Front Page Titles (by Subject) AUSTRALIA - Modern Democracies, vol. 2.
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AUSTRALIA - Viscount James Bryce, Modern Democracies, vol. 2. 
Modern Democracies, (New York: Macmillan, 1921). 2 vols. Vol. 2.
Part of: Modern Democracies, 2 vols.
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australian history and frame of government
There is no such thing as a Typical Democracy, for in every country physical conditions and inherited institutions so affect the political development of a nation as to give its government a distinctive character. But if any country and its government were to be selected as showing the course which a self-governing people pursues free from all external influences and little trammelled by intellectual influences descending from the past, Australia would be that country. It is the newest of all the democracies. It is that which has travelled farthest and fastest along the road which leads to the unlimited rule of the multitude. In it, better than anywhere else, may be studied the tendencies that rule displays as it works itself out in practice.
A few preliminary words about the land and the people may make it easier to comprehend the political phenomena we have to consider.
The Australian continent, with 2,974,581 square miles (rather smaller than Europe), is a vast plain, enclosed on the east by a long range of mountains, nowhere reaching 7500 feet in height, with a few groups of hills in the southwest corner and others scattered here and there in the interior. This plain is so arid that parts of it seem likely to remain for ever a wilderness. It is waterless, except in the south-east, where a few rivers descending from the inland side of the eastern range pursue languid courses towards the southern sea, with currents that are in summer too shallow for navigation. The only well-settled districts are those which lie in the hilly region along the east and south-east coasts. These districts were colonized from a few towns planted on the edge of the sea, the settlers spreading slowly inland and spreading also along the shore, until at last there came to be a practically continuous population along a line of some six hundred miles. This population is, however, still sparse in many regions, and the thickly peopled part of one state, West Australia, lies far away from all the others, its chief town communicating with the nearest city in them (Adelaide in South Australia) by a railway journey of forty-six hours, or a sea voyage of nearly three days, while another, Tasmania, occupies a separate island. Thus during its earlier years, when the character of each colony was being formed, each lived an isolated life, busied with its own local concerns, knowing little about the others, and knowing still less, until telegraphs were laid along the ocean bed, of the great world of Europe and America. Not only each colony, but the Australian people as a whole, grew up in isolation, having no civilized neighbour states except New Zealand, cut off by twelve hundred miles of stormy sea.
Fortunate has it been for a land lying so far apart that Nature has furnished her with nearly everything needed to make a community self-sufficing.
Want of moisture is the weak point of the country, for more than one-third of its whole area has less than ten inches of rain in the year, and another third less than twenty. It is a common saying that in Australia a purchaser buys not the land but the water. Nevertheless, there is not only along the east and parts of the south coasts a vast area of cultivable soil, with sufficient rain, but in the drier parts of the interior immense tracts fit for sheep, which have thus become the greatest source of the country's wealth. The recent discovery of subterranean reservoirs of water which can be made available by artesian wells offers a prospect of extending the region fit for settlement. The climate is temperate, except in the tropical north, and so healthy that the average death-rate is only ten per thousand. Its variety enables all sorts of products to be raised, sugar, cotton, and the fruits of the tropics in the hotter regions, wheat and other cereals in the more temperate. Coal, found in all the States but two, abounds in several wide areas, and there are rich mines of silver, lead, and copper, besides those gold workings which drew a sudden rush of immigrants to Victoria in 1849. These resources, taken together, suffice to promise prosperity and comfort to its inhabitants. They now number about five millions.
Those who have colonized this favoured land were well fitted to develop it. Nearly all came from the British Isles — 98 per cent is the figure usually given — and the proportion of the English, Scottish, Irish, and Welsh stocks is almost the same as that which these four elements bear to one another in the British Isles, the Scots and the Irish being slightly in excess of the other two, as both these are races of emigrative tendencies. Similarly the proportion of Anglicans, Nonconformists, and Roman Catholics differs little from that in the United Kingdom. Nearly all belonged to the middle and upper sections of the working class, for the cost of a long voyage debarred the very poor, so that class was represented almost solely by the convicts, who in days now long past were transported to New South Wales, Tasmania, and Western Australia.1 The criminal strain thus introduced is deemed to have been now washed out, for there is, it would seem, a tendency for the average type to reestablish itself in the third generation, not to add that in the old days offences now thought comparatively slight were punished by transportation. In this sunny climate the British stock has wonderfully thriven. The rural Australian is tall, lithe, and active. Now that the great majority of the population is native born, one can begin to speak of an Australian bodily and mental type, for though there are differences between the several colonies, the population is practically homogeneous, more homogeneous than that of France or Great Britain or the United States. Each settlement grew up separately, but under similar influences, and with a flow of population hither and thither, unchecked (save as regards West Australia) by natural barriers.
The influences that have moulded this type are due partly to climate, partly to the conditions of life and industry in the new country. The Australian is fundamentally an Englishman, differing less from the average Englishman in aspect, speech, and ideas than does the man of British stock either in Canada or in the United States. But the sunnier climate enables him to live more in the open air than does the Briton. He has preserved something of the adventurous spirit and easy-going ways of the bush settler. Poverty has not weighed him down, for in Australia a healthy man need never remain poor, so high are wages and so ample the opportunities for rising in the world. He is hopeful, confident, extremely proud of his country, which he thinks “the latest birth of Time.” It is natural to compare him, as he compares himself, with the American. He has the same energy and resourcefulness, but takes life less hardly, does not exhaust himself by a continual strain, loves his amusements, thinks more of the present than of the future.
Of the five great races of Western and Central Europe the British has so far shown the greatest capacity for developing “sub-types” under new conditions. Until he is absorbed into the surrounding population, the German, the Frenchman, the Italian, the Russian remains in other lands substantially the same as he was at home. But the Englishman in the United States, in Upper Canada, and in Australasia, though retaining what may be called the bony framework of his English character, has in each country undergone a sea-change when he has crossed the ocean into new climes whose conditions have evoked latent qualities in his nature.
The economic conditions of Australia have determined the occupations and distribution of the people, and these have in turn exerted an influence upon its political life which we shall presently have to note.
When settlement extended to the interior, the most obvious source of wealth was to be found in sheep-raising, and immense tracts of land were taken up for this purpose. Sheep have not generally been profitable except on large runs, partly because in the dry areas a wide run is needed for even a moderate flock, partly also because the loss of stock in the occasional droughts is so heavy that only large owners possessing some capital can escape ruin, though latterly smaller runs have begun to be combined with the tillage of wheat fields. The great size of sheep runs checked the growth of small agricultural holdings and kept population low in these rural areas, because a pastoral estate needs few hands, except at shearing time, of which more anon. Moreover, as the land suitable for tillage was usually wooded, some capital was needed to get rid of the forest before cultivation could begin. This retarded the growth of such comparatively small farms as prevail in the north-western prairies of the United States and Canada.
For the same reason the country towns, centres of distribution for their neighbourhoods, also remained small. The vast quantities of wool and such other produce as was raised for export by the slow extension of timber-cutting and of agricultural production gave plenty of employment to those who handled it at the ports, which were few, for nearly all the export trade of New South Wales centred at Sydney, almost the only good harbour on the coast of that State (then a colony); while similarly most of the trade of Victoria centred at Melbourne. Thus these two cities grew to dimensions altogether disproportionate to the whole population of their respective colonies. The growth of Melbourne was further accelerated, first by the discovery of gold not far from it, which drew a vast swarm of adventurers, and subsequently, after the gold fever had died down, by the adoption of a policy of protection for local manufactures by the Victorian legislature in order to secure employment at high wages for the workers of that colony. The only other considerable industry in Australia, at the time when gold production diminished, was coal-mining. It has collected a large population in a few districts, but has not led to the growth of manufactures on a great scale over the country, and the towns of the second order are still small. There is, except in Tasmania with its considerable rainfall, practically no water power. Thus Australia shows a contrast between two very large and two somewhat smaller cities (Adelaide and Brisbane), which together include more than one-third (about 40 per cent) of the whole population of the continent, and vast thinly-grassed and sparsely-peopled rural areas, shading off into an arid wilderness. Population grows slowly, for immigration has received lukewarm encouragement, and the rate of natural increase is extremely low. Those small land-owning farmers, who are so valuable an element in Canada and the northern” United States, are in Australia a slender though no doubt an increasing body. The middle class is the weaker through the want of this particular element; yet there are no great extremes of wealth and poverty. Poverty indeed there is none, for the wage-earning classes live so much more comfortably than do the like classes in France, Germany, or England, as to be up to what is there called a middle-class standard. Neither are there huge fortunes on the European or North American scale. A few of the ranch-owners or “squatters,” called “pastoralists,” and still fewer of the leading business men, have amassed considerable wealth, but rarely does any one leave property exceeding £1,000,000. The fortunes of the rich are not sufficient either to sharpen the contrast between social extremes or to make possible those vast accumulations of capital which are in the United States denounced as a political danger. Neither does wealth flaunt itself: no stately mansions in the country: no sumptuous palaces in the cities, and as the wealth is all new, it has not had time enough to turn itself into rank. Nowhere can one find a stronger sentiment of equality, that antagonism between the wage-earning and the employing class which the traveller feels in the atmosphere as soon as he lands in Australia, being economic rather than social, for the rich do not presume on their position and have never oppressed — they never had the chance of oppressing — their poorer neighbours.
The Australians brought from England, along with its other traditions, a respect for law, so order was firmly enforced from the first days of each colony. There was not, as in North America and South Africa, serious frontier warfare against natives, accustoming men to the use of firearms. The occasional brigandage of early days, known as bush-ranging, has long been extinct, nor did lynch law ever come into use. Political party organizations were not so fully developed in the old country, when the settlers left it, as they are now, but the settlers, though they belonged to a class which in the Britain of those days furnished few candidates for Parliament, possessed the average Englishman's interest in public affairs, with the habit of holding public meetings and forming associations for every sort of purpose. They were bold in speech, independent in thought and action, showing no such tendency to look to and make use of the government as has become conspicuous in their descendants of this generation, scantily equipped with knowledge, but full of the spirit of adventure and the love of freedom. All expected that self-government would in due course be granted to each colony when its population became sufficiently large; and when self-government came they relished it and worked it as to the manner born.
Responsible self-government, i.e. a Legislature with a Cabinet on the British model, was bestowed upon New South Wales (the oldest colony), Victoria, South Australia, and Tasmania in 1855–56. The Constitutions, prepared in each colony by its Council, were, with a few changes, enacted by the British Parliament. Queensland received a self-governing constitution in 1859–60 (when it was separated from New South Wales), Western Australia in 1890. In South Australia universal male suffrage existed from the first for the popular House of Parliament; in the others it was introduced before long and with little opposition. Much later, the suffrage was extended to women. The questions that occupied the Governments of these colonies were chiefly economic, some relating to the allotment and enjoyment and taxation of land, others to fiscal policy, including tariffs. However after 1883 the general scramble among the great European Powers for unoccupied territories all over the world began, when it extended to the Western Pacific, to bring external affairs to the minds of Australians, who felt that their interest in the islands, especially New Guinea and the New Hebrides, which lie north and north-east of them, could be more effectively pressed if the whole people spoke through one authority. This helped to revive the project, often previously discussed, of creating a federation of all the Australian colonies, a scheme naturally indicated by commercial and fiscal considerations, but retarded by the jealous care with which each community sought to guard its local independence. After long debates in two Conventions (1891 and 1897–99), a draft Federal constitution was at last adopted by a vote of the people in every colony, and submitted to the British Parliament, which passed it into law (with one slight change) in A.D. 1900. Thus was created a new National Government for the whole continent under the title of the Commonwealth of Australia, while the old colonies were turned into States, each retaining its local government, and exercising such of the former powers as it had not surrendered to the Federal authority.
