SYDNEY, Feb. 5 1901
ITS GROWTH AND POWER.
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT.
SYDNEY, Feb. 5 1901; Mar. 12 1901.
His Majesty King Edward VII. has been duly proclaimed our Monarch by the Commonwealth Government and by the States of the Union amid the greatest enthusiasm. In Melbourne this was done with much pomp and in the presence of twenty thousand people. It is almost needless to say that not a single antagonistic voice was raised anywhere or on any grounds to mar the unanimity of Australia’s greeting to her King. It was not merely the customary acceptance of a constitutional change natural to a law-abiding people nor a tacit consent to a formal act in which no interest was taken. There was a distinct cordiality evinced and expressed towards the Sovereign personally, implying an appreciation of his discharge of the duties of the eminent position he has so long occupied and an ungrudging confidence in his will and capacity to occupy one higher still. He was hailed with acclamation as a worthy successor to a Throne which has been elevated in public esteem and regard by the virtues and abilities of the late Queen-Empress. Whether, as already suggested, the growing importance of Australia and Canada is to be indicated by some appropriate addition to the royal titles or not, it is already manifest that his Majesty King Edward will have nowhere among his dominions a more loyal people than those of the Southern Seas.
It was not always so. Some fourteen years ago there was a distinctly Separatist movement in both Sydney and Brisbane, which for a time caused considerable alarm. In Sydney an ultra-democratic weekly paper, the Bulletin, then at the height of its influence, had boldly declared for the future Australian Republic, while the popular Sydney Daily Telegraph, though with more circumspection, made the preaching of “Nationalism” its chief end. In Queensland, for party purposes, the same cry was raised, and in order to embarrass Sir Samuel Griffith the proposed contribution towards the maintenance of a special Australasian Fleet on this station was defeated in that Colony on the ground that it constituted a payment of tribute to Great Britain for our protection which was beneath the dignity of a free people. The Naval Defence Bill was only postponed, however, and with its adoption the northern Colony abandoned its momentary antagonism to the Imperial movement.
THE WAR RALLY.
With us the struggle was somewhat more prolonged. The Sydney Daily Telegraph changed its editorial staff and at the same time its attitude. The South African War rallied the whole continent to the Mother Country, and at the same time to the Crown. The journal and the Labour parties in the States which adopted the Pro-Boer view lost the greater part of their influence in consequence, and they have been swept into the background, together with the few Irish Roman Catholic and Labour papers which espoused the cause of Kruger and corruption. We are now able to see that the supposed agitation for independence, though noisy, was of the most superficial character and of the narrowest dimensions. What fostered its growth was the manifest indifference displayed in Great Britain by leading statesmen and a portion of its Press to all colonial interests. We were evidently regarded as an encumbrance, and were obviously expected by the “Little Englanders”, then in the ascendant, to “set up” for ourselves as soon as possible. They posed as the exponents of popular feeling in London, just as their sympathisers, the Separatists, posed here as the interpreters of the national will, and with as little warranty. At the first encouragement offered to our patriotism these illusions began to be dissipated and at the first shock of danger to the Empire they disappeared.
QUEEN VICTORIA’S INFLUENCE.
In accomplishing the happy result of enabling the British at home and abroad to come to a mutual understanding and a sense of the strength of the affections which united them her Majesty the late Queen greatly contributed. The splendid pageants at her Jubilees of 1887 and 1897 helped to reveal the nation to itself and to consolidate it. A direct relation was proved to exist between all its parts, no matter how remote or minute, and the Crown itself. The belief everywhere held in Australia that the present King is equally sensible of these ties and will take an equally Imperial view of his responsibilities and powers as Sovereign is the foundation of the enthusiasm with which his reign has been inaugurated in Australia.
THE NEW HEBRIDES.
It seems probable that his advisers in London will soon have before them another test of their Imperialism, owing to a sudden revival of the vexed questions associated with the dual control of the New Hebrides. An explosion of public feeling here has followed some recent revelations of French action and what appears to be subservience on the part of a British naval officer, whose procedure is spreading among the suspicious a multitude of rumours as to the reasons for what is considered to be his surrender of the rights of the natives and of British colonists. Of course, the joint government of the groups, such as it is, always has been, and always will be, unsatisfactory. The desire for the possession of these islands on the part of Australians is not simply an unappeasable “earth hunger”. It has mainly arisen in consequence of the establishment of Presbyterian missions from our mainland, the members of which see in its secession to France the triumph of their Roman Catholic rivals. There has always been a small trade with Brisbane and Sydney, and a certain number of British settlers in the islands, whose claims to protection required to be considered. The transportation to New Caledonia of confirmed criminals from France, their occasional escapes to Queensland in open boats, and the publication of a programme providing for their overflow into the New Hebrides roused the continent from its apathy in regard to the New Hebrides some twenty years ago. The far-seeing then noted that they contained splendid harbours, the possession of which might prove hereafter of great value for naval operations.
LORD SALISBURY’S POLICY.
The Marquis of Salisbury, however, has never been regarded here as a jealous custodian of colonial interests. He has always seemed willing to sacrifice outlying territory in order to keep the peace with the Great Powers near his door, who do not fail to take advantage of his well-known love of peace. But for the furious protests of Victoria he would apparently have surrendered the whole group in 1887. It was only under the strongest pressure that he secured for us a joint control, which has been lately deflected so as to permit our competitors to begin the rapid absorption of the principal islands.
