A SHORT HISTORY OF AUSTRALIA
When the proposal to confer self-government upon the Australian colonies was being considered in 1849 the Committee of Trade and Plantations, to which Earl Grey referred the subject, recommended that, in addition to establishing Legislatures in the various colonies, the governor-General should have power to convince a body to be called the General Assembly of Australia. It was to consist of a single House, named the House of Delegates, whose members were to be elected, not by the people but by the Parliaments; and it was to have certain powers entrusted to it affecting the common interests of all Australia. It was to take charge of customs and excise, postal business, roads and railways, lighthouses, weights and measures; it was to set up a general Supreme Court to act as a court of appeal from colonial courts; and it was to have power to make laws on any other subject which might be referred to it by the Parliaments of all the colonies. Not a word was said about defence; that was to remain an Imperial concern.
Earl Grey adopted this idea, and endeavoured to carry it out in the measure of self-government which he submitted to the Imperial Parliament in 1850. But the time was not opportune for a movement towards federation. Neither in Australia nor in England were the clauses 0popular. Grey made no strong fight for them, and they were struck out by the House of Lords. There was much that was narrow, unsympathetic, and marked by the caste-prejudice of the aristocratic Whig in the colonial policy of Earl Grey, though he wrote two substantial volumes to prove to posterity what a very enlightened policy it was. Yet in this particular he - or the committee whose ideas he adopted - showed a true perception of the inevitable tendencies of Australian politics. Her were five separate communities - six when Queensland was separated from New South Wales - all of British origin, all populated principally by British people, all speaking the same language, all living under similar systems of government. Were they to grow up as foreign nations, jealous of each other, pursuing separate and often antagonistic policies? Or were they to recognize that their place in the sun, their strength in resistance, their trade, wealth, and public convenience would be enormously increased if they pooled their powers in certain respects and presented a united front to the world? Why should not the latter alternative be chosen? The people of the Australian colonies were not different from each other, as Frenchmen were different from Germans, or Russians from Spaniards, or Italians from Swedes. The fact that one Australian colonist had a sheep-run in New south Wales, that another grew wheat in South Australia, and that another was a miner in Victoria, made no radical difference in their disposition. The historical factors which make distinct nationalities were not at work here. A river boundary or a degree of longitude did not covert people of common origin into separate nations. It might have worked out so in the course of two or three centuries, but not in less than one. And even tendencies in that direction were a misfortune. there were enough causes of racial discord in the old world; there was no need to introduce them in the new.
But time was required for the federal idea to germinate and grow. It could not be made to sprout by an Act of Parliament. The Australian people had to learn for themselves how much they lost by disunion. they had to become conscious of the weakening offset of particularist aims. They had to be taught by events that though it was quite a good and an honourable thing to be a Tasmanian or a Queenslander, it was a very much finer, prouder thing, and one that signifies very much the lesson upon their minds. the slippery Bismarckian trick in new Guinea was one of them. Questions of common interest frequently arose, and for a few years it was sought to deal with them by means of inter-colonial conferences. It occurred to Henry Parkes that there ought to be some permanent machinery for the purpose; and in 1883, when a cluster of subjects of urgent importance had to be considered, his suggestion, made two years previously, for the creation of a Federal Council was put into concrete shape by Samuel Griffith, the Queensland Premier. A bill to authorize the establishment of such a Council was passed by the Imperial parliament in 1885. It gave power to the six Australian colonies, as well as New Zealand and Fiji, to pass Acts enabling the colonies to send two representatives each. Fiji sent her representatives to the first meeting of the federal Council, held in 1886, but afterwards dropped out, New Zealand never participated.
Much graver was the defection of New South Wales. As Parkes first promulgated the idea of establishing such a Council, his action in afterwards declining to recommend New South Wales to have anything to do with it was viewed by others as a breach of faith. Parkes was a statesman of large views, but he was also, as every successful leader under a parliamentary system must be, a wily politician with a quick eye to party advantage and the popularity of a project. The Federal Council scheme had not won popularity in New South Wales. Parkes explained that he afterwards came to the conclusion that 'the body proposed to be created would not succeed,' and that it would 'impede the way for a sure and solid federation.' In truth the Federal Council did not impede the achievement of federation, nor was there any reason why it should. But the abstention of the oldest and strongest colony certainly impeded the work of the Council. Its transactions lacked full authority because they were not those of the representatives of all Australia. Its legislative power was slight, extending only to a few questions, and even as to these it had no executive capacity and no authority to raise revenue. It could legislate on quarantine, or the influx of criminals, but any laws which it might make could only be carried out by the Governments of the colonies, by their own machinery and in their own way. The Federal Council could not order a single policeman to do anything, nor could it send a single shilling on anything, nor tax any Australian citizen to the extent of a penny stamp. Yes its meetings, which occurred every two years, did all attention to matters of general Australian interest, its debates were on a high level, and the personnel was always distinguished.
Parkes, however, genuinely desired to see the federation of Australia, and when again he set himself to the task he performed noble work for the country. He was in the last quarter of the nineteenth century by far the most picturesque and commanding figure in Australian politics. Very tall and strong-framed, with a great leonine head, maned and bearded white, resting on massive bowed shoulders, his presence arrested attention in any gathering; and when he spoke, in a thin penetrating voice, and with slow, deliberate choice of words, his tongue was gifted with the power to move multitudes and to convince while it charmed. His origin was of the humblest. As a lad in his native Warwickshire, the son of a very poor labourer, he had worked on a rope-walk for fourpence a day, and had groaned under the blows of a brutal master in a brick-yard. He had shivered in threadbare shreds as a stone-breaker on the highway, and endured the rigours of an immigrant ship. but always the soul of the man burned bright. In the midst of his poverty he read and thought and wrote, teaching himself and learning to love the fine things in literature with a passion that was never dimmed down to the last days of his very long life. His little book of Immigrant's Home Letters reveals the struggles and the aspirations of his early days in Australia, whither he came in 1839. His political advancement in New South Wales began with the inauguration of responsible government, and his career extended till Australia was on the threshold of national life under a federal constitution.
Parkes reopened the federal question in 1889. Politicians in other colonies with whom he communicated were still annoyed with him because they thought he had not treated the Federal Council fairly, and he derived at first little satisfaction from endeavours to enlist them in a federal movement under his leadership. but he persisted, and at length succeeded in bringing together a conference of ministers (1890) to consider means of preparing a constitution. This conference resulted in the holding of the first Australasian Federal Convention, in Sydney, in 1891. Its members were chosen from the Parliaments of the colonies, and they were representative of the best political intelligence Australia had at her command at the time. The Convention of 1891 prepared the first draft constitution; a document which, though not finally adopted, was really the basis of the work of the later Convention, and therefore of the constitution of Australia as it came into being. The ideas embodied in it were discussed to the open Convention, but the drafting of the clauses was the work of a small committee consisting of Samuel Griffith, afterwards Chief Justice of Australia, Edmund Barton, afterwards Prime Minister, Inglis Clarke, afterwards a Tasmanian Judge, and Charles Cameron Kingston, a master hand at legislative drafting, who was afterwards a distinguished minister of the Commonwealth.
