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16. Chapter XVI The Second British Federation

ON the last day of 1898 I sent a dispatch in identical terms to the Premiers of Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania, inviting them to meet me in conference to consider the amendments to the Convention Bill which New South Wales desired to make.

I also made an earnest appeal to the Premier of Queensland, Mr. (afterwards Sir James) Dickson, to join us.

The five Premiers thus addressed agreed to the proposed Conference, and we fixed it for January 28th at Melbourne. I had made many endeavours to bring Queensland in, and at last my efforts were rewarded with success.

When the Conference met I felt that the fact that Victoria, and South Australia, and Tasmania had all accepted the Bill as it stood, and that even New South Wales, by a majority—though not a statutory number —had also voted in its favour, made my task in submitting a number of alterations not an easy one. We sat for five days, and for a long time every day. I never had a more anxious or a more strenuous time. The Queensland Premier and I worked well together. The other Premiers were able fighters, and were not very willing to yield anything to me, especially as our

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interests on some of the points were in collision. When all was over I had got the two biggest of the concessions we sought. From first to last there was no unpleasantness of any kind.

The capital was given to New South Wales, but was to be at least one hundred miles from Sydney. The Conference agreed also to convert the three-fifths majority at a joint sitting of both Houses into a simple majority. The Premiers were willing to abandon the “Braddon blot,” giving the States three-fourths of the customs revenue; but when we all tried—and we did try desperately hard—to get a substitute that would give the smaller populations financial security in some other form, none of the plans submitted was acceptable. But one important concession was made. Instead of a place in the Constitution which could only be disturbed by a majority of States and a majority of electors, its currency was limited to ten years certain. At the end of that period Parliament could deal with the clause as it liked. The protection I sought against the alteration of the boundaries of a State unless that State concurred was granted. The provision relating to inland rivers was left intact. The Premiers would not consent to any alteration of the Constitution by means of a national referendum, our Labour Party's proposal, but they consented to a change which enabled either House to secure a referendum if the other House rejected a measure twice in consecutive sessions.

With reference to the safeguard against the selection of a site for the Federal capital within one hundred miles of Sydney, the Premiers agreed that

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it should not be “at an unreasonable distance from Sydney.”

I left the Conference with a determination to fight as hard as I could for the Bill as amended. I felt that no further changes were possible, and that I ought to invite the people of New South Wales to adopt it.

Of course those who did not think that the time had come for Federation, and those who strongly opposed the Bill, even in its improved shape, did their best to rouse public opinion against it. A few of the leading newspapers took that course—but very few.

Parliament was called together on February 21st to deal with the one question of Federation—in other words, to pass a measure submitting to the electors the Bill as finally amended at the Conference of Premiers.

In the Governor's speech the following statement of our view was submitted to Parliament:

“It appears to the Ministry that the Governments of the other Colonies have gone so far towards meeting the objections urged in New South Wales, that further delay or opposition to the completion of the great work of national union would not now be reasonable. In their opinion the momentous question is at last fairly narrowed down to an issue between those who really desire federal union and those who do not.”

On February 28th I moved the second reading of the Bill to submit the Convention Bill, as amended at the Conference of Premiers, to the electors. Provision was made for showing clearly the nature and effect of the changes agreed to. There was no division on the

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second and third readings, and certain amendments proposed in Committee were defeated by immense majorities.

In the Legislative Council there was strong opposition to the Bill. The following amendments were carried: (1) To postpone the vote for at least three months after the passing of the Act; (2) That if less than one-third of the electors on the rolls voted in favour of the Bill that should be equivalent to a rejection; (3) That Queensland should be one of the Colonies accepting the amended Constitution. The preamble was also amended to show that Parliament expressed no approval of the Draft Bill or the amendments made in it.

This action brought about a deadlock between the two Houses, and a Conference which failed.

We prorogued the House, and recommended to the Lieutenant-Governor, Sir F. M. Darley, the appointment of twelve new members of the Legislative Council, and Sir Frederick accepted our advice.

In those twelve nominations there were four who were members of the Labour Party. I believe I was the first Premier to make such nominations. Then I included Mr. (afterwards Sir Samuel) McCaughey, a pastoralist, who stood at the very head of that great class of colonists whose enterprise had surmounted untold difficulties. Sir Samuel was one of our finest pioneers in most of the station improvements and water developments which have set the pastoral industry on sound foundations. His enormous holdings of live stock in New South Wales and Queensland placed him above all his competitors. Sir Samuel

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earned my ardent appreciation by the contrast between his conduct and that of others in connection with my land and income taxes. These measures took several thousands of pounds out of his pocket every year, but that did not affect his friendship for me, or his support of our party, in the slightest. Others who had to pay only a few pounds became bitter opponents.

My staunch personal friend, Mr. Richard Jones, and my late colleague, the Hon. A. J. Gould, were also included.

