no previous
no next

  ― 11 ―

1. The Federal Family

THE Australian Federal Family consists of the five colonies of the Continent and the island of Tasmania. A rough idea of the topography of the federal area may be formed by picturing Australia as divided by two vertical lines into three parts—west, middle, and east. The west is occupied by Western Australia, the middle strip by South Australia, while the eastern segment, again divided into three by two horizontal lines, contains Queensland to the north, Victoria to the south, and the parent colony of New South Wales lying between them. About 150 miles to the south of Victoria, and separated therefrom by Bass's Straits, is situated Tasmania.

On the wall of the Mansion House there has recently been displayed a Royal Proclamation declaring that on and after the first day of January 1901, the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, Tasmania, and Western Australia shall be united together under the name of “The Commonwealth of Australia.”

The advent of the new century will therefore

  ― 12 ―
signify more than the passing of a mere chronological meridian: it will herald an epoch-making event which will mark an important line of departure in the history of the Empire.

The six component parts of the Commonwealth recited in the proclamation are to be known in future as States: a few weeks hence, therefore, the term “Australian Colonies” will become an anachronism. This does not, however, imply that the individuality of the several States is to be absorbed by the Commonwealth. On the contrary, the whole trend of the federal constitution is towards the maintenance of their distinct identities. A federation is an ingenious device for combining the privileges of autonomy with the efficiency which results from collective action. It is a stage midway between separation and unity: a balance between the forces which tend towards disruption and those that make for centralisation. The resultant of the centrifugal and centripetal forces which hold the spheres in their orbits furnishes an analogy to that which determines the federal position. In order to secure the harmonious adjustment of the central and local powers in a federation, it is essential that there should be a clear and unambiguous definition of the spheres of federal and state activity. This has been effected by an explicit enumeration of the powers which are to be exercised by the federal authority. All unenumerated powers are retained in the hands of the States. In this respect the Commonwealth

  ― 13 ―
follows the example of the constitution of the United States, which is precisely the reverse of that of Canada, wherein the unenumerated powers are reserved to the Dominion and only specified powers are entrusted to the Provinces. This fundamental difference is due to the fact that in the case of the United States, the States were the pre-existing factors, and from them the central body derived its authority; whereas in the case of Upper and Lower Canada, the local parliaments were the new creations; for previous to the formation of the Dominion, Ontario and Quebec had but one parliament between them. In both cases the powers assigned to the new formation were explicitly enumerated, and this course has also been followed in Australia.

The ruling principle on which the allocation of powers has been conducted is to vest in the central authority those functions only which are incapable of individual exercise, and for whose efficient performance joint action is necessary. External relations are regarded as essentially of federal concern; so that though there may be many voices as between the States, the pronouncement of the Commonwealth shall be definite and coherent. The chief federal powers are naval and military defence, quarantine, lighthouses, naturalisation, immigration, postal, telegraphic and telephonic services, currency and coinage, insolvency, patents, copyrights, and marriage.

  ― 14 ―

Absolute freedom of trade between the States is secured by the inclusion of trade and commerce. This is the goal towards which the federal efforts of the past ten years have been chiefly directed. Strong as have been the enticements of the sentiment of union, the dominant motive has been the promptings of utility towards the removal of the border customs houses, and the desire to attain that commercial and industrial expansion which must ensue from the removal of artificial limitations. Most of the Colonies have in the past framed protective tariffs which have operated not only against the world at large, but also against their own immediate neighbours, each being so intensely occupied with the problem of the development of its own resources as to have little time for the advocacy of reciprocity in trade. So long as the means of overland communication were comparatively scanty, little annoyance at the border duties was experienced; but as the construction of railways brought the capitals closer together, so in the same ratio the feeling of estrangement and irritation engendered by rival tariffs was intensified. Consequently there arose a demand for intercolonial free trade, and as a fiscal union was practically impossible without a federal scheme, the desire for a uniform tariff became one of the main factors in the advocacy of the Commonwealth Act. It must not, however, be concluded that in promoting inter-colonial free trade protectionists

  ― 15 ―
admit any dissatisfaction with the general results of their policy: the substitution of the ring fence of a uniform tariff for the division lines of the border duties is regarded by them as the fulfilment, rather than as the destruction, of the principles on which their system is founded.

