no previous
no next

  ― 42 ―

4. The Commonwealth of Australia

WHEN discussing in the Convention at Adelaide the form in which the federal instrument of Government should be cast, and how far the provisions of existing Federations should be adopted, the Leader of the Convention, the Right Hon. Edmund Barton, now first Premier of the Commonwealth, remarked —“I, for one, as I do not wish my boots made in Germany, do not want my Constitution made in Switzerland,” to which Sir Richard Baker retorted that he wanted his boots made where they would fit him best.

As the work proceeded it became evident that many ready-made provisions such as that to which Mr Barton referred were not at present applicable to Australian conditions. The members of the Convention turned more and more away from the facile method of proposing clauses from the Constitutions of the United States, Switzerland, and Canada. Scissors and paste were laid entirely aside; even the voice of eminent federal authorities, so potent in the early stages, grew feeble in their ears.

  ― 43 ―

In one respect alone did the tendency to follow a preconceived idea persist. On entering the unfamiliar federal territory, there was a general desire to depart no more than was necessary from British traditions. Putting aside all precedents to the contrary, the Convention determined to incorporate the principle of responsibility of Ministers to Parliament with the bicameral arrangement peculiar to federation. In spite, therefore, of the family likeness which the Commonwealth bears to other federal systems, the possession of this one essential feature of the British Constitution indubitably proclaims its parentage.

Although in their constructive work the Constitution-builders took counsel of their own necessities and blindly followed no precedent, the patterns presented by the great modern federations afforded in the early stages of deliberation much valuable assistance. The first impulse was to follow the model of the Constitution of Canada, but a closer investigation demonstrated that the plan of the Dominion, though admirably adapted for its own purposes, would not adequately meet the requirements of Australia.

The dependence of the Lieut-Governors upon the Dominion Executive, the nomination of the Senate by the Central Government, the inequality of the representation of the Provinces in the Senate, and the federal veto on provincial legislation, together with the possession of the unenumerated

  ― 44 ―
powers by the federal authority, did not appear to be compatible with the practically unrestricted autonomy hitherto enjoyed by the Australian colonies. Nor is this to be wondered at. The movement which led to the origin of the Dominion was in some respects diametrically opposed to the forces which formed the Commonwealth. Prior to 1867 Ontario and Quebec were united under one Parliament. A higher degree of consolidation was, therefore, permissible in Canada than would have been acceptable to Australia, where each colony has always had its own legislature. In each case the unenumerated powers were retained by the original bodies, and only specified powers conceded to the new formations.

From the closely-knit Dominion attention was then turned to the United States, where the genesis of the union as a product of the States was analogous to the process of evolution in Australia. Fortunately the monumental work of the Right Hon. James Bryce on the American Commonwealth appeared just before the debates on the framing of our Constitution commenced. Thus were we opportunely furnished with an inexhaustible mine of federal lore; and thus was rendered familiar to us the happy inspiration of the name of our union— “The Commonwealth” —the title which of all others holds aloft, before Prince, Parliament, and People, the object which should be the aim of every true form of Government.

  ― 45 ―

The close analogy between the requirements of the American and the Australian States in delegating to a newly-constituted central authority a portion of their previously enjoyed autonomy furnished some striking coincidences in the proceedings of the conventions which, with an interval of more than a century between them, succeeded in framing constitutions acceptable to the people.

In each case the difficulty which chiefly confronted the convention was that of reconciling the claims of the large and small states, and this was overcome in both cases by providing for representation in proportion to population in one House, and for equal representation in the Senate of each state irrespective of area and population. Unlike the United States, however, the Commonwealth provides that Ministers shall have seats in Parliament, and that senators shall be elected by the popular vote instead of by the state legislatures. Unlike the United States, the Commonwealth provides for the solution of deadlocks by double dissolution, and by joint meeting of both Houses; and excessive rigidity is avoided by requiring only majorities of the Parliament, of the states, and of the people for an amendment of the Constitution, instead of two-thirds of the Congress and three-fourths of the States.

The word “indissoluble,” which, by some strange accident or design was omitted from the instrument of 1787, and was afterwards, at the cost of a million

  ― 46 ―
lives, inscribed in characters of blood, was, by a dip of the pen, incorporated in the Commonwealth.

