SYDNEY, Apr. 2 1901
THE NEW COMMONWEALTH.
THE FISCAL QUESTION.
COMPOSITION OF PARTIES.
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT.
SYDNEY, Apr. 2 1901; May 13 1901.
The electoral cyclone has passed, and we can now begin to estimate the condition in which it leaves us. In this State it discloses an unmitigated defeat of the Protectionists, and consequently of the Barton Ministry, whom they are supporting. The Prime Minister’s own seat was not contested, but of the twenty-five constituencies in which the verdict of the electors was challenged, no less than fifteen fell to the Free Trade Opposition. Mr. Reid himself was never in jeopardy, and every one of his lieutenants, except Mr. Ashton, who was despatched to undertake the Quixotic task of contesting Riverina, a border district contiguous to Victoria, and having many interests in common with that Colony, Sir William McMillan, Mr. Bruce Smith, and Mr. Joseph Cook, join him in the House of Representatives; while the Senate bunch, which includes Mr. Pulsford and Mr. Millen, was all returned. Mr. R. E. O’Connor, Vice-President of the Executive Council, found his way in by reason of his high personal reputation and official position, but the remainder of the Protectionists were left more than twenty-two thousand votes in the rear. The one conspicuous Free Trader, Mr. B. R. Wise, who cast in his lot with the Government, was rejected by a country constituency in favour of a Labour member without a tithe of his ability or a fraction of his knowledge. The proposed coalition between Protectionists by principle and Free Traders prepared to accept their scheme of duties sufficiently to maintain existing industries was personified in him. His overthrow even in a favouring political environment was significant of the emphatic refusal of New South Wales to consent to any sacrifice to expediency. We are accustomed to majorities of scores or at most of hundreds in State elections, but in the larger areas now embraced for Federal purposes there has been in some cases a gap of several thousands between the supporters of Mr. Reid and his antagonist. The popularity of Free Trade was never before so unequivocally exhibited. Only in the border districts were the Protectionists enabled to score a short series of captures. Yet they had spared neither pains nor expenditure in their attack on the Colony. Mr. Barton outvied Mr. Reid in the number of his flying visits to threatened centres, and in the vigour of his appeals for support. All was in vain. He takes only ten followers after him to the popular Chamber, while fifteen hostile representatives from his own State will constitute both the brains and substance of the first Federal Opposition.
In Victoria the situation was exactly reversed. In one sense there was not a Free Trader left in the field, for every candidate—whatever his fiscal faith might be—was compelled to promise some concessions to Protection for an indefinite term. The issue there was between those who wished to reduce the high duties now prevailing and those who are pledged to retain them. Of the twenty-three seats open only thirteen were faced by the so-called “low tariff” men, and in all of these they were favoured by the presence of more than one opponent who declared for the “high tariff” cause. In not a single instance was there a duel between the two, though as the returns prove the “low tariff” was sufficiently favoured in several districts to have ensured a triumph even then. As it was, only four of the thirteen have headed the poll, and consequently our neighbour contributes nineteen supporters to the Ministry. This utterly negatives the effect of the election in New South Wales. Nothing could have demonstrated more clearly the contrast in political thought dominant in the two most populous members of the Union. It is a great misfortune that the breach dividing them in the Commonwealth should be so marked. Provincial jealousies are still alive on both sides of the border, which this undisguisable conflict will perpetuate and deepen. For a time at all events it appears inevitable that New South Wales and Victoria must struggle for the mastery in Federal politics. At present Victoria is in possession of power, and if the new Parliament only embraced the two States we should be in absolute subjection to our energetic and more united brethren across the Murray. In a House of forty-nine, as it would then be, the Barton Protectionists would begin with a majority of ten.
THE QUESTION OF MAJORITIES.