The constitution so prepared had to be adopted by the people of the colonies, the intention being that if it were accepted by any three of them it should be passed as an act of the Imperial parliament, and become law. but New South Wales again proved to be an obstacle to union. Parkes had to encounter strong opposition in his own Parliament, where a party led by G. H. Reid - who had not been a member of the Convention - condemned it as the work of 'the great ambitious statesmen of Australia,' as insufficiently democratic in structure, and as being especially objectionable in the clauses affecting finance and trade. There was a feeling in Parkes's own Cabinet against federation on the terms proposed, whilst in the country the opposition seemed likely to be formidable. After testing the opinion of Parliament, therefore, Parkes did not proceed with the bill. In the other colonies it was deemed to be useless to take action unless there were a reasonable probability of New South Wales forming part of the federation, and, failing a lead from Parkes, nothing was done. The work of the 1891 Convention seemed, therefore, to have resulted in failure. Parkes's period of leadership was over, and he died in 1895. The new chief of the federal party in New South Wales was Edmund Barton, then in the ripeness of his great powers, a constructive statesman of wide grasp and deep learning who had determined to make this the main purpose of his political life.
The federal movement was soon to be transferred to another arena - that in which the power of a democracy resides., Popular leagues were formed to advance the common cause; and at a conference of such bodies held at Corowa in 1895 a new plan of campaign was adopted at the suggestion of John Quick, a delegate of the Bendigo Federal League. His guiding idea was that a fresh impetus towards federation should emanate directly from the people; that a constitution should be drafted by a convention elected directly by the people; that the constitution when drafted should be submitted to the people for acceptance or rejection; and that, if it were accepted in two or more colonies, it should be passed by the Imperial Parliament and become law. The movement was to be popular in origin and directly dependent upon popular control throughout. From the adoption of this scheme in 1893 dates the irresistible march of the federal movement to victory. Jealousies, personal ambitions, particularist interests, the tinkering pettiness of party manoeuvring, might sprog the wheels for a while, but there could no longer be more than temporary hindrances. To the Convention of 1897-9, which prepared the instrument that became the constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia, named ten representatives of each colony except Queensland, whose Parliament did not pass the Enabling Bill for the election of delegates. The ten from each of the other colonies were elected directly by the people, except the representatives of Western Australia. The Parliament of that State feared to adopt the method of popular election, because the gold-fields population was as overwhelmingly large that it would have swamped the voting power of the agricultural portion, which, under the franchise then in force, dominated the Legislature. Consequently, the ten representatives from Western Australia were chosen by the Parliament, and there was not amongst them one who could authoritatively voice the view of the gold-fields, where the federal feeling was very strong.
The Convention held three sessions - in Adelaide, Sydney, and Melbourne. In personnel it was the most richly endowed assemblage of political ability which had ever been brought together in Australia. Griffith now occupied one of the 'seats above the thunder,' as Chief Justice of Queensland; but the method of popular election had secured the inclusion of nearly every other man who on grounds of experience, character, weight in leadership and personal distinction, counted for very much in the politics of the time. The problem of arranging for the surrender by a group of self-governing States, of a large part of their independence and powers to a newly created Government erected above them is one of peculiar complexity. Rarely has it been achieved except under external pressure, or the menace of internal disruption. The federation of the United States of America was born of revolutionary warfare and the grave prospect of life that would accrue from disunion. built there were no such impulsions in Australia. The country had never known war. It was safe from outside aggression, protected by the bulwarks of the Imperial Navy. It had never endured rebellion, or any disturbance that could not be overcome by a handful of soldiers and policemen. It was brought to federation by good reason and sound political appreciation of the disabilities of disunion. The success of the federal movement was the fruit of popular education and of the experience of a democracy in thinking out and settling its own problems. A celebrated Imperial statesman in the House of Commons spoke of the constitution drafted by the Convention as 'a monument of legislative competency.' It owed nothing to the guidance of any masters from outside, wise in affairs of State and cunning in the fashioning of laws. The Australian democracy chose its own men from its own ranks, and set them to build for it a constitutional house to dwell in. Nearly all the leaders of the Convention were native born, and had been schooled in their own land. All were of British origin. Amongst the fifty names of the members, not one is of foreign derivation.
The task of the Convention was made easier by having the draft of 1891 as a model; add a comparison between the Constitution which it prepared and its predecessor shows both general resemblance and striking differences. Substantially the framework of the new edifice followed the lines laid down six years before. The departures lay in the widening of scope and the liberalizing of powers. The main problem was to engraft a federal system upon responsible government after the familiar British pattern; which looks easy now that it has been done, but which appeared to be so exceedingly difficult to those who first attempted it that one who sat in both conventions considered that 'either responsible government would kill federation or federation would kill responsible government.' The Commonwealth of Australia has not been impaled on either horn of the dilemma, but has successfully worked a system of federal government quite novel in design. Very learned men were engaged in this work of constitution building, and the student who examines the reports of the debated will see that every example of federation known to history had been studied by them. One distinguished man, a little hastily perhaps, or because it sounded well, said, in urging that exclusively British forms of government were best adapted to Australian conditions, 'As I do not wish my boots to be made in Germany, so I do not want my constitution to be made in Switzerland.' Quickly came the retort: 'I want my boots made where I find they fit me best.' The whole course of human experience was available, and the framers of the Constitution were ready to learn from every source. But certainly they did wish to retain the mode of constitutional government which the Australian people understood, if it would work under a true federal scheme.
Australia consisted of six separate States, each endowed with complete self-government under the Crown. Not one of them need give up a shred of its independence unless it chose to do so. but in order that there might be a federation at all, these six independent States had to agree to surrender to the new supreme government which it was proposed to establish certain of their powers. When the Dominion of Canada was formed in 1867, the provincial Governments were made subordinate to the new central Government. The provincial governors in Canada under the Dominion Constitution are appointed by the Dominion Government; and if the provincial parliaments pass laws of which the Dominion government disapproves, it can disallow them. But the Australian States, in their pride of independence, were not content to agree to a union on those lines. Instead of creating a central, supreme Government, which should take the powers it needed and leave the remainder to the States, they desired to rant to the Federal Government the powers which they chose to surrender, to define them in strict terms, and to retain the remainder in their own hands. They would be the granters of powers, not the recipients of such powers as the central Government did not desire to exercise.
The United States form of Federation was more to the taste of the Convention than the Canadian form. There the central Government exercises certain defined powers and cannot go beyond them. If it does, its action is illegal, and will be declared to be so by the Supreme Court of the United States. A constitution somewhat after that pattern was what Australia required, except for one very important difference. In the United States there is not what is known as responsible government; and Australia wanted that also. The members of the President's Cabinet do not sit in congress. They are responsible to him. congress makes the laws, and the Executive - the President and his ministers - enforce them. But if Congress is not satisfied with the way the ministers do their work, it cannot turn them out. It can grumble, but cannot interfere. they are independent of parliamentary control. Australia wanted to have a federal Parliament in which ministers would sit, where they could be criticized face to face, where questions could be put to them, here they could be turned out of office if their policy or their administration did not satisfy the majority. So that briefly stated, Australia wanted a form of government like that of the United States as far as regarded the strict limitation of its powers, but like the British system in respect to the responsibility of ministers to Parliament.
The Constitution was therefore made to provide that no minister shall hold office for longer than three months unless he be a member of Parliament. If a Government wishes to appoint a certain man as a minister, he must obtain a seat in Parliament. If no constituency will elect him, he cannot remain a minister. In order to protect the rights of the States, the constitution set u a house of legislature called the Senate, to consist of six members from each State. This gave to Tasmania, with its small population, exactly the same representation in the Senate as New South Wales, with the comparatively large population, and might in that regard seem to be unfair. But the idea was to enable the less populous States to safeguard their interests if they should ever come into conflict with those of the more thickly populated States. It was considered that if there were only one house of legislature, elected on the principle of one member to a given number of electors, the smaller States would be in danger of being swamped. If, for example, an issue particular affecting Tasmania were in question, and on a population basis she had only five representatives, whilst New South Wales had twenty-seven, she might, it was feared, suffer an injustice. But that would not be likely to occur if in the Senate all the States were on an equality. The Senate therefore was not an 'upper house,' like the House of Lords, or a House of nominated members, or of members elected on a restricted franchise like a Legislative Council, but was a States House.
