SYDNEY, Dec. 11 1900

THE NEW COMMONWEALTH.

QUESTIONS FOR DECISION.

FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT.
SYDNEY, Dec. 11 1900; Jan. 22 1901.

Lord Hopetoun’s arrival having been at last fixed for the 15th inst., we are in a position to complete our preparations for receiving him. Of course, this will be done in a comparatively unpretentious manner, the chief rejoicings being reserved for the proclamation of the Commonwealth on New Year’s Day. Those arrangements are now proceeding satisfactorily, though they are still retarded by Sir William Lyne’s apparent determination not to allow a flag to fly nor a cracker to be fired at the public cost without authority first had and obtained under his own sign manual, though at present he is out of the Colony. It must be confessed that a strong hand was needed to control the outlay and to determine the details of the display, for last week we shone at the expense of Victoria owing to our resolution to be economical in our reception of our returning troops from South Africa. There was quite sufficient heartiness, and a crowd that might easily have provided unmanageable was kept fairly under restraint during their march through the streets, thus escaping the riot and rout to which Melbourne gave itself up deliriously when its warriors were restored to their homes. If the pettiness and penuriousness of our Ministry lead to an equally effective control of the official part of our greater demonstration we shall be well content. We are reserving ourselves until then, intending that it shall eclipse everything yet seen south of the Line. The unofficial will be the perilous part of the celebration. It must be admitted that the numbers of people to be handled will be immense—and uncontrollable if excited—and that the strain on the authorities must be much more prolonged then than on Saturday next. Still, it is something to have triumphed over Melbourne in our preliminary effort in regard to the contingent. The victory is a good deal discounted, because our southern neighbours possess a truly British capacity for ignoring their failures and a complacency as to their lucky hits which is extremely difficult to disturb. We are a less united and a less politic community, more easily excited and not so well represented in public affairs. The common complaint of our politicians is that they are always outwitted in their dealings with Victoria; while it is certain that our great Metropolis is municipally much behind theirs. Our city fathers lack dignity and enjoy little public confidence. They speak in our name and impair our reputation by their incompetence. In spite of our admitted supremacy in trade, wealth, posi­tion, and prestige we appear to a disadvantage when their fussiness and foolishness is contrasted with the arrogant but placid self-sufficiency of Melbourne. We are nervously aware that they are noting every detail of our preparations and will patronise us, whether in praise or blame, with the air of intensely superior persons. If the patriotism of the citizens of the future Commonwealth were the sum of the local patriotisms already existing among us it would commence its career with a very handsome endowment of that invaluable quality. The misfortune is that at present the strength of provincial attachments is mainly manifested in our reciprocal antagonisms. A mutual admiration society established between the various Australian capitals would be capable of doing excellent service for the Federal future.

SOME PARTY DISTINCTIONS.

The amenities between New York and Chicago or Boston as reproduced between Australian cities are in many respects healthy or merely amusing. They have been embittered, however, by the power hitherto possessed by each Colony of striking at its rival through its fiscal legislation. Now this is about to be withdrawn from us all, and the cir­cumstance creates a new situation, somewhat obscured to your readers by the different meanings attached here to the party names with which you are familiar in your own politics. A Colonial Liberal is one who favours State interference with liberty and industry at the pleasure and in the interest of the majority, while those who stand for the free play of individual choice and energy are classed as Conservatives. With us the British tradition that a Liberal is necessarily a Free Trader still obtains, but in Victoria a Liberal is necessarily a Protectionist, while in the other Colonies the term embraces men of both ways of thinking. This confusion of tongues is increased by a confusion of facts, furnishing more pitfalls for the European journalist. In Victoria it is Mel­bourne as a whole that is ultra-Protectionist, while the farming population leans towards freedom of ex­change. In New South Wales our Metropolis is almost wholly Free Trade, and it is our farmers who are the backbone of the Protectionist Party. The key to this contrast lies largely in the fact that our agriculturists have felt the pinch of the Victorian tariff, which was levied largely on such of their products as they sought to sell in Melbourne. They became Protectionists in order to make reprisals for this unfriendly treatment. Our superb port and wealth of coal, making Sydney the terminus of the great oceanic mail lines and the great commercial emporium of the continent, have been factors in keeping us true to the principles of Cobden in spite of the provocation given by the heavy duties levied on our goods when sent across the Murray. But the Union into which we are entering sweeps away once and for all the whole of the border custom houses. Their tolls on trade will cease all over Australia at the same instant. This relief will be accomplished when we obtain our Common­wealth tariff, which is to be uniform in its incidence everywhere except in Western Australia, whose local duties are to be gradually assimilated to the new tariff during the first five years, unless the people themselves prefer to expedite the process. The chief issue to be decided in the coming election must, therefore, be on what principle the first tariff shall be framed.   