Switzerland, that faithful repository and treasure-house for the preservation of the ancient method of ratification of laws, furnished the example of the direct referendum for constitutional amendment.

In the brief space of time at my disposal, it would be as impracticable as it is superfluous to enter at length into a general disquisition on the nature of a federal form of Government. Suffice it to say that federation is a compromise between centralisation and separation, and provides an ingenious device for combining the vigour in administration and the high grade of individual citizenship enjoyed by a small state, with the powers of defence and facilities of commerce which are the prerogative of a great nation. The affairs of men, in common with those of the whole universe, are subject to a rhythm of alternate systole and diastole, and an ever-varying balance in accordance with the tendency of the time has to be struck at some portion of the orbit between the centrifugal and centripetal forces. At present the tendency is towards aggregation. The day of small independent nations is passing away; stagnant states are doomed to disappear, existing empires are destined to grow still larger; all must expand or submit to absorption. In federation lies the safe middle course between dangerous isolation and unwieldy empire. Federation consigns the precious jewel of autonomy into joint safe keeping.

  ― 47 ―
It secures immunity from the danger of a crushing conglomeration which may at any time fall to pieces by its own weight and, Babel-like, involve its disintegrated elements in greater confusion and division than if the stupendous task of unification had never been attempted.

The alternatives which present themselves to adjacent, distinct communities such as were the Australian colonies, are to remain separate, subject to all the weakness and business inconvenience consequent on that condition, or to become amalgamated in one mass, or, while still retaining their individuality, to form a federal union for mutual purposes. The objections to unification in the case of Australia were both obvious and insuperable. The area of the Island Continent is almost equal to that of Europe. Texas, the largest of the United States, is not nearly half the size of Queensland. South Australia is more than four times the size of France, and Western Australia is larger still. Experience has given proof already of many mistakes in Australian legislation, due to an insufficient knowledge of the conditions obtaining in localities far removed from existing capitals. Such errors would be gravely intensified if the attempt were made to govern Australia from one centre. It would be impracticable to solve with satisfaction the ever-varying problems of a young country at a distance of from 2000 to 3000 miles from the source of authority. The genius of the British

  ― 48 ―
race for managing its own affairs would brook the application of no such length and rigidity of official levers as would be necessitated under such circumstances.

On the other hand, a sentiment in favour of union as against continued separation had been forming for years, and was nurtured and promulgated by the enthusiasm of native-born Australians, who conceived a passion for nationhood and chafed at the artificial barriers between their respective colonies. These aspirations were shared to the full by many who had become devoted to Australia as the land of their adoption. In this, as in many other cases, sentiment proved to be the precursor of utility— the vague shadow cast to-day by the not yet consciously-defined requirements of to-morrow. The approximation of the capitals by means of railway communication intensified the estrangement and illfeeling caused by border custom-houses and cutthroat railway tariffs, and these promptings of utility were still further reinforced by a contemplation of the incalculable impetus which would be given to industry and commerce by the achievement of intercolonial free trade, and of the sense of security which would be experienced under a system of federal defence.

It was always felt that the destiny of Australia lay in federation, and that the spirit of union was only awaiting the fulness of time to express itself in material form. In 1850 Earl Grey submitted

  ― 49 ―
to Parliament proposals for an Australian General Assembly, to consist of a Governor-General and a House of Delegates, composed of two members from each colony, with one additional member for every 15,000 of its population, the General Assembly to have control of customs, posts, intercolonial roads, waterways and railways, lighthouses, weights and measures, and such other matters as might be referred to the Assembly by all the colonies. There was also to be an Australian Supreme Court. Appropriations for these objects were to be made by an equal percentage of the revenue received in all the colonies. These proposals, wise in themselves, were, however, eventually abandoned as premature. Doubtless, the scheme would, if carried out at that time, have interfered with the growth of the sturdy independence so necessary for the successful development of the then scattered and disconnected settlements.

During the succeeding decade the question received much attention, both in colonial legislatures and in select committees to which the matter was referred. It appears clear that at that time there existed a party, small in number but persistent in action, who advocated federation as a step toward separation, and the fear of some consequent modification in the relations with the Mother Country may perhaps in part account for the slender measure of success which attended many well-meant efforts.

