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  ― 351 ―

23. Chapter XXIII. West Australia.

WEST AUSTRALIA has been kept back by the bad management of Downing-street. Huge areas were given away to those who had influence enough in the early days. Alleged “gentlemen” came to the colony, and hoped to live a life of ease by utilising the “free labor” of the poor convicts. The best lands were secured, and any bona fide settler had to go far afield. As if this were not enough to crush out any hope of settlement, the local Government (the Legislative Council) gave away millions of acres in connection with land grant railways. The line from Beverley to Albany was built in this way—40 miles each side the line kept out of settlement, and 12,000 acres given to the syndicate for every mile of road made. The line was opened on July 1, 1889, and sold to the Government in January, 1897, for £1,100,000.

Western Australia was a Crown colony until 1890. It was governed by a small Legislative Council working under the Colonial Office in London. Practically, the colony was ruled by what became known as the “six families.” These were the families of Messrs. Forrest (3), Burt, Stone, and Hamersley. These six and their relatives by marriage really ran the affairs of Western Australia. Mr. (now Sir John) Forrest was the leader, and may be termed the Autocrat of Western Australia from its early history


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until he went to the Federal Parliament in 1901. Self-government was established in 1890, with a Legislative Assembly of 44 members, and a Legislative Council of 24 members. Parliament had a tenure of four years.

The discovery of gold over an extensive field brought a big rush of miners from the eastern colonies, and as miners take a keen interest in politics an agitation quickly set in for representation. The “Outlanders” demanded a vote, and did not rest until they secured a change. The gross inequalities which the Government of the day permitted are seen by a glance at the electoral roll: Ashburton, 42 electors; East Kimberley, 90; De Grey, 70; Irwin, 106; Roeburn, 128; Kimberley West, 145; Gascoyne, 180; Murchison, 163; Moore, 356. This makes a total of 1280 electors, who returned nine representatives. Needless to say, these were squatters' districts.

The rolls for the principal goldfields were Coolgardie East, 5674; North-east Coolgardie, 3370; Coolgardie, 3364; Coolgardie North, 1710—a total for four seats of 14,118 electors. The four city electorates had 8328 electors, and the Port's four seats had 6209. The agricultural districts had thirteen representatives for 7615 electors. The total number on the roll for the colony was 43,185. The whole of the goldfields had only eleven representatives for 17,711 electors.

Summed up, the pastoral and agricultural districts had 22 representatives for 8895 electors, whilst the 34,290 electors of other districts had only


  ― 353 ―
a similar number amongst them. The agitation resulted in a change being made in the Constitution in 1899, when the Assembly membership was increased to 50 and the Council to 30. The new electorates were also put on a fairer basis. The tenure of Parliament was reduced to three years.

Photograph facing p.352. T.H.BATH, M.L.A., Leader of West Australian Labor Party.



One of the early moves in the Labor cause was in 1888, when the late R. H. Hornby, secretary of Typographical Society, called a meeting in Perth to establish a Trades and Labor Council. Mr. Pearce, now a Labor Senator, occupied the chair. An Early Closing Association was formed in Fremantle in 1889, and it succeeded in getting the closing hour firstly at seven, and latterly at six o'clock. In 1892 Perth joined in, and one association was formed for West Australia. The year 1890 saw the first Eight Hour Demonstration.

A meeting to establish a Trades and Labor Council for West Australia was held in Fremantle on December 9, 1892. Nine delegates were present, and a platform was adopted as follows:—Electoral Reform, Manhood Suffrage, Eight Hour Day, Conciliation and Arbitration, Prohibition of Chinese and Kanakas, Amendment of Master and Servants' Act, Lien Bill, Bill to legalise Trade Unions, Employers' Liability, Shops and Factories Act, Encouragement to Local Industry, The Making of all Railway Rolling Stock in the Colony, Equitable Taxation, Taxation of Land held for speculative purposes, Revision of the Tariff. About that time they ran a Labor man, but he was defeated. In May, 1897, C. H. Oldham was elected as Labor representative


  ― 354 ―
for North Fremantle. This was prior to payment of members.

