SYDNEY, Mar. 19 1901
THE NEW COMMONWEALTH.
FEATURES OF THE ELECTION.
IMPERIAL COURT OF APPEAL.
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT.
SYDNEY, Mar. 19 1901; Apr. 23 1901.
The nominations for the Senate are complete. Some fifty competitors offer themselves for the six places allotted to New South Wales. The length of the list tells its own tale, and makes the juvenility of our politics quite painfully apparent. There is among us no party discipline, but we have a plentiful supply of egotistic faddists and an incoherent public opinion which encourages the egregious to seek notoriety by appealing for votes. The number of candidates is swollen by the addition of some who seek simply to advertise themselves, and who are quite guiltless of any hope of being selected at the ballot-box. There are others who come forward just as hopelessly to advertise their cause—such a “bunch” is supplied by the Socialists, who have named a stone-mason, a tobacco worker, a carpenter, a miner, a tram conductor, and a journalist to represent their views. One candidate, who dubs himself “artist”, stands in the complex cause of “currency reform”. The Labour ticket is to be taken more seriously, comprising as it does two union secretaries and a railway employee among its numbers.
THE TARIFF QUESTION.
The only party issue, the only real issue, is as to the tariff. Six Protectionists headed by Mr. R. E. O’Connor, Vice-President of the Executive Council, stand for the Ministry, and six Free Traders or “Revenue Tariffists”, as they are more accurately styled, headed by the Hon. Mr. Pulsford, M.L.C., constitute the direct Opposition. Their success or failure will determine the fortune of the day. Both sides have thought it wise to appeal to the prevalent martial sentiments, Colonel Mackay being included among the Ministerial following though he is still in South Africa, while Colonel Lassetter figures in the Opposition ranks, notwithstanding his impending departure for the war as head of the last Imperial contingent. Allowing that, besides the two official parties, the two factions of the Socialist and Labour voters are justified in their nominations by reason of their distinct platforms, these altogether embrace only one-half of the would-be Senators. The other half consists of a motley and nondescript company, whose candidature can only confuse the ill-informed or careless elector when confronted with half a hundred names out of which he is required to pick his six.
LACK OF ORGANISATION.
This chaotic set of nominations is due mainly to the absence of party organisation among us, and this in its turn is due as much to lack of campaign funds as to lack of dividing principles. In the United States levies used to be made on office-holders alarmed for their appointments, and they are still made on interests affected or liable to be affected by tariff alterations, currency changes, or legislation for or against trusts. None of these sources of supply are as yet open to us in Australia. In the Mother Country wealthy men are understood to make large donations to election funds from motives which do not operate on our capitalists—self-interest not being brought into play to any noteworthy extent. The money spent in this State during the present month on behalf of the Ministry and Opposition respectively will probably not exceed £1,000 each. The individual outlay of candidates differs widely: Labour men and Socialists, having nothing, spend nothing; rich men spend a good deal. There is not even the control of their disbursements afforded by your Corrupt Practices Act, and yet the majority of candidates are not likely to spend more than from £200 to £500 each. This leaves a very small margin for bribery.
Taken as a whole, our contests at the ballot-box are comparatively pure, and in their procedure peaceable and orderly. They are managed in a confused way by the public themselves, affected by newspaper criticism more than any other single force. Electoral organisations, such as they are, spring up like mushrooms just before polling day and disintegrate immediately afterwards. They are not very potent while they last, and rarely comprise more than a handful of interested partisans. But for the guidance of the Press, party lines would be still less marked than they are. Mr. Barton and Mr. Reid are personal influences of considerable importance, yet, apart from their leadership, they exercise a smaller degree of inspiration than men of similar calibre would in a more politically developed community. Hence the throng of irresponsible and unrepresentative nominations for the Senate and, though to a much less extent, the intrusion of undisciplined and unrecognised candidates into the constituencies of the House of Representatives. With a people beset in this fashion, scattered over immense areas with few facilities of meeting together, and largely under the sway of local influences, the task of putting a statesmanlike programme before it and of securing a distinct response for or against it are much multiplied. The part of the prophet is rendered very hazardous even within his own State, and now that the whole mainland with Tasmania has become the arena of contention it is almost impossible. How the irregular and irresponsible candidates may rob the party nominees of votes none can guess. With so many cross-currents, and by eddies intervening the direction of the stream of national politics must necessarily be problematical until the numbers are up.