The matter continued to be intermittently discussed

  ― 50 ―
at intercolonial conferences for another twenty years without any result. In 1881, at one of these gatherings, a Bill on lines similar to those on which the Federal Council was afterwards constituted was submitted by Sir Henry Parkes, and at a succeeding conference in 1883 Sir Samuel Griffith framed the Bill which brought that body into being in 1885. Owing, however, to the nonconformity of New South Wales and the merely temporary adhesion of South Australia, the Federal Council never acquired the prestige necessary for its effective existence, and in spite of an enlargement of its membership the opposition to it became crystallized and intractable. Sir Henry Parkes was in every respect a great man, and he had the defect of his quality; he appeared to greater advantage as a leader than in any other capacity. Repeated attempts were made to induce him to return to the views of 1881, but the charge of the offspring of his first proposals having passed into other hands, the contemplation of its infant growth no longer appealed to his parental affection. His active imagination became fired with a more ambitious scheme. The opportunity was presented by the report of General Sir Bevan Edwards on the necessity for federal defence. Sir Henry Parkes opened communication with the other Premiers, Messrs Gillies, Morehead, Cockburn, and Fysh, and eventually he and Mr Macmillan, together with two representatives from New Zealand, consented to attend a meeting of the members of the federal

  ― 51 ―
council held in Melbourne, in 1890, under the presidency of the Hon. Duncan Gillies. At this meeting Sir Henry Parkes proposed a series of resolutions in favour of complete federation, and it was resolved that steps should be taken by the legislatures to appoint a National Convention. Sir Henry Parkes was the president, and Sir Samuel Griffith the vice-president of this Convention, which met in Sydney in 1891. Seven delegates attended from each of the six Australian colonies, together with three from New Zealand, including Sir George Grey. A complete Federal Bill was framed, which was discussed in a desultory manner by the legislatures, which, however, were paralysed by want of interest on the part of the public in their proceedings, and the measure dropped out of notice.

Although the statesmen's movement thus proved abortive, the Australian Natives' Associations did not suffer the matter to remain long in abeyance. Sir John Quick started a movement for a properly elected convention; and at the instance of the Right Hon. G. H. Reid, a meeting of Premiers was held in Hobart in 1895, with the result that Acts were passed in most of the legislatures authorising General Elections for the purpose of constituting a convention on the broadest electoral basis. An unofficial convention was held at Bathurst towards the close of 1896, which greatly stimulated the interest in the convention elections, which took place early in 1897.

The convention thus constituted consisted of ten

  ― 52 ―
representatives from each of the colonies of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania, and held its first meeting in Adelaide on the 22nd March 1897, under the presidency of the Right Hon. C. C. Kingston. The Right Hon. Edmund Barton was elected leader, and submitted general resolutions, which were referred to three select committees appointed to deal respectively with the constitutional, judicial, and financial departments. A Bill embodying the work of these committees was drafted by Mr Barton, Sir J. W. Downer, and Mr O'Connor. This, after amendment by the Convention, was submitted to the respective legislatures for suggestions; and in order to consider these the convention reassembled in Sydney on September 2nd. The Bill was finally adopted on March 17th, 1898, at a meeting in Melbourne.

It is instructive to note the ever-widening basis on which these succeeding conventions were founded. The delegates of the first convention were nominated by the Governments, those of the second convention were elected by the Houses of Parliament, while the members of the final convention were elected by the direct votes of the people. The result of furnishing this broad basis was the awakening of public interest in the work of the convention, which was sufficient to carry the movement through all its stages to a successful issue. The proceedings of the convention were transacted in the full light of publicity, and

  ― 53 ―
were sustained at a high level whether judged by the standard of eloquence, forensic skill, or constructive ability. Although conducted with much mutual forbearance, spirited debates took place on many questions such as the powers of the Senate, the use of the rivers for navigation and irrigation, differential rates on railways, and the right of appeal. Several times the convention appeared on the point of breaking up, but good feeling and mutual consideration always ultimately triumphed.