West Australia was the first of the colonies to copy New Zealand by setting up Conciliation and Arbitration. It came about through the alertness and activity of the Labor organizations. The Act came in in December, 1900, and was secured in this way: The Emperor of the West (Sir John Forrest) was still in power, and the leader of the Opposition (Mr. Illingworth) had moved a motion of want of confidence. Labor saw its opportunity, and on August 29 waited upon Sir John as a deputation from the various organizations, urging him to introduce a bill on the lines of the New Zealand Act. Sir John agreed to do so if the deputation would secure the defeat of the motion of want of confidence. This they succeeded in doing, and Sir John kept his promise.

The idea of unionism was carried to the gold-fields of the West by miners from the eastern colonies, and several branches of the A.M.A. were established in the eighties whilst I was general secretary. The discovery of the rich fields of Coolgardie, Kalgoorlie, and Boulder gave an impetus to organization, and a new body (the Australian Workers' Association) was established on I.W.W. lines. It aimed at having one union for all classes of workers. This plan worked all right so long as the members were nearly all connected with the mines, but when the building trades came in it was soon found unworkable, and “craft unionism,” as it is termed, was substituted.




  ― 355 ―

Early in 1899 Mr. Hugh De Largie (now a Senator), who was president of the A.W.A. and one of the most active organizers, suggested the idea of a Trade Union and Labor Congress, so as to bring all into line for common action. As the outcome, the first Congress was held in Coolgardie, opening on April 11, 1899, and lasting till the 15th. Twenty-one delegates attended. Political action was decided upon, and the following three planks agreed upon as a fighting platform:—1, Payment of Members; 2, Redistribution of seats on a population basis; 3, Compulsory Conciliation and Arbitration on lines similar to New Zealand.

Resolutions were carried for abolition of plural voting; for adult suffrage, six months' residence to qualify; election day to be a public holiday, with all hotels closed; Parliament to sit five days per weeks; no deposits for candidates; referendum; in Government works and contracts union wages to be paid and an eight hour day; a tax on land values, and stoppage of all land selling, with introduction of a system of perpetual leasing; State bank, with sole right of note issue; State purchase of large estates; settlers to be assisted by giving them employment locally on road-making, etc.; State or municipalities to control the drink traffic; old age pensions; exclusion of undesirable aliens; abolition of Legislative Council.

Resolutions were also carried in favor of the bill for federating the Australian colonies. It was decided to form a Council of the Australian Labor Federation. The following resolution was carried


  ― 356 ―
with enthusiasm:—“That this Congress advocates the national ownership of all means of production and distribution for the equal benefit of all.” A form of pledge was adopted, and the various organizations in the different districts commenced preparations for securing the return of a united political party on the Labor platform adopted by Congress.

The elections took place in April, 1901, and the following direct representatives of Labor were returned:—H. Daglish, Subiaco; R. Hastie, Kanowna; W. D. Johnson, Kalgoorlie; F. Reid, Mount Burgess; J. Reside, Hannans; Geo. Taylor, Mount Margaret. Mr. J. B. Holman was added in December of same year. This was the first Labor Party in the West. Mr. R. Hastie was chosen as leader.

The Party did very good work, and the organizations outside became active, with the result that in June, 1904, under the new franchise, twenty-one members were returned, as follows:—W. C. Angwin, Fremantle East; T. H. Bath, Brown Hill; H. E. Bolton, Perth; H. Daglish, Subiaco; H. A. Ellis, Coolgardie; F. Gill, Balkatta; R. Hastie, Kanowna; E. C. Heitman, Cue; E. P. Henshaw, Collie; J. B. Holman, Murchison; A. A. Horan, Yilgarn; W. D. Johnson, Kalgoorlie; C. C. Keyser, Albany; P. J. Lynch, Mount Leonora; E. Needham, Fremantle; J. Scadden, Ivanhoe; G. Taylor, Mount Margaret; M. F. Troy, Mount Magnet; A. J. H. Watts, Northam; A. J. Wilson, Forrest; F. F. Wilson, North Perth.