Under the provisions of the Constitution it is obligatory on the Parliament, within two years of the establishment of the Commonwealth, to frame a uniform tariff, which will greatly simplify the relations of the commercial world with the Commonwealth.

The Federal Authority is empowered, concurrently with the States, to borrow money and levy taxation; it may also provide for invalid and old-age pensions and for arbitration in the settlement of industrial disputes beyond the limits of any one State. The acquisition of the railways, and the taking over of public debts are optional. All such subjects as the control of lands, mining, agriculture and industry, local government, police, education, and generally all branches of internal policy, not being enumerated among the federal powers, are retained by the States.

In order more securely to maintain the federal balance between commonwealth and states, a form of bicameral legislature familiar to students of the federal idea, and which has stood the test of experience in the United States and Switzerland, has been adopted. The two Houses are respectively

  ― 16 ―
called the House of Representatives and the Senate. In the former the representation is to be in proportion to population, the minimum number for any State being five. In a House composed of seventy-five members, New South Wales will have twenty-six members; Victoria, twenty-three members; Queensland, nine members; South Australia, seven members; Western Australia, five members; Tasmania, five members.

As the essence of a federation consists in the preservation of the individuality of its component parts, the preponderating power thus given to the larger populations is counteracted by the provision that in the Senate the several States are to have equal representation irrespective of population. Consequently, in a Senate of thirty-six, colonies possessing populations of between one and two millions are to have but six senators, while colonies having populations under 200,000 are to have an equal number.

The powers of the Houses are co-ordinate, but the House of Representatives is to have the chief control of the purse. The duration of the House of Representatives is not to exceed three years. Members of both Houses are to be elected on a franchise which is practically that of “one man, one vote,” and are to be paid £400 a year. In South Australia and Western Australia women will also be admitted to the poll. The possibility of dead-locks between the Houses is obviated by the fact that

  ― 17 ―
under certain circumstances both Houses are subject to dissolution and, if necessary, to a joint meeting.

In a federal form of government, which is essentially a compact between several States, it is necessary that there should be some readily accessible authority which can act as umpire when any dispute arises between the parties to the agreement. With this object in view, provision has been made for a high court of justice which shall pronounce judgment as to the validity of any of the acts of the Federal or State Parliaments when they are called in question.

It is difficult for those whose experience has been solely under a unitarian form of government to realise that in a federation there can be no paramount power. Under the British Constitution, Parliament is supreme; there is practically no limit to the scope of its actions either as regards legislation or in the direction of an alteration of the Constitution. On the other hand, under a federal instrument of government (which of necessity is a written compact), none of the legislatures can exceed the precise powers allotted to them, nor can any alteration of the Constitution be effected without a stipulated form of consent on the part of those concerned. Moreover, however carefully an agreement may be drawn, the unforeseen conditions of the future must always disclose real or fancied obscurities which require to be brought into light by some competent and unbiassed tribunal thoroughly possessed

  ― 18 ―
of the spirit in which the Constitution was framed and conversant with its working.

In course of time the interpretations incorporated into the Constitution by the accumulated judgments of such an arbiter assume an importance almost equal to that of the document itself, and give to the written framework its living form. The question as to whether the umpires should be separated from the field by the world's diameter, or the decisions should be given by judges who were on the spot and thoroughly conversant with the intricacies of the complex federal machinery, formed the ground of the controversy which was so vigorously waged over the wording of the famous Clause 74 of the Commonwealth Bill.

Among those who from the outset had taken a prominent part in the framing of the Bill at succeeding conventions, there was but one opinion on the subject, and that was to the effect that the decision of Mr Chamberlain was an act of wisdom which restored to the Federal scheme an organ essential to its healthy existence and, at the same time, obviated what must have proved a constant source of irritation between Australia and the Mother Country. Nor would the Lords of the Privy Council have found a constant interference in Australian domestic affairs to be anything but an invidious task and one from which, ere long, they would have been glad to be relieved.