The constitutional system of Australia and its practical working are interesting both in respect of their slight differences from England and of their wider differences from the United States, but for the purposes of this treatise attention must be concentrated on what is most distinctive in the politics of the country, that is to say, upon those points in which it has given to the world something new, methods, schemes, or practices containing a promise or a warning for the future.
Four points stand out as specially noteworthy.
Australia is the land in which the labouring masses first gained control of the legal government and displayed their quality as rulers.
It is the country in which first a closely knit party organization, compelling all members of the Legislature who belong to it to act as a compact body, became absolute master of a representative Assembly.
It has extended further than any other country (except New Zealand) has done the action of the State in undertaking industrial enterprises and in determining by law the wages and hours of labour.
It is the country in which material interests have most completely occupied the attention of the people and dominated their politics, so that it affords exceptional opportunities for estimating the influence which the predominance of such interests exerts on the intellectual and moral side of national life. These four points, however, though the special objects of our study, cannot be understood without some account of the machinery of government and the way in which it works. I begin with the Commonwealth.
The Government of The Commonwealth
The Federal Government has received narrower powers than those enjoyed by the Dominion Government in Canada and by the Government of the Union of South Africa, but in some respects wider than those of the National Government in the United States. Powers not expressly allotted to it are, as in the United States, deemed to be reserved to the States, whereas in Canada the Provinces retain only such powers as have been expressly delegated to them, the residue not specifically enumerated being vested in the Dominion.
Trade — interstate and external — tariffs, currency, banking, patents, weights and measures, marriage and divorce, are in Australia Federal matters, as are also old-age pensions and arbitration in labour disputes which extend beyond the limits of one State, while the States retain legislation on property and most civil rights, industries, land administration, mining, railways, education. Reasons to be hereafter explained have led to proposals which would considerably extend the range of Federal authority, and many decisions have been rendered by the High Court of Australia, which is the ultimate Court of Appeal in the Commonwealth, upon the questions that have arisen as to the interpretation of the general terms employed in the Constitution.
The Commonwealth Parliament consists of two Houses. The Senate has thirty-six members, six from each State, all the States, great and small alike, being (as in the United States) equally represented. The senators are elected for six years by universal suffrage, not in districts, but by a general popular vote over the whole State. One-half retire every three years, so the Senate is a continuous body except when specially dissolved in consequence of a deadlock between the two Houses. The House of Representatives has seventy-five members, chosen in one-membered constituencies by universal suffrage. Its term is three years, subject to the power of earlier dissolution which the Governor-General can exert on the advice of his Ministers. Members of both Houses now receive a salary of £1000 a year.1 The British Crown legally retains a power of veto, but this is in practice not exercised unless where some grave imperial interest might be deemed to be involved.
Executive power resides nominally in the Governor-General, as representing the British Crown, but virtually in the Cabinet of high officials who form his Ministry, and who must be members of the Legislature and must (in practice) have the support of a majority in the House of Commons. Subordinate officials are, as in Britain, appointed nominally by the Crown but practically by the Ministry, and form, as in Britain, a permanent Civil Service.
In order to make the Commonwealth Government independent of any State influences, its seat has been placed at a spot (called Canberra, formerly Yass Canberra) almost equally distant from Sydney and from Melbourne, lying in a thinly-peopled region far off the main lines of railway communication, and at present equally difficult of access from both cities. A space of about 900 square miles has been ceded by New South “Wales for this purpose to the Commonwealth, and buildings are being erected there to provide accommodation for the Parliament and the administrative offices. Meantime the seat of government is at Melbourne.
The Federal Constitution can be amended by Parliament, i.e. by an absolute majority in both Houses, or by an absolute majority in one House, given twice, with an interval of three months intervening, and plus submission to the other House; but amendments must be thereafter approved by a majority of the States and also by a majority of the whole people voting simultaneously over the whole Commonwealth. In this case only does the Australian people exercise as of right that power of direct legislative action which is so frequent both in many of the United States and in Switzerland, where it is called by the names of Referendum and Initiative. It was, however, held to be within the power of Parliament, in such exceptional circumstances as were those of the Great War, to refer a matter to the vote of the people for their advice, a course taken in 1915 and 1917, when their opinion on the subject of compulsory military service was desired. This procedure for amendment is prompt and easy compared to that prescribed for the amendment of the United States Constitution, a natural result of the familiarity with swift parliamentary action which the framers of the Australian Constitution possessed.1 When a question is submitted to the people to be voted on by them, every voter receives a document setting forth the arguments for and against the proposals, as well as the full text of the proposals themselves.
The Commonwealth administers two Territories not included in any State, besides the Federal district of Canberra. One is the large region (532, 620 square miles), lying along the north coast of the Continent, between Queensland and West Australia, and extending a long way inland. It was transferred by South Australia to the Federal Government in 1911. The other is the South-Eastern or British part of the great Asiatic island called Papua or New Guinea (90,540 square miles), which was annexed by Great Britain in 1888, and by an Act of 1906 entrusted, along with some groups of islands lying near it, to the administrative care of the Federal Government. To this part there has recently (1920) been added another part, about 70,000 square miles, formerly owned by Germany, but now allotted to Australia as mandatory of the League of Nations.
The State Governments
The Constitutions of the six States, all of course older than that of the Commonwealth, are reproductions of the British frame of government, having been originally created by statutes of the British Parliament, though subsequently modified by acts of the State Legislatures. In each there are two Houses. The smaller, which is called the Legislative Council, consists, in New South Wales and Queensland, of persons who have been nominated by the Crown, i.e. by the Ministry of the day, for life. In Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania its members are elected for six years by voters possessing a certain small property qualification. The voters so qualified are between 30 and 40 per cent of those who elect the Assembly by universal suffrage. These Councils are continuous bodies, a part of the members retiring every second or third year. Members are usually re-elected. The larger House, called the Assembly, is in every State elected by universal suffrage for three years. Members receive salaries which vary from £150 (in Tasmania) up to £500 (New South Wales), and have also free passes over the Government railways. Each State has a Governor appointed by the Crown (usually for five years), and a Cabinet selected from members of the Legislature by the person whom the Governor summons to form an administration, such person being usually the leader of the party which at the moment constitutes the majority of the Assembly. The Governor, acting on the advice of his Ministers, can dissolve the Legislature, and can also, acting on behalf of the Crown, refuse consent to a Bill or refer it to England for the consideration of the Crown, but this right is now so very rarely exercised that it constitutes no check on self-government. Judges are appointed for life by the Governor on the recommendation of his Ministers, being removable only (as in Britain) upon a resolution passed by both Houses. The State Constitutions (as already observed) can, like that of the United Kingdom, be changed by the ordinary process of legislation.
The Judiciary in the Commonwealth and the States
Both in the Commonwealth and in the States, the judicial arrangements follow those of England. All the superior judges are appointed for life by the Governor, acting on the advice of his Ministers, and are removable only upon an address passed by the Legislature. They receive salaries sufficient to attract the best men from the bar. In the Commonwealth there has so far been created only one court, viz. the High Court, which is the final Court of Appeal for all Australia in all matters, whether arising under Federal or under State law. Its decisions are enforced by State machinery, while, conversely, the Commonwealth Parliament may invest State courts with Federal jurisdiction. There is also in the Commonwealth a Court of Conciliation and Arbitration (whereof more anon), and also a semi-judicial, semi-administrative body called the Interstate Commission with members irremovable during their seven years' term, among whose functions is that of investigating commercial matters and watching the operation of the tariff.
General Character of the Australian Governments
In its practical working from year to year, the Commonwealth is, and each State also continues to be as a State what it was as a colony, a Crowned Republic, i.e. a community monarchical in its form, but republican in its spirit and operation, and indeed more democratic than many republics are. Each community is attached, not only legally, but by what are now the stronger ties of sentiment and reciprocal interest, both to the mother country and to the other British self-governing Dominions. The growth of a strong Australian national patriotism has not diminished the feeling of the Unity of the British peoples all over the world.
These Australian frames of government, Federal and State, the legal outlines of which will be presently supplemented by a description of their working, are highly democratic. In the Commonwealth we find:
Universal suffrage at elections for both Houses of Legislature.
One-membered districts equal, broadly speaking in population.
No plural voting.
Payment of members.
No veto by the Executive.
Complete dependence of the Executive upon the larger House of the Legislature.
Scarcely any restrictions on legislative power (other than those which safeguard State rights).
Prompt and easy means of altering the Constitution.
These democratic features exist in the States also, save that in them Second Chambers, not based on universal suffrage, impose a certain check on the popular House. On the other hand the State Legislatures, having full power to alter their Constitutions by ordinary legislation, are not required to invoke a popular vote for that purpose.
One can hardly imagine a representative system of government in and through which the masses can more swiftly and completely exert their sovereignty. Of them may be said what Macaulay said, not quite correctly, of the United States Government. It is “all sail and no ballast.” The voters may indulge their uncontrolled will for any and every purpose that may for the moment commend itself to them.
The Federal Constitution is more democratic than are the State Constitutions in respect of the fact that its Senate is not a conservative force, being elected by the same suffrage as is the Assembly, and by a method which gives greater power to an organized popular majority. It will be seen presently that this has contributed to make the Labour party desire an extension of the powers of the Commonwealth to the detriment of the States.
Comparing the Commonwealth Constitution with that of the United States, the former is the more “radical,” for it contains neither a veto power, like that of the American President, nor those numerous restrictions on legislative power which fetter Congress, while its method of altering the Constitution itself is more promptly applicable. On the other hand, most of the American State Constitutions depart further from English precedents than do those of the Australian States, for the former vest the elections both of judges and of administrative officials in the people, and many of them contain provisions for direct popular legislation by Initiative and Referendum. Yet as the American States give a veto to the State Governor, and limit in many directions the power of the Legislatures, the Australian schemes of government seem, on the whole, more democratic than the American, though some of the reasons for this view cannot be given till we have examined the practical working of Australian institutions. Whoever has read the chapters on Canada will not need to be told how much less democratic is the form of its government than is that of Australia.
Some one may ask, What of Britain herself? Has not her Constitution become in recent years almost as democratic as is the Australian? The electoral suffrage is practically universal, and the working-class commands a majority in almost every constituency? And is not the House of Commons supreme, though one delay is still interposed before its will can be carried into law, supreme even over those fundamental laws which are vaguely called the Constitution? Did not Parliament, early in the recent war, suspend, with scarce any debate, nearly every constitutional guarantee, and place the executive in uncontrolled power?
