Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 50

The President's Speech

The President's Speech.

The President said: I desire to thank the members of the council for electing me to the honourable position of President. As the Chairman and Executive Officer of the Committee of Premiers, appointed at the Sydney Convention for the purpose of bringing about the establishment of this Federal Council, it is a matter of much gratification to myself to be selected for its first President. I shall endeavour to discharge the duties of that high office with zeal and impartiality.

The first meeting of the Federal Council of Australasia is an event of great interest, not merely to these colonies themselves but to the Empire at large. It ushers into existence, under the sanction of Imperial authority, a new legislative system, founded on united action, among colonies one in race, in language, and in destiny, and will, no doubt, be regarded by the nations of the world as the embryo of a great Consolidated Dominion, which must hereafter be paramount in the seas of the Pacific, and which will have to be reckoned with when Imperial interests are concerned in any part of the world.

2. It would have been a matter of extreme gratulation if on this occasion, which must Become of historic interest, the whole of the Colonies of Australasia had been represented, but the fact that they are not so, need not, and should not, operate as a discouragement. History teaches us how difficult it is to secure unanimity in the earlier attempts to bring about Federal Union among self-governing communities, even when their interests would be manifestly be best promoted by such union—the provinces of the Netherlands, the Cantons of Switzerland, the United States of America, the Dominion of Canada, are all cases in point, and the circumstances which have left three of the Australasian Colonics unrepresented on the present occasion, when carefully considered, afford great grounds for hope of their ultimate, and even early adhesion to the federal movement. We know that in those unrepresented colonies there is no feeling hostile to federal union, and that the causes of their present hesitation are to be sought for and found rather in objection to matters of detail, than in any hostility to the idea of uniting the British communities in these seas for national purposes, and of ultimately founding one grand Australasian Dominion.

3. The members of the Federal Council here to-day represent a million and a-half of the Queen's subjects scattered throughout five provinces of Her Majesty's Australasian page 9 dominions, and we may properly enquire for a moment what are the objects sought to be attained through means of the union which we represent and embody, and what are the powers which we possess to accomplish those objects. I may say at the outset that our position is wholly unpretentious in its character, and strictly limited in its scope, but nevertheless it is important in its practical bearings on the present, and in its symbolical foreshadowings of the future. Dealing with the question in its practical aspect alone, I desire to remind you that the movement for the establishment of a Federal Council of Australasia arose out of necessities long recognised by the statesmen of all the colonies forming the Australasian group. These colonies, though separated from each other by long stretches of land or of sea, are nevertheless bound together by the close relations which subsist between them. The ties of kindred and of country, of commerce, of religion, and of similar social and political conditions and aspirations, render it desirable that they should be politically united in order to secure that freedom of inter-action which can only be obtained by means of federal legislation. But the physical conditions of their existence had split them up into a number of separate political communities which stood in the relation of foreign states to each other, so far as all purposes of concerted action were concerned, and this notwithstanding the fact that they formed part of the same Empire.

4. The difficulties created by this condition of things have long been felt, and at various times efforts have been made to remedy or overcome them. Conferences between the colonics on subjects of the deepest interest to all of them have been held from time to time extending over a period of about a quarter of a century for the purpose of securing unity of action by identity of legislation, but the practical result has been insignificant and unsatisfactory.

5. It was not that the representatives at those conferences could not agree, but that when they agreed, they had no means of giving effect to their agreement. They passed many resolutions and occasionally drafted bills with a view to their being passed by the several local legislatures, but with perhaps one exception, these bills failed to become law throughout the colonics. The exigencies of local politics, the changes of Governments, the dissolution of Parliaments, or the diversion of public interest to other matters, rendered the efforts of those conferences abortive so far as unity of legislative action was concerned.

6. Under these circumstances the attention of the leading statesmen in Australasia was directed from time to time to the necessity for the establishment of a body which, partaking to some extent of the character of a periodical conference, would yet be possessed of legislative powers to give effect to the united desires of the colonies. Events of the highest interest which transpired in these seas in the year 1883 in connection with New Guinea, the New Hebrides, and the other islands of the Pacific, and the threatened danger of being deluged by a flood of irreclaimable criminals of another nationality, stimulated into existence the convention which met in Sydney in November of that year. That convention formulated and unanimously adopted a scheme which, in their opinion, was calculated to meet the needs of these colonies, until public opinion should ripen for a union closer and more comprehensive than what was then considered possible.

That scheme was embodied in an Act of the Imperial Parliament, and this Act has been adopted by the five colonies represented here to-day. And let me remind you that the constitution of this Council has been warmly approved by British statesmen. Both of the great political parties in the Old Country have lent their countenance and aid in assisting the colonies towards its establishment. It was one of those parties which suggested the movement in the first instance, and afterwards introduced into the Imperial Parliament the measure which gave it effect; the other gave completion to the necessary Imperial legislation, and, by afterwards permitting and encouraging the Crown colonies to join in the federation, stamped it with their approval.