Parliament met on April 11th. We submitted the Federal Bill in the same shape as before, omitting the preamble.

In the Council, Mr. Pilcher moved again his amendment, making this time more than one-fourth instead of one-third of the electors necessary to the approval of the Bill. This was the only division, 23 voting for, and 30 against the amendment. If the twelve new members had not been appointed, the amendment would have been carried by 23 to 18.

We accepted an amendment that two months should elapse before the vote was taken in the electorates. This was clearly a reasonable time.

The way was now clear for a referendum to the electors of the Convention Bill as amended at the Conference of Premiers.

During my experience of elections in New South Wales I never knew of one in which so much ability and enthusiasm were displayed on both sides. The weight of influence was curiously distributed. Against the Bill there was a great force of Conservative

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opinion, and in the ranks of Labour there were most influential leaders and a large mass of opinion on the same side, because the Bill was thought not to be Radical enough. There were also large numbers of those who thought New South Wales had better “paddle her own canoe” for some time longer. Then there was quite a substantial number of Free Traders who in 1899 were where I was in 1891. I had been called with some reason “Yes—No”; but a more just and friendly appreciation of my course would transpose the “Yes—No” into “No—Yes,” quite a usual attitude in all concerns, political or commercial, into which the element of bargaining enters. Some were rather absurdly shocked at the idea that “bargaining” should enter into so noble a national cause; but the fact remained that in every project of federal union a bargain, which means a compromise, or a compromise, which means a bargain, must be struck between national powers and provincial interests, and that involves other bargains in order to give effect to it, such as the relative powers of the House of the States and the House of the Nation.

The three most powerful opponents of the Bill on the platform were Sir Normand McLaurin, M.L.C., Mr. W. M. Hughes, M.L.A., Mr. Holman, M.L.A., and Sir William Lyne. Quite a number of fine speakers supported the Government. Sir Edmund Barton, Mr. Richard O'Connor, Mr. B. R. Wise, Sir William McMillan, Mr. Bruce Smith, Mr. Dugald Thomson, and a host of others. There was an unexampled fusion of political opponents in both camps. The finest feelings of the electors were stirred to their depths.

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The opponents of the Bill were animated with feelings just as patriotic, however mistaken, as those in favour of union.

The strength of the other side was shown in the number polled against the amended Bill. The result was never in doubt after the first dozen returns came in, but whilst our side polled 107,420 votes, the other side polled no less than 82,741 votes.

The result of this first referendum to the whole of the people of Australia was hailed with delight in every part of the Empire, as the Canadian Union was in 1867, and as the South African Union was later.

These three great Confederations have helped towards the consolidation of the Empire in quite a remarkable way. One shudders now at what might have been, if the War had found the people of the Dominions, now so magnificently solid and efficient at all points, a nebulous series of provincial formations.

The Address to the Queen was passed in the Assembly without division, and in the Council by 24 to 21.

This was the last stage in the process which the Ministry undertook to carry to a successful conclusion. The rest was in the hands of the Imperial Parliament.

It was to my colleagues, as to myself, a source of the highest gratification that we had been able to conduct this great national movement to a triumphant end.

We had to pay an almost immediate penalty for that, and a chance of punishing us arose. But the Opposition had no chance whilst Mr. Barton was its

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leader, because, although he was quite the best man on the other side, many of those who wished to displace us would not vote for any censure Mr. Barton moved.

Mr. Barton retired from the leadership of the Opposition on August 23rd. He explained that the pledge he gave not to raise the fiscal question was not concurred in by a large number, if not a majority, of that body, and in the event of a change of Government he could not sink his pledge. He thought it better, therefore, to retire. Sir William Lyne was elected in his place.

The very same day the first step was taken in a matter which was soon to prove fatal to the Ministry. I was entirely responsible for the subject of censure.

The late Mr. J. C. Neild was then member for Paddington. He was a man of great ability, zeal, and thoroughness, but had a very sensitive nature, was quick in attack, and most caustic in defence.

Among the many matters Mr. Neild took an earnest interest in was that of Old Age Pensions, which was |exciting a growing interest at that time. About to proceed to England, Mr. Neild expressed to me his willingness to make inquiries on that subject, and we gave him a formal commission to do so, in order that his researches should be conducted under the most favourable conditions. I made it clear to Mr. Neild, however, that we did not propose to grant any allowance of any kind for his expenses or in any other way. Later, when a question was asked in the House, I mentioned that fact to the House. That was on July 30th, 1896, more than three years before.