The charges now made are that a joint court of naval officers, having no jurisdiction whatever to deal with land claims, has been awarding large areas to French claimants on the two finest harbours; that deeds of transfer, repudiated by the natives alleged to have signed them or declared to relate to small areas, have been accepted by this court as applying to far larger blocks than the signatories, if they did subscribe to them, had any right to part with; that natives’ huts on the disputed territory have been several times burned by the French, who are bringing out families of colonists to occupy and hold them by force of arms; and, finally, that a native chief has been evicted from his tribal fields because he could not produce a written title to it. The last accusation is scarcely credible, and it is to be hoped for the sake of the British commander concerned in these transactions that the statements are none of them true. They are openly made by resident missionaries familiar with the natives and their language, who claim to have been present at the investigations, and to have heard the decisions from his own mouth, coupled with other remarks which would go to show an inexplicable bias. The high character of our naval officers has earned them such a reputation that there is a strong inclination to believe that there must be a misunderstanding somewhere, but at the same time feeling is already running high. Mr. Barton and Mr. Seddon, the Premier of New Zealand, held a conference with regard to the islands on Friday last, and they have since telegraphed to the Colonial Office. It is understood that the Prime Minister and the new Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Beaumont, have exchanged views, and that the whole question is to be considered at a Cabinet meeting later in the week.
THE INTERESTS AFFECTED.
There are here all the materials for an international complication of a minor kind. Sydney is affected through her commercial interests and Melbourne because of its aggressive tendencies towards a Monroe Doctrine for the Pacific within the Australasian sphere. The Presbyterians everywhere, and especially in Victoria, are politically the most influential among the religious bodies, leading as a rule the Nonconformists, and not infrequently spurring on the Church of England as well. The religious, political, and commercial interests are almost irresistible locally when they can be kept in combination. To these must be added the new sense of confidence born of our recent Union, the fighting spirit fostered by our successes in South Africa, and the deeper assurance now felt of a more sympathetic hearing for us in the Mother Country. It thus becomes evident that probably the first instance of self-assertion on the part of the Commonwealth may find its occasion here. As our brilliant neighbours are no less alive to the change in the situation and their possessions are obviously rendered less relatively important by the overshadowing Federation on the continent, they may be expected to put even more than their customary audacity and tenacity into their struggle to maintain the improved hold on the islands which the action of the naval authorities is said to have gratuitously given them. At all events, there are good grounds here for “diplomatic representations”, and for possibly a very pretty quarrel.
The Commonwealth has presented its first bill—to be strictly accurate it has deducted from the revenues which have flowed into its coffers through the Custom Houses and under the tariffs of the six States its own expenses up to date, and has handed back the balance of its receipts to the State Treasurers. Of course, the salaries of the customs officials have been paid as usual, but the circumstance that a Federal instead of a State officer has signed their cheques makes no more difference to them than it does to the public. Under the Constitution until the passing of a uniform tariff there is to be a monthly settlement between the Federal Treasurer and the States, each of which is to continue to receive through him the sum collected within its borders, less the cost of the new central Government. This for January has amounted to £1,266, more than two-thirds of which is accounted for in the £10,000 a year due to the Governor-General. A more modest beginning could scarcely be desired, as it is evident that no spirit of extravagance prevails, for the present at all events, with our first Executive. As three of its members have not yet resigned the Premierships of their own States they have made no demands on the Commonwealth, though in a few days or weeks at latest they must begin to devote themselves wholly to their Federal functions. In the meantime it is plain that the dreaded lavishness anticipated under our new political conditions is at least postponed until after the meeting of Parliament. Considering that, comparing the revenues of this one month with that of January, 1900, we find a fresh increase estimated at over £50,000, the trifling sum parted with to the Federal Government is scarcely likely to be noticed. Were it large, indeed, it would yet create no apprehension. All over the continent, except in Queensland, which is still a sufferer from prolonged and terrible drought in its western districts, there is every indication of buoyancy in Australian trade and finances generally.
THE ELECTION CAMPAIGN.
Last night the Federal campaign was opened in earnest by Mr. Reid in a thoroughly-characteristic speech, which more than made up in popular effectiveness for any lack of dignity or good taste. There was, of course, the accustomed humorous by-play at the expense of his opponents, and bitter retorts to those whose views are particularly distasteful to him. Though both of these were employed at inordinate length for such an occasion, they were keenly relished by a crowd whose foibles resemble his own and thus supply one of his chief sources of influence. He had them at his beck and call with his speech in the Protestant Hall, which was so packed that it became necessary to hold an overflow meeting afterwards. Apart from a few divagations his attack on the Ministerial policy was conducted with admirable skill. With true tactical judgment he concentrated himself on the one point at issue. Here, too, he was absolutely certain of the sympathy of those he addressed, of Sydney and of the State of New South Wales, to which he principally appealed.
THE MAIN ISSUE.
The sole question for the electors is Free Trade or Protection. That he made plain once and for all. Nothing was or will be allowed to obscure this in the minds of his hearers or of the Commonwealth. He stimulated his followers to wild enthusiasm by his assurances that he would have a majority of representatives in both Houses of Parliament in every State except Victoria, and still more by his definition of the approaching contest as a duel between himself and Mr. Barton in the position of Prime Minister. It was as the fighting leader of a fighting party that he presented himself, and the appeal was as well timed as it was well delivered. His note of confidence and triumph was re-echoed with a fervour which could only be appreciated by those who witnessed or shared it. After allowing all discount for the intoxication of the moment, it is plain that, despite its divisions, the Free Trade Party is about to make the greatest of its Australian efforts in its first fight for the Commonwealth.