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9. Chapter IX I Succeed Sir Henry Parkes

ON October 26th the names of the new Ministry were announced to the House, and the House adjourned for the re-election of Ministers until November 18th.

The Premier and Colonial Secretary was Mr. G. R. Dibbs; the Attorney-General was Mr. Barton; the Colonial Treasurer, Mr. John See; Works, Mr. W. J. Lyne; Lands, Mr. Henry Copeland; Justice, Mr. R. E. O'Connor, and Sir Julian Salomons, K.C., Vice-President of the Executive Council. The two last-named sat in the Legislative Council.

During the interval between the adjournment and the meeting of the House the Liberal Party, led so long by Sir Henry Parkes, held a meeting and decided to send a deputation to Sir Henry “to ascertain his views as to the leadership of the Party.” Reports had reached members that Sir Henry did not intend to take up the duties of the position; but it was felt to be due to that veteran leader to appoint the deputation, to learn his views at first hand. Sir Henry replied that he could not undertake the duties of the position. At an adjourned meeting I was elected leader of the Opposition, on the motion of Mr. B. R. Wise, seconded by Mr. Varney Parkes, Sir Henry's son.

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A week after my election as the leader of the Opposition I got a shock somewhat like that of Mr. Montagu Williams, the eminent Q.C., who went into a London specialist's office one bright morning and received a sentence of death, in the shape of a discovery of cancer in the throat. I had a violent cold and my voice was scarcely audible. I consulted a medical man, who employed the usual means of examining the throat, asked me if there were cases of cancer in the family history, and then told me I would probably have to give up my work in the Courts and in Parliament. I would not accept the verdict as final. Two months afterwards I consulted an eminent throat specialist in Melbourne, who told me that my throat was so wonderfully sound that he could not decide whether I had ever had even a catarrh! This is one of many instances of the folly of jumping at conclusions. At the time of writing, twenty-five years afterwards, my throat is still above suspicion.

Returning to the question of my new leadership, I had never accepted office under Sir Henry Parkes, but I had always set my face against invitations to form a “cave” in the Liberal ranks. Imperium in imperio is never so objectionable in any form, I think, as in the ranks of a Parliamentary Party. It is very suggestive of divided counsels, unacknowledged ambitions, and internal dangers. Sir Henry offered me important and interesting positions which I would not accept, and I never attended any meeting of his followers. But from the time he raised the flag of Free Trade in 1887 until we differed over federation,

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I worked loyally to keep him in office. When I entered Parliament in 1880 as an independent member I sat on the Ministerial benches below the gangway; but in June, 1881, I went over to the other side of the House for reasons which I did not give at the time and have never publicly disclosed.

On December 1st, 1891, Mr. John See, the Colonial Treasurer, delivered his first Financial Statement. Referring to the Statement of his predecessor, Mr. McMillan, on October 16th, 1890, Mr. See brought the former's estimated surplus for 1890 down to £47. As for 1891, Mr. See estimated that there would be a balance on the wrong side of £589,000. He then submitted a scheme of new duties, mostly of a protective character, which were expected to yield in 1892 the sum of £836,000.

The people of New South Wales have always resented attempts to introduce a Protectionist policy behind their backs. It had always been tried that way, and the electors had always returned a majority pledged to undo what had been done. This new Government and its followers at the polls a few months before stood for 63,000 votes, the Free Traders standing for 90,000, and the Labour Party, which had sunk the fiscal issue, for 75,000.

As the head of the Free Trade Party I opposed most bitterly this fresh attempt to destroy the policy which had been so continuously affirmed by the people of New South Wales. Sir Henry Parkes fought with splendid energy right through the long struggle which ensued in the House.

The newly formed Labour Party which had sunk

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the fiscal issue was now put to a crucial test. It had not yet become fully organised—not yet had been established that ambitious and despotic organisation which afterwards achieved so much. The new Party could decide to support the Government on the ground that the cause of labour would thus be better served, or they might agree to vote against the Government on the ground that since they had agreed to sink the fiscal issue they would not allow anyone else to raise it.

As the leader of the Free Trade Party, my duty was clear: I gave notice at once of a motion of censure.

In making that motion I reminded the House of the large number of questions of first-rate importance ripe for enactment: electoral reform, water conservation, coal mines regulation, labour disputes, the rabbit plague, law reform, and, above all, the pressing question of local government.

In the absence of a measure of municipal taxation, the more successful an honourable member was in getting public money spent in his electorate, the more popular he became, quite irrespective of the utility or futility of the work.

On the point that more revenue was needed, I drew attention to the fact that although there were then only 1,100,000 men, women, and children in the Colony our revenue exceeded £10,000,000 a year. It must be remembered by the general reader that taxes formed a small portion of that large amount. It included land and railway revenue, and receipts for other works.

