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18. Chapter XVIII Birth Of The Commonwealth

A ROYAL Proclamation fixed January 1st, 1901, as the date for the beginning of the Commonwealth Constitution.

The next step was the appointment of our first Governor-General. In accordance with the prevailing desire Lord Hopetoun (afterwards the Marquess of Linlithgow) was selected. When twenty-nine years old he was appointed Governor of Victoria, and as his youthful charm and enthusiasm were backed up by a keen intelligence, and a large instalment of that best sort of tact which is at once shrewd and amiable, the surprisingly sudden popularity he achieved and maintained in Victoria had spread over the whole continent, and was the best sort of guarantee for his success in the new position. Lady Hopetoun—like all the wives of Governors and Governors-General—had also an arduous part to play—and she played it well. Her Excellency added to the charm of her appearance all those sterling qualities which confirm such first impressions.

The intention to make this appointment must have existed when the delegates were in England, because the only unpleasantness of Lord Hopetoun's career in Australia arose out of expectations derived from Sir Edmund Barton of supplementary grants for purposes of hospitality. An effort was made by Sir Edmund to

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give effect to these intentions, but the enthusiastic stage was over, and Parliament refused to concur; a grant for expenses connected with the Royal visit was substituted. Lord Hopetoun's hospitalities were generous to a point perhaps of lavishness, and the salary attached to the office did not cover one-half of his outlay. I am sure that there was no want of will on the Prime Minister's part.

As it was arranged that the ceremonies connected with the foundation of the Commonwealth were to take place in Sydney, and that the Governor-General would commence his Australian residence there, Lord Beauchamp, the Governor of New South Wales, determined to resign in order that Lord Hopetoun should be able to occupy Government House.

On New Year's Day, when Lord Hopetoun's official landing took place, the weather was gloriously fine, and the harbour—world-famous for its mingled beauty and commercial convenience—looked its best. After the landing, there was a procession along the central streets of Sydney, and out to Centennial Park, travelling a length of about two miles.

The new Ministry was a prominent feature of the procession. The Governor-General had an enthusiastic reception. I was without any official rank, but the affectionate fervour of the greetings I received all along the line from the men, women and children of the city in which I had lived so long gave me one of the greatest pleasures of my public career. No piles of money which I might have acquired from entire devotion to practice at the Bar could weigh for an instant against such spontaneous proofs of national good will.

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There were some most interesting incidents connected with the formation of the first Federal Ministry. If I had continued Premier of New South Wales I should certainly, as the Prime Minister of the leading State, have expected to be “sent for.” As it was, I had no such right or expectation. Lord Hopetoun sent for my successor, Sir William Lyne. I do not think he could, with propriety, have done anything else. The question whether he could succeed in his task or not was quite another matter. Whether he would be Prime Minister or not was also an open one. The commotion excited amongst those closely associated with Sir Edmund Barton led to some rather amusing developments, but in the end he became Prime Minister, and Sir William accepted a place in the Ministry. Sir Edmund Barton's personal and intellectual qualities, his devotion and brilliant services to the Federal cause—the popularity he enjoyed not only in his own State, but in all the other States—greatly enhanced as it was by the sympathetic attitude he had maintained on various burning questions affecting the interests of those other States—made his position as the head of the first Federal Ministry a perfectly suitable one.

The Ministry itself was a strong Protectionist combination. Sir George Turner, its excellent Treasurer, Mr. Kingston, its able Minister for Customs, Mr. Deakin, its brilliant Attorney-General, were, with the Prime Minister and Sir William Lyne, the leading members of the Ministry, and were confirmed—one would hardly be justified in saying that any of them were extreme—Protectionists. The Queensland Minister and the Tasm

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anian Minister were bound to seek a tariff yielding a large revenue.

Photograph facing p.198. Rt.Hon.Earl of Hopetoun, G.C.M.G. First Governer-General Australian Commonwealth

I felt, as a strong Free Trader, quite out of touch with the majority of the leading politicians of the Commonwealth, and the odds seemed much against me in the electorates.

Our Party, however, was a very large one. I had a number of able and devoted comrades, who were determined to put up an enthusiastic fight. Our backing in the Australian Press was quite equal to—perhaps more powerful than—that of the other side.

No other issue than the tariff counted in the first election. The Labour Party candidates were allowed to come out on either side of the fiscal issue. This enabled them to put up Free Trade candidates in Free Trade areas and Protectionists in Protectionist centres, which was a tremendous advantage. With the making of the first Australian tariff ahead of us, we threw our influence into the scale in favour of Free Trade Labour candidates when we had not a good man of our own Party.