CERTAIN STATE DIFFERENCES.

That question can only be determined in the Federal Parliament when it meets in March or April next. In the meantime the Governor-General’s choice of his first Prime Minister will give a preliminary warning of the policy to be sub­mitted to the country. To New South Wales the issue is doubly important in the eyes of the Free Traders, because the adoption of high duties, while depriving Sydney of her special attractiveness as the one free port on this side of the globe, would also imply a heavy taxation on many classes of products which we should still be compelled to import, since we do not manufacture them ourselves. The fact that most of the receipts would be repaid into one State Treasury would be but a partial consolation for whatever increased cost of living might be thus occasioned. On the other hand, it is urged that the artificially supported manufactures of Melbourne would probably receive a fatal blow if deprived of it altogether by the adoption of one Free Trade tariff for the whole of Australia. Other questions will be submitted to the electors, and in some cases may range New South Wales and Victoria side by side, as, for in­stance, in resisting the female suffrage already in force in South and in Western Australia. Queens­land may find herself opposed to us when advocating the continuance of Kanaka labour on her plantations, but on the fiscal issue Sydney and Melbourne are likely to find their old antagonisms revived and concentrated. Whatever turn the political contest may take, the struggle between them is certain to be the most conspicuous feature of the fray. The Liberals of New South Wales have in Mr. Reid  a fighting leader of the first quality as far as the platform is concerned, while neither here nor in Victoria is there any strategist of the same commanding power on the Protectionist side. If he were the first Prime Minister he would no doubt accept the verdict of the country as to the extent of the con­sideration to be given to the Protectionist views of the other Colonies, with the result that a com­promise tariff would be secured which would point to and prepare the way for complete freedom of trade. For party and campaign purposes his present demand goes much further. The margin of compromise is lightly touched and dismissed, and it is by a bold appeal to first principles and brilliantly humorous, though forcible, attacks on his opponents that he is rousing his followers to enthusiasm. Last night a mass meeting was held in the Town Hall which was a triumph for himself and for the cause. The three thousand persons assembled witnessed the reappearance of Mr. McMillan and Mr. Bruce Smith, whose resentment at Mr. Reid’s Anti-Federal and Radical lapses have long estranged them from him. Mr. Ashton, the most promising and prominent of the younger generation of politicians, was as vigorous as his seniors in the declaration of his fiscal faith. The first reso­lution affirmed the necessity of a merely revenue Federal tariff, the second condemned protective duties, while the third eulogised the Free Trade policy pursued both in the Mother Country and in this the Mother Colony. The only prominent Freetrader absent was Mr. Wise, the Attorney-General of a Protectionist Government, who cherishes a personal feeling against Mr. Reid and is an aspirant for office in the first Federal Ministry. He has been speaking with Mr. Barton at country meetings, at which both have been advocating a compromise tariff and its subordination in the electoral programme. Mr. Reid pointedly condemned such a policy, and the meeting was wholly with him when he flung down the gage of battle to his opponents, protesting his determination to make Free Trade the test question of the coming elections. He certainly has the power to do this, and is already forcing the hand of his adversaries. The politics of the Commonwealth, therefore, are rapidly coming into shape.

THE FIRST PRIME MINISTER.