All this is true. The United Kingdom, which is now, so far as respects its frame of government, more of a democracy than the United States, is almost as much a democracy as the Australian Commonwealth. In practice, however, this is not yet the case. The difference lies in the different social and economic phenomena of the countries, and in a few traditions of public life, which, though now fast disappearing, have still more influence in old nations like England and France than tradition can have in any new community. Some of these phenomena I may here indicate, in order to explain the conditions under which Australian institutions have to work, reserving for a later stage remarks on those features of Australian character which determine the public opinion of the nation.
australian legislatures and executives
IN Australia, as in Britain, Parliament is the centre of political activity, the mainspring of the mechanism of Government. It is complete master of the Executive. No veto checks it. Every Minister must sit in it. There is no other avenue to public life, for there are no offices in the direct election of the people, and in Parliament the popular House is the predominant power, for it makes and unmakes the executive government and has the chief voice in finance.
As already observed, every adult in the Commonwealth and in the States possesses the suffrage. The admission of women was carried both in the States and in the Commonwealth with little controversy. People merely said, “Why not?” No steps were taken to ascertain whether the bulk of the women desired the right of voting. The women who actually demanded it were a comparatively small section, but little or no opposition came from the rest. The ballot does not permit it to become known how the women vote, but it is generally believed that in the richer classes fewer women than men vote, while the Labour Unions bring the working women to the poll in as large numbers as the men. So far as can be ascertained, the introduction of female suffrage has had no perceptible effect on politics, except that of strengthening the Labour party.1 Women of the richer sort seem to take little interest in public affairs, or at any rate to talk less about them than women of the same class do in England. They are said usually to vote with their male relatives, and no one suggested to me that their possession of the vote had induced domestic dissensions. Though plural voting exists nowhere, owners of property may in Victoria and Queensland cast their vote either in their place of residence or in some other place where they are registered in respect of their property.
Electoral districts are, broadly speaking, equal in population, though sometimes the rural areas contain fewer voters, this being thought fair in order to secure due consideration for rural opinion. The Commonwealth Constitution provides for an automatic redistribution of seats in proportion to population. Except in Tasmania, where the introduction of Proportional Representation required the creation of districts, each of which was to return a number of members, constituencies have been generally single membered, but Victoria, Western Australia, and Queensland have tried various forms of “preferential” or “contingent” voting. New South Wales in 1910 substituted preferential voting for the second ballot, and has now nine city electorates, each returning five members, and fifteen rural, each returning three. Proportional Representation, once enacted for the Commonwealth, was repealed by the Labour party when they held a majority.
Voting by post is permitted in Victoria and West Australia. “Absent voting” (i.e. the right for an elector to record his vote at a polling place elsewhere than in his division) has been introduced for Commonwealth elections and in Queensland. Candidates are not required by law or custom to be resident in the districts they sit for, but residents are generally selected as being better known locally. There is a tendency, less strong than in England, but much stronger than in the United States, to re-elect a sitting member.
The counting of votes at elections appears to be everywhere honestly conducted, and one hears no complaints of bribery, common as that offence used to be in the United Kingdom, and is still in parts of the United States and of Canada. A member is, however, expected to use his influence to secure various benefits for his district, such as roads, bridges, and other public works, an evil familiar in many other countries. The expenses of elections, generally limited by law, are in the States mostly light, usually ranging from £50 to £200, while for Labour candidates they are borne by Unions or political labour leagues. As the Commonwealth constituencies are much larger, the cost is in these often heavy.1 Where the legal limit (which is £100 for a House of Commons district and £250 for a Senatorial election) has to be exceeded, the candidate's party or friends supply the money needed.2 Elections are said to be growing more expensive, and members of the richer sort are beginning to be called upon to subscribe to various public or quasi-public local objects, a habit which has latterly become frequent in England.3
We may now pass to the Houses of Legislature, beginning with those of the States as being the older.
The Two Houses in the States
The bicameral system established when responsible government was first granted to each colony, was suggested partly by the example of the mother country, partly to provide a check on the supposed danger of hasty and ill-considered action by the more popular House.
In all the States the popular House, called the Assembly, is the driving force and dominant factor. It controls finance, it makes and unmakes Ministries. To it, therefore, men of ability and ambition flow. Its importance, though reduced by the creation above it of a National Government, is still sufficient to secure among its members, especially in the largest States, men of shrewd practical capacity, accustomed to political fighting, and quickly responsive to any popular sentiment.
Very different are the Legislative Councils. They are comparatively quiet, steady-going bodies, whose members, mostly belonging to the professional or business classes, and enjoying a longer tenure of their seats, are of a more conservative temper. Their sessions are fewer and shorter, their debates quieter and scantily reported in the press. Sitting for life or for six years at least, and usually re-elected at the expiry of their time, they acquire a valuable experience, and are less at the beck and call of a Ministry or of their own party than men are in the Assembly; indeed many of them claim to stand outside party, which has naturally less power in a body whose votes do not affect a Ministry's tenure of office. Though the scope of their action, as it does not include finance, is narrower than that of the Assembly, they sometimes amend or reject its Bills, and occasionally persist in their view, feeling it to be their function to arrest the more drastic or (as they would say) hasty and experimental measures of the popular body, on whose powers they constitute the only check. Thus many disputes have arisen between the two Houses, and many efforts made to get rid of the Councils, the Labour party having declared its purpose to extinguish them or to elect them by universal suffrage. As regards the nominee Councils it seems to be now settled that when deadlocks arise the Ministry in power may add a number of new nominees sufficient to carry its measures. Queensland deals with deadlocks by a popular vote or “Referendum.” 1 For the case of the elective Councils, in which the consent of the Council itself would be required for a change, no complete solution has yet been reached. These bodies, being representative, usually offer a firmer resistance to Assembly Bills than do the nominated Councils, but both sets of Councils have in the long run accepted measures distasteful to themselves when convinced that these had behind them the permanent mind and will of the people and not the temporary wishes or electioneering artifices of a Ministry.
Except when the aforesaid disputes arise, these Councils play a subordinate and little-noticed part in State politics. They do not resemble the Second Chambers (Senates) of the States in the American Union nor are they comparable to the French Senate, for they contain few men of political prominence, and do not greatly affect public opinion. But their record, taken as a whole, supports the case for the existence of a revising Chamber, for though they have sometimes delayed good measures, they have often improved legislation by giving time for the people to look where they were going, and by thus compelling the advocates of hasty change to reconsider and remodel their proposals.
The Federal Senate
When the foremost statesmen of Australia drafted the Federal Constitution, they clung to the time-honoured precedent of a two-chambered Legislature. Not seeking to create a check on the democratic spirit, they rejected the notion of election by limited constituencies, and found reasons for the existence of a Senate not only in the benefits which the revision of measures by a Second Chamber may confer, but also in the need for some body to represent the equality of the States and guard the rights of the smaller States from the numerical preponderance of the larger in the House of Commons. The body contemplated was to be something stronger and better than the Councils in the States, a comparatively small body, in which cool and experienced men, who wished to escape frequent elections and the rough and tumble struggles of the House of Commons, might sit for six years at least, addressing themselves thoughtfully to the great problems of legislation. Thus it received legal powers equal to those of the House, save that it does not turn out Ministries and cannot amend (though it may reject) finance Bills. When in 1898 the question arose how the Senate should be chosen, the framers of the Constitution were informed that American opinion, having then come to disapprove that plan of electing United States senators by the State Legislatures which had formerly won the admiration of foreign observers, was turning towards the idea of an election by a popular vote all over each State.1 Moved by this consideration, and probably thinking such a direct election more consonant to democratic principles, the Convention resolved to vest the choice of senators in the people of each State as one undivided constituency, while following the American precedent of giving to each State the same number of senators, though New South Wales-had (in 1901) a population of 1,360,000 and Tasmania of 172,000 only.
All the expectations and aims wherewith the Senate was created have been falsified by the event. It has not protected State interests, for those interests have come very little into question, except when controversies have arisen between New South Wales and Victoria. Neither has it become the home of sages, for the best political talent of the nation flows to the House of Commons, where office is to be won in strenuous conflict. The Senate has done little to improve measures, though this is largely due to a cause unforeseen by its founders, which will be presently explained. Not having any special functions, such as that control of appointments and of foreign policy which gives authority to the American Senate, its Australian copy has proved a mere replica, and an inferior replica, of the House. Able and ambitious men prefer the latter, because office and power are in its gift, and its work is more important and exciting, for most of the Ministers, and the strongest among them, are needed there, while the Senate is usually put off with two of the less vigorous. Thus from the first it counted for little. When the same party holds a majority in both Houses, no conflict between the Houses arises, and the Senate does little more than pass hurriedly, at the end of the session, the measures sent up from the House. But whenever the Senate majority is opposed to the House majority, trouble may be looked for.
This comparative failure of the Senate, admitted on all hands, is partly due to an unforeseen result of the method of election by a popular State vote. Each elector having three votes for the three seats to be filled, a well-organized party issues a list of its three Senatorial candidates, and the issues submitted being the same, all the party electors vote that list without regard to the personal merits of the candidates, which, though they might count for much in a one-membered constituency, count for little in the area of a whole State. What chance in a vast constituency has a candidate of making himself personally known? He can succeed only through his party. The tendency is irresistible to cast a straight party vote for the three whom the party managers put forward, so it is the best organized party with the most docile supporters that wins. Thus in the election of 1910 the Labour party, being far better organized than its opponents, carried every seat in six States, being half of the whole Senate. In 1913, when another election of half the Senate arrived, the same party carried three seats in three States, while three seats in two States and one seat in another went to the less compact Liberal party. At a special dissolution of both Houses in 1914 the Labour party, while obtaining a majority of eight only in the Assembly, secured thirty-one out of thirty-six seats. The electoral majorities were narrow, but the majority in the Senate became overwhelming. Such a result turned men's thoughts towards some scheme of proportional representation which would enable the minority to secure more members, and might give a better chance to men of eminent personal qualities; and a scheme of that nature is now on its trial.1
The Commonwealth House conducts its business on the same general lines as those followed in Great Britain and Canada, Ministers sitting in it, leading the majority, and carrying their Bills through the regular stages. Questions are addressed to the heads of departments, and the Speaker is, as in Britain (but not in the United States), expected to be an impartial chairman, though he, as also the President of the Senate, is now always chosen afresh at the beginning of each Parliament from the dominant party.2 The closure of debate, an inevitable safeguard against persistent obstruction, called in Australia “stone walling,” is habitual, and a time limit is imposed on speeches. Bills levying taxation or appropriating money to the public service must originate in the House, but the Senate, which can reject, cannot amend them, for this would in practice amount to giving a power to initiate, though it may (and does) return them, suggesting amendments for the consideration of the House. The House is the vital centre of political life, but its vitality was impaired when the Labour Caucus (whereof more anon) was established, for the centre of gravity shifted to that caucus in which the Labour senators sit along with their comrades of the House. When Labour holds the majority the caucus controls everything; and debate, except so far as it relates to details not settled by the caucus, or makes an appeal to the public outside, is thrown away, since it does not influence the decision, the majority having already determined in secret how it will vote.
This being the machinery of parliamentary government, the men who work it belong to what is practically the same class in the Commonwealth and in the State Legislatures, although the average of ability is somewhat higher in the Commonwealth Legislature, because it opens a wider field to ambition. Successful State politicians sometimes transfer their activities to the Commonwealth.