As there was in every State a large number of electors belonging to neither camp, there was an obvious advantage in making the Protectionist appeal to the electors as moderate as possible, and the Prime Minister and Mr. Richard O'Connor, who had formerly been convinced Free Traders, were—quite unlike most of those who change their political creed—convinced moderates.

The prestige attaching to such an able collection of Ministerial talent was enhanced by a general desire to

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give the first Ministry of Australia a fair trial. As a Ministry, it had no past and a flying start.

I think that if we had had the good fortune to form a Ministry we should have had a good chance at the first election, for similar reasons.

But in the long run the revenue necessities of all the States except New South Wales would have told in favour of our opponents. The difference between a high tariff for revenue purposes and a protective tariff is not great, and the tendency always is to increase taxation in the direction which clamours for it as if it were a Waverley pen—“a boon and a blessing to men.”

On January 18th the Prime Minister delivered his manifesto speech at Maitland, the centre of the Federal electorate of the Hunter, for which he became a candidate.

After justly congratulating himself upon the able team he had formed, and paying a compliment to Mr. (afterwards Sir Frederick) Holder, whom many thought to have been worthy of a place in the Cabinet, the Federal Capital was the first topic of policy. The Administration was “to be carried on in Sydney,” the Parliament was “for the present” to be in Melbourne. This was an obviously impossible arrangement, and neither that Ministry nor any other could administer a Government 600 miles from the Parliament. The attempt was never made—but the applause was loud! The appointment of the Inter-State Commission—not made until long afterwards—“will prepare the way for the vast subject of taking over the railways, which can be done with the consent

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of the States. This is a subject which is now engaging the attention of a very clever man, my colleague, Sir George Turner.” In parenthesis I may add that from that night until now (1901–17) no proposal on the subject has been made! Defence was promptly to be organised. I stop here for a moment to register the great obligations of New South Wales and Australia to General Sir Edward Hutton, who commanded for several years in both places. The Old Age Pension system was soon to be introduced. Then came the question of taxation. “The power of taxation, I agree quite as fully as any Free Trader, is not to be lightly or rashly exercised.” Protection “must be moderate”; again, “We must have revenue without destruction—a tariff maintaining employment and not ruining it.” Again, “We hope to present to you a business man's tariff.” Again, “The first tariff of Australia ought to be considerate of existing production, and liberal in its attitude towards those engaged in production.” Again, “If you desire revenue with destructive government look for another representative.”

There are thousands of coal miners in the electorate. Most of them were and are Protectionists. The Prime Minister got into quite a different mood—became emphatic and fearless—he said, “In this district will anyone tell me that the coal mining industry will suffer from a policy under which capital will be invested and industries created at your very doors? Will that policy injure the coal miner? Will anyone tell me that?”

Preference and reciprocity, when possible, the Government favoured. Preference without reciprocity

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they “strongly favoured,” but it was a subject that “demands much careful consideration.”

Mr. Kingston—a great democrat with strong leanings towards the Labour Party, had been entrusted with the preparation of a Conciliation and Arbitration Bill.

As for the trans-continental railway, it “will not, of course, be adopted unless we see that the returns will outweigh the expenditure to be incurred. But at the same time I think it is our duty to Western Australia to institute a close and hopeful inquiry into the subject.”

As for Adult Suffrage, the Prime Minister had his own views, and had never hitherto declared himself in favour of Adult Suffrage. “I have resolved, however, that it is my duty now to advocate this principle of extending the franchise to women for the Commonwealth.”

On the question of a “white Australia” the Prime Minister was emphatic. “Legislation against an influx of Asiatic labour we shall regard simply as a matter of course.”

For the Federal elections several State electorates had to be constituted one federal constituency. The King Division, the Fitzroy Division, the Bligh Division, and the Belmore Division made up East Sydney, for which I became a candidate. My opponent, Mr. Reeves, was an able young member of the Labour Party. I had a great majority.

The number of Senators was, of course, 6 for each State—36 in all. The number of the House of Representatives was 75, made up as follows:—

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New South Wales . . . .  26 
Victoria . . . .  23 
Queensland . . . . 
South Australia . . . . 
Western Australia . . . . 
Tasmania . . . . 

The two latter States had the benefit of the minimum of five.

