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  ― 79 ―

6. Australia's First Federal Parliament

ALTHOUGH the idols of free trade and protection are rapidly losing their hold on the public mind in Australia, still, as was anticipated, these waning fiscal forces formed the poles of attraction round which party votes chiefly clustered at the Commonwealth Election. The main body of voters, however, occupied a position midway between the partizans on either flank, and placing patriotism above dogma, gave their suffrage to those statesmen whose character and ability are indispensable to the welfare of the Commonwealth at this juncture.

Many of the voting papers presented a record of divided allegiance to the dethroned deities. Each State voted for the senators as one electorate, but in no case did the result disclose a uniform fiscal ticket. In new South Wales and in Western Australia free trade was the dominant tint; in Queensland protection prevailed, but in the other States the numbers were three to three; this equal balance affords an excellent object lesson of


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mutual toleration at the polls which gives good promise of harmonious co-operation in the Senate, but is dispiriting to the expectation of those who had entered on the propaganda of an exterminating fiscal crusade. The position was practically predicated by the necessity of raising about eight and a half millions by customs duties, and the House of Representatives, in which the tariff must originate, presents a preponderance of members who are in favour of obtaining this revenue in such a manner as will conduce towards the maintenance and extension of national industries; Mr Barton's dictum of revenue, without destruction, is therefore in a fair way towards realisation.

In both Houses the Government has, irrespective of the tariff issue, the command of a good majority, so that the first pronouncement of the Federal ballot boxes is in favour of the retention in office of the Barton Administration. Conflicting opinions have, however, been expressed as to the date on which the Federal tariff will be announced. The great desire of the commercial and industrial community is for the early termination of the present state of uncertainty; and the energetic character of Mr Kingston, Minister of Trade and Customs, points toward a speedy settlement. Presumably the duties will be collected from the time when the tariff is laid on the table of the House.

The return, especially for the Senate, of a number of so-called advocates of a low tariff may involve


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a full-dress debate on the general question of free trade and protection. The whole realm of the abstract may be ransacked with idolatrous solicitude for arguments in favour of each particular fetich, but when this dogmatic tournament has spent its force, and members are confronted with the practical issue, the vast majority, laying theory aside, will, while arranging the details of the tariff, come to the conclusion that there is nothing sinful in giving effect to the promptings of natural affection, and will regard the industries of their fellow-citizens with somewhat more favour than those of the inhabitants of Europe, Asia, Africa, and America.

As a natural outcome of the recent approachment between the mother-country and the colonies, the current of feeling towards reciprocity with Great Britain is daily becoming stronger. It appears that many, even of the free trade party, are in favour of a preference being given to British manufactures. Any Imperial overture in the direction of reciprocity—for example, a recognition of the not unorthodox claim for a small set-off against bounty-fed sugar, or a concession in support of Empire-grown wine—would meet with an immediate response. Theoretically, the orderly progression towards the far-off goal of universal free trade would appear to lie through reciprocity: in accordance with Lowell's well-known couplet:—

“From lower to the higher next,
Not to the top, is Nature's text.”




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And there are many who are tending towards the conviction that in the channels of trade, if anywhere, is to be found the influence which will make for Imperial Federation.

The united front of Australia in regard to external affairs is indicated in the correspondence passing between the Premier and the Colonial Office on the delicate question of the New Hebrides; and the rapid ripening of the national instinct against the introduction of coloured races is revealed by the claim of both sides of the House to the copyright of the phrase, “A White Australia.”

The Federal departments are in business-like manner being assumed by the Commonwealth. The customs passed under Federal control on January 1st, and at noon on March 1st, the bells of the General Post-Offices chimed themselves out of existence as State institutions. As, however, the revenue accounts for each State are to be kept separate for a period of five years, philatelists will have some time to wait before Commonwealth designs can be added to their collections. The defence forces were also taken over on March 1st, and Mr Barton has announced that an Imperial officer of high standing will, when the necessary Act is passed, be appointed to the command. This unification of the forces should not, however, be accepted as evidence of the growth of a military spirit in Australia. The Commonwealth will be fortified, not so much by the enlistment of a standing


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army as by the large proportion of its citizens who, from their childhood up, are at home with horse and rifle. The Australian youth is saddle-bred. No climate is better adapted to the horse than that of Central Australia. Stables are unnecessary, disease is unknown, natural grasses abundant, and therefore the cost of upkeep trivial. The establishment of Imperial breeding depôts, whence an unfailing supply of remounts could be shipped on smooth seas to any point in the Pacific or Indian Oceans, would vastly add to British efficiency in the international arena of the future.

Mr Alfred Deakin, Federal Attorney-General, has in hand the preparation of the Act to constitute the High Court of Appeal, and the wisdom of the decision to entrust the interpretation of the Constitution to Australian Judges will before long receive abundant vindication. The Government is taking steps preparatory to the selection at the earliest possible date of the site for the Federal capital. Public opinion appears to favour the acquisition of a Federal territory for this purpose greatly in excess of the statutory minimum of one hundred square miles. The decision to lease, instead of alienating, the Federal lands is not only economically sound, but will present an unparalleled opportunity of rearing a city abounding in beautiful and suitable architecture.

It is now definitely settled that Australia's first Federal Parliament will meet not in the Exhibition


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building but in the Chambers previously occupied by the Victorian Legislature. The premises will be familiar to many members of both Houses, for it was in the hall of the Legislative Assembly of Victoria that the Convention which passed the Commonwealth Act held its final session. And the high level of eloquence, forensic skill, and constructive ability which characterised the proceedings of that Convention, will be amply upheld, for half its members have secured seats in either the Senate or the House of Representatives.

As a token of the high esteem in which the Labour Party is justly held, more than one-fifth of the seats in each House of the Federal Legislature are occupied by Labour members. Their record in the Colonial Parliaments justifies the confident prediction that they will prove equally able, industrious, and useful in the higher plane of Federal statesmanship.

The presence of the heir-apparent will draw all thoughts to Australia on May 9th, and the speech from the throne will be scanned with intense interest on both sides of the world. The great and responsible task of nation-building which awaits the Commonwealth Parliament could not have been entered upon under more favourable auspices. And nothing is more certain than that devotion to the homeland and loyalty to the Empire will be the keynote of every Act.

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