The second legislative chamber which the Constitution established was called the House of Representative, and was to consist of members chosen directly by the people on the basis of electoral equality - each elector in each State having the same voting power as his fellow, and no more. there were to be at least twice as many representatives as there were senators, and each State was to be allotted so many, according to population. No elector was to have more than one vote. In the section defining the right of electors there were words which ensured that no elector who had acquired the right to vote in a state 'shall be prevented by any law of the Commonwealth from voting at elections for either House of the Parliament of the Commonwealth.' Those words were inserted because in South Australia women were enfranchised, and the members of the Convention from that State desired to ensure that the right to vote should not be taken away from them under the federal Constitution. The insertion of the words virtually ensured the extension of the franchise to women throughout Australia, because, it being obviously desirable that the franchise would be uniform, the only way of securing uniformity was to give to all women the same electoral status as was enjoyed by those in South Australia.
Experience of disagreements between two legislative houses had been so unpleasant in Australia, that the framers of the constitution inserted special provisions to remove deadlocks. they also provided for setting up a High Court, invested not only with jurisdiction to hear appeals from state courts, but also to act as the sole interpreter of the Constitution. If a federal law was alleged to impinge upon the powers of the States, or if a state law interfered in a matter which was within the federal scope, the High Court alone was to have authority to prevent the encroachment. Surmounting the federal edifice was placed a Governor-General, appointed by the Crown. Stated in summary form, the federal structure consisted of (a) a House of Representatives, elected on a wide franchise, one elector exercising one vote and no more; (b) a Senate in which the States had equality of representation; (c) the Executive, consisting necessarily of members of Parliament; (ed) the High Court, the sole authorized interpreter of the Constitution; (e) the governor-General, representing the Sovereign. The powers entrusted to the Federal Government were defined in thirty-seven paragraphs of section 52 of the Constitution. Their range was great, covering defence, posts and telegraphs, navigation, customs and excise, trade and commerce with other countries and among the States, currency, census and statistics, marriage and divorce, banking, insurance, weights and measure, immigration and emigration, copyright, fisheries, quarantine, naturalization, external affairs and treaties, the relations of the Commonwealth with the islands of the Pacific, conciliation and arbitration for the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes extending beyond the limits of any one State. On all these highly important subjects, and some others of lesser consequence, the Commonwealth had power to legislate, and whenever it exercised that power its laws were to override state laws. Thus, if the Commonwealth passed a new marriage law, all state marriage laws would at once cease to have validity.
The word 'Commonwealth' was first suggested as a name for the union of the Australian States by Henry Parkes, in the constitutional committee of the 1891 Convention - though that fact is not disclosed by the reported debates. When the suggestion was made it was rejected; but the name was afterwards formally proposed by Alfred Deakin, one of the Victorian delegates, and carried in the committee by the very narrow majority alone. When the matter came before the full Convention in the text of the draft bill, strong exception was taken to it. To some the word recalled the grim iconoclasts of the Cromwellian revolution-' take away that bauble' - 'paint me warts and all' - Ironsides and cropped polls - and such upsettings as made nervous politicians blink! but the more it was thought about the better it sounded; especially after the scholarly eloquence of Edmund Barton had shown what a classic English word it was. Then the Convention adopted it by twenty-six votes to thirteen. When the 1897-8 convention was called together, the name had so much taken possession of the popular mind that none other would do. Only one member took exception of it then, but he could find no support for his objection. 'Commonwealth,' said Barton, 'is the grandest and most stately name by which a great association of self-governing people can be characterized'; and it remained in the title as 'an act to constitute the Commonwealth of Australia.'
The history of the Constitution between the time when it left the hands of its framers in March 1898 and its enactment as a statute of the Imperial Parliament in July 1900 is full of interest. This, indeed, was the critical period of Australian federal history. Into those twenty-eight months were crowded many strange political adventures and a whirl of excitement, including some acrobatic feats. The procedure laid down in the Enabling Acts which had been passed by the States, and under which the convention had done its work, was that after the constitution had been drafted it should be submitted to the people, and that it must, to ensure acceptance, receive a minimum number of affirmative votes in each State. The minimum required in New South Wales was 50,000. but after the convention had prepared the bill, a professed enemy of federation in the New South Wales Parliament introduced a bill to make the minimum 120,000. It was well known that such a number of affirmative votes could not be recorded. The clear intention was to prevent the Constitution becoming law. Reid, the Premier, objected to the 120,000 minimum, but himself suggested raising it to 80,000; a figure which was sufficient to make the fate of the measure insecure.
Reid's object was to bring about a reconsideration of the bill in several important particulars. He disliked the financial clauses, and he especially objected to the clause which provided that 'the seat of government shall be determined by the Parliament.' A large body of opinion in Sydney felt that the capital of the Commonwealth ought to be in New South Wales. That was the oldest State of the group, and was also the wealthiest and most populous. Reid was not only impressed by this argument, which was very vociferously urged in Sydney, but was also so trenchant in his criticism of other provisions that nearly the whole of the first public speech in which he uttered them was a sustained argument for the rejection of the Constitution by the people of New South Wales. Much to the surprise of those who heard it, however, he concluded by saying that, notwithstanding all the defects he had pointed out, and though he could not take up the bill with enthusiasm, still he could not 'become a deserter from the cause,' and regarded it as his duty to Australia to record his vote in favour of it.
Reid's attitude bewildered many and angered more. It led the Sydney Bulletin to define it as a 'Yes-No' attitude - a term which figured largely in the controversy of the period, and found its way into the dictionary. but all leading politicians have to get accustomed to nicknames and tags. They are rarely so injurious so those who invent them suppose them to be. It is always dangerous for a political leader to make distinctions which appear to be subtle, but Reid's difficulty can be appreciated by those who survey the situation in a calmer mood than the fierce party frenzy of the day allowed. He conceived that he had a divided duty; to the convention of which he had been a member and the bill which was its work on the one hand, and to the assertive body of public opinion in the State of which he was the Premier, on the other. But his adverse criticism made it impossible to secure the requisite 80,000 affirmative votes, and though there was a majori8ty for federation on the terms of the bill in New South Wales - there were 71,595 votes for an 66,228 against it - the same of union was for the time thwarted. In Victoria, South Australia, and Tasmania there were overwhelmingly large favourable majorities. In Western Australia the obligation to submit the bill to a referendum had not been assumed by the Government.
It would have been legally possible for the three States which had adopted the Constitution to federate under it by the process of petitioning the Crown to submit it to the Imperial Parliament. But federation without New South Wales would have been absurd, and the three Governments felt that a patient policy was the better one. The question was: What amendments would satisfy Reid and his Sydney supporters? Their attitude was defined late in 1898. The Victorian Premier, George Turner, thereupon summoned a conference of State Premiers to meet in Melbourne, when, to the satisfaction of all Australia, it was joined by the Queensland Premier, J. R. Dickson, whose presence was a guarantee that the sixth State of the group was now prepared to co-operate. five amendments were prepared by the conference. Three were financial, a fourth related to the power of the Federal parliament to alter the boundaries of States, and the fifth was the alteration which was designed to placate the local feelings of Reid's Sydney supporters. Instead of leaving to the Federal Parliament unrestricted power to determine where the capital of the Commonwealth should be, it provided that, while the Parliament should sit in Melbourne, and the seat of government should be there pending the building of a federal capital, the permanent home of the Commonwealth Government should be within territory to be 'granted to or acquired by the Commonwealth,' but must be' in the State of anew South Wales, and be distant not less than one hundred miles from Sydney.'