The contest, as I have stated, was mainly upon the fiscal question. The Federal Ministry presented to the people a three-faced aspect in one respect. Protectionists of the advanced type swore by Sir George Turner, Mr. Deakin, Mr. Kingston, and Sir William Lyne. Protectionists of the moderate type could rely upon Mr. Barton and Mr. O'Connor. Those who were High Revenue Tariffists, because of the financial requirements of their States, could rely upon Sir Philip Fysh, Sir John Forrest, and Mr. Drake.

The doctrine of a “white Australia”—a term I invented—would have been a leading question if it had not commanded almost universal assent. But there was a side issue in reference to the Kanakas working upon the sugar plantations of Queensland, upon which there was more difficulty, many fearing that if these South Sea Islanders were returned to their homes the sugar industry would be destroyed.

On the Free Trade side the leading men were: Mr. Joseph Cook, Sir William McMillan, Mr. Bruce Smith, Mr. Dugald Thomson, Mr. Gould, Mr. Millen, Mr. Sydney Smith, and myself, in New South

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Wales. In Victoria no pronounced Free Trader was returned to the Federal Parliament except Mr. Winter Cooke. There were several very moderate men—Mr. William Knox and Mr. Thomas Skene, Mr. A. C. Groom and Mr. J. C. Manifold. In Queensland there was no Free Trade leader. In South Australia we had three strong leaders in Sir Frederick Holder, Sir Josiah Symon, and Mr. Patrick Glynn. In Western Australia we had also a strong leadership in Mr. Kirwan, Mr. Harney, Mr. Staniforth Smith, and Mr. Norman K. Ewing. In Tasmania Sir Edward Braddon and Mr. J. S. Clemons led our Party.

In the Labour Party we had staunch and able Free Traders, like Mr. Hughes, Mr. Pearce, Mr. Tom Brown, Mr. Fowler, Mr. McDonald, Mr. James Page, and Mr. Josiah Thomas. The leading Protectionists were Mr. Watson, Mr. Tudor, Mr. Watkins, Mr. Higgs, and Mr. McGregor.

The result of the elections was as follows:—


Ministerialists . . . .  33 
Opposition . . . . .  26 
Labour Party . . . .  16 


Ministerialists . . . .  11 
Opposition . . . . .  17 
Labour . . . . . . 

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When you remember that the whole State was the constituency in the case of the Senate members, our majority of seventeen to eleven Ministerialists was indeed a triumph for the Opposition. On the fiscal question, since five of the Labour Senators were Protectionists and two could hardly be classed as Free Traders, the Party triumph to which I have referred does not apply to the fiscal question, taking the Senate as a whole.

In New South Wales, the only really Free Trade State, the figures were as follows:—

House of Representatives   Senate   Total  
Free Traders .  16 ..  5 ..  21 
Protectionists .  10 ..  1 ..  11 
26 ..  6 ..  32 

Taking the decided Fiscalists as opposed to the “Indifferentists,” the general results in the two Houses were:—

Free Traders . . . .  40 
Protectionists . . . .  46 
Indifferentists . . . .  25 

By “Indifferentists” I mean honourable members whose desire for revenue rather than Free Trade or Protection made them neither of one brand nor of the other, but they were far more likely to vote with the Protectionists than the Free Traders if no question arose affecting their own electorates.

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So far as the House of Representatives is concerned, the matter was soon put to the test by a trial of strength.

One of the brightest auguries for the future of the Commonwealth was the high character of the new Houses. In not a single instance did the electorates return a man who did not bring with him an honourable desire to make and keep the reputation of the new Parliament for fair play and clean fighting.

The consent of the Queen to the proposal that H.R.H. the Duke of Cornwall and York and his gracious Consort should visit Australia to open the Federal Parliament awakened a depth and breadth of enthusiasm which only those who know the Australian people can understand.

By itself, the opening on May 9th, 1901, of the first Australian Parliament would have been a truly great event in modern history; but, opened by our future King and Queen, it also became a touching demonstration of the unity and loyalty of the British Empire.

In numbers our community was a small one; but the marvellous capacities of “the only British continent” for future greatness, and the wonderfully rapid and thorough spread of industry, civilisation, and an altogether unusual degree of human happiness and equality, over many of its vast distances, made the consummation of that Federal Union beneath the Southern Cross an event of world-wide importance.

On that memorable day the new nation cast two sheet anchors into the ocean of human progress—one

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for her own safety, and another for the stability of the Empire.

