SYDNEY, Apr. 9 1901
THE NEW COMMONWEALTH.
PARTIES IN PARLIAMENT.
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT.
SYDNEY, Apr. 9 1901; May 15 1901.
The composition of the first Parliament of the Commonwealth is on the whole more satisfactory than had been anticipated. The Senate in particular promises to prove an efficient body. Its members being elected by the States as single constituencies, their polling furnishes some interesting indications of popular feeling. The number of candidates in New South Wales divided the voters so much that Mr. Walker, who headed the poll with seventy-eight thousand suffrages, saw three of the Victorians acquire a greater total in the less populous Colony, though the solid Free Trade support accorded to himself and his colleagues put them all six above the remaining three chosen south of the Murray. The Socialists, currency reformers, and other cranks were awarded their proper positions at the bottom of the poll with followings inconsiderable in numbers and contemptible in influence. Mr. Walker, on the other hand, though a poor speaker and without experience of Parliamentary life, attained his proud position because in addition to being one of the Free Trade “bunch”, he is a director of our leading bank and of the great Australian Mutual Provident Insurance Society, the oldest, wealthiest, and most prosperous of all the powerful financial associations in Australasia. No better proof of the soundness of the feeling in this State could be afforded than this preference for a man of long business experience and solid commercial standing by a great majority of our manhood electors. His fellow Senators are all stable and reputable men, while the three Victorians, who received even larger polls than theirs, were many years members of its Legislative Council. The Hon. Simon Fraser, Sir William Zeal, and Sir Frederick Sargood are all of them men of large means, closely identified with the landowning, banking, and financial interests. A majority of the Senators from every other State except Queensland are then of much the same stamp, whose sympathies are certain to be with the party of steady progress and sober legislation. In spite of the breadth of the Federal franchise and of the principle of equal voting it is plain that the Senate of Australia, like that of the United States, will be a Chamber to be reckoned with by Ministers whatever their following in the popular House may be.
REJECTIONS AND SELECTIONS.
The rejections for the Senate in New South Wales are almost as satisfactory as the selections. Eminent public services were, except in the case of Mr. Wise, universally recognised in all the Colonies. The Free Trade organisation, though marvellously complete in our State, could not exclude Mr. R. E. O’Connor, K.C., the Vice-President of the Federal Executive Council, and one of the Drafting Committee of three which prepared the Commonwealth Bill. In Victoria Sir John Quick, who originated the method of providing the submission of the measures to the people, was returned without opposition. In South Australia Sir Josiah Symon, K.C., despite his absence from local politics for many years, was placed highest on the roll for the Senate. Sir John Downer, who was Mr. O’Connor’s colleague in the Drafting Committee, and Sir R. Baker, Chairman of Committees in the National Convention, together with Mr. Playford, ex-Premier and late Agent-General, help to make up a very strong team for that State. In Tasmania and Western Australia Mr. Dobson and Mr. Matheson, leading members of the Convention, have other well-known men united with them. Speaking generally of both Houses, the electors have returned all the members of the National Convention and all ex-Ministers and politicians of note who presented themselves as candidates. Hence it cannot be said that they have begun their new career either ungratefully, unwisely, or unregardful of the past.
In Queensland alone the electors have all but entirely ignored the great banking, commercial, and productive interests. Mr. Ferguson, though absent from the Colony, succeeded in winning a place in the Senate, but experienced administrators and legislators, like Mr. Thynne and Mr. Cowley, were rejected in favour of four Labour men, and of Mr. Drake, the Postmaster-General. This result was due, in the first instance, to the blundering tactics pursued in Brisbane. In their resentment at Mr. Barton’s somewhat peremptory “notice to quit” to the Kanaka, given at Maitland, and in some degree also at his selection of a Radical colleague to take Sir James Dickson’s place, both the leading journals made a direct attack on Mr. Drake, though he was not a member of the Cabinet at the time when its policy in regard to black labour was determined. The election as it proceeded saw all other issues disappearing, and public interest concentrated on the question whether or not the Kanaka was to become a permanency. Some thousands of citizens who had no desire to see the sugar industry interfered with could not bring themselves to accept a policy of further encouragement to Polynesian immigration, and from motives of caution cast in their lot with the Labour Party, whose excellent organisation enabled them to rally all the wage-earners to their side. Mr. Thynne, the most representative Conservative, was only a thousand votes behind their lowest successful candidate, and with wiser campaign management he, and probably another Moderate, would have been returned. Two or three seats, if not more, could also have been saved in the House of Representatives where the current of popular feeling has carried in at least that number of inferior men. It is true that Mr. Drake was not favoured by the Labour chiefs, but his Ministerial position helped to make him regarded as a champion of a “White Australia”, and hence his conspicuous success for the Senate. It is quite possible that these unexpected endorsements in Queensland itself of a drastic policy of dealing with the influx of coloured aliens may lead to equally unforeseen developments in its State politics. Mr. Philp, the Premier, invalid as he was when he left for a trip to South Africa, would scarcely have taken his well-earned rest and change if he could have foreseen what a serious shock to his party would be given by the foolish aggressiveness of his friends. The net result of their recklessness is that the unfortunate sugar planters are likely to be menaced now both in the State and in the Federal Legislature.
Sir Robert Stout, ex-Premier and present Chief Justice of New Zealand, is responsible for the suggestion that some of the expatriated Boers might be provided with land suitable for grazing in one or more of these States. The project has not commended itself to colonial opinion even in those regions where rural settlers are sought after and the domestic qualities of the Afrikanders are admitted. The verdicts of our returned contingents vary immensely, probably according to experience, as to the courage, good faith, and general quality of their antagonists. Taken as a whole, they have not sufficed to overcome our patriotic antipathy to any closer relations with them. The disloyal elements are very wroth among us, but no one desires them to be strengthened nor do we wish to transplant a fresh racial feud even into the remote interior. The proposal that a portion of the prisoners of war should be sent out for temporary custody is quite another matter, though there will be no warmth in the willingness to accept the charge. It would be done for the sake of the Mother Country and not of the captives. It might be difficult to keep them within bounds on the continent, but a safe place of confinement ought to be easily found in Tasmania, where opportunities of escape would be few. The island Ministry would probably welcome the establishment of a camp, and could provide for its equipment, supply, and if necessary for its guards, without difficulty. The one obstacle lies in the reviving of old memories. The name of Van Diemen’s Land was changed because of its association with the old convict system. The great bulk of those transported thither a century ago were guilty of offences little more serious than those of the captives taken in the Transvaal. For all that the recollection of the period is unpalatable, even though the present generation can discover no traces of the old régime and is only acquainted with its character by tradition. Prejudices of this kind are not to be reasoned with, and if the War Office does not press its proposal it will be because its chiefs recognise that even their most modern weapons are powerless against popular sentiment.