These amendments made all the difference between success and failure. At a second referendum, held in June 1890, there were 107,420 affirmative and 82,741 negative votes in New South Wales. A comparison between the voting in 1898 and 1899 is instructive. It shows an increase of federal feeling in all the States in which there were referendum polls in both years. Queensland did not vote in 1898, and Western Australia, whose Government was angling for special financial terms, did not join the federation till after the bill had been passed by the Imperial Parliament.
The attitude of Western Australia was different from that of any other State. The gold discoveries had attracted thither thousands of men from other parts of Australia. they were called 'T'othersiders' by the old colonists, who, if not opponents of federation on any terms, demanded that certain amendments should be made in the Constitution. The chief amendments they wanted were a guarantee that the Federal Government, when established, would construct a transcontinental railway connecting Western Australia with the eastern States, and permission for Western Australia to impose her own customs and excise duties for a period of five years after a federal tariff was brought into force. But the gold-fields po9pulation were federationists almost to a man. They had certain grievances against the Western Australian Government, which had refused to grant them franchise rights on an equality with the inhabitants of the rest of the State. When they demanded that the whole of the people of Western Australia should be given an opportunity of expressing an opinion on the federation issue by means of a referendum, their petition was rejected by both houses of the Parliament. The gold-fields people then determined, 'as all other constitutional means have been tried and failed,' to petition the Queen for the separation of the gold-fields from the rest of Western Australia, to establish a separate government there, and thus to enable the new State so created to become part of the Australian Commonwealth.
In view of the strength of this separation movement, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Chamberlain, telegraphed to the Governor of Western Australia surging that his ministers should 'take into consideration the fact of the agitation by the federal party, especially on the gold-fields,' and intimating that it appeared to him to be' of the utmost importance of the future of Western Australia to join at once.' this was a clear hint to the Western Australian Government that if they mentioned to stand aloof, the petition from the gold-fields might be acted upon by the Imperial government. Sir John Forrest and his ministers thereupon came to the conclusion that the risk of separation was too high a prize to pay for continued opposition to the demand for joining the Federation. They therefore took steps to enable the people of Western Australia to express their opinion, with the result that, as recorded above, the large majority of 25,109 out of 44,800 voted in favour of the acceptance of the Commonwealth Bill.
The Commonwealth Bill having thus been accepted by the people of Australia, it was necessary for it to be passed by the Imperial Parliament. But now again difficulties arose. The bill, in conferring upon the High Court exclusive jurisdiction in cases involving the interpretation of the Constitution, also gave power to the Federal Parliament to make laws limiting the matters of law in which appeals might be made to the Privy council, the highest court of appeal in the Empire. the English law officers objected to this limiting power being conferred upon the Parliament. That the High Court should (unless it chose to give special leave to appeal to the Privy Council) be the sole interpreter of the Constitution, and of the limits of the powers of the Commonwealth and of the States, was conceded. But objection was made to restricting the right of citizens to appeal to the highest Imperial tribunal on several grounds, two of which were of broad significance - first, that the Privy Council was a bond between various parts of the Empire which it should be the aim of Imperial policy to strengthen rather than to weaken; and, secondly, that the Privy council ensured uniformity in the interpretation of the law throughout the Empire on matters of commercial and Imperial concern.
The Imperial Government did not think that so sweeping a change should be made unless they were satisfied that the demand for it was one 'that has behind it the whole force of Australian opinion.' Their inquiries had not satisfied them that such was the case. The Secretary of State, Chamberlain, made it clear, however, that even though he and his government felt strongly that an amendment ought to be made in this particular, they would not attempt to withstand a genuine Australian demand. Delegates had been next to England to represent the Australian States in watching the handling of the constitution by the British government and Parliament, and four of them, Barton (new South Wales), Deakin (Victoria), Kingston (South Australia), and Fysh (Tasmania), made a very determined fight for the bill in an unaltered shape. Dickson (Queensland) was not so decisive. 'The delegates submit,' they wrote, 'that the federating colonies are morally entitled to have the whole bill laid before Parliament in the very form in which it stood when the votes of the people, affirming it, constituted it the Australian agreement.' They protested in a vigorous and lofty strain against having to 'choose between the howl of intervention and the dagger of delay.' But the Imperial Government stood firmly by their objection, and on the reference of the points dispute to a conference of Premiers which sat in Melbourne, those gentlemen represented that if a choice had to be made between the amendment of the bill as proposed or the postponement, they considered that the latter course would be much more objectionable to Australians generally than the former.' The appeal clause was therefore amended, and a few alterations were made in other provisions to bring the measure into harmony with the criticisms of the Imperial law officers.
In May 1900 the bill was brought before the House of Commons by Chamberlain, a master of the art of clear exposition, gave a remarkably interesting account of the history of the federal movement, and a lucid analysis of the bill itself. He described it as 'a monument of legislative competency.' 'Considering the magnitude and the variety of the interests that we are to deal with, the intricacy and importance of the subjects with which the bill has to deal, I think,' he said, 'that no praise can be too high for those whose moderation, patience, skill, mutual consideration and patriotism have been able to produce so great a result.' Mr. Asquith, who spoke of it as 'this great fabric which has been so skillfully and laboriously built,' declared that 'the Australian Commonwealth, the commonwealth of the future, is a whole which we believe is destined to be greater than the sum of its component parts, and which, without draining them of any of their parts, and which, without draining them of any of their life, will give to them in their corporate unity, a freedom development, a scale of intervals, a dignity of stature, which, alone and separated, they could never command., which, alone and separated, they could never command.' In July the bill passed both Houses of the Imperial Parliament, andit became an Act on the 9th of that month.
On September 17, 1909, by a proclamation issued by Queen Victoria from Balmoral, the Commonwealth of Australia was declared to come into being on and after January 1, 1901. The first governor-General, the Earl of Hopetoun, swore in his first Cabinet, that of the federal leader, Edmund Barton, in Sydney on that date; and on May 9th of the same year the rich, far carrying voice of the son of King Edward VII, the Duke of Cornwall and York, rang out in the great Exhibition building, Melbourne, as he formally opened the first Federal Parliament.
(a) Parties and Personalties
Historical events, like mountain ranges, can best be surveyed as a whole by an observer who is placed at a good distance from them. Out of the welter of acrimony, stratagem, ambition, generous impulses, lofty aspirations, meanness, selfishness, patriotism, and all the other motive forces amid which the work of the world gets itself done, emerge at length clear to the view certain shining personalities, certain determinations fluent in consequences, which are the stuff of which history is made. Many people who made such noise while they strutted their hour become happily forgotten, and many events which were responsible for large headings in newspapers are seen to be of no particular importance. The student of the history of the first quarter of a century of the Commonwealth who enters upon his task a century hence will see things in different proportion from him who makes the attempt at closer range.