The Bill had now to run the gauntlet of the referendum. That which took place in June 1898 failed, owing to the lack of the statutory number of affirmative votes in New South Wales. A slight modification was then made in the dead-lock provisions to the effect that an absolute majority instead of a two-thirds majority at a joint meeting of the two Houses after double dissolution should suffice, and it was also stipulated that the federal capital should, when selected, be somewhere in New South Wales, but not within 100 miles of Sydney. A second referendum, which on this occasion included Queensland as well as New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and Tasmania, resulted in large majorities.

The necessary addresses praying for the seal of Imperial assent were passed by the Parliaments and forwarded to Mr Chamberlain. Up to this time it had been taken for granted that the Bill, as ratified by the Australian people, would be accepted at St

  ― 54 ―
Stephen's. The first alarm was sounded by a despatch from the Secretary of State for the Colonies to the Australian Governments, on the subject of appointing delegates to assist in the passage of the Bill. Messrs Barton, Deakin, Kingston, Dickson, and Sir Philip Fysh were appointed to act in that capacity. Sir Andrew Clarke, at a later stage, took the place of Mr Deakin. After several conferences, the points at issue were disposed of with the exception of the famous Clause 74, which provided that there should be no appeal to the Privy Council on Australian questions involving the interpretation of the constitution. Those of the delegates who had been members of the conventions stoutly fought for the clause as it stood; but, in spite of their efforts, the Bill was introduced into the House of Commons with an alteration providing for an unrestricted appeal. Feeling ran high on the subject both in this country and in Australia. Acrimonious correspondence appeared in the newspapers. Even Agent-Generals were let loose from the chain of political neutrality, and I was constrained to communicate a letter to the Press, of which the following is an extract:—

“I cannot but think that the question of what authority is to interpret the Constitution, as far as matters purely Australian are concerned, is fraught with issues of vital moment both to the welfare of Australia and the solidarity of the Empire. The written words of the Commonwealth Bill are but the

  ― 55 ―
framework or skeleton to which the living form will be imparted by the interpretations placed upon it from time to time by the decisions of the High Court. That this will be the case may be inferred from the history of the American Constitution, to which, as far as regards the balance between the central and the State powers, the Commonwealth bears a close resemblance. It is notorious that by means of a long series of decisions—wise in themselves and saturated with a thorough comprehension of the genius of the American people—Chief Justice Marshall moulded the Constitution into its working form. The ultimate Court of Appeal will frequently be called upon to pronounce a decision on questions of purely domestic concern. Not long ago the Supreme Court of the United States had to decide whether or not an income tax could be levied by the federal authority. Would not all lovers of harmony earnestly deprecate the settlement of such local matters being vested in the hands of an Imperial authority? Has not the wisdom of British statesmanship consisted in a rigid refusal to interfere in such questions? The introduction of outside influence in a domestic dispute often results in the combatants losing sight of the cause of contention in a mutual resentment against the intruder. The establishment of a claim to interpret the spirit of the Commonwealth from either dingy Court or stately palace in Downing Street may prove, not a link which unites, but a handcuff which chafes, and may endanger the

  ― 56 ―
continuance of those cordial relations which it is the devout desire of every son of the Empire to see maintained in ever-increasing virtue and strength.

“A message just to hand shows that the solid and well matured public opinion of Australia is at last awakening to the imminent danger by which its dearest desire is threatened, and this view is confirmed by the telegram received by the Hon. Alfred Deakin from the Australian Natives' Association, an organisation of patriotic Australians, which wields an enormous influence in every colony.

“The present régime of the Colonial Office has been the chief factor in bringing about the recent enthusiastic approachment between the mighty mother and her children. Is it too much to hope that the same active intelligence which has achieved such great results may yet be able to devise means to avert any occurrence which threatens to disturb this devoutly-desired consummation?”

The delegates took the opportunity of public banquets given in their honour to reach the public ear. It must be admitted that a triumvirate, like Messrs Barton, Deakin, and Kingston, presented a powerful combination. The special gift of each was complementary to those of the others. Powerful reason, golden speech, and indomitable will constituted a totality that was almost irresistible.