The executive power of the Commonwealth is

  ― 19 ―
vested in the Queen, and will be exercised by the Governor-General as Her Majesty's representative. The Governor-General will act with the advice and consent of a Council composed of seven Ministers of State who must be members of the Federal Legislature. The selection of Lord Hopetoun for the important and historical office of first Governor-General has met with unqualified approval on both sides of the world. On him will devolve the responsible duty of appointing the first Premier; and there will be no Parliament, as will be the case in all future similar appointments, to determine the selection. It was meet, therefore, that the choice should fall on one who, like Lord Hopetoun, had gained personal experience of Australian statecraft, and whose record of tactful, able, and faithful administration in one Colony had fully justified his promotion to be a ruler over many.

On January 1st the Ministry will be appointed, and their first task will be to make the necessary arrangements for the Parliamentary Election which, involving an area of electorate approaching in extent the continent of Europe, will necessarily occupy a period which will appear protracted to those accustomed to the rapidity of similar events in these islands. Parliament is, however, to be duly constituted and regularly assembled in time to be opened in Melbourne, its temporary meeting-place, by the Duke of York during his approaching long-hoped-for visit to Australia.

  ― 20 ―

The period occupied in the gestation of the Commonwealth has been eleven years. Towards the close of 1889, the Australian Premiers, at the instance of Sir Henry Parkes, arranged for a conference to be held in Melbourne in February 1890: this was attended by two representatives from each of five Australian colonies and New Zealand, and one from Western Australia. Mr Duncan Gillies was elected President, and a resolution was unanimously carried to the effect that, in the opinion of the Conference, the best interests and the present and future prosperity of the Australian colonies would be promoted by an early union under the Crown; and that the members of the Conference should take steps to induce the respective legislatures to appoint, during that year, delegates (not exceeding seven in number from each colony) empowered to consider and report upon an adequate scheme for a federal constitution.

Accordingly, in March 1891, a convention, consisting of seven representatives from each of the Australian colonies and three from New Zealand, assembled in Sydney under the Presidency of Sir Henry Parkes; and after many weeks of critical deliberation, there was drafted a complete Federal Bill which has formed the basis of all subsequent constructive work on the federal edifice. The time, however, was not ripe for fulfilment, and, after perfunctory discussions in the Parliaments, the matter gradually dropped out of notice.

  ― 21 ―

In 1895, at the instance of the Right Hon. G. H. Reid, a conference of Premiers took place in Hobart, and arrangements were made for a convention of delegates elected as far as possible by the popular vote. The necessary Enabling Bills were passed by the Legislatures, and in March 1897, ten delegates from each of five of the Australian colonies assembled in Adelaide—Queensland and New Zealand being unrepresented.

The Right Hon. C. C. Kingston was on this occasion elected President, and the Hon. Edmund Barton, Leader of the Convention. A draft Bill, based on that of 1891, was prepared and submitted for criticism to the respective Parliaments—the Convention reassembling in Sydney to consider suggested amendments; and the Bill was finally adopted at an adjourned meeting held in Melbourne in March 1898.

The Bill, somewhat modified as to deadlocks, and with a provision that the permanent capital should be in New South Wales, but not within 100 miles of Sydney, was through the referendum accepted by overwhelming majorities in the first place by South Australia, then by New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, and Queensland. In Western Australia, however, protracted delays occurred, and it was only after the Bill had passed through all its stages in the Imperial Parliament, and had received the Royal assent, that an eagerly accepted opportunity was afforded to the people of Western Australia to come under its provisions.

  ― 22 ―

The Australian concert is now happily complete, and United Australia, at once an island and a continent, will have no inland frontier, but will have as its only boundary that mighty moat which, as its best defence, was placed around it at the dawn of Creation.

The visit of the Australian Delegates, who, at the desire of Mr Chamberlain, were appointed to facilitate the passage of the Bill, is a matter so recent as to be in the memory of all; and a perpetual gratitude should enshrine the remembrance of the stout hearts with which they successfully resisted the attempts, here and in Australia, to upset the basis of agreement which had been so overwhelmingly ratified by the popular verdict.

The genesis of the federal history of Australia is now assured. The omens for union are auspicious. The clouds of the past few years of depression have rolled away. Trade in all the Australian colonies is rapidly expanding. The increased revenue returns indicate an advancing tide of good fortune; and the twentieth century will bring to the cradle of the Commonwealth the natal gift of a new era of prosperity and opulence.

no previous
no next