But there are things which we can be sure were not merely ephemeral, because they had to do with the laying down of main lines of policy. Where those lines will run, how they will be deflected, whether they will continue ultimately to good or ill results, is beyond prediction. but they are important because they are main lines. In the First Federal parliament (1901-3) there were three political parties: the supporters of the Barton Government, which was protectionist; the official opposition led by G. H. Reid, which contended for a tariff for revenue-raising purposes only; and the Labour Party, led by J. C. Watson. The Ministry comprised five men who had been Premiers of their States before federation - Messrs. Forrest, Kingston, Turner, Lyne, and Fysh; in addition to Alfred Deakin, the most brilliant orator then engaged to politics, and one whose broad culture and personal charm won him influence beyond the strong administration with which to commence operations under a new constitution, though it contained too many headers to give promise of endurance. It was an army of generals, an orchestra of conductors; and that Edmund Barton did succeed in inducing them all to play the same tune, or fight on the same plan of campaign, during nearly two sessions, was a remarkable achievement in leadership.
The leader of the Opposition, Reid, when nature designed in a mood of kindness to political caricaturists, was, since the death of Parkes, the most familiar figure in Australian affairs. His fund of humour was not the least of his endowments; and it was employed to give liveliness to a rare gift of dignified and impassioned eloquence, and to a quick-witted skill in debate - which would seize upon a chance word as it flew and return it as a weapon barbed. The Labour party counted twenty-four members in the two Houses of Parliament. Generally they supported the Barton Ministry, but they were an independent party, with aggressive since and a clear if not as yet proclaimed intention to impose their own policy by the work of a Government of their own choice upon the Commonwealth. Their selected leader, Watson, had been a Labour member of parliament in New South Wales, but had not secured there opportunities for distinction such as he soon showed his capacity for winning in Commonwealth politics. A man of good presence and urbane manners, he was a clear and incisive public speaker, and an astute and tactful parliamentarian.
Although a Labour Government did not come into office till 1904, he Labour Party held the key to the Australian political situation from the very commencement of the Commonwealth. On a few issues the opinions of its members were divided. Before the first Tariff was passed and protection had become the assured fiscal policy of he country, some of the, especially those from New South Wales, were strong free traders. But whenever the party was united, its compact cluster of votes was sufficient to ensure that what it insisted upon in legislation would become law. The only way of negativing the party's influence would have been for the Opposition to support the Government when the Labour party did not concur in a ministerial proposal; but, as the main business of the Opposition was to try to turn out the Government, such support was not likely to be accorded often. The Labour Party held the key because on most important issues it assisted the Barton government, which could not have carried its measures without Labour support. Moreover, the Labour Party had developed methods of party organizations to a pitch not hitherto known in Australian politics. On issues which it declared to be essential to the carrying out of the political programme its members were pledged to vote as the majority of its members de3termined; on other issues they were free to vote according to their personal disposition. this system to party discipline gave to it a solid coherency which increased its strength.
Two measure of the first session were design to give effect to what Barton described as the 'white Australia' policy. One of these was for the purpose of preventing the immigration of coloured races, the other for clearing the Kanakas out of the sugar plantations of Queensland. The strength of the feeling in Australia against indiscriminate immigration had pronounced itself very strongly since the days of the gold diggings, and it was understood that one of the earliest acts of the Federal Parliament would be to pass a comprehensive measure of exclusion. 'the reason for it was frequently represented to be merely that the trade unions objected to the incursion of coloured labour, which would lower wages and the standard of living among the working classes. Undeniably the motive had much weight, but the policy was supported on other grounds connected with the general well-being. Those who had studied the consequences of the importation of negroes to America might well stand appalled at the prospect of saddling the Australia of the future with such a problem, and experience of the Chinese quarters of the large cities provided ample warnings against increasing such an element of the population.
But Barton wished to be careful not to pass Australian legislation which might embarrass the Imperial Government. The Secretary of State had sounded a warning in a despatch wherein he had indicated that disqualification on the ground of race or colour was 'country to the general conceptions of equality which have ever been the guiding principle of British rule throughout the Empire.' In fact, however, the principle that British possessions were at liberty to regulate their immigration was already established law; and the method which the Barton government proposed was adapted from an Act already in force in the colony of Natal. That method was the education test. Power was given to require any immigrant to submit to the test of writing not less than fifty words in any prescribed European language. (In 1905 the Act was amended by making the education test consist of capacity to write fifty words in 'any prescribed language.') This gave the officials charged with the administration of the Act scope to 'prescribe' a language in which they knew that an intending immigrant was not proficient. In practice the test has rarely been applied to European immigrants; the intention was to use it for the exclusion of coloured races. The administration was also enabled to admit merchants, travellers, students, and visitors from Asiatic countries who were provided with passports, which are valid for one year. The criticism levelled against this method by opponents was that it did by a subterfuge what it would have been more honest to do by the simple process of direct exclusion. that process would have been preferred by the supporters of the policy, but it was considered objectionable by the Imperial government, whilst the education test was deemed by them to be the least disagreeable mode of carrying out a policy which they did not like. The Immigration Restriction Act became law in 1901. It has been several times amended, always with the purpose of strengthening the system.
The legislation regarding the south Sea Islanders was passed at the same time. The story of the importation of Kanakas to Queensland has been related ... To a large extent the grosser evils of the coloured labour traffic had been mitigated by improved state legislation, but the more it was brought into comformity with the demands of civilization, the greater the danger of Kanaka labour being made a permanent feature of the industrial life of Queensland; and against that the commonwealth resolutely set its face. The Pacific Islands' Labourers Act gave power to the Government to return to their islands any any Kanakas who should be in Australia after December 1906; but by a later Act all Kanakas who had lived in Australia for twenty years, all who could not be returned to their islands without risk to their lives, and all who owned land, were allowed to remain in Australia. About 3,600 were at length deported. The champions of the planters averred that sugar could only be grown with black labour. Without that, a collapse of the industry was confidently predicted. But the Federal Government imposed a heavy import duty on sugar, to secure the Australian market for the Australian growers, and also granted bounties to those who produced sugar with white labour only. The details of the legislation of 1902 have been varied from time to time, but the principle of it has been adhered to. The predictions of failure have not been fulfilled. On the contrary, the sugar industry has prospered. The acreage under cane and the yields of sugar have increased. Whereas in 1897-8 Australia produced 1,073,883 tons of cane, in 1922-3 the production was 2,315 tons.
The break-up of the Barton Ministry was heralded before the close of the first Parliament by the resignation of C. C. Kingston. a burly South Australian, whose radical tendencies were in sympathy with the Labour party's programme in very many respects, Kinston had, as Minister of Customs, prepared the first protectionist tariff, and had steered it through the Legislature. The Labour Party had pressed for a measure to establish a Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration in labour disputes, and Kingston had taken a keen interest in its preparation. but he was not satisfied with the bill after it had been reviewed by the Cabinet. It was especially inadequate from his point of view because it did not extend to seamen engaged in the coastal trade. His colleagues, following the Prime Minister's lead, considered that the case of the seamen would be better provided for in a Navigation Bill; but Kingston would not endure their exclusion from the purview of the Arbitration Court, and left the Ministry. he was in bad health at the time, and did not figure prominently in commonwealth politics after his resignation; fir he was soon held in the grip of a long illness which ended his strenuous life on May 12, 1907.
A man of haughty temper, notwithstanding his strong democratic leanings, Kingston was at his best intellectually as a draftsman of parliamentary bills. He spoke in a series of emphatic spasms heaved forth with a voice of thunder; but when he took open in hand to prepare an Act of Parliament he had command of a crisp precision of phrase and a sure sense of the value of words, that could express a meaning in the shortest and most unmistakable terms. Instead of saying that any person charged with an offence against the said section in the manner aforesaid and being without reasonable cause or manner aforesaid and being without reasonable cause or excuse should on conviction before a court of summary jurisdiction be liable to a fine not exceeding 20 pounds, Kingston would write at the end of a tersely worded section, 'Penalty, 20 pounds' - and, oddly enough, neither courts nor persons affected ever had the least doubt as to what was meant. A couple of months after Kingston's resignation from the Ministry the Prime Minister himself retired from the science of strife to the dignified calm of the High Court bench. An Act constituting the Court, which was an essential element of the constitutional fabric, had been passed, and the office of Chief Justice of Australia was conferred upon sir Samuel Griffith, then Chief Justice of Queensland. Barton himself took the second judgeship. the third went to Richard O'Connor, who had represented the Government in the Senate since the commencement of federation.