Europeans must be cautioned not to apply to any of the new countries the standards of education and intellectual power by which they judge the statesmen of their own old countries. In Australia there is no class with leisure and means sufficient to enable it to devote itself to public life. Some few men there are rich enough to live in ease upon the fortunes they have made in business or as sheep farmers, but scarcely any of such persons choose a life of Australian ease, for if they wish for idle enjoyment, they probably go to England, if they stay at home, they continue to occupy themselves with their sheep runs or their business. Not many aspire to a political career, which lacks the attractions that have hitherto surrounded it in European countries. It is (happily) not lucrative, and it carries no more social importance than the membership of a city or county council carries in England. Still less can the man who has his fortune to make turn aside to politics. The pastoralist lives on his station and must look after his flocks; the manufacturer or banker or shipping agent cannot sacrifice his mornings to work in a State Legislature, and cannot, unless his home is in Melbourne, think of entering the Commonwealth Parliament, where constant attendance is required.1 This applies largely to lawyers also, and in fact no modern legislatures are so scantily provided with lawyers as those of Australia; they are fewer than in Britain or Canada, far fewer than in the United States or France. In 1919 only one was sitting as a representative from Victoria. When the seat of Government has been transferred to Canberra, now a remote country nook among the hills, far from everywhere, even the possibility of a Melbourne barrister will be cut out. The level of attainments is not high among politicians, most of whom have had only an elementary, very few a university education. There is, moreover, a localism of spirit which thinks first of how a measure will affect a place or a trade, and there is a natural distrust of all reasonings that seem abstract. Of quick intelligence and shrewd mother-wit there is indeed no lack, but rare are the well-stored and highly-trained minds capable of taking a broad view of political and economic questions.
One may regret that a larger number of men, trained to affairs by business or professional life, do not give to their country the benefit of their intellectual resources. But it is to be remembered that such men live chiefly in the large cities, and would be almost unknown in country constituencies, distances being greater than in England, and many electoral districts in the “back blocks” so large that to canvass them requires a great deal of time and expense. Putting all things together, only a quite exceptional public spirit will induce a man in good business to seek election to a seat in a State Parliament, for he must neglect his work, he has a good deal of rudeness and possibly even abuse to face, and he is expected, far more than formerly, to fetch and carry for his constituents and toil for the party. Local fame and £600 a year were not, nor, probably, will £1000 a year be sufficient to outweigh these drawbacks, not to add that such a man, unless possessed of an attractive personality which can meet the ordinary elector on his own ground, is exposed to prejudice or suspicion on the ground of his belonging to the richer class. This kind of suspicion or aversion, scarcely known in Britain or in Canada, is dwelt on in Australia as an obstacle in the path of the educated man seeking to enter politics.
Both before and since Federation politics have been unstable in the States and the Commonwealth, with frequent shiftings of the majority, and, by consequence, frequent ministerial changes. Victoria once enjoyed eight ministries in seven years, South Australia had forty-one in forty years, and the Commonwealth had, between its birth in 1900 and 1910, seen seven administrations. The consolidation in 1909 of three parties into two, with a stricter party cohesion, made for a time these shiftings of power less frequent. But elections recur every three years, and in the legislatures of the States, comparatively small communities, personal feelings count for much. Want of tact in a Minister, some offence taken by, or selfish motive acting on, a little group of members, has sometimes led to the turning over of a few votes and the consequent fall of a Ministry. Party discipline was lax until the rise of the Labour party drove its opponents to greater stringency.
There was plenty of vigorous debating in the State Assemblies of last century, which saw the conflicts of strong and striking personalities, such as Robert Lowe, Sir Henry Parkes, Sir Graham Berry, William Bede Dalley, C. C. Kingston, G. H. Reid, Alfred Deakin, and others, not to speak of some who happily survive, though now no longer in Australian political life. One is often told that the present generation of parliamentarians does not equal the men of 1860 to 1890, that the debates are on a lower level, that there is less courtesy and dignity, that the term “politician” begins to be used in a disparaging sense. Such laudatio temporis acti is so common everywhere that one would discount these regrets for a better past were they not so widely expressed by thoughtful observers. There are to-day, as there have always been, a few men of eminent ability in public life. It would seem that there has been a decline in manners.1 Australian politicians fight “with the gloves off.” Offensive remarks are exchanged, as usually happens in small bodies where each knows the weaknesses of his fellow-members, imputations freely made, speeches constantly interrupted by interjected remarks. But scenes of violence, such as occasionally disgrace the Parliaments of Europe and America, seem to be almost unknown, and personal feuds are rare; personal attacks seeming to be no more resented than is roughness in a football match.
Neither the growth of the States nor the creation of the Commonwealth has caused a seat in Parliament to carry any more social prestige now than formerly, and it has added immensely to the work expected from a member. His constituents weary and worry him more than ever with requests, since the increase of State-controlled industries has so enlarged the number of State employees that the grievances which the member has to bring before the notice of a Minister or of Parliament grow in like proportion. The richer Australians dilate on the harm done by the payment of members, saying it has brought in many uneducated persons who come for the sake of the salary, and whose loyalty to their party is enforced by the fact that their income depends on their loyalty. But no one could tell me how it was possible to avoid the payment of members if it was desired to have the wage-earning class duly represented, nor were the old days adorned by quite so much dignity and disinterestedness as it is now pleasant to imagine.
the executive and the civil service
Both in the Commonwealth and in the several States the Executive Government consists of a group of Ministers, seldom exceeding seven, who are normally heads of one or more of the administrative departments, though there may often be found a “Minister without portfolio.” These form the Cabinet. All have seats in one or other house of the Legislature, and are supposed to represent the best political capacity of the party for the time being in the majority. The place of Prime Minister 1 is, according to British usage, taken by the statesman who has been commissioned by the Governor to form the administration.
The personal characters and careers of most ministers are pretty familiar to the whole community but, partly for this very reason, their dignity and social influence are not equal to those of ministers in Europe. It is only when a Prime Minister is a man of exceptional popular gifts or indispensable by his talents and the force of his will that he can dominate the Legislature through the confidence reposed in him by the people. Under the organization of the Labour party, ministers who belong to it are selected by and must obey, often (it is said) reluctantly, the directions of the party caucus, so that it is rather their personal influence in that body than their official position that counts. If this caucus system lasts, it may reduce the importance of oratorical talent, and make shrewdness in council and the capacity for handling men as individuals the qualities most helpful in the struggle for leadership.2
Cabinet Ministers are, as in Britain, practically the only members of the executive who are changed with a change of government. The rest of the regular civil service is permanent, i.e. removable only for misbehaviour or incompetence. In South Australia the person removed by the minister in charge of the department may appeal to an independent non-political Board, usually composed of high officials. For the lower posts there is everywhere a qualifying examination, the fairness of which is not questioned. In South Australia it is conducted by professors of the university. The minister usually appoints those who stand highest in the examination. Where the age of admission is low (in Victoria and Tasmania it is sixteen) tolerably good clerks are secured, but there is no certainty of getting talent of a higher kind. The more important appointments, and those which are more or less temporary, outside the regular service, are filled by the minister, who often selects with more regard to political services than to merit; but apart from these, and taking the State Governments generally, appointments seem to be fairly made, neither nepotism nor political motives seriously affecting them.
In all the States promotion goes practically by seniority, a method deemed necessary to prevent favouritism, but ill calculated to bring ability to the top. In filling the highest posts, especially where technical knowledge comes in, the Minister has a wider discretion. Tasmania, and (I think) other States also, permit a Minister when he can find no one in his department fit for some particular work, to get leave from the Civil Service Commission to bring in an outsider.
The salaries of employees, including those earning wages in constructional work or in Government industrial enterprises, are said to be in excess of those paid by private persons for services of the same kind, and there are persistent efforts to increase their numbers, efforts kept more or less at bay by the Public Service Acts. Government employees are in so far a privileged class, that they can make sure of a hearing and of easy treatment, but the rest of the wage-earners would resent their being generally paid on a higher scale. The pressure exercised, especially at elections, by the railwaymen in Victoria on members of the Legislature had in 1903 become so serious that the then Prime Minister, a man of exceptional force of character, induced the Legislature to pass an Act taking out of the territorial electoral divisions all persons in government employment, and placing them apart in two constituencies, each returning one member. This Act was of course unpopular with the working men, and was, after three years, repealed at the instance of another Ministry.1 The creation of Railway Commissioners has reduced but not altogether removed the evil, for Ministers still retain a power, exercisable in the last resort, which exposes them to parliamentary pressure. Government servants have formed themselves into several powerful Unions, and therethrough bear a part in determining the policy of the Labour party.
There exists in every State a Public Service Commission, which acts under the elaborate provisions of statutes defining the conditions of admission, promotion, salary, and discipline of the State services, matters which in Great Britain have in the main been left to departmental regulation. These Commissions have done good in keeping the civil service pure and outside politics. A similar Commission exists in the Commonwealth also, the laws of which permit greater freedom in promotion for efficiency. This freedom, however, opens a door to political patronage, and means are found for exempting particular appointments from the Civil Service rules. The statutory provision which had, as in the States, prohibited public servants from joining in active political work, was in the Commonwealth repealed, and they were merely forbidden to comment publicly on the conduct of any department or to disclose official information. In the Commonwealth, and also in New South Wales, government employees may appeal to the statutory Arbitration Courts for an increase in their salaries, a concession justified as less harmful than a permission to exert political pressure through Parliament.
Public opinion, alive to the dangers incident to the abuse of civil service patronage for political purposes, has, so far, succeeded in maintaining a fairly good standard. In the higher posts men of marked ability and efficiency are not wanting, but in some, at least, of the States, the supply of such men is insufficient. The Premier of a small State deplored to me the absence of any official corresponding to the permanent Under-Secretary of the chief departments of Government in London, declaring that for the lack of such men more work was thrown on ministers than they could adequately perform. It may be hoped that with the growth of the country and the increasing burdens laid by recent legislation on the administrative departments, posts in them will more frequently attract thoroughly educated men of exceptional capacity such as those who now in Britain win their places by a competitive examination at the age of twenty-two. But it will be necessary either to have more searching entrance examinations or to allow wider discretion to the selecting authority. At present less efficiency in the upper posts is the price paid for more impartiality in patronage.
Some few branches of administration have been committed to semi-judicial, semi-administrative Boards. In the Commonwealth the most important of these is the Inter-State Commission, already referred to, and suggested by the United States Inter-State Commerce Commission. Such non-political authorities have the advantage of being free to employ methods unhampered by routine regulations, and of exercising a better discrimination in selecting specially qualified subordinates.
In the Judicial system the example of England has been followed, and with the like salutary results, both in the States and in the Commonwealth. Judges are appointed by the Crown (i.e. by the responsible ministry) and for life, being removable only on an address by both Houses of the Legislature. The High Court of Australia, consisting of seven judges, has the right of determining constitutional questions, subject to an appeal to the British Privy Council when leave has been given by the Court. The judicial Bench, everywhere filled by men of ability and learning, selected, as in Britain, from the Bar, enjoys the confidence of the people, and no serious proposal has ever been made to fill it (as in most of the American States) by popular election, though it has been attempted in Parliament to obtain from ministers an announcement of the persons whom they meant to appoint. Partisans sometimes complain of decisions given when these lay down principles they dislike, or narrow the operation of measures they specially value. But no foreign critic or domestic grumbler has, so far as I know, impeached either the personal integrity of the judiciary or their conscientious desire to expound the law according to its true meaning and intent. This is the more satisfactory because many of the judges have, as in England, played a leading part in politics. That such men should put off their politics when they put on their robes is one of those features of the British system which have, at home and abroad, worked better than could have been predicted. No friend of Australia could wish anything better for her than that the power of appointing to the Bench, and particularly to the High Court which interprets the Constitution, shall continue to be exercised in that honest and patriotic spirit which searches for men of the highest character and most unbiassed mind, unregardful of their personal opinions upon any current questions that have a political aspect.
