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2. The Nativity of the Commonwealth

THE first day of the twentieth century will witness a Pan-Britannic celebration of unparalleled magnificence. Enchanting as is the charm of Sydney in every-day garb, the queen city of the sea will in her gala attire dazzle and bewitch the eyes of the assembled multitude. Among all the brilliant and varied pageants arranged for the occasion, the chief interest will centre in the ceremonies attending the assumption of office by the Governor-General in Centennial Park, where History stands with open page eager to record the nativity of a nation; statesmen and soldiers gathered from every part of the Queen's dominions amid the salvos of artillery will bring to the cradle of the Commonwealth the auspicious benediction of peace and goodwill. And as the sun in zenith splendour wends his way westward, every British fort and every grey-walled battleship will thunder forth applause in a continuous feu de joie as noontide puts a girdle round the worldwide possessions of the sons of Britain.

Next morning Australia will awaken to a new


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world of attachment and obligation. The citizen will move in a higher sphere of relationship; his State allegiance will receive its crown and complement in the dignity of membership of the Commonwealth. Henceforth his already wide liberty of franchise will be extended to include a vote for each House of the Federal Parliament. He will no longer be known as a Colonial or a Colonist, but will bear throughout the world the title of an Australian.

The consummation of Australian union has been attained only after long years of patient toil and vicissitude. The first practical outcome of the Federal sentiment was the creation in 1885 of a Federal Council. This body had the misfortune to be actively assailed from two opposite directions; it went too far for some, and did not go far enough for others. On the one hand it fell under the ban of those who were opposed to any form of union, and who in accordance with universal custom directed their antagonism not so much against the principle of Federation as against the details of any scheme which happened to be proposed. On the other hand, although the Council was always regarded as a mere stepping-stone to more effective union, it was denounced as worthless by some Federalists to whose imagination its small beginnings did not sufficiently appeal. Chief among these was Sir Henry Parkes, who raised in rivalry the standard of a scheme for complete national union, which, Athene-like, was to spring fully armed into existence, in scorn of the


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less impressive, but highly convenient method of infant growth provided for by the Federal Council.

Many attempts were made to induce Sir Henry Parkes to fall into line with the Federal Council; and in 1890 he and Mr MacMillan attended a meeting of its members in Melbourne as delegates from New South Wales, on which occasion it was officially stated that a large majority of the people of New South Wales were opposed to joining the Council. As the adhesion of the Mother Colony was indispensable to the success of any scheme, the Conference addressed itself to the task of arranging for a larger Convention, to consist of seven Parliamentary delegates, appointed by the respective Legislatures. This Convention met in Sydney, and drafted a Bill which formed the framework of the Commonwealth Act. The measure was discussed in a desultory fashion in the respective Legislatures, and finally dropped out of notice.

In 1895, Mr Reid donned, to more effective purpose, the fallen mantle of Sir Henry Parkes, and suggested a Convention which should be elected by the popular vote, and thus secure that interest and sympathy on the part of the public which had hitherto been withheld. This scheme bore fruit. The resulting Convention sat successively in Adelaide, Sydney, and Melbourne, and thus diffused over a wide area the interest awakened in its proceedings, with the result that the Commonwealth Bill received an impetus which was sufficiently strong to carry it


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successfully through the referendum, and to launch it with the strong imprimatur of the Australian people on its triumphant course through the Imperial Parliament.

The Commonwealth Act is the embodiment neither of the ambitious ideas of those architects who aimed at the complete unification of Australia, nor of the evolutionists who planted and tended the germ of the Federal Council. It partakes of the nature of each, but closely resembles neither; and, inasmuch as it is not the handiwork of any one individual or party, it may justly, and in a very special sense, be said to be the production of all, for the people themselves appointed the agents whom they commissioned to prepare the measure, and afterwards, by their direct voices, approved and adopted the finished work. The Alpha and Omega of their instrument of government may therefore be said to have emanated from those who are to live under the Constitution.

The Commonwealth has also the distinction of being the first instance of a union of States as the result of the forces of cohesion, without the application of any external compulsion, and this internal attraction has been reinforced and enhanced in the most unexpected manner during the last twelve months, by the presence in the South African veldt of an Australian brigade. There is no bond like that of blood poured out from kindred veins in common cause, and the terrible rite of war has placed


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an eternal seal on the proclamation of Australian brotherhood.

As may be inferred from its origin, Australian Federation is neither a complete national union nor is it a mere Federal League. It is a compromise between the two, and, although a written Constitution must always be somewhat rigid, as far as possible provision has been made for that elasticity which is so necessary an element in organic growth. A balance has been struck between the forces that make for centralisation, and those that tend towards segregation, and there is room in the Constitution for the play of both these tendencies. On the one hand, many of the powers of the Commonwealth are optional, and will doubtless be undertaken by the central authority, or continue to be exercised by the States in accordance with the trend of public opinion. On the other hand, should the resultant be in the direction of a closer union, there is provision for the extension of the power of the Federal Parliament, by reference to it of any subject at the will of any State or States. The amendment of the Constitution is also much more easy of accomplishment than is the case in the United States, approval by an absolute majority of the Houses instead of a two-thirds majority, and ratification by more than half instead of by three-quarters of the States, being sufficient.

