SYDNEY, Mar. 12 1901

THE NEW COMMONWEALTH.

ATTITUDE OF NEW ZEALAND.

LOVE OF INDEPENDENCE.

FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT.
SYDNEY, Mar. 12 1901; Apr. 16 1901.

The Empire is the sum of its parts, and the more these are united politically and commercially the greater their prosperity and its power. The Commonwealth, which comprises within its control six communities hitherto separate, repre­sents an immense stride, not only towards Australian unity but towards Imperial Federation. But immense as is the extent and promise of our union, it is not yet geographically complete. A seventh province remains apart, not one of the largest, but certainly one of the richest British dominions in this hemisphere. If the Commonwealth is to be perfected it must include New Zealand. It must become Australasian instead of Austra­lian. Of course, this ideal has long floated entrancingly before the eyes of our public men, nothing daunted by the fifteen hundred miles of ocean between us. Both the first conference in regard to Federation in 1890 and the first convention of 1891 included representatives from Maoriland. Since than she has taken no part in the movement, though she would always have been welcome—and would be welcome still. The choice lies with her and not with us. As far as can be judged to-day she is not desirous of being ab­sorbed among the States of the mainland. She is prosperous and self-sufficing. Her spirited people are proud of her distinctive characteristics and confident of her future. True, there is a move­ment towards a union among her farmers and some industrials who have found a good and a pro­fitable market, chiefly in New South Wales, and they fear to lose it. A Federal tariff may impose some duties on imports whether of agricultural or of manufactured goods, and though their trade with Australia is small when measured with that between New Zealand and Great Britain, it is considerable, and under intercolonial Free Trade would probably increase by leaps and bounds. The steadier rainfall of the islands endows the inhabitants with much larger and more regular crops than are grown under change­ful Australian skies. This enables cultivators to undersell those who till our more arid soils. The strong promptings of self-interest, therefore, operate steadily on the thriving but cautious producers, who constitute, perhaps, the most powerful influence in the politics of New Zealand. Apprehensions of possible losses and tempting possibili­ties of increasing an already lucrative export business have in a large measure overcome the natural apathy of a certain class who customarily supply vis inertiae rather than initiative.

MR. SEDDON OPPOSED TO FEDERATION.

The resistance to the federalising tendency comes in New Zealand from the most progres­sive classes of the community, and particularly from those who have hitherto embodied its most advanced views. After a period of financial disaster, and another period of hesitation, the high character and great capacity of the late Mr. Ballance committed the Colony during his Premiership to a policy more deserving the title of State Socialism than any other yet pursued here or elsewhere. On his death the leader­ship devolved on Mr. Seddon who, though without the originality of his predecessor, had become sufficiently indoctrinated with his prin­ciples to pursue the same path. He also possessed a masterfulness, a tactical energy, and a physical stamina rarely united in any colonial public man. A return of good times, the immense development of frozen meat and dairy produce exports, com­bined with a vigorous policy of public works, have ensured a cycle of good years, and to Mr. Seddon a tenure of office only exceeded in Australia by that of Sir John Forrest. The Opposition has been pulverised, the Ministerialists have often been dragooned, and the Colony, whether well managed or mismanaged, has certainly been managed by the Premier and his Cabinet as never a self-governing Colony was before. An ardent Imperialist, Mr. Seddon has found favour in the sight of the Colonial Office in an unprecedented degree, his influence in London being greatly enhanced by the ability with which its Agent-General, Mr. Pember Reeves, watches over all its interests. Whether the Premier and his colleagues recoiled from a surrender of power and from the extinction of their local supremacy, or honestly feared for their constituents’ future, it is clear that from the outset they were unanimous in their antagonism to the proposal that their Colony should become a State of the Union. Their hostility was formidable, and in almost any other matter would have put a full stop to the agitation—if a placid but persistent expression of agricultural opinion could be comprehended under such an epithet. But in the New World, as in the Old, though hard to move and slow in moving, the rural mind is equally hard to halt and slow to be diverted from its end. Mr. Seddon knew that, and carefully refrained from throwing himself across its path or imposing his veto as he has been accustomed to do whenever he was so inclined. He was wary enough from the first to assume a perfectly non-committal attitude, and to temporise astutely while professing to maintain an open mind. When attending the celebrations of the birth of the Commonwealth here in January he spoke often on the question, but only so as to say nothing explicitly each time.

THE PRICE OF AUSTRALASIAN UNION.