There is, however, one cloud in the sky. Questions affecting labour and wages which approach the confines of politics have been coming to the front in recent years. Acts have been passed by the Commonwealth Parliament, by or at the instance of a political party, the validity of which, contested on the ground that the Constitution had not given Parliament the power to deal with the subject, has become a party issue, just as questions of Constitutional interpretation regarding slavery became political issues in the United States before the War of Secession. Moreover, an important Commonwealth statute (to be referred to later), establishing compulsory arbitration in labour disputes, entrusted to a judge of the High Court the determination of disputes regarding wages and other conditions of labour, a function that is really rather administrative than judicial. Though no charges of unfairness have been made upon members of the High Court for their action in any of these issues, whether practical or purely legal, it may be difficult for Ministers who have to weigh the merits of persons considered for appointment to the Bench, to keep out of their thoughts the attitude such persons would be likely to take, as judges, upon the aforesaid delicate and highly controversial matters.1 It would be a misfortune for Australia, as well as a blow to the authority of the Constitution, if it came to be supposed that judges were appointed with a view to their action in judicial controversies. The strength of long tradition has, except at a few moments, kept English judges, though appointed by party Ministers, within the strait and narrow path, and a similar tradition now fortifies the Supreme Court of the United States. But Australia has hardly yet had time to form traditions, so her position is less assured.
Of Local Governments in Australia one may say what Pericles said of the Athenian women, that the highest praise is given by saying nothing about them, because silence means that local authorities have been discharging their daily duties quietly and well. The system is in all the States generally similar to that of England, save that some functions there left to the local authority are here undertaken by the State. In one respect it is in practice better, because both the municipal councils and those which administer the shires are elected without the intrusion of political partisanship. Election is on a rate-paying franchise.2 The Mayor, chosen by the Council,3 is only its chairman, not, as in most American cities, the holder of wide executive powers. Australian municipalities show few of the evils from which the larger cities of the United States and two or three of the larger cities of Canada have suffered. In one city only has administration been marked by scandals. There is doubtless in others a little occasional jobbery, but on the whole things are as honestly managed as in the towns of England and Scotland. The provision of gas, electricity, and water is usually made by the cities, which in some cases derive revenue also from markets and cattle saleyards. Their financial condition is described as satisfactory, for though some have incurred large debts, the expenditure is represented by valuable property, and there are sinking funds for reducing city indebtedness. All municipal work is unpaid, but in large cities a sum is granted to the Mayor for defraying the expense of public hospitality; and this extends (in Victoria) to the presidents of Shire Councils. The maintenance of public order, together with asylums, prisons, and the expenses of justice, are left to the State, which, there being no poor law, votes money for charities and subsidizes some benevolent institutions. Old-age pensions are now a Commonwealth matter. Roads are made sometimes by the State, but generally by the shires and municipalities, with the aid, however, of a State subsidy. Much money has been expended upon tramways, which, except a few in private hands, belong to the States, as do nearly all the railroads.
Rural local government has, owing to the sparseness of population in the interior, never attained the importance it has long held in Switzerland and in the northern United States, nor has it done much to cultivate the political aptitudes of the people and vivify their interest in good administration.
Throughout Australia the police is efficient, a fact the more creditable because there exist large mountainous and thinly peopled areas not far from the great cities which would afford a convenient refuge to malefactors, as they did in the old days of the bush-rangers. Lynch law is unknown. The people, as in England and in Canada, take their stand on the side of the law, and the administration of the law justifies their confidence.
Education,1 which in early days it had been left to the denominations to provide, is now entirely taken over by the States, though there remain a good many private Roman Catholic elementary schools and a number of private secondary schools, unsectarian and sectarian. The conditions of a country where the population was widely scattered, and in the rural areas very sparse, compelled State action, and the want of local interest and local resources ended by completely centralizing it. The localities resisted every attempt to make them bear part of the charge of erecting and maintaining schools, while ministries and politicians found in the allocation of grants from the State treasury means for strengthening their position in doubtful constituencies. The State, as bearing the cost, exerts all the control; the teachers are deemed to be a part of the civil service. In recent years State Governments have shown an increasing zeal for the extension and improvement of education, Labour ministries certainly no less than others, and the sums expended on public instruction have continued to grow, till in 1912–13 they had reached the sum of £4,101,860 (or 17s. 8d. per head) for all the States as against £3,000,000 (13s. 10d.) per head in 1908–9. School buildings are still often defective, but the salaries of teachers and the quality of teaching have been rising steadily. In elementary schools no fees are charged; attendance (though imperfectly enforced) is legally compulsory; and in districts where schools are few and far between, public provision is often made for the conveyance of the pupils. No religious instruction beyond the reading of the Bible is provided, but the clergy of the denominations are permitted to give it in the schools, at stated times, to the children of their respective flocks, if the parents desire it for them. The Roman Catholic Church complains that its members are required to contribute as tax-payers to the support of schools it disapproves, and demands support for those it maintains at its own cost, which are, however, in New South Wales where the Catholics are most numerous, attended by only 40 per cent of the Roman Catholic children.
The provision of secondary education, if still imperfect, is improving in quantity and quality. Schools of all grades are being brought into closer relations with the universities, and in some States the number of teachers who hold degrees is increasing. There are excellent agricultural colleges, but technical instruction in other branches is still deficient.
Whether education is suffering, or is likely to suffer, from being not only centralized but standardized and reduced to an undesirable uniformity, is a question on which Australian opinion is divided, though no one alleges that it has, as in many American cities, and in France also, “got into politics.” The teachers seem to be left free, and they come nearer than in England to being a united profession, in which merit can rise from humbler to higher posts.
Each State aids its university by a considerable public grant, but exercises no more authority than is implied by its being represented on every governing body.
Though State subventions are a proper recognition of the importance, especially in a new country where men's minds are chiefly occupied with business and amusement, of institutions dedicated not only to instruction but also to learning and science and research in all the fields of human activity, and though among the professors there are many men of conspicuous ability and distinction in their several spheres of work, the Universities have hitherto counted for less in the progress and the development of Australian life than the Universities have in that of America; and they have not, owing to their limited resources, had the chance of doing so much as the latter to raise the standard of knowledge and thought in the country. This, assuredly not the fault of their teaching staffs, seems due to a deficient appreciation among the people at large of the services seats of learning may render. It is to be hoped that men of wealth will, as has been done on a grand scale in the United States, add freely to the endowments, still small in proportion to their requirements, which the Universities have already received from donors who saw their value as factors in national progress. Nowhere in the world is there more need for the work which Universities can do for an advancing people.
australian parties and policies
That political parties would grow up in each colony so soon as responsible government had been granted was a matter of course, for where the powers and emoluments of office are prizes offered to the leaders of a majority in a legislature, its members are sure to unite and organize themselves to win these prizes. But upon what lines would parties be formed? The Whigs and Tories of the Mother Country lay far behind, and most of the questions which had been party issues in England did not exist here. There were, however, those opposite tendencies which always divide the men who reach forward to something new from the men who hold fast to the old, and there was also sure to come the inevitable opposition between the interests of the few who have a larger and the many who have a smaller share of the world's goods.
Some of the questions which have been the foundations of parties in Europe were absent. There were no race antagonisms, for the settlers were all of British stock, and hardly any religious antagonisms. Apart from local questions, important wherever a new community is making roads or railways or laying out towns, the matters that first occupied the assemblies were constitutional and economic. The former were easily disposed of by the enactment in every colony first of manhood suffrage and then of adult suffrage for elections to the popular House, but in Victoria, and somewhat later in South Australia, there were long struggles over the structure of the Upper Chamber.
Economic issues cut deeper and have been more permanent. They turned first upon the tenure of land, and took the form of a conflict between those called the squatters, who had early obtained large leaseholds, and others, the “free selectors,” who, coming later, were granted rights of acquiring free-holds out of such large leaseholds in order to increase the number of cultivating owners. Simultaneously, or a little later, fiscal controversies emerged, and in some colonies the two parties were for a long time distinguished as respectively the advocates either of a tariff for revenue only, or of a tariff for the protection of domestic industries. Other questions, such as the provision of religious education and the restriction of the sale of intoxicants, from time to time arose, but the most vital differences till near the end of last century concerned land and financial policy. The Free Trade party was generally dominant in New South Wales, the Protectionist in Victoria, which had a relatively larger manufacturing population.
Every party organization is compact and efficient in proportion to the forces it has behind it, be they those of racial or religious passion, or of political doctrine, or of attachment to a leader, or of material interest.
In the United States, besides those motives of traditional loyalty to a doctrine or a phrase or a name which prompt men to unite for political action, the pecuniary interest felt by the enormous number of persons holding or desiring to hold public office built up the party Machine. In England there was a driving force during most of the eighteenth and the first three-quarters of the nineteenth century in the influence exerted by the landowners and supporters of the Established Church on the one hand, and by the commercial classes and Nonconformists on the other. In Australia none of the aforesaid forces, except, to a slight extent, that of interest, was operative till recently, nor did any leader arise who exerted a strong personal fascination. Accordingly, the party organizations were loose and feeble. There were only two parties in the legislatures, the Ministerialists and the Opposition, the Ins and the Outs, but, except at moments of high tension, members passed easily from the one to the other. The leaders frequently made new combinations, and sometimes took up and carried measures they had previously opposed, while the mass of the voters were not permanently ranged under one or other party banner. Nothing was seen like that elaborate system of local committees which has existed in the United States for nearly a century, nor even like those local Liberal and Conservative Associations which grew up in Britain from about 1865 onwards. Australian conditions did not furnish, except in respect of the land question, such a social basis for parties as England had, nor was there, outside the legislatures, any class which had aught to gain from office, so party activity was less eager and assiduous than it has been in America. The fluidity of parties and want of organization were, however, to some extent compensated by the power of the newspapers, which led the voters at least as much as did the party chiefs, while the fact that nearly half of the electors lived in or near great cities made public meetings a constant and important means of influencing opinion and determining votes.
Towards the end of last century a change came, and other forces appeared which were destined to give a new character to Australian politics.
