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THE PROSPECTS OF AUSTRALIAN
FTER prolonged and serious difficulties the vote has at length
been taken of the population of four of the six colonies of Australia on the subject of Federation. A Convention representing five of the six colonies contrived to arrive at a decision of the nature and terms of the measure that should be submitted to the popular vote. Queensland was not represented, though it was understood that the opportunity would be given it to join later on. The vote of Western Australia has not been taken, as the Bill has not yet earned the approval of its Legislature. The result of the voting, as received by telegraph, is as follows. Allowance may possibly have to be made for a few votes one way or the other in the final compilation :
As far as concerns New South Wales the result is not efficient, as the Act authorising the vote to be taken stipulated for at least 80,000 votes to be recorded in the affirmative to make the decision effective. Looking at the numbers in the aggregate, it must be admitted that a vote of more than two to one is a not uncertain approval. Bot, eliminating the New South Wales figures, the result for the other three colonies is 138,994 for the Bill, 38,645 against. In two cases the majority is highly satisfactory. Victoria and Tasmania each show a majority of more than four to one, but in South Australia it is not quite two to one. We incline to think that, even if the minimum had been attained in New South Wales, the authorities would have been justified in displaying a great deal of hesitation at accepting the result in the face of the large number of votes in the negative.
This is a fair reply to the complaint that is made that the minimum was fixed at too high a figure. The Premier of New South Wales, the Right Hon. Mr. Reid, has been blamed for half-hearted action. The reflection seems to be unjust. He was not contented with several features of the measure as it was turned out by the Convention. Still, he loyally supported it, even though one of his colleagues seriously condemned it and placed himself at the head of the Opposition after resigning his seat in the Cabinet. But Mr. Reid properly felt it necessary that there should be no misconception of the measure, and did not disguise that it failed in altogether securing his approval. His responsibility would have been onormous if he had not made it clear that the proposed Constitution did not entirely content him.
Looked at from a strictly dispassionate point of view, it is impossible not to recognise that the inclusion of New South Wales in the Federation in the face of the great opposition it encountered might have proved a serious calamity. To give the new Constitution a fair start zealous enthusiasm would have been necessary. When once the Union was completed by Imperial Act there would be no drawing back. The strong opposition in New South Wales would have placed that colony in fetters at the very commencement, and nullified its asefulness. A powerful party would have grown up inclined to make the worst instead of the best of the new Constitution. Under any circumstances & Federation which included New South Wales would be subject to many wrenches painful to the high-spirited population of the colony. If the Union did not include Queensland, New South Wales would have been at the extremity of the Commonwealth, with little power to carry the measures it thought desirable. If, however, it started with a desire to make the best of things, it would in time, no doubt, have secured a powerful position. But, with a start so ominous of discontent, it would be hopeless to expect any cordiality of action.
New South Wales, having regard to its wealth, population, and territory, could not be expected to submit to a subordinate position. The interests of the other colonies would certainly clash with the parent colony in many particulars. It is to be remembered that Victoria and Queensland were carved out of New South Wales. There must be many men living who can remember the frantic rejoicing in Victoria when an independent position was assigned to that colony. The same delight was exhibited in Queensland when it gained its freedom. It would be a shallow view to suppose that federation not cordially welcomed would be regarded by the mother colony as bringing back its old truants. Rather it would be con
sidered that those truants had captured their former chief. If a combination could have been arranged on terms satisfactory to New South Wales, such considerations would not have arisen. rate, the sense that the reunion was voluntary would have relieved it of any bitter memory.
But if federation were a measure forced on the colony in the face of powerful opposition, the colonists would recall what Victoria and Queensland used to think of the domination of the mother colony, and lament the complete reversal of the position.
After many oscillations, New South Wales has shown a decided preference for free trade. But it is almost certain the policy would have had to be surrendered if the colony joined the new combination. This would mean a great sacrifice to those who still remained of the same way of thinking. Again, Sydney could scarcely hope to become the seat of government, and it would be bitterly galling to the colonists to see their beloved city, with its magnificent harbour, relegated to a secondary position.
We are not unmindful of the vast benefit to Australia itself and to the Empire that would follow in the wake of Australian combination. Bat it may be a too ambitious design to expect to net the whole continent in one cast. Had New South Wales joined willingly, all the difficulties in the way would have yielded to tact and time. But now that it appears that New South Wales would only join as an unwilling captive, the most desirable course seems to be to federate the three colonies that have approved, together with West Australia if it will join. It will be far easier for this limited Federation to arrange terms with the mother colony and Queensland than to go through the whole proceedings again. The Bill prepared by the Convention we believe provided for some of the colonies federating in the absence of a unanimous approval. Ultimate complete federation would be more readily attained if a substantial nucleus were formed.
