SYDNEY, Jan. 22 1901
THE NEW COMMONWEALTH.
MR. BARTON’S POLICY.
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT.
SYDNEY, Jan. 22 1901; Feb. 26 1901.
Mr. Barton, as Prime Minister of the Commonwealth, last week announced the policy on which his Administration proposes to stake its fortunes. What with the arrival of the Governor-General and of the Imperial troops, the celebrations and all the interests associated with them, the public had, for the time at all events, concentrated its attention on holiday events to such a degree that the speech, by suddenly recalling them to their obligations, created a sensation, though in itself it contained nothing sensational.
THE PREMIER’S STYLE.
Mr. Barton’s classical tastes and training always impart a certain distinction to his style, but on this occasion he was more sparing of rhetorical effects than usual. He was evidently sobered by a sense of responsibility, which he was fortunate enough to impart to his hearers and most of his critics. He is rarely at his best on the platform. Involved at times in his periods, though fertile in expressive phrases, he obviously thinks while on his legs, and finds most of his language as he proceeds. While weighty in utterance, fiery when stirred, and occasionally humorous, he is on the whole a somewhat difficult speaker for the ordinary elector to follow. His command of the arts of the platform is limited, and his line of argument forensic, or at best judicial. He demands for proper appreciation the undivided and continuous attention of his audiences. This he was fortunate enough to obtain for his declaration of policy, though it occupied nearly two hours in its enunciation. Orderly, compact, and precise in form, its proposals, taken together, presented a picture of the future politics of Australia as statesmanlike in conception and utterance that the Press and public everywhere were at once impressed. It is admitted on every hand that he rose to the occasion.
THE WEST MAITLAND MEETING.
The crowds which packed the Town Hall at West Maitland represented the rich country of the Hunter Valley for many miles around, with all its varied mineral and agricultural resources. By the respectful attention which it paid to the Prime Minister it sufficiently proved its own sense of the gravity of the occasion. The applause was perhaps as much a tribute to the transparent sincerity of the speaker and the loftiness of his aims as to the programme which he unfolded. Radical as this is when measured by other standards, it represents what may be styled Moderate Liberalism in Australia. Mr. Barton has usually ranked among the independent allies of the Progressives in New South Wales, and, indeed, has been even dubbed Tory. He has always declined to pander to the whims of the moment, and has not feared to oppose popular demands with unflinching firmness, as at the time of the great strike of 1890. The only alteration that his Premiership seems to have made in him lies in his acceptance of adult suffrage as inevitable now that it is already in force in two States of the Union, and is on the point of becoming law in two more. Beyond this concession to his colleagues he does not appear to have made any changes in his personal views. There was not one bid for what is termed popularity in the whole of his deliverance, a circumstance so remarkable in a Ministerial manifesto in Australia that its absence enhanced considerably the impressions of strength and boldness which its perusal conveyed. More sentiment had been anticipated by those who recalled his appeals to patriotism during his campaigns on behalf of the Federal cause, and less mastery of facts by those who had forgotten his handling of similar problems in the conventions. No doubt his long-experienced colleagues lent him valuable assistance in every way, but nevertheless the total effect of the speech was unimpaired, and the whole of it bore the stamp of his own personality. The result has been a marked increase in his reputation and the public confidence reposed in him and his Government.
The Sydney newspapers, like the community in general, were at first disarmed by the candour of Mr. Barton’s address and charmed into a general approval of the rest of his programme. Nothing could be fairer than his undertaking that none of the great offices of the Commonwealth shall be permanently filled until after Parliament has met and expressed the judgment of the electors on the Ministry and its policy. All the minor appointments made are to be temporary pending the same decision. He was emphatic in his assertion that he has no compact or understanding with any person as to the Speakership of the House of Representatives, the Presidency of the Senate, or any of the other prizes open to politicians in the near future. These eminently satisfactory assurances were followed by his one offering to provincialism. This took the shape of a description of the number and magnitude of the subjects of special interest to New South Wales which fall within his own Department of external affairs and the Home Office allotted to Sir W. Lyne.
SIR W. LYNE’S TASK.
The fact that to Sir William Lyne there falls the control of questions regarding the choice of the Federal capital and the creation of the Inter-State Commission, whose interferences with our policy of cutting railway rates as against our neighbour States are dreaded in anticipation, has certainly contributed to the pacification of those jealousies which have obstructed our Federal advance at every step. We feel, too, that the residence of the Governor-General among us and the fact that the business of the Commonwealth is being controlled by an executive sitting in Sydney are largely due to Sir William Lyne’s persistence in taking advantage of every circumstance that can be made to tell in our favour. Many attribute the sound judgment of Mr. Barton’s speech to Sir William Lyne’s influence in the Cabinet, though it is known that he would have preferred a more decidedly Protectionist policy than that adopted by his chief and colleagues. As Premier of New South Wales he still retains the first position in our local politics, while his influence on our behalf is evidently felt already in the Federal sphere to which he will presently entirely transfer his attention.
