a satisfactory removal of those features of the Bill which have prevented the people of the country from voting more largely in its favour, and which have caused so many thousands of the electors to vote against it.”

In the Assembly Mr. Lyne moved an amendment to the Address in reply. He asked the House to declare that it “declines to allow the present Government to deal with the important question of federation.” This was negatived by a very substantial

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majority—65 votes to 32, a majority of 33 votes, which showed that we had not lost the confidence of the House in the course we had taken.

Photograph facing p.170. Sir George and Lady Reid and family

As the life of the Parliament was nearing its end, a General Election followed. Naturally, the chief topic was Federation and the Convention Bill. Some of the most active members of my party were rabid opponents of the Bill, and so were some of the leading members of the Labour Party. The leaders of the “Billites” denounced those who desired serious amendments in the Convention Bill just as if they were furious Anti-Federalists. The Government, and the great majority of our supporters, were anxious to bring the movement to a successful issue, but stood out for amendments.

There was no subject before the electors of so much importance as Federation. But in the new crosscurrents which had been created by that question we had also to reckon with the hostility of the Protectionists, whose tariff we had repealed, and the enmity of the financial interests and landed proprietors, whom we had incensed by our land and income taxes. Besides, we had won two General Elections, and been in office for nearly four years—a very long innings in our part of the world at that time. Our hold over the Labour Party was also greatly lessened because our land and income taxes had become law.

Mr. Barton resigned his seat in the Legislative Council in order to contest a seat at Bourke; but he at once accepted a challenge I made that he should oppose me for King Division. I could not have had a more formidable antagonist. My old friends, however,

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stood by me, and I defeated him by a substantial majority.

To defeat Sir Henry Parkes and Mr. Barton in two successive elections was an achievement of which any man might be proud. My debt of gratitude to the electors who stood by me in those elections became a heavy but delightful one.

The other Premiers waited to see the result of the elections and their effect on my position before responding to the approach I had made to them. Any chance of getting Mr. Barton to deal with, instead of myself, was well worth waiting for, because he had not stood out for any alterations in the Bill in favour of New South Wales, and had always been their “white-haired boy,” whilst I was, as compared with him, a very “terrible infant” indeed. But when events showed that there was no hope of a change of leadership they at once responded to my advances. I ought here to explain that, apart from federal controversies, the other Premiers and I had always got on remarkably well. No one could wish for better colleagues in a Premiers' Conference than Sir George Turner (Victoria), Mr. Kingston (South Australia), Sir Hugh Nelson, followed by Mr. Dickson (Queensland), Sir Edward Braddon (Tasmania), and Sir John Forrest (Western Australia). Alas! Mr. Kingston, Sir Hugh Nelson, Mr. Dickson, Sir Edward Braddon, and lately Sir George Turner, have all passed away, leaving Sir John Forrest as the only survivor.

We did not secure an assured majority. The result showed that the beginning of the end was upon us. We greatly desired to stay in long enough

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to complete the federal process which we had begun and carried to so advanced a stage. We had to deplore the loss of three of our Ministerial colleagues—Mr. Gould, Minister for Justice; Mr. Sydney Smith, Minister for Mines and Agriculture; and Mr. Jacob Garrard, Minister for Public Instruction. Their places were filled up by the appointment of our Vice-President, Mr. John Hughes, to Justice; of Mr. J. A. Hogue to Education; the transfer of Mr. Cook to Mines and Agriculture; and Mr. Varney Parkes joined us as Postmaster-General.

The new Parliament met on August 16th. On August 31st I moved in the House a series of resolutions embodying the points which we desired to submit to the Governments of the other Colonies, with a view to their adoption as amendments of the Draft Bill. We thought it better to ask the House and the Council to express an opinion upon them.

The following is a brief summary of the purport of the resolutions:—

  • 1. In joint sittings of both Houses the three-fifths majority to be altered to a simple majority.
  • 2. As an alternative proposition, a national referendum.
  • 3. The capital of the Federation to be in New South Wales.
  • 4. Alteration of boundaries of any State to be made subject to the approval of a majority of the electors of that State.

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  • 5. The use of rivers for purposes of irrigation and water conservation to be more clearly safeguarded.
  • 6. All Money Bills to be put on the same footing as Taxation or Appropriation Bills—that is, shall not be amended by the Senate.
  • 7. Appeals from State Courts to be altogether to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council or to the High Court.
  • 8. The clause known as the Braddon clause, which secured to the States a return of three-fourths of net Customs revenue and excise to be removed.
  • 9. Further consideration of the other financial clauses earnestly requested.

The Leader of the Opposition moved what was equivalent to a vote of censure, and asked that the House should approve of joint deliberation between the Governments to settle upon any amendments that might be necessary without “laying down any preliminary conditions.”

The amendment was defeated by 58 to 54 votes, and the Federal Resolutions were agreed to as submitted, with two additions.

In the Council our resolutions were substantially accepted, but some amendments were made.

In my financial statement I alluded to the series of droughts which had affected the Colony during the previous four years. It was estimated that the difference between average seasons and those of the four

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years meant at least 50,000,000 sheep, 1,500,000 head of cattle, and 290,000 horses. I pointed out that the loads upon our current year caused by the annual charges in respect of past deficiencies were all paid, and a surplus of £135,000 remained. I also informed the Committee that, whereas the two previous Administrations spent out of loan funds on the average, one nearly £3,000,000 a year, and the other about £2,250,000, our own average was only £1,500,000 a year; and that our rate of ordinary expenditure was £7 3s. 2d. a head, as against £9 7s. 4d. in 1886—twelve years before.