The change of Government is, in some respects, deep and organic. A Federation differs fundamentally


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from a system of Parliamentary Sovereignty such as that which obtains under the British Constitution. Being in its essence a compact between States and a balance between the central and local governments, no unlimited authority can be placed either in the Commonwealth or the State Parliaments. Each is sovereign in its own sphere, but its acts become invalid the moment they transgress beyond the line which bounds the area of prescribed operation. Co-ordination rather than subordination of function is recognised to be the characteristic of Federation. The Federal authority will be built up partly of powers ceded by the Imperial Government, and not at present possessed by any of the Colonies, and partly of enumerated powers surrendered by the States; but all the powers retained by the States will be exercised just as freely and independently as before. The Commonwealth has no veto or right of interference over the State Parliaments, and the importance of the functions still to be discharged by these Legislatures may be gathered from the fact that of the average of Acts passed by them in the past a very small proportion will come under the scope of the Commonwealth Parliament. The State Governors will continue to be appointed direct by the Crown, and will in no way be subject to the Governor-General. They in their positions will be as independent as the latter in his more exalted sphere.

All Commonwealth and State laws will be equally subject to the arbitrament of the High Court, which


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as umpire will decide whether the parties are within their respective grounds; and the decision of the High Court as to the limits of the constitutional powers of the Commonwealth or of the States will be final unless the Court itself desires an appeal. That is to say, the Commonwealth Act is to be interpreted in the spirit of its framers, and none other than Australians themselves are to lay hands on the ark of their covenant. With the exception that an appeal will lie to the High Court, the Supreme Courts of the States have no limit set to their jurisdiction.

Some of the powers of the Commonwealth are exclusive, such as Customs, Defence, Posts, Telegraphs and Telephones, Lighthouses and Quarantine; when these are once assumed by the Commonwealth all action in respect of them is forbidden to the States. The collection of Customs Duties will be taken over on the 1st January, and the Customs Officers will on that day become Federal Officers. The respective tariffs of the several States will continue in force until a uniform tariff is framed. This must take place within the limit of two years. The other exclusive powers will be taken over on dates to be proclaimed.

Most of the powers of the Commonwealth are, however, not exclusive both concurrent, and are capable of exercise both by the Commonwealth and the States, the laws of the latter becoming invalid wherever they come into conflict with those of the


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former. In the undertaking of these concurrent powers, the Commonwealth will probably avail itself of some latitude, and will wisely feel its way into the exercise of its full authority. The subject of unifying the Marriage and Divorce Laws will, for example, involve some discussion. Two of the States have Divorce Acts framed on lines in advance of the others, and the location of the line of assimilation will afford ground for controversy. In this and in many other directions the Commonwealth will in any action it may take have the benefit of the formation of an Australian public opinion which is sure to result from the union.

The taking over of the railways is an optional matter which can be undertaken with the consent of the States concerned, but this question will need to be considered in conjunction with that of taking over the public debts, which is also an optional power. The Federal authority may also construct railways with the consent of a State, and advantage of this power may be taken to construct a railway from Adelaide to Perth, and thus complete the chain of railway communication between all the capitals. The Commonwealth Parliament may accept the government of any territory surrendered by a State, and new States may be formed by subdivision of existing States. Probably these provisions will result in the formation of new States out of the northern portions of Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland.




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The relative importance which the Senate and the House of Representatives will assume is a matter of much interest. Both are to be elected by the same popular franchise, and the members of each are to receive the payment of £400 a year. Neither can therefore be regarded as likely to assume a conservative character, although each will act as a chamber of revision to the proposals of the other. Although there is no strict analogy between the Senate and the ordinary type of upper chamber, some widening of the franchise of the legislative councils in the States may be expected to result from the election of both Commonwealth Houses by the popular vote. Most of the States will be divided into districts for the purpose of election of the members of the House of Representatives, but in all the States the Senate will be elected by the State voting as one constituency.

Penny postage and a complete Federal currency may be looked for as early outcomes of Commonwealth activity, and Federal defence forces will quickly be organised.

The area of the Federal capital is not to be less than 100 square miles, and the territory on which it is situated is to be acquired by the Commonwealth. Probably the Federal lands will not be permanently alienated, but a constant public revenue will be formed by the establishment of a system of leasing, which will be beneficial alike to occupier and to public owner. The selection of the site for the


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Federal capital lies solely in the power of the Federal Parliament, and there are at present no data upon which an opinion can be formed as to the locality other than that it is to be somewhere in New South Wales, beyond a radius of 100 miles from Sydney.

Meanwhile Parliament is to meet in Melbourne, probably within the capacious exhibition building in that city. The headquarters of Lord Hopetoun will be Government House in Sydney, but his presence will be required in Melbourne during the session, and he will probably visit in rotation the other capitals. The Federal authority has power to levy taxes and borrow money, but as it is empowered to retain one-fourth of the total Customs duties no recourse may be expected to direct taxation. Owing to the community and indivisibility of interests engendered by the union the individual credit of the States will stand at the highest possible level.

Judging by analogy, political parties, with all their advantages and drawbacks, will be formed in the Commonwealth as elsewhere. Probably, as in the case of America, and in accordance with the history of the movement, the parties will be formed of those in favour of unification, as against the advocates of what are known as States rights. The first great Federal fight will be over the framing of the tariff. Free traders and protectionists are already rallying their forces for this trial of strength. The result is likely to be the imposition of a protectionist


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tariff, with a preference in favour of goods of British manufacture. The Federal ministers, who are to be seven in number, will enter upon their duties on the 1st of January. These duties will be arduous and responsible, and will tax to the utmost even the great capacities of those whose names are mentioned in the forecasts that have been made. Upon these statesmen the eyes of the world will be fixed, and their good fortune may well be envied by all their contemporaries, for since time began it has fallen to the lot of but a favoured few to have the privilege of directing, under such well-omened auspices, the national lines of so imposing a superstructure as the Commonwealth of Australia.

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