New South Wales has asked for another conference of Premiers to amend the measure in accordance with the views of that colony. But the obvious reply of some of the Premiers was that they had no mandate to alter the terms of federation. If an alteration were made, another vote would have to be taken, especially as the amendments would probably comprise conditions already refused by the Convention. The telegrams which have passed between the Premiers since the votes were taken are somewhat singular. Mr. Reid opened the correspondence by suggesting “& Conference to consider a modification of the Commonwealth Bill so as to make it acceptable to New South Wales." Mr. Kingston, the Premier of South Australia, at once replied that “ South Australia must definitely decline to take part in an attempt to reject a Constitution which has beeu adopted by the majority of the people in all the federated States, and to substitute another more favourable to one State, on which the people have not been afforded an opportunity of voting.” Sir John Forrest, Premier of Western Australia, telegraphed that he was not in favour of the course proposed by Mr. Reid, and could not attend a conference of Premiers. Sir George Turner, Premier of Victoria, telegraphed that, while anxious to do anything to secure federation on reasonable terms, he doubted whether Victoria would accept the suggestion for a conference of Premiers. He concluded by asking Mr. Reid to submit the proposed amendments, Later on, after consulting the other members of the Cabinet, Sir George wired that, if Mr. Reid would again communicate with the other Premiers, Victoria would agree to a conference, but only on the understanding that the Bill as amended must be accepted by the electors of New South Wales before being again submitted to the people of the other colonies. To this Mr. Reid replied that, while he received with pleasure Sir George Turner's telegram agreeing to a conference, he desired to point out that it would be a waste of time for the Premiers to meet " anless it were proposed to make the Federation Bill more acceptable to New South Wales by granting not merely immaterial concessions, but matters of substance." Sir E. Braddon, Premier of Tasmania, telegraphed to Mr. Reid that he entirely concurred in the opinion of Mr. Kingston, Premier of South Australia, that no conference should attempt to amend the Federation Bill which had been passed by a majority in four colonies. He added that it would be subversive of principle if the Premiers sought to go behind the backs of the people to alter the work which their vote has approved. He accordingly declined to be a party to a conference. Sir George Turner exhibited nice tact and conciliation, but the other Premiers did not strive to veil their refasals by courteous phrases. Mr. Reid was evidently not pleased with Sir E. Braddon's reply, and at once wired : “I accept your strongly worded message as a final refusal to join in a conference of Premiers, and will make no further communication to you on the subject.”.
On June 20 a somewhat precise description of the requirements of New South Wales was telegraphed home, and appeared in the Financial Ncus, as follows:
"Sydney, June 19.- The New South Wales Ministry demands the following amendments to the Federation Bill : (1) It insists that the Federal capital shall be located in New South Wales, and not made Federal territory; (2) the continuance of the power of appeal to the Privy Council ; (3) full rights of control over New South Wales rivers ; (4) the elimination of Sir E. Braddon's clause regarding the colonies' portion of the contribution to the revenue of the Commonwealth; (5) the distribution of the surplus of revenue per capita, and the abolition of the bookkeeping system ; (6) any deficiency to be made good by the State in which it arises; (7) the provision for equal representation in the Federal Senate to be amended, or else a bare majority at a joint sitting of both Houses to decide disputes, with a referendum to the whole people voting as one nation, instead of as separate States,
as the ultimate decision ; (8) bounties to be paid by the States granting them, not by the Commonwealth ; (9) if railways be taken over by the State, the debts must be assumed also.
** The Government will go to the country on this programme. Mr. Want has re-joined the Ministry, and has been re-sworn as AttorneyGeneral.'”
Looked at as a whole, this correspondence does not encourage any hope that an early foderation can be effected to include New South Wales. Even were it possible to manauvre that colony into a combination at the present time, we have already given reasons why the proceeding would be hazardous. In the endeavour to carry out great measures of public policy care should always be taken to stop short of exerting excessive pressure on unwilling participants. In this case it is evident that patience will sooner or later secure the end in view. If three or four of the colonies combine, the machinery of federation will be set in motion and the means be available to enter into definite agreements with New South Wales and Queensland. Probably one of the difficulties will disappear. People will soon recognise that a freedom of trade which embraces the whole continent of Australia is a much more substantial advantage than a partial freedom of trade with outside countries.
We by no means undervalue the importance of including New South Wales in the Federation, and recognise that to secure that end it would be wise of the other colonies to make considerable sacrifices. Bat when the matter reaches a stage at which it appears probable that the whole scheme of federation may be upset if New South Wales is made an indispensable condition, it is surely wise to remember the homely adage, “Half a loaf is better than no bread.” A federation of the other colonies, even if it does not embrace New South Wales, is of vast importance, and it must not be forgotten that such a federation will; in all probability, lead to the ultimate inclusion of New South Wales.
The most touching incident of the votes lately taken was a telegram from the Premier of Canada, couched in fervid terms, wishing success to the federation of the Australian colonios. Canada knows by experience what benefits arise from the close union of the different parts of a vast territory. Australia, it is true, has not the same immediate stimulus that Canada had in the juxtaposition of a powerful foreign country, and equally it has not the same difficulties with which to contend. The time appears to be at hand for an intimate connection between the Dominion and its powerful neighbour. Australian federation would probably be soon followed by a federation of a great part of Africa. The Empire wonld then proceed on its genial mission of progress and civilisation, secure of powerful aid in every quarter of the globe.