The second rime Minister was Alfred Deakin, who at the general election, held in December, 1903, made a valiant fight to retain the ministerial party at full strength. but the Labour Party gained at the expense of both the other parties, and emerged from the polls with 24 members out of 75 to the House of Representatives, and 15 out of 36 in the Senate. It held the key to the situation still more firmly in its grip. The Government was entirely dependent upon it for support. If ever the party dissented from a matter of ministerial policy, its solid phalanx had only to be increased by a few oppositionists to place the Government in a minority, for Deakin could count no more than 27 followers, while Reid had 24.
Such a situation arose over the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill, the measure which had nearly destroyed the Barton Government. Deakin would not consent to the inclusion of a clause giving the right to servants of the States to appeal to the Federal Court to ask for an increase of pay from the Governments which employed them. Watson and his followers insisted. Aided by a number of opposition members, they carried the clause, and Deakin resigned (April 21, 1904). Then began a bewildering series of changes. A citizen of the Commonwealth might any morning have awakened wondering what government was in office now. First, a Labour Government under Watson took office. It endured till August 12, when, having resisted an amendment to that most explosive conciliation and Arbitration bill, it was defeated and gave place to a Government formed from the old Barton-Deakin party and Reid's own faithful band of Oppositionists. Reid was Prime Minister, and his principal lieutenant was the Victorian, Allan McLean. Deakin supported the combination till the end of the 1904 session, and enabled Reid to steer his Government into recess. But during that recess Deakin made a critical speech, from which Reid drew the inference that when Parliament met again he would lose the support of the remnant who looked to the ex-Prime Minister as their leader. He could not stand without them, so he deliberately rode for a fall. When parliament met in June 1905, the Ministerial programme continued only one paragraph, announcing that an Electoral Bill would be introduced. The meaning was obvious: Reid would pass this bill, bring the session to a close, and secure a general election. Hehoed that he would return from the polls with a party strong enough to keep his Government in office without reliance on the Deakin section.
But Reid was playing his cards against two extremely quick and astute politicians in Deakin and Watson. The former apparently thought - certainly some of his party hoped - that if he displaced Reid's Government at this juncture with the aid of the Labour Party, he would be able to form a coalition with Watson, and to carry out such a policy as they could both agree upon - for on very many points Deakin and his group were not far removed in sympathy from Watson and the moderate section of the Labour Party. The first part of the scheme worked. Deakin launched a motion of want of confidence and carried it with the aid of the Labour Party, after a long debate full of vituperation, hate, malice, and all uncharitableness. But there was no coalition. If Watson himself had been agreeable, his party were not. They believed - and they were shown to be right by the course of events - that if they exercised a little patience they would soon be strong enough to form a Government of their own. But their apple of power was not yet ripe, and it was better for them to watch it reddening on the tree than to risk losing it by sharing the fruit with another. Their supporters in the country were jealous of 'labour men' who did not hold aloof from other parties. Deakin therefore, with seventeen sure supporters in the House of Representatives, of whom seven had seats in the Cabinet, formed a Government which relied mainly for support upon the Labour Party.
Under Fisher's leadership the Labour Party made the long-contemplated step forward to the attainment of independent political power, It had supported the Deakin Ministry until certain contentions matters of policy, to be discussed in the following chapter, had been disposed of. Fisher then intimated, in cold terms, that that support would no longer be accorded. With the under-pinning removed, the government collapsed, and the first Fisher Ministry took its place.
What happened simply was that the larger of the two parliamentary groups which had kept the Deakin government in office now became the governing group, whilst the smaller one helped it to keep its place by giving to the smaller one helped it to keep its place by giving to it a sufficient though critical support. The question was: how long this state of things would last. The Government had not a majority of its own, and it would naturally try to secure one of the next election. The probabilities were that it could only win extra seats at the expense of the very members who were now its supporters, many of whom represented constituencies wherein there was a very strong Labour element. these member, therefore were in the position of one who should feed an animal with the certainty that at a favourable opportunity is intended to devour him. Politician are no more fond of being devoured than are other people. The time for a general election was approaching, and every day made these non-labour supporters of the Labour Government more and more uneasy. Behind the scenes negotiations went on between some of them and the Opposition led by Reid. Both groups thought it would be well for them to join forces to defeat the Government.
But who was to lead the attack? Reid was not persona grata with many of the Deakin group. His political lieutenant, Joseph cook, was not very palatable to them either. They must have Deakin himself. He had publicly stated that he did not intend to take office in any Government formed as the result of a combination of parties. but pressure was brought to bear, and Deakin's nature was peculiarly susceptible to the pressure of friends. He was not in good health, and would have preferred a few years of rest from leadership. but he yielded at length, and forwarded a polite and friendly note to Fisher informing him that the support hitherto given to his Government would be withdrawn. Again the underpinning was removed, and another Government fell from this cause.
The new combination, which took office in June 1909, was known as the Fusion, or Deakin-Cook, government. Reid was sent to London as first Commonwealth High Commissioner. But at the general election held in April, 1910, the electors of the Commonwealth, many of whom must have become confused by the complicated changes which have been detailed, showed themselves adverse to the Ministry. The tide ran high and full for the Labour party, and swept it back to parliament with a majority in both the Senate and the House of representatives. In the former House it captured every seat - that is, eighteen, for only half the members of the Senate retire at a general election - and counted 23 votes in a House of 30. In the House of Representatives it secured 42 seats for its own members, and had in addition the benevolent neutrality of two independents.
Fisher ws thus for the second time rime Minister. His Government was chosen on this occasion by a method that was quite new in the history of constitutional government. The usual mode in Australia, as in England, was for the Governor-General - ion England the Sovereign - to send for the political leader who was indicated by the debates and divisions to possess the confidence of the majority, to commission him to form a Ministry, and for the rime Minister so chosen to select his ministers. But he Federal Labour Party was differently organized from other political parties. Its members were pledged to a political programme drawn up by an annual Labour Conference. This Conference in 1905 had registered the decree that henceforth Labour Governments should not be chosen by the Prime Minister, but should be selected by the full body of the federal Labour members. Fisher, recognizing that his strength depended upon the wide-spread and very powerful organizations of the party in the country, initiated the observance of this rule. The members of the Government which held office from April 1910 till the next general election in May 1913 were therefore chosen by ballot by the party which supported them in Parliament.
The election of 1913 witnessed the retirement from active politics of Deakin, whose health had been shaken by the strain of so many years of official work and bitter conflict. cook was chosen to head the Fusion party, and fortune turned a rather wry smile upon him at the polls. So wry was it that it was hardly a smile. The Labour party lost some seats, and cook was able to re-enter the House of Representatives with a majority of one. that meant that when his supporters had elected a Speaker they had no majority at all. Moreover, the Labour Party still had an overwhelming preponderance in the Senate. So that the new Cook Government could not carry a scrap of legislation without the grace of its opponents, who very soon showed their determination to exert their power to the full. The parliamentary machine was clearly unworkable under these conditions. Cook met the situation by a bold, deliberate challenge. He was pledged to two items of policy in regard to which the issue between his party and Fisher's was clearly drawn. These were, a measure to restore voting by post, which the Labour party had abolished because of allegations of improper practices in the use of it; and a measure to destroy the preferential treatment of trade unionists by the Arbitration Court. The two bills were forced through the House of Representatives after very tough fighting, and were promptly rejected by the Senate. Planning then to bring into use the machinery of the Constitution for the removal of deadlocks, the government forced their bills through the House of representatives again, expressly to provoke the Senate to reject them a second time. This having been done, the rime Minister advised the Governor-General to dissolve both Houses.
