previous
next



  ― 82 ―

8. Chapter VIII Labour in Parliament

WHEN the Parliament of New South Wales met the reference to the work of the Federal Convention was ambiguous in one respect. The belief of our delegates that they could prevail upon our Parliament to refer the Draft Bill to a vote of the electors, without any attempt at amendment or improvement, had been rudely shaken by the force of public opinion. Instead of asking both Houses to consider a Bill to provide for the proposed referendum, Parliament was told “no time will be lost in submitting to you a Resolution as a distinct part of the policy of my advisers.”

I moved an amendment to the Address in Reply, stating that the Bill was not, in important respects, founded on “principles just to the several Colonies.” At the same time, I fully recognised “the distinguished ability and zealous labours of the Convention.” My view was that the interests of the smaller States had got the best of it. Besides that broad ground, I strongly objected to the way in which the special interests of New South Wales had been sacrificed by our delegates. Our vital interests in our railways and in our rivers and water conservation were, I thought, insufficiently recognised. My amendment was defeated by 67 to 32. My object in taking that extreme course


  ― 83 ―
was to block as far as I could the submission of the Draft Bill to the people without a Parliamentary review of its provisions, clause by clause. Sir Henry had declared a short time before that such a course as the latter was impossible.

In a Ministerial Statement Sir Henry Parkes announced that the effect of my amendment had been to cause an alteration in the order of business. The Local Government Bill and the Electoral Bill would be taken before the federal project. This was a departure from Sir Henry's promise to his brother Premiers, which he endeavoured to justify on the ground that the House, by so decisively rejecting my amendment, had affirmed the Draft Bill in substance, and that, therefore, the later stages could be postponed.

The House did not agree with him, many members being anxious to propose serious changes in the measure. Some of us felt so strongly that when Mr. Dibbs proposed a motion of censure a week later we voted with him. In the course of the debate, Mr. Copeland, a devoted friend of federation, who had opposed my amendment, and others, denounced this change of front in strong language.

The censure motion showed 63 for and 63 against.

On June 6th, 1891, the Legislative Assembly was dissolved.

At the time of the dissolution Mr. Barton was a member of the Legislative Council. He resigned and became a candidate for one of the East Sydney seats.

The appeal to the country which followed showed how far astray the Premier was when he, and that


  ― 84 ―
majority of 23 to 7, in the Convention, resolved that the Parliaments should simply pass measures for a referendum.

He and Mr. Barton quite abandoned that position. They agreed that the Parliaments should consider the Draft Bill in detail, suggest amendments, and that a second Convention should be held to consider them. Quite naturally they put the issue to the electors as if it were “federation” or “no federation.” In this way the electors were invited to regard as enemies of federation those who had strong objections to the Bill. So far as I was concerned, I had little, if any, cause of complaint, because I had no sort of appetite at that time for anything that would probably sound the death-knell of the Free Trade cause in Australia.

As I have said, there were four seats in the East Sydney electorate, and the old style of public nomination of candidates and addresses from the hustings. Many thousands of the citizens used to assemble in Hyde Park to hear the candidates and take part in the show of hands. I had a very strenuous and a very anxious time, because, although the great majority of my constituents were Free Traders, the majority of that majority, on the question of federation, was far more in sympathy with Sir Henry Parkes and Mr. Barton than with me. To add to my troubles, my voice, when the day came, was gone, and my doctor warned me that I could not possibly give an audible address to such a large gathering. Still, I was determined to make the attempt, and I did. At the very start I felt I had an unsympathetic audience. Besides, the moment I began to speak


  ― 85 ―
my voice broke ludicrously, to the great amusement of the vast assemblage. I at once adopted a much lower tone, which enabled me to proceed. I gradually converted a hostile into a friendly audience— mainly, I think, from feelings of sympathy with me in a painful physical struggle. Quick generosity of feeling such as that was in one of the finest qualities of an Australian audience. When it was all over and I had the largest show of hands, Dr. Milford, who was my medical attendant, explained away his mistake, saying, “It was a triumph of mind over matter!”

In 1894, under a new electoral law, hustings nominations were abolished. Between 1880 and that year I figured in eight contests in East Sydney, and always enjoyed the satisfaction of the best show of hands. That it should happen in 1891 was, I admit, as great a surprise to me as to my opponents. The four successful candidates were Mr. (now Sir Edmund) Barton, Mr. (now Sir William) McMillan, Mr. Varney Parkes (son of Sir Henry), and myself. I came last, although about 600 votes above the fourth of the “federal bunch.” It was really the generosity of former supporters, not my attitude to the Draft Bill, which saved me from defeat.