While in the legislatures the ceaseless strife of the Ins and Outs went on in the old British fashion, though with more frequent swings of the pendulum, the leaders of the working men were beginning to exert themselves outside the regular party lines. They pressed forward Labour questions, such as that of the Eight Hours' Day. Chinese immigration had been stopped under their pressure, because it threatened to affect the rate of wages. The English Dockers' Strike of 1889 had quickened the activities and roused the hopes of Australian trade unions, already well organized. In every colony Trade and Labour Councils, embracing and combining the efforts of a number of the existing Unions, began to be formed, and their leaders began to busy themselves with politics in a way distasteful to Unionists of the older type. Already in 1881 the Labour Unions of a New South Wales constituency had returned a member to the Legislature to advocate their aims. The example was followed in South Australia in 1887, in Victoria in 1891, in Queensland in 1892, in Western Australia in 1897, and in Tasmania in 1903, so Labour parties grew up in every Legislature. The movement received a stimulus from the great strike which, arising in Melbourne in 1890 out of a dispute between the Marine Officers' Association and their employers, spread far and wide over the country, and involved many industries. This, and another great strike (in 1894) of the wool-shearers, was attended with many disorders, in dealing with which the State Governments incurred the wrath of the Union leaders. The Unions continued to grow in membership and influence till their large membership, led by energetic men, came to constitute a vote with which candidates and ministers had to reckon. For a time they were content to press upon successive ministries the measures they desired, but when they came to form a considerable element in the legislatures, they adopted the plan, familiar from its use in the British House of Commons by the Irish Nationalists, of voting solidly as one body, and transferring their support to whichever of the old parties bid highest for it by a promise to comply with their demands. This was the easier because the two preexisting parties, divided chiefly on Protection or Free Trade, could practise a facile opportunism on labour issues.
When the first Parliament of the Australian Commonwealth was elected in 1900, there appeared in it a Labour party already numbering, in House and Senate, twenty-four out of a total of one hundred and eleven members. The two older parties, which had existed in the former colonies (now States), reappeared in the Federal Parliament. One was practically Protectionist, the other largely composed of Free Traders. The existence of these three parties promised ill for stability. The first ministry fell (after three years), defeated by a combination of Free Traders and Labourites. A Labour ministry came in, but although the General Election of 1903 had raised the numbers of the Labour party to twenty-six in a House of seventy-five, their strength was obviously insufficient, and after three months they fell, to be succeeded by another ministry, whose head was a Liberal, but which included both Protectionists and Free Traders. This administration was in its turn overthrown, after ten months of life, by the other two parties voting together against it. A ministry of a Protectionist colour followed, and held office for three years by judiciously “keeping in touch” with the Labour party. When the latter, having obtained many of the measures they desired, suddenly withdrew their support, these ministers fell, to be succeeded by a second Labour Cabinet. Its life also was short, for after six months the leaders of the other two parties, alarmed at some utterances of the Labour men, which seemed to be taking on more and more of a socialistic tinge, resolved to effect a fusion. Thereupon, by the joint efforts of two sets of politicians theretofore mutually hostile, the Labour men were turned out, and a Coalition Government installed at the end of 1909. Next year came the regular triennial dissolution of Parliament. The Labour party had been continuing to gain strength in the country, and on this occasion it was favoured by the occurrence, while the canvass was proceeding, of a strike among the coal-miners of New South Wales, which led to grave disorders and irritated the working class. The coalition of two theretofore antagonistic parties had, moreover, displeased many electors who had previously given their support to one or other; and many of these seem to have now abstained from voting. The result was a victory for the Labour party, who secured a working majority in the Assembly and an overwhelming majority in the Senate. Thus ended that triangular conflict which had caused six changes of Government within the first ten years of the Commonwealth, rendering ministries unstable and breeding constant intrigues and cabals. Those who had formerly been Protectionists and Free Traders were now united as one Opposition, following one group of leaders, and offering what resistance they could in a conservative or anti-socialist sense to the dominant Labour caucus. In 1915 the Labour party split up on the question of compulsory military service, its smaller section retaining office by a coalition with the Liberals, some of whose leaders entered the Cabinet. The new party thus formed took the name of National. In 1920 it held a majority in the Commonwealth Parliament.1
While this was happening in the Commonwealth, politics were taking a similar course in the six States. The Labour parties which grew up found it at first expedient to play off the two pre-existing parties against one another, and so to get legislation from whichever was in power as the price of support. Ultimately the Labourites succeeded, first in Western Australia in 1904, in securing majorities which placed them in control of most States till the split of 1915, after which they lost the other States, except Queensland, to the Nationalist party. The coalescence in the States of the two old Liberal and Protectionist parties came the more easily because the tariff, having been transferred to the Commonwealth Parliament by the Federal Constitution of 1900, no longer furnishes a State issue. Thus everywhere in Australia the two-party system came again to hold the field, though at the general election of 1919 many votes were in three States given for a party called the Farmers' Union and in two other States, a smaller number of votes for those who called themselves Independents.
Against the contingency of schism within its ranks the Labour party has, by its organization, long taken every precaution to provide. The system deserves a short description. It is novel: it is effective: its example may probably be followed elsewhere.
The organization has two objects — to select the party candidates and to formulate the party doctrines. The former is primarily a local task, the latter is for the whole of the party in the State, or in the Commonwealth, as the case may be.
In every constituency there is a Trade Union Council and a Political Labour League. Every member signs its constitution on entrance, and is bound thereby. These two bodies work together, the Labour League selecting the party candidate for that constituency, while often conferring with and influenced by the central Labour Council of the State. Every candidate is required to take the party pledge, i.e. to declare that he accepts the authorized programme for the time being in force, and will, if elected, vote as the majority of the party in the legislature decide.
In each State there is held, shortly before the approaching triennial general election, a Conference of delegates from all Trade Union Councils and Political Labour Leagues, at which a legislative programme of the State party is discussed and adopted. Once adopted, it is binding on all members of the party, and especially on candidates and members of the legislatures. The State party becomes, for the purposes included in the platform, both as respects the general election and for the duration of the incoming legislature, an army under discipline, moving at the word of command. The members of this Conference are elected in each State according to rules prescribed by the State party authority. Similarly in the Commonwealth there is held once in three years, shortly before the impending Federal elections, a Conference consisting of six delegates from the central authority of the organized Labour party in each State. This Conference discusses and determines the party platform for political action in the Federal Parliament, and by this document, when adopted, every member of the party in Parliament is bound, as respects both the points set forth in the platform and also his own votes on any “questions of confidence” that may arise in Parliament, i.e. when the question is that of supporting or opposing a ministry on issues involving its tenure of office.
The terms of the pledge, as first settled, were as follows:
I hereby pledge myself not to oppose the candidate selected by the recognized political Labor organization, and, if elected, to do my utmost to carry out the principles embodied in the Australian Labor party's platform, and on all questions affecting the platform to vote as a majority of the Parliamentary party may decide at a duly constituted caucus meeting.1
When a Legislature (either Commonwealth or State) is sitting, the members who belong to the Labour party meet regularly in caucus once a week, or oftener if some emergency arises, to deliberate, with closed doors, on the course they are to pursue in debate and in voting. Each member is bound by every decision arrived at by the majority upon questions within the scope of the party platform, including all amendments to Bills falling within that programme. As the total number of Labour members in the two Houses is considerable, secrecy is not easily secured. The debates in caucus are said to be thorough, so every member can master the questions on which he is to vote. When the party commands a majority, its unanimity enables it to run its Bills through quickly, because there may be little or no debate on its side, while the resistance of the minority can be overcome by the use of closure, which is in fact constantly applied.
Sometimes the whole party, except one or two left to keep the debate going in the House, withdraw into caucus to consider their action, and return to vote when they have reached a decision.
This parliamentary caucus has also the right, when it constitutes a majority in the legislature, of selecting the members of the Administration. The leader of the party in the Assembly whom the Governor has summoned to form a government, is not free to choose his colleagues, but must take those whom the caucus names. Much canvassing goes on in the caucus on the part of aspirants to office, and when a minister has been chosen, he holds his post at the pleasure of the caucus, which is entitled to require his retirement if he fails to give satisfaction. To them, and not to Parliament, each minister is responsible. This is in effect a supersession of Cabinet government, and largely of Parliamentary government itself, because a majority in an Assembly, debating secretly, is not the same thing as the Assembly debating openly, and also because the caucus itself is largely ruled by a power outside its own body.1
Until this organization of the Labour party, both in the constituencies and in Parliament, had been built up, the two old parties, and, after their fusion, the united party, which was generally called Liberal, but now (1920) constitutes the large majority of the Nationalists, had possessed very little organization. In each electoral area the local heads of the party arranged who should be their candidate, and in Parliament the members followed their party leader upon the main issues, retaining their independence in minor matters. The bonds of party allegiance were not drawn tight in Australia any more than they had been in Great Britain before 1890–1905. When, however, the Labour party became a formidable fighting organization, the other party, obliged to follow suit, created a political machinery approximating to that of its opponents, though less complete and much less stringent. As respects the Commonwealth, its supreme party authority, called the Aastralian Liberal Union, was made to consist of all organizations recognized by the Executive, and its direction vested in an Annual Conference of six representatives from each State. This Conference appoints a Council of three members from each State, and the Council, which must meet at least once a year, appoints an Executive of six, one from each State. The platform is adopted by the Conference, but business connected with Federal elections is left to the State party authorities, while the formation of a ministry belongs to the party leader summoned by the Governor-General to undertake that duty.
Under this system accordingly no pledge is exacted from a candidate except that of adhesion to the general party platform, and the formulation of the party programme is left to the parliamentary chief. In practice, the member of a legislature who belongs to what is now the “National” party seems to enjoy a much greater latitude in his action than is allowed to the Labour member. More freedom, of course, means less discipline and therefore less fighting efficiency, than belongs to the Labour party. Both the party organizations, although they purport to leave the selection of parliamentary candidates primarily to the localities, exert a greater influence upon the choice than British practice has usually recognized, and both organizations bind the member to the support of the party platform more strictly than did either of the two old British parties forty years ago, or than the practice of American parties does to-day.
Any one can see what advantages the Labour party has derived from the system above described. It had in every local trade union and Council of trade unions, as well as in the Political Labour Leagues, a firm foundation on which to build, for the Unions had their officials, were already accustomed to work together, and had a claim on the allegiance of their members. The adoption of a programme, in settling which every member had, either directly or through his delegates, an equal voice, made the system in form democratic. The platform, setting forth definite aims, gave every member of a Union an interest in their attainment. Canvassing was hardly needed, because the members of the organizations were personally known, and could, with their female relatives, be readily brought up to the poll. While the other parties exerted themselves chiefly when elections were approaching, the Labour organization was always at work, costing little, because special political agents were not required. Thus the party was able to cast its full and undivided vote; and when women were admitted to the suffrage, their vote was cast along with that of the men to a greater extent than was possible in the other parties, in which many of the women, especially those of the richer class, did not trouble themselves to go to the polls.1 The Labour party was moulded into a sort of Spartan or Prussian army, to which perfect union gave strength. It was in practice, if not in theory, an undemocratic system, but, in view of aims that were dear to all, individual freedom was willingly sacrificed to collective victory. Other causes also helped the swift growth of the Labour party. A positive and definite programme is always attractive. This one made a direct appeal to the hand-workers. Shorter hours and better wages need little advocacy, especially when they promise the attainment by legal and pacific means of objects for which men have been fighting by repeated strikes, a warfare in which there had been many defeats with consequent suffering. Clear and coherent in its aims, solidly united in its action, the Labour party stood at first over against two parties which it had forced reluctantly to concede measures they were both known to dislike. Afterwards it was arrayed against a coalition of politicians who had been differing on an issue deemed fundamental, and who were now united only in their anti-Socialism. The two most prominent leaders of this coalition, Mr. Reid and Mr. Deakin, were men of high character, long experience, and eminent capacity, men whom to know personally was to like and to value. But there was slackness among their supporters. A purely defensive attitude is even less inspiriting in politics than in war. The economic arguments on which the Liberal leaders relied went over the heads of the average voter, and had been discredited in principle by the frequent divergence of Australian legislation from sound economic doctrine. Those leaders could, of course, appeal to something stronger than principles — the self-interest of the richer class, who saw themselves threatened by a constantly growing taxation. But most business men thought it less trouble to go on making money than to descend into the political arena. They voted, but they did not throw themselves into the fight as did the Labour men.
