SYDNEY, Jan. 15 1901
THE NEW COMMONWEALTH.
AUSTRALIA AND THE WAR.
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT.
SYDNEY, Jan. 15 1901; Feb. 20 1901.
Awaking in a somewhat dazed condition from nine days’ continuous festivities, the puzzled citizens of New South Wales are looking about them in some bewilderment to discover if they can find some traces of the tremendous change in their fortunes which they have just been celebrating. So far there is nothing visible but the rows of posts, from which flags are being removed, and galleries, arches, and ornamentations in course of being dismantled. Everything else is outwardly exactly as it was before. Sydney looks on its harbour and the harbour smiles back at Sydney. The shops are open, and the trams are rattling by. Our local Parliament remains unchanged, and Sir William Lyne is still Premier. Beyond a few paragraphs in the newspapers, telling more or less inaccurately what Mr. Barton and his colleagues are doing as a Cabinet, there is no new feature presented to the public mind. Such official statements as the Prime Minister has so far made have mainly consisted of contradictions or explanations of what the Federal Government is not going to do. We have, it is true, a few more titled persons among us. The distribution of honours in connection with the foundation of the Union has been generally approved, except by those who conceive themselves to have been improperly omitted from the list. After all, however, this is no new departure.
THE DEATH OF SIR JAMES DICKSON.
The sad death of Sir James Dickson within a few days of receiving his title and accepting office as Minister of Defence was not entirely unexpected by those who knew him, though it came as a shock to the public at large. The disappearance of a member of the Cabinet before he had time to take part in any executive or administrative act has rather helped to deepen to “the Man in the Street” the unreality which seems to surround the new political régime. We keep trying to realise that we are no longer a Colony, but a State, all the institutions of which remain unaltered except in scope, though we have suddenly become citizens of a larger Union, inclusive of our own State and all its continental companions, containing almost four million people within its nearly three million square miles of territory. This area, very considerable in the British Empire, and marking off in its interests no inconsiderable segment of the land surface of the globe, is now under one control, though as yet there is but one manifestation of it. Our several tariffs against each other are as yet untouched. Our Custom Houses along our interior borders remain to remind us that provincialism is not yet dead, but they themselves are no longer provincial. They are manned by Federal officers, and pour their receipts into the coffers of the Commonwealth. This change means much and implies all.
The Colonies of yesterday, knowing no headship and having no constitutional relationship with each other except through the Queen and the Imperial Parliament, are to-day States with a common purse, knit together in a Union under the Crown, which provides them with a common centre of authority for their common interests. To this they must needs look now with some anxiety. Diminished by the withdrawal of some of their powers, they are rendered specially dependent on the new Parliament, which is to be elected shortly, because it will determine, according to the instructions it receives from the electors, the character and fruitfulness of the Australian tariff presently to be framed. In our history, so far, the separate tariffs of the Colonies have been the chief sources of intercolonial bitterness. They have been the weapons of warfare employed by each to benefit its own and injure its neighbour’s trade. The Custom House then was the symbol and sign of disunion: now it is the one Federal Department, will be the chief foundation of Federal influence, and has become the very symbol and at present the only sign of the Union. The key to our political present and future lies in a comprehension of the importance and significance of the control of the customs now vested in the Commonwealth to the exclusion of all its several States. Its own finances and theirs will be governed by its means now and for many years to come. On the amount of its yield will hinge the return to be made from the Federal Treasury to the several State Treasuries, the whole financial stability of which must for a time be governed according to their receipts from this fund.
IMPORTANCE OF THE TARIFF QUESTION.