“A WHITE AUSTRALIA.”
The one point on which Mr. Barton’s speech provoked an immediate challenge was that in which he declared for “a white Australia”, the prohibition of Asiatic labour, the limitation of the introduction of Kanakas to those required to maintain the number at present engaged on the sugar plantations, and the ultimate extinction of the whole traffic. Against this determined and drastic policy Queensland at once protested, the chief newspaper, the Courier, announcing that the utmost resistance would be offered in the north to any such plan. It may be that the explicitness of this Ministerial announcement is partly responsible for the delay which has occurred in selecting another representative of Queensland in the Cabinet in place of the late Sir James Dickson. The Premier (Mr. Philp), the President of the Council (Sir Hugh Nelson), and most of the prominent men of that State are upholders of the continued use of coloured labour. At all events there is some hesitation in the allotment of the vacant portfolio which may easily have arisen on this account. It is no secret that every effort has been made to tempt Mr. Philp away from State politics, but so far he remains coy, though the Postmaster-Generalship of the Commonwealth has been within his grasp, Sir John Forrest having resigned that portfolio in order to become Minister of Defence.
THE PROGRAMME’S PROSPECTS.
On the question at issue in Queensland the southern Colonies are with Mr. Barton. It may safely be affirmed that whether he and his colleagues maintain their positions at the forthcoming elections or not the programme which they have submitted will remain as the foundation of Australian policy in this and in most other directions for some time to come. They have been properly penetrated by a sense of the constructive character of the work to be done at the outset of our new career and their long experience in Colonial Governments and in the preparation of the Commonwealth Constitution has qualified them for designing in a worthy fashion the great edifice under which we must live. That credit they are entitled to, and everyone recognises how fortunate it is that this particular task should have come into their hands. They and those who are acting with them are in a double sense the founders of the Union, for not only did they shape its Constitution as members of the Convention, but now, through the first Ministry, they have dictated the policy on which the Commonwealth must proceed for some time to come. With this they may well be content.
THE PROTECTIONIST POLICY.
It is unfortunate that the one point on which they differ from Federalists as sincere as themselves is that on which, if a compromise be possible, it cannot be that which they propose. They offer moderate instead of thorough-going Protection, though it would be hard for anyone to draw the dividing line between the two. Giving them every credit for sincerity, and admitting that this is the policy of which Mr. Barton at all events has always been an advocate, the plain fact remains—moderate though it may be the proposal is Protectionist—and there is a large, wealthy, and resolute party which will not accept any degree of Protection on any grounds. It is determined that the Commonwealth shall begin on another basis altogether, and that no preference shall be allowed at the public expense to any classes of producers or manufacturers. As these advocates escape from the glamour of Mr. Barton’s speech they realise that while it is quite possible to narrow the area of conflict a conflict is inevitable. That the whole revenue of the Commonwealth must be raised through the customs for the present, that the sum so raised must be sufficient for the needs of States and of the Federal Government, and that this means a high revenue tariff we are all fairly well agreed.
There are some who are willing to go a little further and to consent to a gradual annual reduction of duties which have created vested interests for five years. This has been allowed under the constitution to Western Australia. The reduction must, however, be begun at once, and the extinction of protectionist duties must be provided for from the first. They are not to be indefinitely sustained as the Government wishes, but definitely removed, though if necessary by degrees. “Revenue without destruction of industries” will be the one cry, and “Revenue without reduction in private or class interests” will be the rejoinder. The Free Traders of Sydney had no hesitation in arriving at this conclusion, and naturally Mr. Reid, who has been engaged in propaganda work on their behalf in Tasmania and Victoria, has adopted the same view and has expressed it with characteristic vigour. His speech at Richmond near Melbourne last night was in this vein. Characteristically humorous, it was not the kind of answer which can be relied on for more than a momentary effect. He is evidently reserving himself at present and confining his attacks to the vulnerable points in the Victorian armour. Much is expected from his tour in the south. There stands the citadel of Protection. If he can capture Melbourne he can capture the Continent, or if he can convert the country districts of Victoria, which are said to be wavering, the day is won. If he cannot win there no one else can in the present divided condition of the Free Trade leaders.