In point of education and knowledge the Liberals had an advantage; yet not so great an advantage as Europeans may suppose. Among the Labour chiefs there were a few men who, gifted with natural talents, had educated themselves by reading, and in some cases had entered the legal profession and made a reputation there. There were others who, with little book learning, had forced their way upwards from day labour through the offices of the trade unions, and been trained by assiduous practice to be alert observers, skilled organizers, capable debaters.1 The career of a Unionist organizer and secretary gives a fine schooling to an active and tactful man, turning him out all the better fitted for his work because not encumbered with tastes or attainments which might impair his sympathy with his own class and their sympathy with him. Setting aside a few eccentric persons who owe their rise to boisterous good-humour or to a somewhat wayward energy, the average ability of the Labour Ministries that have held power in the Commonwealth is said to be little, if at all, inferior to that to be found among the Liberals, and possibly not below that of men prominent in the House of Representatives at Washington or in the Parliament of Canada. These Australian leaders understand the questions they have chiefly to deal with as thoroughly, on the practical side, as do their antagonists. They know human nature — which is after all the thing a politician most needs to know — quite as well, and the particular type of human nature to which most Australian voters belong, very much better. The Liberal politicians suffer from that suspicion which the average worker feels towards a member of the richer class. In Great Britain a candidate for Parliament gains with the electors, though less to-day than formerly, by being a man of means and education. In Australia he loses. His social advantages are political drawbacks. He may overcome them by popular manners and a frank honesty of purpose, but drawbacks they remain. This is more noticeable in Australia than in the United States or Canada, because though equality reigns in all three countries alike, there is more of British aloofness among the richer Australians.
The weak point of Australian politicians, with some exceptions among the leaders, is their deficient education, and that narrowness of view which the concentration of attention on a particular set of questions and interests produces. This is natural in people who live far apart from the rest of the civilized world, and in a country which has had only a short history. They miss something which Europeans, possessing no more school education, obtain by a sort of infiltration. Those who visit Europe generally return with their horizons notably widened. Such deficiencies may be expected to disappear with the growth of the country and its more frequent intercourse with Europe and North America.
questions now before the australian people
We may now turn from the machinery of Government, the methods of administration, and the party organizations, to enquire what are the concrete questions which actually occupy the statesmen and people of Australia. What ideas guide them? What objects do they seek to attain? and by what means?
As these questions are, allowing for minor local differences, the same in all the States and in the Commonwealth Parliament, it is convenient to treat them together, as common to the whole country, though the forms they have taken vary slightly in the several States.
They may be classified under three heads: (1) Those on which the people of Australia, as a whole, are substantially agreed; (2) those on which there is a preponderance of opinion sufficient to remove them from the forefront of controversy, and (3) those which acute differences of opinion have made the battle-ground of politics.
The first class includes, happily for Australia and for the other Dominions as well as for the mother country, the maintenance of a political connection between Australia and the rest of the British people dispersed over the world. Most of those whose opinion carries weight regard this connection as equally beneficial to all the territories of the British Crown. There is among the more thoughtful a general though vague desire for some constitutional changes which may draw those relations even closer than they are now, so that the means of common defence may be more perfectly organized, and that the Dominions may receive a share in the direction of foreign policy corresponding to that share in the responsibility for common defence which they have themselves been undertaking, as Australia did when her naval force co-operated with that of Britain. How this object may best be attained is not yet clear. But the growing feeling that union is strength has been emphasized by the Great War, which, while developing in Australia a strong national self-consciousness, made it also evident that the safety of each part of the British dominions depended on the safety of every other part. The recognition given to Australia as a nation by her admission as a Signatory of the Peace Treaties of 1919 and 1920 and as a member of the League of Nations marked an epoch in her position in world politics. Sentiment and interest alike prescribe some system under which, while the fullest independence in local affairs is maintained for each of the self-governing divisions of the Empire, its collective energy for common affairs shall be regularized and increased; but those who desire to propound any scheme for creating a closer constitutional relation must not forget that the expression of a wish for it must, if success is to follow, come from Australia herself as well as from Britain.1
There is in Australia an even more general agreement that the continent must be strictly reserved for the white European races, excluding persons of East Asiatic or South Asiatic or African origin. The watchword, “A White Australia,” is proclaimed by all parties alike. The philanthropic and cosmopolitan philosophers of the nineteenth century would have been shocked by the notion of keeping these races perpetually apart, and warning black or yellow peoples off from large parts of the earth's surface. Even now most large-hearted Europeans dislike what seems an attitude of unfriendliness to men of a different colour, and a selfishness in debarring the more backward races from opportunities of learning from the more advanced, and in refusing to all non-European races, advanced and backward, the chance of expansion in lands whose torrid climate they can support better than white men can. Nevertheless, there is another side to the matter. Whoever studies the phenomena that attend the contact of whites with civilized East Asiatics in Pacific North America, not to speak of those more serious difficulties that arise between whites and coloured people in large regions of America and in South Africa, perceives that there are other grounds, besides the desire of working men to prevent the competition of cheap Asiatic labour, which may justify exclusion. The admixture of blood, which is sure ultimately to come wherever races, however different, dwell close together, raises grave questions, not only for white men, but for the world at large. Scientific enquiries have not so far warranted the assumption that a mixed race is necessarily superior to the less advanced of the two races whence it springs. It may be inferior to either, or the gain to the less advanced may be slighter than the loss to the more advanced. One must not dogmatize on this subject, and many of those who know the yellow races at home deem their intellectual quality not inferior to that of the white races. Be that as it may, facts as they now stand prove that social and political friction, harmful to both races, would follow from their contact on the same ground.1
On the subject of a compulsory universal military training (i.e. preparation fitting the citizen for possible war service) there had been before 1914 a pretty general concurrence of opinion. Until 1915 the question of compulsory service had not (except as regards home defence) been raised. Compulsion was twice rejected by popular votes taken during the War.
In the second class of questions two only need mention. One is Immigration. As the population of Australia grows very slowly by natural increase, there is urgent need for settlers to fill up and develop the tracts which are fit for tillage, not to speak of the still larger areas which supply pasture for sheep but in which population must needs be relatively scanty. But the working class does not wish to see any afflux of incomers which could bring down the wages paid in handicrafts, while those who want land for themselves think they ought to be provided for before any competitors from without are introduced. Thus the proposals for attracting settlers from Europe have been half-hearted and feeble. Few votes are to be gained by advocating them; many votes might be lost. Latterly a little more has been done, but even the Liberal party, more disposed to favour immigration than is the Labour party, did not venture to advocate any large and bold scheme. The European visitor thinks that there is a lack of wisdom as well as of altruism in discouraging an immigration which would increase prosperity by raising the number of consumers, and thus making needless the incessant enhancement of prices which is caused by building the tariff wall higher and higher. But though no one opposes immigration in principle, the matter drags on, and nothing happens.
The other question is that of Protection versus Free Trade. This issue — protective import duties or tariff for revenue only — was the chief dividing line between parties before Confederation. It still divides opinion within the parties; that is to say, there are some Free Traders in the Liberal or Nationalist party and some few in the Labour party. But the Protectionist majority in both parties is large enough to have forced the minorities to acquiesce, and the question is no longer one on which elections are fought.1 The rich manufacturers and sugar planters see direct profit in a tariff which raises prices by excluding European competition. The working men believe that they gain more by getting higher wages from the protected manufacturers than they would gain by the lower prices of commodities which the competition of imported manufactures would secure. Owing to the high wages paid for labour, Australia exports no large amount of manufactured articles, except agricultural implements to Argentina. If the domestic market for her manufacturers were swamped by foreign competition, the manufacturing industries would — so it is argued — disappear. Now there exists in all classes a sort of feeling that Australia, a vast ocean island far from other civilized countries, ought to be self-sufficing, and possess within her own limits the means of producing everything she can need. This is not a view grounded, as was a similar doctrine in Russia, on the need for self-defence in war, because Australians knew that if they were at war with a great naval power, they would either have with them the naval strength of the British Empire as a whole, or else, if that navy were unable to command the seas, be left in a position where their domestic resources would avail little. It is rather due to the patriotic wish to be a complete and fully equipped Continental microcosm, rejoicing in a variety of industries and capable of maintaining and developing them without fearing foreign competition.
Last of all, we come to those “live” and highly controversial issues which now divide the existing parties, or, in other words, to the plans and proposals of the Labour party, these being practically the aggressively positive policies chiefly before the people, since the Liberals are in effect a party of resistance or caution, the proposals they put forward being designed to attain in a gradual or tentative way some of the aims which the Labour men seek by more drastic methods.
Now the Labour policies may be summed up in the general statement that they seek to gain by constitutional means those objects which trade unions had previously sought by strikes, i.e. higher wages, shorter hours, easier conditions of labour, preference in employment for the members of trade unions, the recognition of Unions as alone entitled to bargain with employers, and the extension of Unions to include the whole wage-earning population. Strikes were a defective method, inflicting hardships on the strikers, often attended by violence, always involving economic loss to the country. Moreover, they often failed. Where the workers command the popular majority, why not use their voting power to obtain what they desire?
To these old aims there have been added others which strikes could not have attained, such as heavier taxation of the rich, a progressive land-tax, a fiscal system designed to secure for the workers a share in whatever the producer gains by a tariff, more stringently protective navigation laws, the “nationalization” of all monopolies, perhaps of all “great scale industries,” a Commonwealth bank, a public system of insurance, an extension of the powers of the Federal Government by Constitutional amendments, and the introduction of the Initiative and Referendum.
It would be impossible to examine in detail the plans proposed for these various purposes and the arguments used to support them. All I can attempt is to select some of the more important topics which present novel features or helpfully illustrate Australian tendencies. I begin with the question which has longest occupied the nation.
labour policies and proposals
The Land Question
Omitting the earlier stages of the tangled history of Land legislation in Australia, let us regard the later developments it has taken in the hands of the Labour party.
Under the short-sighted policy that prevailed when Australia was being first settled, and for many years thereafter, much of the best land was suffered to pass into the hands of comparatively few owners. So far as regards land fit only for sheep, the existence of large estates may be justified by the fact that the small sheep-masters are less fitted to stand the risks of occasional dry seasons than are the large proprietors. On a small estate nearly all of a flock may perish by drought, with ruin to the owner, whereas the large pastoralist may pull through, not only because he has more capital accumulated from good years to fall back upon, but also because there is almost sure to be water available, even in droughts, at some point on his sheep-run.1 This reason, however, does not apply to lands fit for dairy-fanning or for tillage, and the holders of such small farms are few in proportion to the land available. To extend their number and facilitate the acquisition of land by men of moderate means is therefore an object desirable on non-controversial economic and social grounds.