When Ministers could palter no longer with the question they took the course common in all the Colonies, and appointed a commission of inquiry. This has, at least, postponed the necessity for declaring their policy; and as it was mainly composed of men of like mind with themselves was certain not to report too favourably on the pro­posal. The hundred and eighty-five witnesses called have told us nothing that was not known already. Some score of them were doubtful, but of the remainder two to one were adverse. The position is perfectly plain. New Zealand has a protective tariff which is of no value to its farmers as against Australia, since our agriculturists cannot hope to invade their territory. Consequently they are perfectly pre­pared for a complete trade reciprocity, the advan­tage of which would be all on their side. To the manufacturers, on the other hand, the New Zealand tariff is useful, since it greatly restricts the imports of Australian goods, which would otherwise over­whelm many of them, while only a small number could hope to compete in our markets if they were thrown open to them. It is strictly a matter of business. If we adopt a Free Trade policy nothing more will be heard in New Zealand of any federal aspiration. On the other hand, Protectionist duties, if adopted here, will probably feed the flame. Accordingly the commission is now on its way to us from Auckland to endeavour to forecast what our fiscal policy is to be. This, of course, it has no chance of learning in advance. The result of the elections may tell something, but as the numbers in the new Parliament will probably be fairly even it must remain in the dark. Meanwhile a most significant indication of the feeling of the Ministry was afforded last week when the Seddon Cabinet solemnly con­sidered whether it should ask a mass vote of the electors for or against Federation in connection with the census papers to be collected at the end of this month. Such an appeal would of necessity render further inquiry into the proposal practically needless. It was, indeed, too patent an attempt to snatch a verdict, and was aban­doned immediately it had evoked criticism. The Ministers’ own commission was appointed expressly on the ground that the people were in a state of ignorance both as to the Constitution under which they must live if they joined the Commonwealth and as to the effect of its provisions on their means of earning a livelihood. Nothing it has yet done has enabled a final conclusion to be reached on this problem bearing on livelihood, while the Imperial Act establishing the Australian Union remains a mystery even to the public men of New Zealand, who have never examined nor considered it, nor studied the vital changes it would bring about in their political system. That such an utterly indefensible proposal should have been even mentioned tells its own tale as to the wishes of the Seddon Ministry.

NEW ZEALAND WILL NOT FEDERATE.

Whether or not the Government would have proved strong enough to resist the pressure put on it by its agricultural supporters is immaterial. These are so much more numerous than the persons engaged in the manufactures that are threatened by Australian rivalry that in spite of the superior organisation and political effectiveness of the towns­people they must eventually have succumbed if the question were to be decided by the clashing of conflicting self-interests. Curiously enough, the influence which is likely to defeat the farmers is on the surface a mere sentiment. Ministers do not yet appear to have realised how potent an ally they possess, though many of their own actions have been dictated by it. New Zealand is at such a distance from us and possesses so many features of unlikeness that its people have always been proudly persistent in asserting their individuality. Nothing offends them more than to confuse them with Australians or to regard their lovely and well-watered country as a mere Aus­tralian island. Their pride is to regard themselves as belonging to another and separate sphere, and as being the “Great Britain of the South”. They have good title to that honorable appellation and to the implication of marked contrast with the continent which is their neighbour. The absence of a dominating Metropolis, and of any wealthy class enjoying great incomes, the divisions among its several provinces, and the supremacy of rural pursuits have combined to distinguish their political and social life from that of our city-ridden States of the main­land. A cooler climate, a less feverish pursuit of riches, and less frequent vicissitudes of fortune have promoted a better diffusion of culture, and in some parts a more conscientious discharge of the duties of citizenship. They have also enjoyed a prosperous cycle of good years, an overflowing public revenue, and a rapid removal of anterior dis­abilities. The Commonwealth would have much to gain in reputation and in receipts from the in­clusion of so splendid a Colony, but Maoriland itself, while it would share the prosperity it would help to create, must lose its identity and bury its long cherished ambition to become an independent centre of civilisation in the Western Pacific.

NEW ZEALAND ASPIRATIONS.

While the continent remained divided New Zealand was content with the comparison afforded between her progress and that of her sister Colonies. With the constitution of the Commonwealth New Zealand’s local patriotism received a severe shock. Its pique at the prospect of being overshadowed by the Union led first to the false step of opposing the passage of the Commonwealth Bill when it came before the British Parliament. When this course was seen to be futile it was abandoned, and a hasty effort made to secure the annexation of Fiji and the establishment of a Union which should embrace Tonga and other islands under the British flag, so as to create a second Federation by way of counterpoise to the first. This project also proving impracticable, popular feeling, after pass­ing through so many phases of uncertainty, is settling down to an acceptance of the position. New Zealand must be content to appear small beside her immense neighbour, but will continue to challenge comparison in every other respect. She will concentrate her energies on the develop­ment of her own magnificent resources, but will do so apart and less rapidly rather than forego her independence. The powers of emotion generated by the appeal to our Federal feeling in Australia caused the conquest of those provincial interests here which when ranged against it seemed to most of us to be invincible. In Maoriland the tide of sentiment is setting in an exactly opposite direc­tion, and there, too, it is certain to prove successful. A trade reciprocity treaty would meet all their desires, but this must be so manifestly in their favour that no Australian Parliament will concede it. They must either unite with us altogether or take their own road, and there can be little doubt that they will “foot it” in friendly isolation. With their strong Scottish element they will realise that union would be profitable to them now and always as a matter of pounds, shillings, and pence; but, for all that, they will be resolute to reject the bribe in order to preserve intact the tradition of their politics, the type of their island people, and the promise of a policy of their own in the Pacific.   

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