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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 76

Australasian Federation

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Australasian Federation.

The other day I read a tribute to the memory of Sir Henry Parkes, the Apostle of Australian Federation, now that it is about to become an accomplished fact. I am glad to see that in New South Wales there are politicians who recognise what they owe to him, in becoming an Australasian Commonwealth, and taking a place among the nations of the world, for that is what it really means, under the aegis of the Imperial nursing mother. Among those who have placed a laurel on the dead statesman's brow is Mr. Bruce Smith, who, in his pamphlet, "Honour to Whom Honour is Due," shows what Australia owes to her deceased statesmen, who will be to the Australian Commonwealth what Sir John Macdonald has been to the Canadian Dominion. As far back as 1857, Australian Union has been in the air, first in Victoria, and latterly in New South Wales. Ten years afterwards a report on union was brought up in the Victorian Assembly, and by Sir Henry Parkes at a conference in Victoria. It proceedings appear in the "Argus" of March 18, 1867, on the assembling in Victoria of the representatives of all the colonies, saving Western Australia, but including even distant New Zealand. The conference had been convened with a view to the formation of some scheme of Federal Union; and it fell to the lot of Sir Henry Parkes to voice the following sentiments, "at a time," says Mr. Bruce Smith, "when most of the men, who are now loudly protesting their ardour for the cause were carrying a school satchel."

For the first time, he said, in the history of these Australian colonies, they have all assembled, including New Zealand—I may say all of them, because they are all represented, with the exception of Western Australia—with the feeling of emulation less worthy than the desire to have the largest share in effecting a commonwealth to promote their common interest. 1 think the time has arrived when those colonies should be united by some federal connection. I think it must be manifest to all page 35 thoughtful men that there are questions projecting themselves upon our attention which cannot be satisfactorily dealt with by any one of the individual Governments.

Had a number of these representatives taken a broad view of things, federation would have come to pass in his day. When I see men discussing the question of Australian Federation in a huckstering spirit, wanting to know how much we can get for our maize, our potatoes, and oats, if we join, I feel ashamed of some of our fellow-colonists, and turn with delight to the utterances of Sir Henry Parkes in addressing the Australian Natives' Association in 1889 :—

"Federation will have to be worked out in a generous spirit of patriotism, without seeking to obtain a number of advantages for any one colony. We, as separate communities, have had to fight our way. What may be said of New South Wales may be said of Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, and may be said our sister, New Zealand, if she will condescend to permit us to call her sister. We cannot become one united people and cherish some provincial object which is inconsistent with that national unity. It was vain for any particular colony, even if it so desired, to attempt to steal a march or sneak an advantage over its neighbours. We are willing to come into a Federal Dominion with the smallest colonies; we seek no advantage for ourselves; we do not wish to make any conditions whatever; we are prepared to trust to the wisdom, to the honour, and to the justice of a Federal Parliament, and to commit all our interests to it. That is our position; and, unless we are willing to trust to a Federal Parliament. I cannot understand how we can hope to federate in any way which will be worthy of name.

Messrs. Kennedy Brown and Aulsebrook strike the right chord in the columns of the "Herald." The former says, referring to our commerce with Australia under free-trade within the Zollverein, and protection against those outside, "How marvellously our wealth would increase and human happiness—the only thing worth thinking about—the real chief end of man—would abound." I am surprised that a man like Mr. Andrew Bell, who has been brought up in a creed that "man does not live by bread alone," should enjoin a single word of caution, and page 36 intimate that we can go into the Union when we please and on our terms There never was a greater fallacy propounded. Ruskin has finely said. "The strength and power of a country depends absolutely on the quality of the men and women in it." Earl Russell says all the material resources of a State are of little avail if there are not behind all the moral resources. And the poet sings in the same strain :—

What constitutes a State ?
Not cities proud, with spires and turrets crowned,
Not bays and broad armed forts,
But men—high-mended men.

Does anyone believe that if federation had been accomplished in 1857, when it was first mooted in Victoria, or even in 1867, when Sir Henry Parkes gave the idea concrete shape, and brought it within the region of practical politics, that we would to-day see the Germans in New Guinea, the New Hebrides under a dual control, the Solomon Islands under a divided control, and Samoa under a tripartite rule. The pressure of the Australian Commonwealth would have compelled the British Government to consider the representations of the incipient nation, just as Mr. Chamberlain has, through the recent federal verdict, surrendered his original position with regard to the Pacific cable, and made it an Imperial enterprise. Does anyone believe that if Newfoundland had cast in her lot with the Canadian Dominion that "the French Shore question" to-day would be in its present stage, preventing the development of its resources. "Oh," but says someone, "Newfoundland has self-government." Why, a number of its members of Parliament were unseated for corruption so hideous that it has had no parallel in any other British colony; the colony has been reduced to practical bankruptcy, so grievous that it was actually proposed to farm out one of the Government departments to a contractor, just as a Turkish pashalic would be farmed. All Newfoundland did was to prove that she had the right to misgovern herself. Why, there is nothing sweet or wholesome about her, save her own codfish ! Sir Henry Parkes, in moving his resolutions of May, 1890, in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, dealt with this aspect of the subject, because of the misconception which appeared to exist in regard to it, especially in New Zealand, where his remarks are just as apposite as to New South Wales.