  ― 357 ―

Mr. Hastie retired from the leadership, and Mr. Daglish was elected in his place. The result of the elections was to put the James Government in a minority, as there were five Independents in addition to the solid Labor Party. The House met on July 28, 1904, and the leader of the Labor Party at once moved a vote of no-confidence in the Government. This was debated until one o'clock on the morning of August 10, when the James Government was defeated by 27 to 19. Labor rejoiced at the knowledge that it had a Labor Government in power, and much was expected from the change. The Cabinet was made up as follows:—Treasurer and Minister of Education, Mr. H. Daglish; Mines and Justice, Mr. R. Hastie; Lands, Mr. J. M. Drew, M.L.C.; Works, Mr. W. D. Johnson; Colonial Secretary, Mr. G. Taylor; Railways and Labor, Mr. J. B. Holman; Mr. W. C. Angwin without portfolio.

Alas for the hopes and faith of those who had worked so hard to put a Labor Government in power. Ministers and members of the party lacked political experience. The leader was a weak man, though able on the platform. Very soon complaints were made by supporters as to poor administration, and Mr. Daglish decided to reconstruct his Ministry. He called upon them all to resign. One was away in his electorate when he was called upon without warning to send in his resignation. When Mr. Daglish had finished, it was found that he had taken in Messrs. T. H. Bath and P. J. Lynch in place of Messrs. G. Taylor and J. B. Holman.




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It was soon found that more than one who had a good conceit of himself felt that he ought to have been taken into the Ministry, and they did not add to the comfort of the Premier. Had the latter been a strong man, or one with tested Labor convictions, he could have continued in office and done good work. The party was loyal enough, and would have backed him up in pushing forward democratic measures, but he chose to resign on August 25, 1905. When informing the House on the 22nd that he had decided to resign, he said:—

“I have realised of late that it is impossible for the Government to carry on the affairs of the country with advantage to the State or with credit to its members owing to the fact that we cannot expect a united support from our own party.”

As applied to the immediate cause of his action at that moment it was true, but it was not true generally. He had brought forward a motion—“That in the interests of the State the acquisition of the railways and lands of the Midland Railway Company of Western Australia, Limited, is desirable.” It came out in debate that he had agreed practically to purchase from the company for £1,500,000, subject to the approval of the House. If the resolution had been carried that sum would have been paid. He had arranged to pay that sum in spite of the fact that he had been warned against doing so, and had been told by his Agent-General in London that the whole thing could be got for £1,100,000.




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A brief history of this company is worth recording. A member of the House said of it that “it has never, so far as I can understand, done one straight thing or kept one solitary promise.” This was absolutely true. The contract with the Government was made first in 1884. The syndicate was to construct about 300 miles of railway, purchase 3,000,000 acres of land, and introduce 5000 immigrants in seven years. They were to start at both ends of the proposed line, complete the first 100 miles within four years, and 50 miles per year afterwards. They were to get 12,000 acres of land for every mile of railway made. They had to put up £10,000 deposit by July 1, 1886. They put up the deposit, signed the contract in 1886, and then gave a big advertising banquet, at which Sir John Forrest told the people that they were “dealing with people of large means and great enterprise, who were prepared to carry out the contract.”

The sequel soon proved how he was deceived. The syndicate only had £5000 left after the banquet. They could only raise £7000 for the contractor, who had spent £88,000 on the line. In June, 1887, the works stopped, and in November they were transferred to Sir B. Brown. The Legislative Council of the day passed a resolution calling for forfeiture and taking over of the works. This was not carried out, but six months' time was given the syndicate. Two of the latter then registered a company of 200,000 shares of £6 each, with £1 paid up. The National Bank, by arrangement, honored Mr. Keane's cheque


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for £88,000, and Mr. Bond's for £112,000. Simultaneously they floated debentures on the market to the tune of one million, and sold £670,000 worth. The first £200,000 of this they paid into the bank, so as to square up for the £1 per share paid up in the company when registered. It will thus be seen that not one penny of money was put into the concern except by the public.