The total number of seats was 141. Fifty-eight of the former members were replaced by new members. Some of these had been in Parliament before, but not many. The outstanding and momentous fact was the appearance of a distinct Labour Party, numbering 30. The desperate struggles in the previous year between employers and employed, in which the latter had been worsted, led the strikers and workers


  ― 86 ―

in other industries to substitute for methods of violence, which had failed, methods of “pacific penetration,” by the exercise of political power. The time was a good one for such a movement. The other two parties were pretty even, and such a number as 30 gave the new Party the balance of power. The actual results were:—

               
Ministerialists 
48 
Opposition 
56 
Labour 
30 
Independent 

The Labour members were free either to support or oppose the Government. They were free also on the question of federation, although the Draft Bill, as it stood, was not favourably regarded by most of them.

The new Parliament—the fifteenth—met on July 14th, 1891. Mr. Edmund Barton and Mr. (afterwards Sir Francis) Suttor came back to the House from the Legislative Council. Under certain expansive sections of the electoral law there were no fewer than 141 members of the Legislative Assembly. In the Governor's Speech, federal union was referred to as a matter to be brought forward without delay. The first business, however, was to be electoral reform, of which the chief points were “one man one vote,” self-registration, and single electorates. It was added that a resolution in favour of female suffrage would be submitted. Our old friend, a district self-government Bill, was to be “introduced immediately and to be pressed forward with the hope of its becoming aw before the close of the session.”

The Labour strikes of 1890 had decided the Government


  ― 87 ―
to introduce courts of conciliation and arbitration.

On September 1st Mr. Copeland (afterwards Agent-General for New South Wales in London) moved a motion in favour of Protective duties. There were many Protectionists who would not agitate for that policy in view of the federal movement in which both Free Traders and Protectionists were working together. Others, although federalists, thought we should make a start with duties, in order to get on more equal terms with the other States before the federal tie was completed. Mr. Copeland was one of the latter, Mr. Barton was one of the former. Mr. Barton moved an amendment in the sense stated above, postponing the fiscal movement in favour of federation.

Mr. McGowen, a leading member of the new Labour party, made an interesting statement in the course of the debate. He said: “We sank the fiscal question in the last election.…We formulated a policy by which Protectionists and Free Traders could come together…we cease to fight as Free Traders or Protectionists.”

In the light of subsequent events, Mr. J. D. Fitzgerald, another Labour member, made a statement to be remembered against him and some other members of the new party: “We came here pledged to sink the fiscal issue, and we have sunk it.” By 60 to 49 Mr. Barton's words were inserted. The effect of this was that the motion as it then stood was self-contradictory. Mr. (afterwards Sir William) McMillan now moved to omit all Mr. Copeland's words. I then stated that I would oppose the removal of the words, in order to


  ― 88 ―
bring about a result that the whole motion, absurd as it would be, would be negatived. By 63 to 46 the motion was left in its absurd position, and then by 62 to 47 negatived.

A measure for the better regulation of Coal Mines which was before the previous Parliament, in charge of Mr. Sydney Smith, the Secretary for Mines, came before the House again. The Bill went again through Committee. An amendment legalising the eight-hours principle in connection with coal mines had been carried and inserted in the Bill. The Minister had not resisted the amendment. On the motion for the third reading, Mr. McMillan moved the recommittal of the Bill in order to remove the eight-hour and another provision. He had resigned the position of Colonial Treasurer on July 27th, and now moved as a private member explaining that he did not know when Minister that the eight-hour provision was in the Bill. This move of Mr. McMillan, who was interested largely in coal mines, created a strong feeling amongst the advocates of the principle, who naturally supposed that its place in the Bill had been quite well known and intended. There was at once the beginning of a crisis when the Premier, Sir Henry Parkes, also stated his ignorance of the presence of the eight-hour provision in the Bill before the House, and declared that he would have nothing to do with the Bill if the provision was retained. A few minutes after midnight Mr. Barton came upon the scene and moved the adjournment of the debate, and some Ministers urged this, especially the Minister in charge of the Bill. By this time the Committee


  ― 89 ―
had got into an angry mood. The conjunction of Labour members with the Opposition—the former from strong conviction, the latter from a natural party motive—made refusal to adjourn certain. Mr. Barton's amendment was defeated by 49 to 41, after the Premier had made the consequences of the refusal quite clear. Sir Henry at once adjourned the House, and next day tendered the Ministerial resignations.

previous
next