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I will dwell for a moment on some objections which I have occasionally heard—objections that we would be giving up the individual power, and authority, and independence of New South Wales. In what way will New South Wales be less self-governed and less independent than she is now ? Under a federal constitution she certainly will be as well-governed; that is, she will have the means of being as well governed. She certainly will be as independent. She certainly will be the better for having all the power which she possesses now, and in addition to that, her full share in the large powers of the federal government, which she has not at all now. So far as her own boundaries extend, she will be the self-governed country she is now. But, beyond this, she will have her share of power over the whole of Australia, and over the whole of the seas of Australia.

There Sir Henry Parkes had considered everything in his plans. He pointed out that in the event of the colonies becoming involved in war through the Mother Country the colonies in their then position simply invited disaster. There was no Federal authority to mass the troops, no uniform railway gauge to admit of swift mobilisation, no efficient military college, no small arms factory, and no quick-firing guns ammunitton factory. At the first outbreak of war there would be endless confusion, divided authority, and the unpreparedness—to compare great things with small—of the French in 1870. Speaking of finance, it was shown that experts reckoned the reduced rate of interest at which the Commonwealth could go into the English market, converting old loans and raising new ones, under "the sweet simplicity of the Three Per Cents.," would make a saving of from a million and a-quarter to a million and a-half, the whole cost of the Federal Government being defrayed from the saving of interest alone! Diplomatically, lie showed what Australia would gain. That is already seen in the case of Canada. Her Premier was treated almost as an Ambassador at the Jubilee, and held quite a different position to the Premiers and Agents-Generals of the separated Australian colonies. Even the Hon. the Premier of New Zealand felt that.

It is as certain as night follows day that when New Zealand comes to desire to enter the Australian Federation, she will have to do so on that federation's terms, and not on her own. It page 38 is simply folly to imagine it can be otherwise, and that a United Australia will take its terms from "the Newfoundland of the Pacific." There will be free-trade within the boundaries of the Federation, and possibly a commercial arrangement with Great Britain, giving her favoured treatment as against foreign nations. Where will New Zealand be then ? "Stewing in her own gravy." By going into the Union she would have 4,000,000 people as her best customers for everything she has to produce. The droughts, and floods, and fires of Australia fight for us, but who will pay the protection duties at such periods—the exporter or the consumer ? Our people will soon find out. Tasmania will simply drive our fruit and our jams out of the Australian markets. Where will be the outlet for our splendid timbers ? Australian members of Parliament and Australian Cabinet Ministers have alike stated that New Zealand will have to get her goods into the Australian markets at any sacrifice, because distance and the freights render it impossible for her to compete in the American or European markets.

We see what has befallen Queensland because she had not representatives who could rise to the occasion, and take a broad view of things. She could not decide to make up her mind on the question, and now, instead of her statesmen having a share in framing the Constitution, she is going to the poll or referendum upon proposals in which she has had no "art or part." When New Zealand similarly comes in she will be precisely in the same fix. If she had been represented at the Conference she would at least have had an opportunity of attempting to mould the Constitution to suit her special requirements, but that opportunity has been lost. The longer she remains out of the Federation, the harder will be the terms, and the larger the price, because the Federation will remember the selfish and tortuous role New Zealand has pursued. The Otago Times, referring to the Auckland movement for a National Federation League, says :—

"The Commonwealth Bill makes provision for the admission of new States after the federation shall have been brought about, the provision being that the Federal Parliament may admit new States on such terms and conditions, including the extent of representation in either House of Parliament, as it may think fit The question raised by the National Federation League, as the page 39 Auckland federalists have styled the organisation they have formed, is one for earnest as well as deliberate consideration."

Once Australasian Federation was accomplished, then we could look to the higher plane of Imperial Federation, and the political vista which stretched out before the prescient gaze of Sir Henry Parkes, when he said :—

"I do see very clearly that there may come a time, and that time not very remote, when the Australian colonies may be brought more into the position of one great and united people. I do see a time when the South African colonies may be brought together into one great Anglo-African people. And I see that if a grand and powerful congeries of free communities, such as I have grouped, in three parts of the world, become steadily formed, they may enter into an allegiance with the parent State, on something like a broad ground of equality."

That was the goal which Tennyson hoped would be reached :—

Britain's myriad voices call,
Sons be welded one and all
Into one Imperial whole.
One with Britain, heart and soul,
One Life, one Flag, one Fleet, one Throne !

What are our local public men doing? Well, money-grubbing as usual. The mining share and stock list is of more consequence to them than the formation of the national career and life of four and a-half millions of their fellow countrymen. What are they thinking about at Wellington in the Parliament of New Zealand? Well, if our representatives are thinking about anything, it is probably the marine scandal, and whether Mr. John Hutcheson will get back again to the House, or how they themselves will crawl back into their own wretched seats after the dissolution of Parliament—only that, and nothing more ! It is in vain that New Zealand will try to play the game of "heads I win, tails you lose." There was a time when Sir George Grey's scheme of a South Sea Confederation, with New Zealand as the predominent partner, was possible, but that time has passed by. The Little Englanders finished that up, and no vain regrets can recall it.