SYDNEY, Jan. 29 1901



SYDNEY, Jan. 29 1901; 5 Mar. 1901.

The political truce caused by the lamented death of Queen Victoria is now expiring, and on Monday next Mr. Reid will rally the Opposition with the first formal criticism of the Ministerial policy which was unfolded by Mr. Barton, who will reply in the same week. The campaign will then begin in earnest. The only speaker of the first rank who has addressed the public so far has been our State Attorney-General, Mr. B. R. Wise, who has made his bow to the electors of Conobolas, an inland seat for which he is a candidate. Appropriately enough, the township selected by him was named after his old leader and friend Sir Henry Parkes, though it may be doubted if that statesman would have listened with satisfaction to the utterance of his disciple, not of course because of any deterioration in oratory for Mr. Wise remains the most cultured and graceful speaker among our public men, his Oxford training and literary pursuits leaving their impress on all that he says. Brilliant as has been his professional and political career, however, since he returned to his native land he has never ob­tained nor retained the confidence of the general public, though less open to the charge of inconsistency than those who have been more successful in securing the coveted prize. His versatility is associated with a certain instability of temperament that impresses itself on “the Man in the Street” more than it ought to do if a strict estimate is made of his peculiar position in politics.


The curious result is that, though a Radical of the Radicals, he has never kept long in touch with the popular party, which distrusts him apparently for his polish rather than his principles. He has failed to earn the support of the thoughtful classes, who are alarmed by his extreme views, while even the Free Trade Party, to which he belongs by natural bent and whose interests he has always served with zeal and ability, has now after a long period of hesitancy formally if not finally cast him off. For this he has certainly only himself to thank. Though the author of one of the best handbooks of political economy ever published under the auspices of the Cobden Club, he is offering himself to the Federal electors for a seat claimed by the Protectionists, and he received their enthusiastic support at his first meeting. He offers, of course, many excellent reasons for his action. Mr. Wise always does. Even when he satisfies his hearers that he is pursuing the right course, the net result of many of his achievements is to leave behind him a general impression of insecurity. His fame as an advocate grows, but it is at the expense of his reputation for fixity of purpose. He has admirers everywhere, but few followers.


At Parkes Mr. Wise did not in any degree conceal his views or seek shelter behind ambiguous phrases. He was a Free Trader, but would not make Free Trade his governing policy, because to do so would dislocate the industries of every State except New South Wales, and require a resort to direct taxation. Since the Protectionists had been the friends of union he was prepared to cast in his lot with them, as an Australian first and as a Free Trader afterwards. How he proposes to reconcile his support of Mr. Barton’s tariff with his declara­tion against all taxes imposed for the benefit of private interests he did not make quite plain. His intention may be to permit duties to be imposed which maintain existing industries and to resist those intended to develop new enterprises. It is perfectly clear that the chief cause of Mr. Wise’s new departure lies in his preference for Mr. Barton to Mr. Reid. He disclaimed all personal ill-will, but at the same time described Mr. Reid as one who had sought to destroy the Commonwealth before it had come into existence. But what of his own variations? Formerly he was so strong an advocate of direct taxation that he attacked Mr. Reid for taking a more moderate view of the necessary land and income taxes. Now he agrees with both Mr. Barton and Mr. Reid that we ought to rely wholly on the customs for Federal revenue. Formerly he denounced Mr. Reid as a backslider from Free Trade because he preserved some duties and proposed others which in Mr. Wise’s view were, or might be, Protectionist. Now he is on the opposite side of the hedge with Mr. Barton.


Mr. Reid is certain to deal with him vigorously when he speaks. The Free Trade Association con­tented itself with a specific declaration that every supporter of Mr. Barton would be opposed at the coming elections. It thus formally cut Mr. Wise off from the party without even naming him. This was discreet as well as dignified. The misfortune is that his severance may not be the only loss which we shall have to sustain. The trusted leader of the association, the Hon. Edward Pulsford, M.L.C., who has devoted himself to its cause for many years, will not waver from his alle­giance in any circumstances, though his friends have their grievance in the cavalier way in which he was set aside by Mr. Reid when it became necessary in his interest that he should step into the post of President. There were reasons why this should be done, though none why it should not have been done graciously. Mr. Pulsford, though an able man with an unstained record, could not be compared with Mr. Reid either as a fighting leader or as a party tactician. Sir William McMillan, the most representative man in the mercantile community, and classed here as a rigid Conservative, may also be relied on to remain true to the principles to which he has given a lifelong adhesion. Yet, as an antagonist of the Labour Party and an oppo­nent of Mr. Reid’s methods of financing, he has not been, and is not likely to be, in sympathy with many of the proposals which his leader may adopt in order to win votes among the working classes. He is not only averse from some of Mr. Reid’s favourite nostrums, but shocked at his tactics in party warfare.


Another prominent Free Trader, Mr. Bruce Smith, is also out of harmony with Mr. Reid, and apart from this particular issue is much more in sympathy with Mr. Barton and his West Maitland programme. Mr. Smith is the author of a book on “Liberty and Liberalism”, in which he has explained and defended by arguments culled from British and Australian experience the creed of laissez-faire as applied to current politics. He is a determined foe of every form of State Socialism and an ardent advocate of the entire emancipation of private enterprise. Dislike of Mr. Reid and distrust of his electioneering devices are strong in Mr. Bruce Smith. Mr. Ashton, the most thoughtful of the younger Free Traders, separated himself from Mr. Reid when the vote of want of confidence carried against him involved a censure of his political policy. The defection of Mr. Wise, though not serious in itself, is significant and symptomatic. Such losses may easily become serious unless party discipline can be restored. If Mr. Reid is to win he will require the support of Mr. Pulsford, and will obtain it. But he may also need that of Sir W. McMillan, Mr. Bruce Smith, and Mr. Ashton. Unless he can secure this, and a cordial alliance with some of them he will go to the country crippled, and return from it without the assistance in Parliament to which he is entitled from men holding the same views on the crucial point at issue. His mistakes, which have deprived him of their aid, belong to the past and to local politics only. In our present emergency, and on a new field these ancient animosities might well be sacrificed in the public interest.

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