In a few days Lord Hopetoun will have sent for his first Prime Minister. Public opinion, after a period of oscillation, has gradually settled down to the conviction that his choice must inevitably fall on Mr. Edmund Barton, who lately represented us with so much distinction in London. In many respects no selection could be more grateful, for he is a son of Sydney in every sense, born in our midst, educated at our grammar school, and gra­duating at our university with first-class classical honours after a brilliant scholastic career. He was called to the bar in our courts, rising to the position of Queen’s Counsel and several times since officiating as an acting judge of the Supreme Court. He has been a member of both Houses of the Legislature, Speaker of the Assembly, twice Attorney-General, and once Acting Premier for six months. An excellent cricketer in his youth and a popular club man ever since, he has been “Toby Barton” to Sydney society for the last thirty years—one of the best known and best liked of its leaders in and out of his profession. With such a record, a charming wife, and a winning personality, unimpeachable integrity, and great ability, it is unfortunate that there should be any disquietude occa­sioned by the natural and proper recognition of his unswerving devotion to the Federal cause and the many sacrifices of ease and fortune which he has made for it. The indolence which has been his besetting sin and his indifference to his own interests, his lack of most of the attributes which attract or amuse the masses and his contempt for the arts by which their favour is won, might be pardoned him. Owing to these handicaps he has always had to fight hard for his seat in Parliament and to keep a party in it when he got there. His leadership has yet to be approved. Owing to his nature and disposition he is solid, sober, and serious in all his public acts and utterances, tardily following his own line of thought without the quick and tender regard for the currents of outside opinion demanded of those who require to carry the democracy with them from day to day. All this would have commended him to the well-to-do among his fellow citizens, in whose esteem he holds a high place, were it not for the fact that he is bitten with the Protectionist heresy, and appears likely to associate himself with men more pronounced than himself, who, it is feared, will exercise an undue influence over him. Mr. R.E. O’Connor, Q.C., with whom he was associated in the Convention, is a Pro­tectionist, and is his almost certain colleague. Mr. Wise, who may be chosen in his stead, is evidently, in spite of his principles, prepared to enter into a compromise in the tariff. In Victoria Mr. Alfred Deakin and Sir George Turner, and in South Australia Mr. Kingston, three of the staunchest and most determined Protectionists in their Colonies, are sure to be asked to join. Sir John Forrest is not free from the same tendency, though he, like Sir Samuel Griffith, has been willing to employ the custom house as a means of aiding particular local interests. These would compose a Protectionist Ministry. The Free Trade Party is not represented at all, for if one or two members having leanings in that direction were included they would be not only hope­lessly outnumbered but outweighted. In the whole Cabinet, therefore, we can find no adequate force of resistance to the policy most dreaded here.

A COMPROMISE TARIFF.

Doubtless its extreme members will be partially kept in check. A compromise tariff seems the most likely outcome, but it will differ from that of Mr. Reid in at all events maintaining if not in extend­ing the present range of Protection. Both the Ministry and the policy will probably depend on the composition of the Parliament, and this will not be determined solely by the fiscal issue. The Ministry itself will be constituted on the basis of being representative of every State in the Union, and not simply on the merits of the men selected. The House and the Senate will in the same way reflect local aims and influences beyond those which may find a place in the Ministerial programme. Some men will be elected on their records in State politics in all the Colonies, while some fiscal proposals will occupy a minor place. The chief wrestle in the tariff will not even be that between Mr. Barton and Mr. Reid, but between Sydney and Melbourne. In spite, then, of Mr. Reid’s past lapses from principle and his alliance with the Labour Party and other “ultras”, he is assured of our goodwill, and indeed of our active support, during the forthcoming campaign. He realises his opportunity. In his own interest he is seeking to sink everything except the Free Trade issue, and to make this so prominent as to enable him to have, at least, a strong minority in the House of Representatives and a good majority in New South Wales behind him. It is quite possible that he may carry the Commonwealth with him, for, unlike Mr. Barton, he readily ingratiates himself with the crowd, speaks and acts on its level, and attaches it to himself in spite of his flexibility of purpose and adaptability of opinion. It is, perhaps, by this instability that he captures and retains supporters, but at any rate his influence is a factor. In his present attitude he is for Sydney and Sydney’s fiscal faith, and may count on its wealth and business interests, as well as on its working classes, to follow him loyally. His victory would be ours.

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