A new Governor-Geneal, Sir Ronald Munro-Ferguson, had only just assumed office, and the situation was a very perplexing one for him to handle. The Labour Party denied that there was justification for dissolving a Parliament not yet one year old, and in which only one political leader had been tried. there was no precedent for such a stroke in the history of constitutional government. But there was no precedent for the situation which existed. Munro-Ferguson was himself a very experienced parliamentarian. He was no amateur amid the whirl and clang of party, for he had been a 'whip' in the House of Commons; and he was endowed with a capacity for cool judgement and firm decision . Moreover, he knew what his own powers were under the Constitution. His reading of the position was that no satisfactory results could be expected from a Parliament such as the last election had provided. He therefore dissolved both Houses. Events justified the discretion which exercised. The Labour Party at the election of 1914 was returned with an ample majori8ty in both Houses, and the third Fisher government took office less than six weeks after the outbreak of the great European War. The difficulties they had to face then were not parliamentary, but imperial and international.
Fisher resigned at the end of 1915 in order to take u the duties of High Commissioner in succession to Reid. The Prime Ministership then fell to his brilliant and energetic Attorney-General, William Morris Hughes.
Such then, in brief, is the history of arty warfare under the Commonwealth during its first fifteen years. to the superficial and cynical observe it may have seemed a 'scuffling of kites and crows.' But these confused and clamorous happenings mean t more than that. Political forces, like the forces of nature, often tear and rend in a manner disturbing to the placid case of good-natured equanimity. the men who fought these battles were not mere self-seeking 'caterpillars of the commonwealth,' but sincere and serious leaders of opinion, who were contending for different sets of principles. The raid rise of a new party - that is, of a new force - necessarily entailed a fresh adjustment of political relations.
(b) The Wheels of Policy
Amid all the distractions which have been described, the Commonwealth Parliament found occasion to exercise powers in a great variety of instances, and it laid down lines of policy which must influence Australia for many generations to come. Together with the subjects already mentioned, there was legislation under at least thirty of the thirty-nine paragraphs of the section of the Constitution wherein Commonwealth powers are defined; in addition to which many laws were passed on subjects over which the Commonwealth has exclusive jurisdiction, and some highly impo9rtant machinery measures, to enable the processes of government to work efficiently, were brought into being.
About the choice of the site of the federal capital there was thorough inquiry by experts and by members of Parliament. at first, in 1904, Dalgety, on the Monaro tableland, was selected - certainly a beautiful site, watered by the Snowy River, ringed round with mountains, and with the huge mass of Kosciusco dominating the landscape. but the choice did not give pleasure to a number of influential persons in New South Wales, and before the steps necessary for commencing to mark and the federal territory were taken a feeling that the subject should be reconsidered gained ground in Parliament. It was rumoured that Watson had found a place called Canberra, some sixty miles to the north of Dalgety, and consequently nearer to Sydney, which would meet the requirements far better. A ballot was taken in 1905, with the result that Canberra was finally selected by the Parliament. The New South Wales Government facilitated the acquirement by the Commonwealth of an area of 900 square miles, with a strip of land running down to the sea at Jervis Bay, where also two square miles of land were ceded for the purposes of a Commonwealth port and naval base. The required area was formally handed over by New South Wales to the Federal government in 1909. the first meeting of the Commonwealth Parliament at Canberra occurred in May 1922, when the new Parliament House was formally opened by H. R. H. the Duke of York.
The question of vital interest to Western Australia was that of the construction of a railway connecting Perth with the eastern States. Forrest was wont to say that the principal reason which led the western State to join the Commonwealth was that assurances were given to him that the railway would be built. The railway, he maintained, was the inducement offered to Western Australia, just as the possession of the federal capital within her territory was the inducement of New south Wales. But the Constitution imposed no obligation to construct the line, and nobody had any authority to pledge the Commonwealth in advance to do anything which the Constitution did not require to be done. The alleged compact may not have weighed with the Federal Parliament, but the undesirableness of having a whole State cut off by a great distance from the rest of the Commonwealth, without railway connection, certainly did. If only for military reasons, it was felt that the chain of steel should be forged. The project was promised in the programme of the Barton government in 1901, and had been part of the policy of every successive Ministry. The whole of the western Australian members were continually insistent about it. At length, in 1907, an Act was passed providing money for the survey of the 1,051 miles of route between Port Augusta, at the head of Spencer's gulf, and Kalgoorlie, in the western State, whence a railway already ran to Perth. The surveyors found, as was expected, that the country to be traversed by the line is largely unfit for human habitation; but they also found plenty of good grass land which in favourable seasons will be valuable. Acting on the surveyor's report, the Fisher Government, in 1911, secured the passage of a measure to authorize the construction of the line. It was opened for traffic in 1917.
Very much of the energy, and a large expenditure of the passion, of political parties has been devoted to efforts to amend the Constitution. that instrument itself provides the machinery for its own alteration. a proposed law having amendment in view must first be passed by an absolute majority of each house of Parliament; it must then be voted upon by the people; and if a majori8tyh of the election voting, in a majority of the States, signify their approval, the constitution is altered accordingly. The Labour Party, after failing to carry out its designs in reference to the scope of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act and the control of commercial trusts and monopolies, decided to ask the people to amend the Constitution in two aspects mainly. First, they desired to remove the limitation which confined the jurisdiction of the Federal Arbitration Court to industrial disputes extending beyond the limits of any one State. They wished to give power to the Court to act as to wages and conditions of labour and employment in any trade, industry, or calling, including disputes which might arise among the employees of state railways. Secondly, they wished to have power to make laws for the control of commercial corporations, for regulating trade and commerce within any State as well as Inter-State, and for 'nationalizing' any industry which Parliament might declare to be 'the subject of any monopoly.'
These propositions were first submitted to the election in 1911, but were rejected by five States out of the six - Western Australia being the only State favourable to the enlargement of federal power. Regardless of this defeat, the Labour Party, considering that it could make little headway with its policy without the proposed amendments of the Constitution, submitted them to a second referendum in 1913. They were then carried by three States, Western Australia, South Australia, and Queensland - but were rejected by the other three. Failing a majority in a majority of States, the attempt failed again. But the affirmative votes in 1913 showed a marked advance on those recorded in 1911. Then the Labour policy was rejected by majorities of over a quarter of a million. In 1913, however, the difference between success and failure was very narrow - less than 30,000. Encouraged by the advance, the party nailed its flag to the mast and announced that it would try again; and there would have been a third referendum on the same questions at the end of 1915 but that the outbreak of the European War induced the dropping of schemes of constitutional alteration.
One of the strongest reasons for the formation of the federal union was in order that a better defence system might be adopted for Australia. Before 1901 each of the six States had its own little military force, under the command of an officer engaged from the British Army; and each contributed towards the up-keep of a squadron of the Imperial Navy, under a Rear-Admiral, which was maintained in Australian and New Zealand waters. but there was no attempt at co-operation between the six military forces. There was no unity of command. there was no common system of training and equipment. If Australia had had to fight for her existence, whatever co-ordination there was would have had to be arranged at the last moment and in the face of the enemy. The forces were militia, with a small corps of garrison artillery in each capital city. There were also small naval forces in some States. but these were not the main factors in the defence of Australia. Everybody knew that, regardless of geography, the country nestled under the lee of the great and efficient navy controlled from Whitehall.