THE FINAL COURT OF APPEAL.
The intimation that the Ministry of New Zealand, in response to an invitation from Mr. Chamberlain, has appointed ex-Chief Justice Prendergast to represent the Colony at a conference to be held in London with the Lord Chancellor and Law Officers of the Imperial Government is more significant than it appears. It shows that the Salisbury Cabinet is prepared to fulfil the pledge given during the discussion in Parliament on the Commonwealth Act that it would at the earliest opportunity consider the propriety of substituting a single court of appeal in London for the House of Lords and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which are at present the final tribunals, the first for Great Britain and the second for her dependencies. Nothing has been heard here of any such invitation having reached the Commonwealth, and yet it is perfectly certain that Mr. Barton, whose efforts last year at Westminster to secure the limitation of appeals to the Privy Council led to the giving of that pledge, must have been approached as Prime Minister at least as soon as Mr. Seddon. The Premier of New Zealand is not a man of reticence, and indeed he is always eager to be the first channel of Imperial intelligence. It is to him that we owe most of the knowledge we have of what is being done in relation to the New Hebrides, and now his public action calls attention to the silence of the Federal Ministers. The clue to any hesitancy exhibited by them is not far to seek.
THE SENIOR CHIEF JUSTICES.
When fighting in London for the restriction of appeals thither Mr. Barton and his colleagues came into open collision with at least two of the Chief Justices of the Colonies, and they were the seniors. Mr. Kingston, in particular, carried the war against them into the columns of the English Press. His denunciations of the interference of the Chief Justice of his own province, Sir Samuel Way, were understood to include the Chief Justice of Queensland, Sir Samuel Griffith, a former Federal leader, and Premier of that great State. Undoubtedly, of all who occupy seats on the Bench, these two are the most eminently qualified to meet in council with the heads of their profession in the Mother Country, where Sir S. Way has already acted on the Privy Council. If they are to be passed over in favour of some less prominent men of the law there might be an expression of dissatisfaction on the part of the electors which, if it affected the ballot-box, might be injurious to Ministers. The difficult question has, therefore, either been postponed or some arrangement has been made which has not yet been notified. Indeed, the fact of an invitation having been received has not yet been officially admitted. It is more than probable that there is a reason for the secrecy so strictly observed.
THE MINISTERS’ ATTITUDE.
If not personal or political the Ministerial attitude may possibly imply an antagonism on the part of its members to the proposed new Imperial court. This would be inconsistent to a considerable extent with the attitude of the Australian delegates when in London, but it is just conceivable that they might be better pleased to see the status quo maintained than to assist in the erection of a new tribunal, the exceptional dignity and ability of which would tend to diminish by comparison the Australian High Court about to be established in our midst. A truly Imperial court of appeal would probably lead to an increase in the number of appeals from suitors on this side of the world instead of diminishing them, as some of our leading lawyers desire. It is scarcely possible that such an aim can find favour with the Prime Minister himself, but he has colleagues quite capable of taking such a line, supported as it would be by a considerable body of legal opinion, particularly in South Australia. The policy is improbable, but not impossible. In all likelihood the personal element is responsible for the delay. So far as the public here are aware the Federal Ministry, presuming it to have been invited to send a delegate—and Mr. Seddon’s account of his own summons clearly implies that it was general and not particular—has not replied at all.
THE NEW HEBRIDES.
So far as we know, on the other hand, Mr. Chamberlain has not replied to the pressing telegrams despatched from New Zealand and from Sydney referring to the New Hebrides. Of course, our election embarrassments may explain a great deal, and the general public, absorbed in the contests, gives no consideration to the situation in regard to either matter. No Cabinet meetings are being held, for its members are far apart fighting for their seats in their own States. The Opposition is equally preoccupied. For all that, as neither of these matters can well brook delay, thoughtful observers are beginning to speculate whether or not on these and other matters of Imperial concern these postponements are not part of a new departure. Our Commonwealth Government seems inclined to take its own road and rely on its own judgment, without admitting the public to its confidence as fully and freely as has been the custom in Australia, and is the custom in New Zealand still. Diplomatic reserve is to be commended on foreign affairs, but it scarcely seems to be called for by the project for the creation of a great Imperial court of appeal.