There was only one universal regret: Sir Henry Parkes, the great statesman who breathed a soul into the Federal movement, was not there to witness its triumph.

The opening ceremony took place in a vast building known as the Exhibition Building. The dais and its neighbourhood were crowded with the leading personages of Australasia. In front Queen Victoria's latest set of Ministers was placed, supported by the members of the Senate and House of Representatives. In the transepts and galleries, and in every other part of the vast building, many thousands of spectators, all under the sway of intense if suppressed emotion, witnessed the unique ceremonies.

From every point of view four personalities dominated the magnificent perspective—the Duke, the Duchess, Lord Hopetoun, and Lady Hopetoun.

Alas! the Sovereign whose unequalled reign had as its closing triumph this new federation had passed away, full of years and bequeathing many immortal memories. Her grandson had become the Heir Apparent to the Royal and Imperial Thrones.

The first thing done when the members of the House responded to the summons of His Majesty's High Commissioner was the singing of three verses of the “Old Hundredth.”

There are many spiritual ties of our race, which stretch with unimpaired sweetness and vigour over land and sea. Few sounds have greater majesty, few revive nobler memories in just and unjust alike,

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than the simple tune and immortal words of the “Old Hundredth.”

The Governor-General then read a prayer. The special supplications followed.

His Majesty's High Commissioner then delivered the Speech.

To my infinite regret I was too ill to attend the great ceremony, or any of the opening sittings. I journeyed to Melbourne for the purpose when not sufficiently recovered from an illness, and had a relapse. This is the only big occasion in my long life when illness has interfered with the performance of an important duty.

The candidates for the position of President of the Senate were Sir R. C. Baker, Sir F. T. Sargood, and Sir W. A. Zeal. The voting for the first-named was 21 votes, for the second 12 votes, and for Sir William Zeal, 3 votes. There can be no doubt that the most capable President was chosen.

Later in the day the Duke, having commanded the attendance of members of the House in the Senate Chamber, delivered an address.

Mr. Holder was elected to the Speaker's chair without opposition. His elevation was a great loss to the Free Trade party, but no better choice could have been made. I always had the highest possible respect for Mr. Holder's abilities—his power of clear speech—and his transparent honesty of purpose.

On May 10th, the Governor-General delivered the Viceregal Speech to both Houses. It naturally referred to a large number of legislative proposals, some of which, even yet, have not been achieved.

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Both Houses adjourned until May 21st. This was necessary owing to the important festivities in Melbourne and Sydney, of which Their Royal Highnesses were the centre.

Perhaps the military reviews in Melbourne and Sydney were the finest spectacles. I was at the latter display. The Imperial Government had sent a notable contingent, representing famous British regiments, and these fine fellows were immense favourites with the people. When I looked at the march past of our Militia and Volunteer regiments, and our Naval Brigade, I felt sure of their prowess. But who that day could foresee the wonderful achievements of our comparatively untrained youths in the present war?

At one of the great functions in Sydney the Duke and Mrs. Reid were discussing, in a humorous vein, the relative merits of New South Wales and Victoria, when His Royal Highness turned to the Governor-General laughingly and put to him this question: “Which do you prefer, Hopetoun, Melbourne or Sydney?” His Excellency could not have been asked a more delicate question, and every one near listened intently for the answer. Lord Hopetoun proved himself to be equal to the emergency, because he at once replied, “Oh, sir!—you must remember—I'm federated now!”

My new sphere of activity in Melbourne was nearly 600 miles away from the courts of law in Sydney. I had a lucrative practice, and I could not give it up altogether. This should have made impossible my election by the Opposition members as their leader. To have a leader away from the House for comparatively long periods was clearly a most undesirable

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state of affairs. However, the party was good enough to insist upon my leadership, “with all faults,” a deputy-leader, in the person of Sir William McMillan, being chosen. He most kindly undertook to act for me when I was absent.

In my speech on the Address in Reply, I alluded to the number of Revenue Tariffists returned, taking the members of both Houses together—Revenue Tariffists and Protectionists. In Queensland, there were seven out of fourteen, with one doubtful; South Australia, seven out of thirteen; Western Australia, nine out of ten, with one doubtful; Tasmania, eight out of eleven; Victoria, five out of twenty-nine; and New South Wales, twenty-one out of thirty-two. The total for both Houses was fifty-seven; there were fifty-two Protectionists, leaving two unclassified. But for all practical purposes the Protectionists were much stronger than those figures suggest, because there was very little to choose between many of the Revenue Tariffists and the Protectionists. The outstanding fact was that the cautious fiscal programme of the Prime Minister had triumphed. He had saved the Commonwealth from a high Protectionist tariff.