Very early in the history of the new Commonwealth the question of the efficiency of the defence system and of whether it was on proper lines forced itself on public attention. In 1903 a new naval agreement with the Admiralty had to be made, to replace the old agreement between the Admiralty and the separate Station. Barton had made an arrangement, subject to ratification by Parliament, that the commonwealth should contribute a subsidy of 200,000 pounds per annum towards the cost of the squadron. He managed to carry it, but experienced great difficulty in doing so. The idea of a subsidized navy was objectionable to many. Had not the time arrived when Australia should make provision for her own defence, both naval and military? This view was emphatically urged by many influential men and journals - notably by the Sydney Bulletin, which during the early years of federation, when policy was being formulated, rendered memorable service by some remarkably clear thinking and forcible writing about problems of the future. 'The alternative to the naval tribute proposed by Mr. Barton,' wrote this journal in 1902, 'is the expenditure of a like sum of money, or if necessary a much larger sum of money, on an Australian Navy. This Navy would, in times of peace, be used as a training squadron for Australian men. In times of war it would be available for the defence of Australia, and, there is no doubt, for the assistance of Great Britain in other waters if that were called for.' That passage embodies the view which eventually gained general acceptance. It seemed in advance of the probabilities in 1902, but there is a very remarkable likeness between what was then proposed and what ultimately happened.
If any one had predicted before 1900 that Australia, with her democratic tendencies, would be the first portion of the British Empire to adopt compulsory military service, he would have been deemed absurd. But, as the defence problem was more thoroughly studied, men asked themselves why it should be considered undemocratic to compel citizens to train themselves for the defence of their country. The payment of taxes is not voluntary, though it is never very agreeable. The observance of health acts and factory regulations is not voluntary. Why, then, men said, should it be left to the choice of the individual as to whether he should make himself efficient to defend the country whose profession he enjoys? And, if a democracy was not prepared to defend itself, had it any more reason to expect that it would survive than other forms of government had done elsewhere? A remarkable circumstance affecting the new Australian defence policy was that, although the political parties of the country were bitterly at enmity, as shown in the previous chapter, they all, at about the same time, became converts to the principle of compulsory military service, and all became eager supporters of the establishment of an Australian Navy. Indeed, after these two things had been enacted, there was some brisk controversy as to which party had first proposed them. Defence became a non-party issue. At one time it seemed that there could not be such a thing as a non-party issue in Australian politics; but these two very far-reaching changes did actually attain to that unique distinction.
During the first eight years of the Commonwealth its defence legislation made on radical departure from old methods. But opinion had been ripening, and in 1809 Deakin introduced the first measure which embodied the principle of compulsory military training. It also made provision for establishing a military college for the education of officers. The bill passed through Parliament, but, before the proclamation which was to bring it into operation was issued, the Deakin Government was ejected from office. The Fisher Ministry gave its wholehearted support to the compulsory principle, but amended the Act of 1909, which was introduced by Senator Pearce, who was Minister of Defence in all the Labour Governments after the first one. Many amendments were made on the advice of Lord Kitchener, who visited Australia at the invitation of the Commonwealth government in 1909, made a thorough study of the strategic requirements of the country, and inspected its troops during field manoeuvres. Lord Kitchener prepared a report containing many valuable recommendations, which the Government was glad to accept.
Under these Acts provision was made for training lads in two classes, junior and senior cadets, and young men between he ages of eighteen and twenty-six. all male persons liable for training were required to register; and heavy penalties were imposed for evasion of service, or, in the case of an employer, for preventing an employee from rendering the personal service required of him. The fundamental defence Acts of 1909-10 were amended in detail, as experience showed alterations to be desirable; but their main principle, that of liability to be trained for defence, became a fixed part of Commonwealth policy. a military college was opened in 1911 at Duntroon, within Commonwealth territory, for the training of officers, entrance to it being by competitive examination. a naval college was also established at Jervis Bay. A wide departure was made when the Commonwealth resolved to build a navy of its own, and to make provision for manning it with Australian seamen. Expert opinion in Great Britain was divided as to the expediency of having separate navies within the Empire, but at an Imperial Defence Conference, held in London in 1909, both the Australian and the Canadian representatives made it clear that the commonwealth and the Dominion desired to build up what were called local navies. The Admiralty thereupon gave its most valuable advice, and a scheme was prepared to enable Australia to get the best service possible within her means. Rear-Admiral Sir Reginald Henderson was sent out to examine sites for naval bases, and to advise generally; and his report (1911) like that of Lord Kitchener on military defence, was taken as a basis upon which the government could proceed with a naval scheme.
Great impetus was given to the movement for creating an Australian Navy by the revelations of the desperate efforts which Germany was making to build a fleet of battleships which, professedly, were designed to challenge the sea supremacy of Great Britain. In no part of the British Empire was the significance of the development more fully appreciated than in Australia, whose people thoroughly relized that the safety of their country depended upon the sea power of the motherland. A movement was started to present a Drednought to the Imperial Navy, but a more far-sighted realization of the needs of the situation insisted that a comprehensive naval scheme was required; and the Imperial Defence Conference of 1909 brought forth a clear set of principles and a programme of development which satisfied those who wished to work for an Australian Navy. to a very large extent, therefore, the new Navy grew out of the peril disclosed by the revelations as to German preparations. But it was recognized quite frankly by the most thorough supporters of an Australian naval policy that unity of direction was essential in naval warfare. It was not desired to place up-to-date and well-armed ships in Australian waters, and leave them there in time of war without regard to the requirements of Imperial naval strategy. The legislation affecting the Navy therefore provided that in time of war the squadron should automatically pass under the control of the Admiralty; and that step was taken immediately after war broke out between Great Britain and the Germanic Powers on August 4, 1914.
The British government treated Australia very generously once the new policy had been decided upon, banding over to the Commonwealth, as a free gift, the whole of the building and equipment at the naval based at Sydney. The Admiralty also offered to contribute a quarter of a million pounds per annum to the upkeep of the Australian squadron, recognizing its value in the protection of British interests in the Pacific and the East. this offer, however, was declined, the Commonwealth preferring to defray the whole cost itself. The Australia, flagship of the fleet, a battle-cruiser of the very rapid, heavily-armed Indomitable type, was completed in 1913, and her arrival in Australian waters in that year was convincing evidence that the new naval policy was in operation. In a little over a year that policy was justified in a very startling manner, when the great European War broke out, and German cruisers were at large in the Pacific. Australian ports would have been good targets for the guns of Admiral von Spee's squadron but for the presence of the Australia, with her great superiority of speed and gunnery. Two smaller cruisers, the Sydney and the Melbourne, also arrived from England, where they were built, in 1913. the fight of the former with the German cruiser Emden at Cocos Island on November 9, 1914, gave the young Australian Navy its first battle experience, and the opportunity was very worthily seized. The Australia remained as the most powerful vessel in the Australian fleet until 1924. Under the conditions of the international agreement made at a conference at Washington in 1921, the naval forces of all the Powers were reduced. The Australia was one of the ships condemned to be destroyed. She was then obsolete as a ship of war; but a certain sentiment attached to her as the first Australian capital ship to take part in great naval operations. As, however, she had to be destroyed, she was for the last time put under steam on the morning of April 12, 1924, steered outside the heads of Port Jackson, and sunk in the Pacific.