SYDNEY, Apr. 16 1901




SYDNEY, Apr. 16 1901; May 24 1901.


The Commonwealth, with its Parliament about to assemble and its Ministry free to commence work, is entering on its most susceptible stage. Precedents are being established which must be potent in their influence on our future development. We are making, of necessity, a fresh beginning in politics, and essaying many important departures. Alert as all are in the endeavour to forecast the ultimate consequences of passing events, and alive as we believe ourselves to be to their significance, some of them may easily prove of more interest hereafter than they appear to possess now. There has been, however, some perception of the gravity of choice implied in the recent Ministerial reorganisation accomplished in this State. Sir William Lyne having at last retired from the Premiership, his colleague, Mr. See, to whom the Lieutenant-Governor entrusted the task of forming an Administration, cherished the natural ambition of including within his new Cabinet the strongest men in our Legislature without regard to their fiscal opinions. With the transfer from each and all of the States to the Federal Parliament of their power of imposing duties of customs and excise the real dividing line between our existing parties was broken down and it has entirely disappeared. It was clearly idle to perpetuate strife over the tariff issue in chambers from which all opportunity of dealing with it had been expressly taken away. Mr. See made overtures, therefore, to three leading Free Traders, Mr. Ashton, Mr. Carruthers, and Mr. Garland, who very properly and promptly responded to his invitation, discussed policies, allotted portfolios, and were on the point of cementing an alliance, when Mr. Reid suddenly intervened and peremptorily forbade the banns. It says much for the discipline of his followers that they at once obeyed his commands, though they related to the State politics and State Parliament which he has himself abandoned. Mr. See immediately completed his Government from his own following, and will meet the electors in a few weeks to ascertain their opinion of its acceptability. He will in all likelihood be defeated at the polls, but Mr. Carruthers and Mr. Ashton, if they come in then, will do so with a support accorded to them because of their devotion to a principle to which they can never give effect, and that must forsake them as soon as a real issue arises. The whole situation has been perverted from its natural development, and nothing but confusion can ensue, our local well-being is to be ignored, and our needs as a State are to be neglected, in order that the party in favour in the Federal Parliament may gain some advantage to its prestige.


Already there are evidences that our public men will not tamely submit to such a sacrifice of the interests of New South Wales. Dr. Graham who, being Mayor of Sydney as well as member of the Assembly, is a man of some note, has already protested against it in unequivocal terms, and though his associates remain silent there is but a sulky acquiescence in the course adopted. Zeal for Free Trade has led and will lead us far, but it is becoming too evident that Mr. Reid has been thinking of himself first and his party next in all his recent manoeuvres. His tactics are approved when employed against our common antagonists, but what is then applauded and styled strategical is condemned as unscrupulous when directed against ourselves. He is prepared to adopt any path by which he can attain the post of Prime Minister of Australia, and the majority in his own State is heartily with him in this ambition. But we are not ready on this account to have imposed on us a rapid succession of weak State Ministers bidding for votes against Oppositions united only by the desire to put them out. New South Wales will continue to manage the greater part of her own affairs in her own State Houses, and ought to manage them with a single eye to the advantage of her people. If these considerations are to be subordinated to those of Federal party politics more would be sacrificed than anyone bargained for. We feel ourselves too great territorially and too self-sufficing to permit the politicians to ignore our vast resources as a separate community. In the United States the necessity for the control of the State Legislatures by the Republicans or Democrats arises because the choice of Federal Senators rests with them. No such duty devolves on our State members, and we desire to avoid the submersion of provincial politics which has resulted in America. We want the strongest Cabinets that can be composed of men united on the questions with which they are empowered to deal. There are many vital problems to be solved by us for which the co-operation of all the stable elements in the community will be required. Mr. Reid’s personal aims have for the time diverted us from this sensible course, but it is to be hoped that his lead will not be followed any further. Each State should maintain a vigorous and independent political individuality. This would prove invaluable to its own people, and beneficial in its influence on our national parties, since it would tend to prevent them from becoming tyrannical in their sway.


Another event in this State may prove to be almost equally fruitful in results, and indeed its importance as a possible precedent has obtained for it what would otherwise have been a disproportionate amount of attention. Mr. Barton’s announcement at Maitland that none but temporary appointments would be made by his Ministry until they had met Parliament, and that the best men would be selected for the positions created in consequence of the Union independently of all other considerations, gave general satisfaction. The selections made were few, and met with tacit approbation until it was recently announced that Sir William Lyne had chosen his late Minister of Mines, Mr. Fegan, as his Under Secretary in the Department of Home Affairs. A storm of indignation was instantly generated by the Press of New South Wales and echoed in that of the neighbouring Colonies, on the ground that this was a political appointment, made in order to smooth the way for Mr. See’s reconstruction of his Cabinet. It was alleged that Mr. Fegan was not qualified for the post, having been a working miner before he became a member of Parliament, and that much better men were to be found in the public service of any of the States. In reply it has been stated that the appointment, like all others, is temporary only, and that in Sir W. Lyne’s judgment he is the fittest man to fill the office, which will for some time continue to be less onerous and less liberally salaried than the corresponding office in New South Wales and Victoria. Mr. Reid naturally resents the choice, because it was on Mr. Fegan’s motion that he was put out of office as State Premier, and lost his Federal Prime Ministership in consequence, and the newspapers supporting him take up the tale. To Englishmen the incident may be cited as an evidence of the extreme sensitiveness of public opinion in Australia in the matter of the appointment of politicians to offices of profit under the Crown. Mr. Fegan is a Free Trader and has been associated with the Anti-Federal Party from the first, and in all their campaigns, yet the Free Trade journals and his Anti-Federal colleagues join in the cry against his nomination by a Protectionist Federal Minister.


It is, therefore, abundantly plain that we are far removed from the condition of things which obtains in the United States, and that the policy of “the spoils to the victors” has no chance of adoption among us. No one has been passed over in this particular case, and the one question is whether Mr. Fegan is or is not capable enough to be under secretary of an important Department. This remains to be proved. In the meantime, it is somewhat amusing to note that while the critics accept the appointment as just what was to be anticipated from Sir W. Lyne, and passed over his part in it in silence, they pour out the vials of wrathful amazement on Mr. Barton for refusing to veto the action of his colleague. In this they unintentionally pay the Prime Minister a compliment. Mr. Fegan is on his trial, so is the Ministry, which may possibly be challenged with a vote of want of confidence because of him, failing any more serious ground of indictment. One thing the agitation has already secured: there will be no more politicians, however able, eminent, or specially qualified, translated to the offices in the gift of the Federal Government. And with this finale to the matter all classes will be content.

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