I laid great stress upon the alarming fact that in ten years Victoria, where Protection was rampant, had lost 117,000 souls by emigration over immigration.

The most important matters in this unique session were the Budget and the Tariff. An unprecedented but wise step was adopted by Ministers. They divided the Financial Statement into two. The first part, delivered by Sir George Turner, the Treasurer, related to general finance; the second part, delivered by

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Mr. Kingston, the Minister for Trade and Customs, dealt exclusively with the Tariff proposals.

Sir George was well placed as Treasurer. He had proved his quality in his management of the finances of Victoria, and in the courage with which he carried out colossal reductions of expenditure, bringing a most extravagant annual expenditure down to a singularly modest total.

The favourable position we had established in New South Wales was revealed by a table showing the amount that would be raised for the Commonwealth if the tariffs of the respective States were chosen as a basis. The table was as follows:

On New South Wales lines .  £4,972,000 
On South Australian lines .  6,642,000 
On Victorian lines .  7,349,000 
On Tasmanian lines .  10,684,000 
On Queensland lines .  11,646,000 
On West Australian lines .  19,499,000 

The loss to the revenue owing to Free Trade between the States Sir George estimated at £1,000,000.

The total revenue he proposed to raise by the new duties of Customs in a normal year was £7,388,000, and from Excise £1,554,000, or £8,942,000 in all.

The one-fourth the “Braddon Clause” allowed the Commonwealth out of Customs and Excise would cover all the Federal expenditure, and leave £500,000 on the right side.

Mr. Kingston discharged his onerous duty with great power and success. Everybody admired the rugged manliness of his style, and the sweetness and

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good fellowship of his personal character. He began by a rejoicing utterance over the approach of Free Trade all over the Commonwealth. On that point Free Traders and Protectionists were on common ground. Some of us found it difficult to regulate the soundness of a principle by boundaries on a map.

The Minister declared that the proposals he was about to submit were governed by two principles; moderate Protection, and the fiscal necessities of the States. He said, “Extreme of revenue production and Protection giving in any one line—the two things are mutually destructive.” Again, “The first condition is revenue, but Protection to existing industries at least must accompany it.” The worst thing about any system of Protection I have always said was the tendency to pass from moderate to extreme duties. Of late years that phase is not so much in evidence.

The rates on which the Tariff is based were given very clearly. Stimulants and narcotics bore the heaviest duties. Apart from them, the average of the ad valorem rates was 22·93 per cent.

On sugar the question of black labour employed on the canefields of Queensland came up. Mr. Kingston proposed to tax imported sugar at £6 a ton, and to fix an excise at £3 a ton, of which £2 a ton would be refunded to employers of white labour, and nothing was to be refunded to employers of black labour. There was an interjection from a very high authority: “You cannot grow sugar without black labour.” That was generally believed at the time, but experience has proved that sugar can be grown, and is now entirely grown, by white labour.

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I followed Mr. Kingston at once, and spoke with all the fervour of an ardent Free Trader, and the author of the five-line tariff of the Mother Colony. I did my best to touch the Minister, who was nothing if not a fearless and enthusiastic democrat, on “the raw” by an immediate exposure of the heaviness of the duties specially relating to the everyday necessities of the poorer classes. The true weight of some of these duties had been skilfully concealed under what is called “composite” duties, i.e. a specific duty and an ad valorem duty both wrapped up in one. Few of these composite rates were applied to luxuries.

On the point of “raw material” I suggested that every man's requirements were his raw material and every man's faculties too. Then manufactures in one industry are often the raw material of another. This is one of the knottiest points about a Protective tariff. I contrasted the duty of 20 per cent. on blankets with the duty of 15 per cent. on ladies' furs; the 15 per cent. duties on silks and velvets with the 20 per cent. duties on flannelettes; the 20 per cent. on tents for the bush worker and 15 per cent. on the trimmings “worn by ladies who do Collins Street”; the duty of 20 per cent. on mangles with the 20 per cent. on kid gloves; and so on. The trouble always is that the industries from which the Protective policy produces the largest results are those that make the articles which the masses of the people use.

The following week I moved a vote of censure in order to test the feeling of the House.