The fight that followed at every stage of the tariff

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before it was embodied in a Customs Bill and sent to the Legislative Council was a long and desperate one. Once in the Legislative Council its passage into law was assured.

In this session I introduced two useful Bills to enact valuable English codifications of laws relating to arbitration and the laws of partnership. They were passed without difficulty.

Early in 1892 we were called upon to mourn the loss of Sir John Hay, K.C.M.G., the President of the Legislative Council for twenty years. Sir John was one of the best pioneers, and one of the ablest of our public men. The force of his memorable opposition to the free selection of lands before survey in 1861 was weakened by his position as a large landholder. But Sir John Hay's stand for survey before selection was justified by the robbery and jobbery and confusion bred by the more popular policy.

One of the results of the great labour strike of 1890 was the Trade Disputes Bill of the previous Ministry. Their successors brought in a Bill on similar lines, and carried it into law. It contained the two elements of conciliation and arbitration, both optional, but by agreement in any case the arbitration award might be made enforceable at law. Both tribunals were to be selected from lists furnished by the Trade Unions and Employers' Unions.

Towards the close of this long session, which began on July 14th, 1891, and ended on April 1st, 1892, Sir Henry Parkes, on an adjournment motion, brought up the federal question. His speech was chiefly important for an admission that the original plan for

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dealing with the Draft Bill was impracticable, and that it should be referred to a Convention chosen by the electors of the several Colonies. This was a striking proof of the effect of the strong opposition which existed to various features of the Draft Bill. The misplaced confidence in the merits of their handiwork which led the Convention of 1891 to insist on the Bill being submitted as it stood to the “Yes” or “No” of the electors had entirely disappeared.

Mr. Barton, in reply, did not make clear whether he fell in with Sir Henry's proposal that the members of the Convention should be elected, not appointed, because just as he came to that point the time the rules allowed him expired.

During the recess the Premier visited England, and he had not returned to the Colony when Parliament reassembled on August 30th, 1892.

Shortly afterwards Mr. Barton brought the Federal Resolutions before the House. He proposed that we should go into Committee to consider the Draft Bill, that we should suggest amendments, and that those amendments, and any suggested by the other Parliaments, should be considered with the Draft Bill by a second Convention appointed as the first was; and that the Bill, as finally shaped, should be submitted to a vote of the electors in each Colony. It will be observed that Mr. Barton did not adopt the suggestion of Sir Henry Parkes, that the second Convention for the consideration of the Bill should be chosen by the electors.

Speaking in that debate, I said: “Two and a half years ago I must confess I did feel that pushing

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forward the federal project at that time meant inevitably the adoption of a protective policy throughout the length and breadth of Australia. I am happy to say that since that time events have enabled me to take a much more sanguine view of the possibilities of the case.”

There was a long discussion on the Federal Resolutions, and the debate did not close until January 11th, 1893, when the Resolution to go into Committee was agreed to by 54 to 7. From that day until August, 1894, when the Government resigned, nothing further was done in the House or Committee. As a whole, the debate maintained a high standard, the speeches of Mr. Barton and Sir Henry Parkes being worthy of their high reputations.

On December 14th the Colonial Treasurer, Mr. See, delivered his Financial Statement on the Accounts of 1892, and the Estimates for 1893. The deficiency for 1891, estimated at £589,000, he now found to be £770,000, for reasons which he explained, although the revenue for 1891 was £78,000 higher than estimated. On the Accounts for 1892, of which sixteen days had to run, he estimated a deficiency of £382,000, instead of an expected surplus of £358,000. The new customs duties had realised his expectations. It is important to note that the two deficiencies, namely £770,000 for 1891 and £382,000 for 1892, make a total of £1,152,000, as at December 31st, 1892, “with which,” the Treasurer said, “to commence the year 1893.”

In January, 1893, the Treasurer made a further statement. He made the deficiency for 1892 and previous years £1,251,000. He also proposed an income

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tax, ranging from 4d. in the £ up to 10d. in the £ with a large exemption and a levy of 5 per cent. on the salaries of the civil servants above £200. He also proposed a reduction of the expenditure estimate by £265,000.

On February 2nd, when the House had gone into Committee of Ways and Means to further consider the Financial Statement, Sir Henry Parkes took an unusual course, which led to a very heated debate, lasting without a break from Tuesday until seven minutes before midnight on Friday. He moved “that the Chairman do now leave the Chair,” and sought to add a series of Resolutions censuring the Government for various faults. In these Resolutions the mover adroitly included every conceivable political weapon of attack of any value. After a long debate these additions to the simple motion that the Chairman should leave the Chair were ruled out of order. During that long and exhausting sitting I worked much harder for Sir Henry's success than I ever did for my own motions of censure, and we went very near victory, the division being 57 to 60.

On this interesting occasion Sir Henry prefaced his speech with a reference to my leadership of the Opposition. This was the only complimentary reference Sir Henry ever made to me.