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Some time after Mr. Neild's return he submitted to me his report. I expected a comparatively small document that would be printed as a Parliamentary paper. To my astonishment, Mr. Neild sent in a report of many hundreds of pages, of singular ability and completeness, the result of exhaustive inquiries. When it was set up in the Government Printing Office, and submitted to me, I thanked Mr. Neild most warmly, and said that he should submit to me particulars of any expenses he had been put to, and I would place the amount, with something added for his own labours, on the Estimates. This he did and the item of £600—£350 for his out-of-pocket expenses and £250 for his personal labour—was noted for the next Estimates. During the recess, and before the Estimates could be submitted to Parliament, Mr. Neild appealed to me to advance his actual out-of-pocket expenses, in anticipation of the vote of Parliament. I demurred to this. During my whole term of office I had set myself against such anticipations of the discretion of Parliament. But he gave me a reason for his urgency which entirely enlisted my sympathy—a life policy that was in danger of lapsing—and I at last advanced the amount of the out-of-pocket expenses, £350.

In connection with this payment Mr. Edden moved that Mr. Neild had vacated his seat by accepting an “office of profit.” A select committee, consisting of the members of the Elections Committee, was appointed to inquire and report.

On August 16th, Mr. Carruthers made the Financial Statement for the year beginning July 1st, 1898.

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He began by pointing out that the Auditor-General had made our cash surplus for the first year of the cash system £16,000 more than I had, and for the second year £10,000 more. For the third year, 1897–8, he stated the cash surplus to be £62,000. The Treasury figures were £135,000. This difference arose from a charge he put against that year which belonged to the year 1895–6. The main fact remains that, whilst my opponents were always alleging that I had landed the country in a large deficiency, the new system of accounts had, both by the Treasury officials and the Auditor-General's certificate, always shown a surplus—small, but real. If my predecessor, Mr. (afterwards Sir John) See, had carried out his intention of putting the deficiency he stated in his accounts into Treasury Bills, there would have been no chance of making such a ridiculous charge.

On August 30th the Committee on Mr. Neild's case reported. The Committee found that Mr. Neild had not accepted an office of profit, but added their opinion that “the practice of the acceptance of payment from the Government by members of either House of Parliament holding commissions from the Crown without the previous consent of Parliament is constitutionally dangerous, and should be discontinued.”

The leader of the Opposition had given notice of a motion of censure framed in general terms “that the present Government does not possess the confidence of the House.”

Mr. Fegan proposed an addition to the motion in the following terms: “And deserves censure for having made payments of public money to Mr. J. C.

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Neild, member for Paddington, without asking Parliament, and contrary to the assurances given by the right hon. Premier.”

The Opposition naturally rejoiced over this chance of upsetting the Government. When we took office many good judges thought our term would be a very short one, as I had never shown much interest in party politics, and was known not to take public life very seriously. However, my term of office had now exceeded all previous records in New South Wales.

Some of my staunchest supporters had become enraged with me over the Federal movement, and the success of the second referendum, and some able and influential men in the Labour Party were in the same mood.

Besides, as previously pointed out, the General Elections had greatly weakened us in numbers. The Labour Party could give an immense majority on either side. That party always met to consider motions of censure, and voted together according to the decision of the majority. On this occasion the party met and decided by a narrow majority not to vote for the censure. That seemed to make us safe—at least, so I thought. Whilst in this frame of mind a very influential member of the party came to see me, and I expressed my satisfaction at their decision. I will not soon forget the ominous way in which he begged of me not to rely too much on that decision. True enough, the party met again, and I was afterwards informed that several threatened to resign their seats if the decision were not reversed, and it was reversed. I do not blame those who gave

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way to this pressure, because solidarity in a party so constituted was considered by its members a matter of life or death to the Labour movement.

I have more than once testified publicly to the generous and most loyal support given to me by a majority of the members of the Labour Party during the whole of my long term of office. Their leader, Mr. J. S. McGowen, the member for Redfern—one of the straightest and most courteous men I ever met—in the course of the debate referred to my relations with his party in the following terms: “I desire to emphasise what the Premier has said. In the position I have the honour to hold in the Labour Party I must say the right hon. gentleman has stated here what is absolutely true. There never was any arrangement made by the Labour Party with the Prime Minister. At no time was there even a tacit arrangement in regard to what kind of legislation he should bring in or what he should do for us.”

To me one of the most agreeable features of the debate was the speech and vote of Mr. Dugald Thomson. That hon. gentleman was not at that time a supporter of mine. He was a follower of Mr. Barton, placing Federation before every other public question. He was a business man, held in the highest repute in all circles, and had a singularly clear mind and upright nature.

The motion, with Mr. Fegan's amendment added, was carried by a majority of 34. If the Labour Party had voted as at first they decided to do the motion would have been defeated by 34.

I think that the Labour Party cannot be blamed for

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leaving us and supporting Sir William Lyne. He was expected to be, and he proved to be, a much more suitable Premier for their purposes than I should have been.

Then the Labour Party was at cross purposes with us on another important point. We were willing to carry compulsion in labour disputes to the point of compulsory investigation, but not so far as compulsory awards. The Labour Party urged me to go as far as they wished, and I refused.