Had the cup of federal expectation been dashed from the lips of Australia, no one could have foretold the consequences. The position was critical,

  ― 57 ―
but the alertness and resource of the Colonial Secretary were equal to the occasion. At the second reading Mr Chamberlain was able to announce that a compromise had been arrived at, to the effect that special leave to appeal to the Privy Council might be granted in all cases except those involving the limits of the constitutional powers of the Commonwealth and the states, on which questions an appeal was to be permitted only if the High Court itself requested it.

The Bill thus approximated to its original form had a triumphant passage through Commons and Lords. Both the great parties vied with each other in applauding the measure and speeding its stages. Royal assent was given on July 9th. [?]The table, pen, and inkstand used by Her Majesty on this occasion will ever be treasured as Australian heirlooms. Under the Commonwealth Act an opportunity was afforded to Western Australia to join the union as an original state. The presence of the Australian contingents fighting shoulder to shoulder on the South African veldt, pouring out their kindred blood in common cause, left no room for dissidence. The referendum to the people of Western Australia revealed the existence of an overwhelming majority in favour of union. The circle of the sister States is now happily complete. United Australia will have no frontier save that formed by ocean's mighty moat.

The appointment of Lord Hopetoun as Governor-General

  ― 58 ―
gave unbounded satisfaction, and the grave and never again recurring responsibility which devolved upon him of selecting the first Premier in the absence of parliamentary guidance has fortunately resulted in the formation of a strong Government. The spark of executive authority thus communicated to the Commonwealth by the Queen's representative has kindled into a steady and self-sustaining flame which will spread to many branches of administrative activity. Surrounded by his Cabinet the Governor-General will exercise his powers in a constitutional manner, and will act with the advice and consent of the executive council.

One of the first tasks to which Ministers will address themselves is to take the necessary steps for the election of the members of the Senate and of the House of Representatives. The former is to consist of six senators from each state, thirty-six in all, elected for six years, half to retire every three years. The House of Representatives is to be triennial but subject to dissolution, and will consist of seventy-five members, twenty-six from New South Wales, twenty-three from Victoria, nine from Queensland, seven from South Australia, five from Western Australia and five from Tasmania. The electors for both Houses will be identical, and will include women in South Australia and Western Australia. Each state will vote as one district for senators, but will in most cases be divided into districts for the election of representatives. No plural voting

  ― 59 ―
is permitted. The members of both Houses are to be paid £400 per year. Under these circumstances neither House can be expected to play the rôle of a conservative chamber, though each will revise the acts of the other. Members of both Houses must be twenty-one years of age, and at least three years resident in the Commonwealth, and subjects of the Queen, either native born or naturalised for five years. The disqualifications are foreign allegiance or citizenship, undischarged bankruptcy, an office of profit under the Crown except that of a Minister of State, and a direct or indirect pecuniary interest in any agreement with the public service otherwise than as a member of an incorporated company of twenty-five persons. Absence without leave for two consecutive months renders a seat vacant in either House.

The House of Representatives being elected in proportion to population will represent Australia as a nation, and just as it may be said to be constituted on the basis of one man one vote, so the Senate, owing to the equality of representation of all states within its walls, may be regarded as the embodiment of the principle of one state one vote. To it will be entrusted the dignity of representing the states as distinct entities, and the senators from the smaller states will have an opportunity of redressing any inequalities to which these may be subject in the other House. Appropriation Bills and Bills imposing taxation must originate in the House of

  ― 60 ―
Representatives. These the Senate may reject but cannot amend, although it may return such Bills at any stage with suggestions for amendment. This arrangement confers the chief power of the purse on the House of Representatives; otherwise the powers of the two Houses are practically co-ordinate.

The relative importance which the Houses will assume is a matter of much interest, and the future of the Senate depends largely on the conduct and calibre of the first senators. A much debated method of settling deadlocks between the Houses has been adopted. If the Senate rejects or fails to pass a Bill passed twice, with an interval of three months, by the House of Representatives, the Governor-General may dissolve both Houses simultaneously; and if, after dissolution, the House of Representatives again passes the Bill, and the Senate again rejects or fails to pass it, the Governor-General may convene a joint sitting of both Houses, and at this sitting an absolute majority of the total number of members can carry the Bill.