The company was in financial difficulties all the time, as was inevitable when they had no money of their own and depended on scheming to get it. In 1891 they secured an advance from Sir John Forrest's Government of £60,000, and four months later asked for half a million. In spite of the warning and advice of the Government's financial advisers in London, who exposed the lack of bona fides of the company, interest on the loan was guaranteed, and it was floated, though £30,000 short—a sum which the National Bank made up. The company had no shareholders and no capital. Only £140,000 out of the half million went towards the object for which it was borrowed. What became of the rest seems to remain somewhat of a mystery. It is also astonishing to find a Government helping on what amounted to a fraud upon the public in the face of the warnings of the Agent-General and others. But with that help the company managed to live somehow, and then saw the advantage of trying to unload when a Labor Government was in power, knowing that it is the policy of Labor to have State-owned and controlled railways.




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What influenced Premier Daglish to agree to such a large sum in the face of the information he possessed is best known to himself. The State was to get the railway and 2,350,000 acres of land, the company retaining 345,000 acres of the best land. Possibly the purchase at a million and a half may have eventually been found a good thing, but Daglish did not attempt to justify it, and though put into a corner by one of his own party he said nothing. It was creditable to the Labor Party that they preferred to see a Labor Ministry go out of office rather than help to benefit a rotten private enterprise at the expense of the taxpayers. When the motion of the Premier was put it was defeated on the voices, and Mr. Daglish at once resigned. He left the Party afterwards, and ran at next election as an Independent. He was never one who could be called a straight Labor man, and the movement is well rid of such men.

As might be expected, the action of Daglish and a few others had a bad effect on the party in the elections of October, 1905. The following were returned:—T. H. Bath, Brown Hill; H. E. Bolton, Fremantle North; P. Collier, Boulder; E. E. Heitman, Cue; J. B. Holman, Murchison; A. A. Horan, Yilgarn; J. Scadden, Ivanhoe; G. Taylor, Mount Margaret; M. F. Troy, Mount Magnet; T. Walker, Kanowna; F. J. Ware, Hannans; A. J. Wilson, Forrest. By-elections added C. A. Hudson, Dundas, in November, 1905; W. D. Johnson, Guildford, in July, 1906; R. H. Underwood, Pilbarra, in August, 1906; J. A. S. Stuart, Mount Leonora, November,


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1906; and W. C. Angwin, Fremantle East, November, 1906. For disloyalty to the party A. J. Wilson was later on expelled from their ranks.

From the results at by-elections it will be seen that the Party was gaining ground, and it was not surprising to find that it reached high water mark at the elections of September 11, 1908, at which twenty-two Labor members were returned. These were:—W. C. Angwin, East Fremantle; T. H. Bath, Brown Hill; H. E. Bolton, North Fremantle; P. Collier, Boulder; C. McDougall, Coolgardie; A. A. Wilson, Collie; R. Buzacott, Menzies; E. E. Heitman, Cue; J. B. Holman, Murchison; A. A. Horan, Yilgarn; C. A. Hudson, Dundas; W. D. Johnson, Guildford; J. Scadden, Ivanhoe; — Gourlay, Leonora; G. Taylor, Mount Margaret; M. F. Troy, Mount Magnet; R. H. Underwood, Pilbarra; F. Gill, Balkatta; T. Walker, Kanowna; F. J. Ware, Hannans; P. T. O'Loghlen, Forrest; H. G. Swan, North Perth.

Unfortunately Mr. Buzacott was unseated on appeal, and on a fresh election taking place he failed to win the seat. Labor holds a splendid position in the West, and the next step will be to the Treasury Benches. Every seat gained renders it easier to capture those adjoining. The party which trusts the people and is of the people must win, and once in charge of the Government of the country it will be its own fault if it does not remain permanently in charge of affairs. The party that places the whole community's welfare as of the first consideration cannot fail to retain the confidence of the people.

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