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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 80a

Governor Sir John Young to the Secretary of State for the Colonies

Governor Sir John Young to the Secretary of State for the Colonies.

Government House, Sydney,

My Lord Duke,

At Sir William Burton's request, I have the honour to send herewith a statement of his services, and of the circumstances which appeared to him to call for his resignation of the office of President of the Legislative Council of New South Wales.

page 72

This document is a narrative, in some sort an impeachment, of the whole policy and proceedings of the existing Ministry, who, on their part, are prepared to combat Sir William Burton's position.

Your Grace will probably be inclined to view what may be urged on the one and on the other side as matter rather for constitutional discussion between those who take opposite sides in the Colony than for imperial cognizance. If, however, you should think proper to institute a minute review of these affairs, and so judge between the parties, I shall take the earliest possible opportunity, on being so instructed, of furnishing you with the necessary materials, which, indeed, comprised the Bills, Reports, Parliamentary Debates, and Proceedings of more than one Session.

In no other way than by so extensive a study can light be thrown on the reasons which induced Ministers to introduce some Bills, to oppose others, and give to a third class a modified opposition or support as the case may have been.

There are some (four) points in Sir W. Burton's statement which I feel called upon to notice, as affecting myself. I will take them in the order of the pages as they occur. I must, however, premise that on my arrival here I found a political storm raging with the utmost violence. Throughout all the different phases which it assumed I have acted on the advice or with the concurrence of my Executive Council.

If the wisdom of the policy I have pursued is to be judged of by its effects, I may with great confidence refer to the present aspect of affairs : the political excitement has calmed own, and the really important question at issue—the reconstruction of the Legislative Council—has been effected on terms counselled by the leaders of the popular party who are in power, and admitted on all hands to have given satisfaction and confidence to the richer classes, and to all whose capital and industry seek permanent investment in the colony.

1st. At page 19, Sir W. Burton mentions that he waited upon me at twenty minutes past 2 o'clock on the 10th May, in company with Mr. Deas Thomson, to present an Address and other papers connected with the business of the Session, and complains that I allowed him to leave without making any explanation of the ministerial intentions.

I could scarcely have done so with propriety : no decision had been formally taken at the time. The Executive Council (the Ministers) had not met to arrange and conclude their plans, and your Grace will, I am persuaded, be of opinion that I was not at liberty to impart to any others, however respectable, the course the Ministers had in view, while it was not definitely settled. What Sir W. Burton expected, as a courtesy to himself, would have been a breach of confidence to the Ministers.

Sir W. Burton was, however, perfectly aware of the importance which I attached to the proceedings of the Legislative Council upon the Land Bills, not on their own account, but on account of the difficulties their rejection would inevitably entail upon the far graver question of the reconstruction of the Legislative Council.

Ten days previously, upon my pointing out the impolicy of further resistance to the Land Bills, under the peculiar circumstances and probability that the Legislative Council might by undue pertinacity permanently injure the interests they wished to protect, and adding that, looking to the results of the General Election and to the position in which Ministers stood, I could take no responsibility for what might occur, Sir W. Burton assured me the Land Bills would certainly pass, and that I might make my mind perfectly easy on the subject. This assurance was, I am persuaded, given in good faith, though his expectations, as well as my own, were disappointed by the event.

It appeared tome that the Land Bills, if open to objection, might be altered and amended in subsequent Sessions, but that which governed the whole issue and rendered it so anxious, was, the expiration in a few days of the Legislative Council, and the necessity for its immediate reconstruction. A faulty reconstruction might prejudice the legislation of the Colony for years to come, and entail permanent injury.

No reconstruction could be effected by the Governor, except with the advice of the Executive Council; and the Executive Council are the men who have for years headed the popular party unanimous in its demand for the Land Bills, and rendered all-powerful in the Legislative Assembly by the recent General Election.

At page 22, amongst the Constitutional courses opened to me, Sir W. Burton enumerates a recommittal of the Bills—the dissolution of the Parliament—a change of Her Majesty's Ministers—or a conference between the two Houses—as to the exact state of matters technically between the two Houses. J can only speak on the authority of Ministers—they point to Amendments insisted upon by the Legislative Assembly—rejected by the Legislative Council by majorities of 20 to five and 15 to five—and they say they were unable to infer from these majorities, and the apparently determined stand, the intention to yield the points on recommittal or in a conference; they add, the Minister who had charge of the Bills in the Legislative Council had submitted to "indignities" in attempting to pass the Bills, and declared "their honour was at stake"—they tendered their advice or their resignations. As to a dissolution of Parliament: It is to be remarked that the Parliament had been dissolved so late as last December—not half-a-year before, on the very points at issue; and as Sir W. Burton himself admits (page 3)—"The opinion of the country had been very unmistakably given, by the return of such Members to the new Parliament as the constituencies considered were prepared to adopt the particular views contained in the Bill."

As to a change of Ministers: Supported as they were by 60 or 65 Members out of page 73 the the 72, the adoption of such a suggestion would only have involved the Crown in a contest, certain to end in defeat, with the Legislative Assembly and the constituencies.

But it may be said, I might have temporised during the 48 hours which were to elapse before the old nominations to the Legislative Council expired, and the body ceased to exist—perhaps induced Ministers to withdraw their advice; I thought of this, but the objections to such a course seemed grave; it would have satisfied nobody, and settled nothing, and made the reconstruction of the Legislative Council on fair and equal terms between parties next to impossible.

The position would have been this: The Land Bills rejected by the Legislative Council, representing the upper or richer classes—the Ministers apparently acquiescing in the defeat, the people disappointed and distrustful, the Legislative Assembly irritated and exacting. The consequence would have been that the reconstruction of the Legislative Council, which could not be avoided or postponed, and which could only be effected with the advice of the Ministers, could hardly have been effected on any reasonable terms. The Ministers would not have ventured to advise or acquiesce in the nominations of any but decided partisans on the popular side. Now that the business is brought to a fortunate issue, I am persuaded, reflecting upon all that passed, that I was fortunate in adopting the Ministerial advice; it was the least of the evils that stood for choice, and, though hazardous and thorny enough, it was the only path that led to safety. The Legislative Assembly and the public were reassured and contented, the honour of the Ministry vindicated, and themselves lift free to act with forbearance to the opposite parly, and that wise moderation in the nominations for life to the Legislative Council which they have since evinced.

At page 27 Sir W. Burton complains he was not offered a seat in the reconstructed Council. The Ministers were not inclined to give the necessary sanction of their advice to his reappointment, but wish me to add that, whatever their inclination, room was not left for any consideration on their part, so great was the haste with which Sir W. Burton advertised his house and property for sale, and announced his intention of leaving the Colony.

Page 28, as to the favourable report Sir W. Burton bespeaks from your Grace. Although Ministers have not advised my availing myself of his services in the Legislative Council, and although I may not think the alternatives he proposed at an anxious crisis other than unsafe, and inapplicable to the requirements of the time and the Colony, yet I should be very sorry indeed if, on these accounts, there were withheld any portion of the recognition and respect which are due to his age, his unblemished private character, and his long services as a judge.

I have, &c. (signed)

John Young