As a preliminary step towards securing Inter-State Free Trade, which is the chief object of federation, the departments of Customs and Excise, together with all their officers, were taken over by the Commonwealth at its establishment. A uniform tariff must be framed within two years. The personnel of the Cabinet is protectionist, and a protective tariff is predicated by the necessity of raising about £8,000,000 from Customs duties. It is

  ― 61 ―
greatly to the interest of each state to return the ablest men available, irrespective of their fiscal opinions; in view, however, of the fundamentally opposed fiscal systems of New South Wales and the other states the elections must to some extent turn on the question of Free Trade and Protection.

Under these circumstances, it is not difficult to forecast the result of the elections, but owing to the immense amount of work involved in starting the federal machinery the framing of the tariff may not be so speedily accomplished as was at one time expected. Goods imported previous to the date of the imposition of uniform duties are, on transfer to any other state within two years of that date, liable to the balance of the federal duty. As a check on federal expenditure, and to prevent any embarrassment to the states, it is provided that for a period of at least ten years three-fourths of the net revenue from customs and excise shall be paid to the states, or applied towards the payment of interest on state debts taken over by the Commonwealth.

The federal Parliament may regulate navigation and shipping, and may forbid any preferential or discriminating railway rate which is adjudged to be prejudicial to any state by an Inter-State Commission, which is to be appointed by the federal authority for the purpose of securing absolute freedom of inter-colonial trade.

An enlargement of the sphere of Australian autonomy will take place under the Commonwealth,

  ― 62 ―
for some of its powers were not previously under the control of the Governments of any of the colonies—such as the relations of the Commonwealth with the islands of the Pacific, and fisheries in Australian waters beyond territorial limits. The Commonwealth laws are also to have force on British ships whose first port of clearance and whose port of destination are in the Commonwealth.

External relations will be matters of federal concern; so that to casual observers, as seen from the outside, Australia will appear to be under one Government. On the other hand, the State Governments being nearer to the people will concern them more closely than the more remote federal authority; just as it is the walls of a house which are visible to those without, while the apartments are to the inmates the more prominent features. Such departments of the exterior as immigration, naturalisation, aliens, and foreign corporations are placed under the Commonwealth control.

The departments of posts, telegraphs and telephones, naval and military defence, lighthouses, lightships, beacons and buoys, and quarantine are to be taken over by the Commonwealth on dates to be proclaimed; but as the raising and maintaining of any naval or military force are among the powers forbidden to the states, the defences practically fell under federal control at the outset.

Among the Commonwealth powers are also included

  ― 63 ―
subjects in which uniformity is desirable— such as census and statistics, astronomical and meteorological observations, weights and measures, bills of exchange, bankruptcy, copyright, marriage and divorce; together with coinage and legal tender, these two latter being also among the powers forbidden to the states.

The federal Parliament is empowered to borrow money and impose taxation, and may take over from the states the whole or a proportion of the public debts. The Commonwealth is empowered to acquire with the consent of the states the railways, which are in Australia the property of the states.

The Commonwealth may also accept the government of any territory surrendered by a state, and new states may be formed by sub-division 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. There is nothing which tends more to strengthen a federation than the formation of new states, which from their birth have no allegiance save that towards the Central Government. The Dominion has benefited in this manner, and of the United States, all but the original thirteen have been “born of the Union.”

The tendency of the times towards the extension of the sphere of Government activity has led to the enumeration of such federal powers as conciliation and arbitration for the prevention and settlement of

  ― 64 ―
industrial disputes extending beyond the limits of any one state; also for invalid and old-age pensions, and banking and insurance.

Some of the above-enumerated powers, such as customs, defence, posts, telegraphs, lighthouses, and quarantine, constitute what are known as exclusive powers; when these are assumed by the Commonwealth, all legislative action concerning them is forbidden to the states. Many of the powers are, however, concurrent, and are capable of exercise both by the Commonwealth and the states, the laws of the latter becoming invalid whenever they come into conflict with the former. In the exercise of these optional powers, a considerable amount of latitude exists for the play of the centrifugal and centripetal forces; the formation of an Australian public opinion will result from the union, and the Commonwealth will have the benefit of this in feeling its way into the exercise of its full authority. Should the tendency be in the direction of a closer union, there is a provision for the extension of the power of the federal Parliament by the reference to it of any subject at the will of any state or states. An element of flexibility is thus introduced which materially modifies the degree of rigidity usually inseparable from a written instrument of Government. Constitutions, tough yet tractable, give the best promise of long and healthy life; the most deadly foe to organic growth is the atheroma which cannot yield without rupture.