> Until a Federal tariff is passed the Union will be incomplete. Under the Constitution Act it must be passed before the last day of 1902. Its consideration is already undertaken by the public, which finds itself for the first time face to face with an issue on which the judgment of the people of every State is a matter of profound concern to those of every other State. The Custom House was the spot on which at one second after midnight on December 31, 1900, the Union began to be; its income alone supports the Commonwealth at present, and its control is the one matter on which its political parties will be divided, and for which they will wage their earliest contest, momentous alike to the States and to the innumerable private interests affected by its operation. Naturally and inevitably, therefore, from the very outset men’s minds have been turned with increasing apprehension to the fiscal problem. The Premier of New Zealand has been present at the inauguration of the new Power, the dimensions and influence of which he evidently regards with alarm as well as admiration. The addition of his prosperous, enterprising, and highly productive Colony to the Commonwealth would be an immense gain for us, and probably also for New Zealand. The New Zealanders have just appointed a Royal Commission to make full inquiry into all aspects of the question and to advise if it would be to the advantage of New Zealand to throw in her lot with her neighbours fifteen hundred miles away. Nevertheless its possible adhesion, immense as would be its effect on both, is little regarded here, so absolutely does the financial and fiscal future engross the thoughts of politicians and pressmen. The making of the Ministry has been judged solely from this standpoint, and their fate in this country will be decided by it. In point of fact there is but one living interest at present in Australia—What shall our tariff be?
FREE TRADE IMPOSSIBLE.
The complexion of the Ministry is distinctly Protectionist. If there was a Free Trader among its members it was the late Sir James Dickson, and even if his place is occupied by the Premier of Queensland, Mr. Philp, who professes the same theoretical opinions, there will be no change in its character. If he remains wedded to State politics and local business ties probably Sir Hugh Nelson, formerly Premier and now President of its Legislative Council, will be taken instead. He too, will be in a hopeless minority in the Cabinet on this question. Free Trade in its familiar sense is, indeed, impossible in Australia. The States have always looked to the customs for the bulk of their incomes. Though now this is transferred to the Federal Government, they will still expect to derive their old revenues, or something like them, through it from the same source. Not one of them has any desire to face more direct taxation in order to make up deficiencies. It may be taken for granted that the Commonwealth will not be permitted to exercise its power of direct taxation while it has the Custom House under its thumb. Three-fourths of its net receipts must, under the Constitution, be paid to the States monthly by the Federal Treasurer, and the remaining fourth must be large enough to meet all the demands made on the public purse for purely Federal needs.
ELECTION CAMPAIGN ISSUES.
There is, therefore, no escape from a heavy tariff. With from £7,000,000 or £8,000,000 to raise annually, it is plain that we must be prepared for the obliteration of our New South Wales free list and high duties for revenue purposes on nearly everything we import. There we desire to stop, but the Protectionists go further, seeking to discriminate, by lowering some duties and greatly raising others, to secure an advantage in our own markets for Australian producers against their competitors in other parts of the world. The battle about to be waged will be between those who maintain that a revenue tariff should be preferred because its burdens fall on all consumers equally and its demands are clearly known, and the Protectionists who contend that the burden would be lightened if certain sections of our manufacturers were subsidised, and that this would increase the range of employment and add to the total earnings of the nation. Such are the contentions advanced in the academic discussion fitfully maintained in the Press. The issue will become practical and precise after Thursday next, when Mr. Barton will unfold the policy of the Federal Government at West Maitland. This is certain to be Protectionist and, therefore, certain to be strongly opposed in this State. It depends on the extent of his Protectionist proposals how far he may be able to find support among our neighbours. In any event he will fire the first gun of a fiscal war.
THE CONTINGENTS FOR SOUTH AFRICA.
The compliments paid by the War Office to our contingents are evidently more than mere politeness, and the demonstration of their sincerity is very pleasant to us. In response to Mr. Chamberlain’s requests for further drafts, our Premiers last week unanimously agreed to despatch two thousand three hundred men and two thousand five hundred horses within the next month, and no sooner was the intention made public than four or five times the number of men volunteered for service. The fact is suggestive and, probably, astonishing, even now to those who are aware of the many openings for adventurous young men afforded in our vast domains, and of the relatively high rates of pay which they obtain. To be candid, it is just as surprising to most of us as to any Englishman unfamiliar with our ways of life. The story of the Australian Volunteers, when it comes to be written, should explain that the incidents there chronicled were as much a revelation to ourselves as to anyone. The first contingent was the effect of an outburst of patriotic spirit on the part of the people. The story of Boer intrigues in South Africa had exasperated the public. British colonists here realised that British colonists there were being overridden in our own territory, and oppressed beyond it by a people who looked to the rifle as the one arbiter of their aspirations. Foreign Powers aided and abetted them. The Mother Country stood alone. In an instant the cry was “Australia for the Empire”. It was not then anticipated that the struggle would be long or that our men would see much fighting. They were to go to prove our loyalty and affection for the flag, and that was all. The folly of the instructions from the War Office that we should send Infantry instead of mounted men aroused suspicion of the capacity of those in authority, but the utter foolishness of the command was forgiven, like much else, because it came “from home”.