7. And now let us enquire in what position we are placed by this Imperial Act, and what are the powers conferred on us thereby. This is an important question, and much misunderstanding has arisen from want of a clear comprehension of the actualities of the position.

8. To begin with, there is no power conferred by the Imperial Act by which, through means of the Federal Council, any one colony can be coerced by a combination of the others. This is an essential feature of the new constitution. It gives the Council the fullest legislative authority over those subjects on which the colonies are agreed, and on which they desire combined action, but provides no means of compelling an unwilling colony to submit to the domination of any or all of the others on subjects regarding which they differ. A few subjects are mentioned in the Imperial Act in respect to which the Federal Council has unfettered control. It was unanimously agreed at the Sydney Convention that these subjects are of a character in respect to which the interests of all the colonies might be safely left to a Federal Council. But on every other subject which may form the basis of Federal legislation, the actual concurrence of each and every colony concerned is an absolute necessity.

9. It is therefore obvious that under the Imperial Act (with the exception only of the few questions already referred to) every colony is master of its own situation, and cannot without its own explicit consent be subjected to the legislation of the Federal Council. When this is thoroughly understood many of the objections to the Federal Council must vanish. The Imperial Act has been fitly called an Enabling Act, and nothing could better describe its character. It narrows in no sense, but widens in many directions, the powers at present possessed by the people of the various colonies through their local Parliaments. What the separate colonies have for five and twenty years been trying in vain to do through means of conferences, they can now do with ease and despatch through means of the Federal Council.

10. Again, the Council possesses no initiative power in respect to legislation other than on the few subjects already referred to, but can act only when set in motion by the page 10 local Parliaments, and there is thus an absolute safeguard that no colony will be dragged farther than it desires to go. The Federal Council legislates only as authorised by the Parliaments of the colonies included in the union. It simply does for them what they could not and cannot do for themselves. It clothes with the form of law the policy already determined on by the separate Parliaments, and such law will be in force throughout the union. This is indeed an important function, and one requiring the services of the best men of Australasia as representatives in this Council; but as the subjects to be legislated on by the Federal Council involve no questions of local politics, it matters not whether these representatives are known in their respective colonies as Liberals or Constitutionalists, as Radicals or Conservatives.

I need not occupy time in dilating on the many advantages which must result from the establishment of this Federal Council. By it we have now the means of establishing a system of defence, the value of which would be doubled by the mere magic of a national name. We can now create a federal law by which letters of naturalisation, taken out in any one colony, would constitute an alien a citizen of the Australasian Commonwealth. We have it now in our power by a uniform system of patent laws to give an impetus to that inventive genius which has done so much to place the United States of America in the van of mechanical progress; we have the means, by the establishment of a federal quarantine, to minimise the danger of the introduction into these colonies of diseases from other lands, and to secure almost absolute immunity from such danger to the central and more populous colonies of the group. But it is not only in respect to what may be termed domestic legislation that the people of these colonies have had their powers enlarged. For the first time the exercise of Imperial authority has been transferred to the statesmen of Australasia by conferring on them the power to legislate on matters beyond their own territorial limits. The relations of Australasia with the Islands of the Pacific are daily becoming more close and intimate, and it is a matter for deep satisfaction that the regulation of these relations now rests with ourselves.

These are only a few examples of the advantages to be gained by the new powers conferred on the colonies by the establishment of the Federal Council.

But it is not as a legislative body only that this Council will exercise an influence over the affairs of these colonies. As the Right Honourable the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Colonel Stanley, well pointed out in his able despatch of the 14th August last, "the Federal Council will be of no less value as a deliberative than as a legislative body."

There are many subjects of deep interest which either do not come within the scope of legislation, or which are not yet ripe for legislation; these may be advantageously discussed by the Council, and an expression of its opinion upon them will be of great value and importance.

The 29th section of the Federal Council Act itself invests us with a power whose importance cannot be overrated the power for this council "to make such representations or recommendations to Her Majesty as it may think fit with respect to any matters of general Australasian interest, or to the relations of Her Majesty's possessions in Australasia with the possessions of Foreign Powers." Occasions for the exercise of this power are likely to be frequent and important, and if the Council possessed no other function than this it would be able materially to influence the destinies of these colonies.

In fine this Council symbolizes, although it does not yet fully realise Australasian unity. To use the expression of an eminent statesman in a neighbouring colony, "it is the first beat of a national pulse." It will give a feeling of strength and self-reliance most important to our national development and progress. It will be recognised in other lands as (what I trust it will soon become) the mouthpiece of the Australasian people, and as such a mouthpiece what a power it will possess! Could the New Guinea fiasco have ever occurred if a voice from this chamber, representing a united Australasian people, had reached the ears of England? And, with a united determination, and a united voice to speak forth that determination, we need have no fear that other islands of the Pacific will be occupied by foreign powers as penal stations, from which might infiltrate into these communities the refuse of other lands. And last, but not least, by uniting us in one solid body we become a buttress of that Empire whose history we are all delighted to recall, whose glories we are all proud to share, and whoso Sovereign rules in the hearts of all British people throughout the whole world.

I again thank you for the honourable position to which you have elected me.