Somewhat unexpectedly, Tasmania appears to have inclined to moderate Protection. Two out of her five representatives (Sir P. Fysh and Mr. Piesse) are Free Traders like Mr. Wise, who, under the pressure of circumstances, have accepted the Ministerial proposals. A third (Mr. O’Malley) is an unqualified Protectionist, so that the two stalwart Free Traders, Sir E. Braddon and Mr. Cameron remain in a minority of one. In the Senate, where the distinction is less vital, the preponderance is on our side. Western Australia has followed New South Wales. What is more astonishing, she has declared defiantly against Sir John Forrest and the Ministry to which he belongs. He himself is the only supporter of a high tariff who has secured a seat, and this in spite, rather than in consequence, of his fiscal opinions. His four colleagues are all advocates of freedom of trade. It is true that, under the Constitution, this State is singled out for special treatment. The local tariff remains even against its neighbours for five years, the duties decreasing each year by 20 per cent. of their excess over Federal rates until it falls completely into line with the rest of the Union. It is doubtful if this privilege really affected the electors. As with us, every Senator from this State except one is opposed to the Ministry on the tariff issue, though two of them are not precisely classified. South Australia, as was anticipated, has given a divided voice in both Chambers. Here, too, the counting of votes is incomplete. Mr. Kingston himself occupied the first place on the poll, but he was able to bring in only two colleagues of his own way of thinking. On the other hand, Mr. Holder, State Premier, a Free Trader in principle though for years associated with the Protectionists by revenue and party necessities, and Mr. Glynn, the active political lieutenant of Mr. Reid, carried two other seats besides their own, leaving the Ministry in a minority of one. Mr. Symon, another Free Trader, was highest of all successful candidates for the Senate, but each party here secured three places in that Chamber.
THE KANAKA PROBLEM.
In Queensland the Kanaka question proved a disturbing influence. Three of the nine seats for the House of Representatives fell to Protectionists, and only one to an avowed Free Trader. Of the remainder, three were captured by the Labour Party, and two by Independents. In the Senate Mr. Drake, the Postmaster-General, is accompanied by three Protectionists, the remaining two seats going to the Labour interest. Taking these four States together, the numbers of the popular Chamber are ten Protectionists, eleven Free Traders, and five others chosen on a different issue. These figures practically cancel each other. The fiscal situation, therefore, may be summed up as settled by and between New South Wales and Victoria. Our Free Trade majority is fifty-six; their Protectionist majority is fifteen. The net result is the narrow majority in the House of Representatives of ten in favour of Protection in some form, and in the Senate no majority, parties being equally balanced.
HIGH AND LOW DUTIES.
The Ministry may congratulate itself on the return of all its members. Federalists of all shades of opinion may be satisfied that every leading man connected with the movement, except Mr. Wise, has found a place in the first Parliament. When the Duke of Cornwall and York opens Parliament Mr. Barton will probably find nearly fifty members sitting behind him or inclined to accord him a fair trial. On the crucial question of high or low duties he can scarcely count on forty-three unless he assumes a very moderate attitude. It is fortunate for him that he adopted Radical proposals for the exclusion of coloured labour, because it is possible that this may attach to him the votes of the Labour members who are unpledged. On the other hand, should he go too far in his projected prohibitions of Kanaka immigration he may lose large numbers of his supporters who are favourable to the tender treatment of the great sugar industry. He and his opponent are likely to compete for the alliance of the Labour Party which includes nearly one-fourth of the House and, with its sympathising allies, constitutes almost one-third. In the Senate this faction is much weaker, so far as is known, not more than half-a-dozen of the thirty-six acknowledging allegiance to its platform, while half of the whole number of its members are Free Traders. It will need all Mr. Barton’s tactical ability to deal with two Chambers so constituted. Mr. Reid, who is far his superior in the arts of political strategy and party intrigue, is likely to make the thorns more numerous than the roses on his Parliamentary couch, where certainly he cannot hope to slumber securely. It will be a hard task, too, for a man of his somewhat aristocratic tastes and associations to ingratiate himself with the uncourtly members of the working classes who have been elected. Mr. Reid is sure to be on familiar terms with them in a very short time. The Prime Minister is putting on a brave face, but his heart must be inclined to sink when he looks on the material provided out of which he is required to build a new national Parliament and establish a new national policy.