  ― 65 ―

The change of Government is, in some respects, fundamental. A federation differs essentially from a system of parliamentary sovereignty, such as that which obtains under the British Constitution. Being in the position of parties to the compact, 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 boundary line. Co-ordination, rather than subordination, of function is recognised to be the characteristic of federation. The federal authority is built up partly of powers ceded by the Imperial Government, and not heretofore 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, which will be relieved of but a small proportion of their previous duties, and will still continue to deal exclusively with such subjects as lands, agriculture, mining, local government, police, education, and generally all matters of internal government.

The State Governors will receive their appointments as previously direct from the Crown, and it was decided in the Convention without a division that they should continue also to be the direct channels of communication between the states and

  ― 66 ―
the Imperial Government. They, in their positions, will be as independent as the Governor-General in his more exalted sphere.

The Commonwealth and State laws will be equally subject to the arbitrament of the High Court, which, as umpire, will decide whether the parties are within their respective grounds. The High Court is to consist of a Chief Justice, and not less than two other Justices. The right to trial by jury is incorporated in the Constitution. The jurisdiction of the Supreme Courts of the states will continue to exist as at present, but an appeal will lie to the High Court from their decisions.

Any Bill for the alteration of the Constitution must be passed by an absolute majority of each House, or by one House twice, with an interval of three months; and must be referred for approval to the electors. And if in a majority of the states there is a majority of affirmative votes, and if these constitute a majority of all the electors voting the Bill is to be presented to the Governor-General for the Royal assent.

The nativity of the Commonwealth, on January 1st, was celebrated in Sydney with a splendour of pageantry and intensity of enthusiasm which have never been surpassed. The auspices under which the history of the Australian nation has been inaugurated are unprecedented in their favourable aspect. Watched over and protected by the

  ― 67 ―
greatest and most powerful Empire the world has ever seen, the union of the Australian states has been dictated and hastened by no external dangers such as those which encompassed and compelled other federal formations.

There yet remains another brilliant festival before the citizens settle down into the ways of the workaday world. The heir to the British throne is to be present in Melbourne to open the Commonwealth Parliament in May, and neither money nor pains will be spared to make the event worthy of the occasion. The spacious exhibition building is being prepared for the event. The Commonwealth Parliament is to be located in Melbourne until suitable accommodation is provided at the federal capital.

The federal capital is to be situated within territory which is to be acquired by the Commonwealth. This area is to be not less than 100 square miles, and there is a strong public feeling against its permanent alienation, and in favour of the formation of a constant revenue by the establishment of a system of leasing, which will be beneficial alike to occupier and to public owner. The selection of the seat of Government lies solely in the power of the federal Parliament, and although several localities have been suggested, nothing is known beyond the fact that the site is to be somewhere in New South Wales beyond a radius of 100 miles from Sydney.

Huge events pregnant with vast issues of Empire

  ― 68 ―
were crowded into the closing year of the nineteenth century. Large as some of these appear to loom at present, they are destined with the lapse of time to dwindle into distance. No such perspective will, however, diminish the significance of Australian Union. By a happy coincidence the ab urbe condita of the Australian Commonwealth has been synchronised with the calendar, and the new nation will grow with the era, and pass from strength to strength with its epochs—her chief ambition to be deemed a not unworthy scion of a mighty race, and proud to be a pioneer in that federal path which appears not only to open a way for the organisation of the Empire, but to present unbounded possibilities for the future of the English-speaking world.

“The Charter's read; the rites are o'er;
The trumpet's blare and cannon's roar
Are silent, and the flags are furled;
But so not ends the task to build
Into the fabric of the world
The substance of our hope fulfilled.

“O People of the onward will,
Unit of Union greater still
Than that to-day hath made you great,
Your true Fulfilment waiteth there,
Embraced within the larger fate
Of Empire ye are born to share—
No vassal progeny of subject brood
No satellite shed from Britain's plenitude,
But orbed with her in one wide sphere of good!”

no previous
no next