“THE FEDERAL BRIGADE.”
When our second contingents were despatched there was no repetition of the former blunder, and it was clear that there was real fighting before those we despatched. The one feeling then was of anxiety that our men should acquit themselves worthily and prove that their aid was worth having. It was felt that they ought, if possible, to constitute a Federal Brigade. The watchword then was “Australians shoulder to shoulder”, and soon afterwards this ambition was realised. Then came the dark days of delay, defeat, of manifest blunders, and the depression which followed a long series of baffling reverses. The pendulum had then swung to the opposite side. The foreign attitude of unconcealed rejoicing was more hostile than ever. The British forces everywhere were on the defensive and besieged instead of besieging. There was widespread distrust of the leaders and grim satisfaction at the dauntless courage of the men. Our raw recruits were doing well, facing fire and becoming seasoned. Some of them had died like heroes, and their names were on every lip. There was no slackening of military enthusiasm anywhere. For the third and fourth contingents the rush was greater than ever, and the preparations for their transport were made with deadlier earnestness, as well as with greater skill. It was the hour of need. They hurried to the front, shouting through their clenched teeth “Australia to the rescue”.
AUSTRALIA’S SPLENDID RECORD.
Now the tide has again turned, and we have a splendid record on which to look back as we prepare our fifth contingent for the war. The men are not merely tolerated, as at first. They are appreciated, for they have proved their quality. Judged by a European standard, they are all untrained, though in Victoria more than half of those selected had as boys at school enjoyed the advantages of drill under their cadet system. This increased the usefulness of those who came from the towns, while the men from the country were many of them rough riders, and all of them seasoned by out-of-door experience. Their physique is said to equal that of picked troops, while their adaptability, endurance, and resource are those of men accustomed to have to make the most of chance conditions of living in the wilds. There is no longer any doubt of their valour. Their place has always been in the fighting line, and they have deserved it. The whole continent thrills with pride because of them, and the welcomes they are receiving help to relieve the long pent-up feelings of those who saw them depart with some misgiving as to their acceptance of the rigid rules of dress and discipline enforced on a Regular Army, and who have watched them ever since with growing exultation.
THE NEW DRAFTS.
The unforeseen prolongation of the war calls for fresh drafts to be made while we are still feting those who have just returned home. Some of these are volunteering for further service, though comparatively few desire to settle in South Africa. They are not now specially moved by patriotic feeling. It is quite clear that the Mother Country can conquer without them, and their own country knows that they can stand fire, so that they can afford to rest if they will. The men we are now sending go mainly because they are fond of fighting, and find in the ranks a better scope for the daring, sporting, venturesome spirit bred in the bone and coming out strong in the flesh. They are not braver than Tommy Atkins, but they can live well where he would starve, find their way across the veldt where he would be hopelessly lost, and carry on a guerrilla fight for hours without officers or orders at a pinch. They are not better horsemen than British Cavalry, but they can get more out of their horses, and face the thousand and one accidents of campaigning in all weathers and in out of the way places with much less cost to themselves and their steeds. Many of them can ride anything anywhere, and never lose their heads in ambush or surprise or even in the very moment of victory, so thoroughly has their training taught them to be cautious, alert, prompt, and untiring. They have no illusions about the service expected of them, and make even rank and pay secondary considerations.
THE MARTIAL SPIRIT.
The martial spirit is strong in all the Colonies. If the Empire has openings for them they are eager to take them so long as the love of adventure can be satisfied. Plain living and high thinking are no more popular with us than with our kinsfolk elsewhere, but plain living and hard fighting, if on horseback, come very near, indeed, to the ideal of thousands of young Australians. We have now learned, as you have, that all the manifold temptations of home and all its opportunities of advancement and comfort cannot keep them in their own country when “Boot and saddle” is sounded anywhere in the Sovereign’s name.