MELBOURNE, May 15 1901
THE NEW COMMONWEALTH.
RIVAL POLITICAL PARTIES.
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT.
MELBOURNE, May 15 1901; Jun. 20 1901.
The description of the splendid festivities and of the ceremony connected with the opening of the Federal Parliament I shall leave to Mr. E. F. Knight, of the Morning Post, who is now here, and is accompanying the royal party throughout the tour. There are, however, points arising out of political considerations connected with the new order of things with which I may deal. There were not wanting ominous incidents in both Chambers, though the Government succeeded with its nominees in each of them. Mr. Holder, Premier of South Australia, was unanimously elected Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Sir Richard Baker, President of the Legislative Council of the same Colony, beat his chief opponent by nearly two to one for the office of President of the Senate. The significant feature was the abstention of members returned by the Labour vote from the caucuses held by the Ministry for the purpose of selecting candidates for the chairs and for discussing the order of business. The most extreme of these sit for Queensland constituencies, and appear anxious to continue in the Federal Legislature the same Intransigeant tactics which have rendered politics in that State bitter and sterile for years past. In the Senate they angrily declared against the ballot proposed to determine the choice of President, and in the House one of their number came into conflict with the new Speaker in the first hour of his official life and in a violently-aggressive fashion. The Labour Caucus itself failed in its chief aim, which was to induce the whole of its representatives to sit together in the Opposition corner and adopt a platform providing for the removal of all checks on the rule of the mass majority of the continent imposed on the Constitution for Federal purposes and in the interests of the less populous States. Labour members from Tasmania, South and West Australia, whatever their own wishes, naturally recoiled from a platform which directly threatened the financial interests of their several Colonies. The Protectionists, too, refused to come under the banner of a Free Trade leader even in appearance. Perhaps it was this failure to have their own way in their own private assemblage which sent the more ungovernable back into both Chambers in the bad tempers there manifested in the public eye at their first sittings.
THE LABOUR PARTY.
Ministerial prospects are by no means unclouded. According to the way in which members have taken their places the Ministry has a majority of ten in the House of Representatives; but, as at least five of these are pledged to the Labour Party, it is plain that should the whole of that body at any time throw in its lot with Mr. Reid and his followers the Ministry could be at once ejected from office. On the other hand, the Opposition, nominally thirty-two strong, has probably ten who owe allegiance more directly to the Labour programme than to that of Free Trade. It is but too plain, therefore, that at the out-set this party holds the balance of power, and is likely to retain it no matter what Ministry may appear on the Treasury Benches. Its members seem to be divided just now on the fiscal issue, and also on the proposal to encroach further on the influence of the several States in the interests of direct-majority-rule. The ultimate aim of its more aggressive leaders is a national referendum freely employed to enforce an ultra-Radical policy. Their fellows, though cherishing the same desire, deem it prudent to postpone action. While these divisions continue they are likely to considerably neutralise the influence of their numbers, though on questions on which they can contrive to rally the whole of their forces they will be able from the first to dominate the House of Representatives. They are no less potent proportionately in the Senate, though, judging from the attitude assumed on the election of President, it is possible that there may be a general combination there against them. In that case they would be inevitably outvoted. At most they can calculate on ten or a dozen out of thirty-six Senators. In the event of keen party contests arising in this Chamber on the fiscal or other questions outside their ranks they would become masters of the situation here too. As yet they are undisciplined, but a sense of the value of union and of the power within their grasp will not be long in coming. As they have taken their seats in the Senate they give the Opposition a majority of ten, but it is evident that in common with others they have not done so designedly to declare their political leanings. The evident purpose is to stand somewhat aloof from the two contending chiefs and their followers, throwing their weight into one scale or the other as a united and independent faction.
The King’s Speech was merely the Ministerial policy announced at the late elections put into the customary form. Mr. Reid has commented caustically on its adherence to familiar platitudes and the absence of a distinct declaration of Protectionist policy. The slight illness from which he has been suffering, though it unfortunately compelled him to be absent from the opening of the Parliament and the festivities generally, has in no way diminished his fighting spirit nor weakened his eagerness to begin the fray. A banquet in Ballarat on Monday afforded the Prime Minister an opportunity of replying to those and other taunts in a fashion which made it plain that he also is in no mood for a tame and uneventful campaign. When Mr. Barton and Mr. Reid meet at the close of this month it will be to begin a tug of war likely to render the proceedings more interesting than profitable to the people for whom they are legislating. It is a great advantage to have attention concentrated on public affairs. The general tendency too often is to pass them by with hasty and indiscriminate indifference. As a consequence active cliques and interested sections have had the field to themselves, the bulk of the taxpayers intervening on their own behalf only at intervals and for brief periods. Here, as elsewhere, the selfish absorption of the commercial classes in the pursuit of private gain and of the wealthy in the pursuit of private pleasure leaves political life denuded of many of its natural leaders. The great body of the masses are equally engrossed in similar fashions. When the sporting instinct is aroused, as it may be by the duel between Mr. Barton and Mr. Reid, there is at least some gain. Physically and mentally they are striking personalities. Mr. Barton’s face and physique somewhat resemble those of Fox in his mature years, while Mr. Reid, less aristocratically featured, is almost as corpulent as the same statesman appeared in the caricatures of Gillray. Mentally he is the more agile, resourceful, and pliant of the two, and a more applauded platform speaker. The Prime Minister has greater culture, much greater constitutional knowledge, and more solidity of disposition. Except in the fiscal issue there is little to distinguish their politics, and even on that score the practical difference is magnified deliberately for party purposes. An acute and prolonged rivalry in the arena of Parliament has taught each the prowess of the other. The fight is therefore a fair one, and as the Australian is above all a fighting man and a sportsman, their coming wrestle is likely to arouse the keenest interest throughout the continent. It may indirectly contribute to the popularisation of political proceeding in the Commonwealth.