In seeking this object, recent legislation has proceeded chiefly by two methods. One is the imposition of a Land Tax, progressive in proportion to the quantity, or rather to the value, of land held.2 This taxation, though in some States either proposed or not resisted by the Liberal leaders, has in the main been due to the Labour party. The large landowners have usually opposed it, but so far they have proved able to bear it. The aim of bringing more land into the market has, however, been only to a slight extent attained.
The other method is that of compulsory acquisition by the State of land suitable for sheep or for tillage, to be resold to small purchasers. This process, applied for some time past, but only on a small scale, has proved expensive, for purchase by the State tends to raise prices, and the price the State obtains on a resale may be less than that which it has paid. It has happened that the State, while purchasing land with a view to re-sale, is at the same time selling some of the remaining Crown lands for prices lower than those at which it has been purchasing land of like quality.
Other expedients have also been adopted. Sometimes the land is leased on a system whereby the tenant becomes owner after he has paid the price by instalments spread over a number of years. Sometimes long leases, perhaps virtually perpetual, are granted either at a fixed rent or with provisions for periodical revaluations, thus giving an opportunity for raising the rent (if the value has risen), so as to secure for the State the so-called “unearned increment.” The experiment has also been tried of perpetual leases, resembling what is called in Scotland a “feu,” whereby the tenant holds for ever, at a fixed rent, but cannot assign his interest without the consent of the State, which therefore can count upon having a solvent working tenant.1 Failure to pay the rent of course forfeits the lease.
The general result of all these plans has fallen short of the needs of the case and the expectations formed. Australia ought to have a much larger element of persons owning and living off the land, such an element as gives social stability to the United States and Canada. It may be added that while the Socialist party disapprove of permanent individual property in land, the Single Taxers, not so numerous here as in Western America, consistently condemn the exemption from taxation of any piece of land, however small.
The law relating to the distribution and tenure of the public land has been since the dawn of history one of the most difficult problems which economists and politicians have had to deal with. It was so all through the life of the Roman Republic. Every nation has committed so many errors that none is entitled to reproach others for their failures. But there is something peculiarly regrettable in seeing the vast vacant lands of a new continent so dealt with as to cause widespread discontent and involve, if not the waste, yet the unduly slow development of the wealth Nature has bestowed upon a new nation.
The long struggle between Free Trade and Protection was for the time closed by the adoption of the Federal Constitution and the predominance of the Protectionist party in the Commonwealth Parliament. This result was partly due to the need for raising money for Commonwealth purposes by indirect taxation; and the policy has received further help from the steady raising of wages by the Wages Boards and Industrial Arbitration Courts, to be presently described. As wages went on rising, the manufacturers complained they could no longer make a fair profit unless import duties were also raised to enable them to exclude foreign competition. The workmen, already disposed to believe that constant employment and good wages depended on protective tariffs, accepted this view, so a plan was devised under which tariffs, prices, and wages were all to rise together as parts of a comprehensive scheme. This plan has received the name of the New Protection.
“The term ‘New Protection’ expresses the idea that the protection which the manufacturer receives should be made conditional on his paying what is considered a fair wage to his employees and providing labour conditions otherwise satisfactory. In the view of those who supported this policy, it was considered that the protective tariff might become a shield for trusts and combines, which might reap the benefit of monopoly prices while keeping the ‘ real’ wages of workmen at a low level. The next step was therefore to make legislative provision for the repression of monopolies, and the prevention of ‘dumping,’ and then to ensure that a protected manufacturer should charge a reasonable price for the products of his factory, and also that the benefits of a protective duty should not be monopolized by the employer, but be shared with his workmen.”1
Among the Acts passed to give effect to this idea, one, the Excise Tariff Act of 1906, imposed upon agricultural machinery manufactured in Australia one half of the duty chargeable upon similar machinery imported, but provided for the exemption from this duty of such home-made machinery as had been manufactured under conditions either declared to be reasonable by a resolution of both Houses of the legislature, or approved by the President of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court.2 This Act was, however, pronounced invalid by a decision of the High Court holding that the matter belonged to the States and not to the Commonwealth. But the principles of the New Protection are being to some extent carried out in practice. When wages are raised by a Board or the Court, the manufacturer insists that in order to enable him to pay the higher wage he must be helped by a higher scale of duties. His demand finds favour and the import duty is screwed up accordingly. This adjustment of tariffs to wages in the joint interest of manufacturer and employee has been represented as an attempt to fix the prices at which goods are to be sold, but some of its defenders declare it to be no more than a proper effort to ascertain to just what point duties must be raised in order to enable the manufacturer to obtain a reasonable profit while he pays a reasonable wage. It seems to be no illegitimate development of Protectionist principles.
Europeans may ask why consumers do not complain when they find that in the effort to benefit the working class the price of articles is being constantly raised upon the workers themselves, who are the largest class of consumers and the class on which indirect taxation chiefly presses. The answer seems to be that the consumer, who is also, as a worker, a producer, feels, in Australia as in the United States, less interest in what he pays as a consumer than in what he receives as a producer, not because he gains more, for he probably loses more than he gains, but because wages are something direct and palpable, paid into his hand, whereas the higher cost of commodities, being diffused over many small transactions, is not directly felt, and seldom traced to its tariff source. It is nevertheless argued with some force that the New Protection ought to protect the consumer also, and that the fixing of the prices at which protected products should be sold would be a logical extension of the doctrine, if this proved practically workable, and could be done under the Federal Constitution.1
State aid to the producer is in Australia given also in the form of bounties upon the products of some industries. “The Bounties Act 1907, the Manufacturers Encouragement Act 1908, and the Shale Oil Bounties Act 1910, in providing for the encouragement of certain industries, provide also for the refusal or reduction of a bounty if the production of a commodity is not accompanied by the payment to the workers employed in that production of a fair and reasonable rate of wage.” 2
The most conspicuous instance of bounties was the large subvention paid to the sugar planters of Queensland for the maintenance of that industry, now that in pursuance of the “White Australia policy” they are forbidden to use the cheap labour of aborigines from the Pacific Islands. In response to this demand not only was the duty on imported sugar raised, but a large bounty also was granted.3 Given the will to maintain a “hothouse industry” and the resolve to have neither Kanaka labour nor that of immigrants invited from Southern Europe (who would, indeed, if they came, soon insist on an Australian rate of wages), this was the obvious course that remained. Bounties on the iron and kerosene oil industries are given on the ground that other wise they would go to the ground. Kerosene was an article so generally consumed that it would have been unpopular to raise the price, so the solitary producing company was encouraged to go on producing by the gift of 2d. a gallon up to £50,000, as otherwise foreign competition would have stopped local production.1
Legislation on Labour Conditions
The policy of safeguarding by law the health and comfort of persons employed in factories and workshops, and of limiting the hours of labour for women, with limits of hours and age for young persons, was adopted from Great Britain before the advent of the Labour party, and needs no special notice here. The eight hours' day for adult males was established by custom, though in some States laws also deal with these matters, prescribing holidays and fixing the hours at which shops must be closed. The extension of legal compulsion to working hours in such occupations as those of seamen and household or farm servants, and to places of public entertainment, has raised difficulties. A guest arriving in the later part of the evening in any hotel, except a large one where several shifts of servants are kept, finds it hard to get served. The restriction of employees to the special kind of work covered by their trade union makes it illegal for a farm servant to groom a horse.
In some States a minimum wage has been fixed by statute.2 No great opposition was made, even by those who objected to the principle, because the argument that everybody ought to be paid enough to support a family in tolerable comfort was deemed irresistible.
Trade Disputes and the Fixing of Wages
The significant feature of the Australian methods of dealing with these questions, now of the greatest gravity in all industrial countries, is that they apply compulsion to disputes which everywhere else except in New Zealand and since 1917 in Norway (possibly now in other countries also) are left to be settled by a trial of strength between the parties.
The Treatment of Industrial Disputes.—Few countries had suffered more from strikes during the later years of the nineteenth century than had Australia. The frequent defeats of the striking Unions, the losses resulting to both parties, the accompanying disorders, and the ill-feeling which strikes and lock-outs left behind, together with the failure of methods of conciliation, and finally the example of New Zealand, disposed the wage-earners to advocate the principle of compulsory arbitration as a means of raising wages preferable to the strike. After much discussion, two methods were devised, Wages Boards for fixing the rate of wages and hours of work in particular industries, and Courts of Conciliation and Arbitration for investigating and determining particular disputes between employers and employed.
A Wages Board is, in the five States wherein it exists, a body consisting of an equal number of persons chosen by the employers in any particular industry, and of persons chosen by the workers in the same industry, the Chairman, who must not be connected with the industry, being either elected by the other members or appointed by the State Government. A Board may be appointed either by the Ministry or (in the case of a new industry) by the Governor in Council. There need not be any dispute either pending or in immediate prospect. Once established, the Board goes on indefinitely, deals with disputes, in the particular industry, as they arise, and has power to review its own decisions. Its function is to fix, for the particular trade it has been appointed to deal with, both wages and hours of labour, but it has no power to determine other questions that may be in dispute. Its decisions apply to the whole of the industry throughout the State, binding the employers to pay and the workmen to work as the Board prescribes. In most States the enforcement of the awards is entrusted to the Factories Department in the State Government.
Courts of Conciliation and Arbitration, also created by statute, exist in New South Wales and West Australia. More important, however, is the Commonwealth Court, established by an Act of 1904, which has been subsequently amended. The chief differences between these Courts and the Wages Boards is that the former are set in motion only by an existing dispute, and deal with that dispute only, whether it covers a single industry or more than one, not (as do the Wages Boards) with the whole body of employers and employed in any given industry. The Commonwealth Court has jurisdiction in those disputes only which extend beyond the limits of a single State. It is presided over by a judge of the High Court, who may be assisted by assessors. Its action is usually invoked by a complaint proceeding either from a trade union on the one side, or an employer or group of employers on the other, but it may also be set in motion by a reference from a State industrial authority, or wherever the Registrar certifies the existence of a dispute. The proceedings, being in the nature of litigation, are judicially handled, but professional lawyers are not admitted to argue unless by consent of both parties, a consent not often given by the Unions.1 The powers of the Court extend not only to wages and hours, but to all conditions of labour and all questions in dispute, including the employment of Union labour only, or a preference for such labour, or the dismissal of employees. Though the award may not legally cover the whole of an industry in which the dispute has arisen, for some employers may not have in their service members of the Union which has intituted the proceedings, still the number of respondent employers may be so large (in one case it was 200) as to affect the vast majority, and so become virtually a rule for the trade. Very often the action of the Court is able to bring about a compromise, which can then be made, by consent, an award binding the parties.
One of the questions most frequently brought before the Court is that of a minimum wage, and the chief difficulty that had to be faced at the outset was that of finding what that minimum should be. The principle upon which the Commonwealth Court has proceeded is that of “securing to the employee a wage sufficient for the essentials of human existence.”
“After ascertaining the proper wages, basic and secondary, it considers any evidence adduced to show that the employer ought not to be asked to pay such wages. It will consider grounds of finance, of competition with imports, of unfairness to other workers, of undue increase in prices of the product, of injury to the public, etc., etc.” 1
The tendency both of the Wages Boards and of the Courts has been to raise wages, but as prices have risen from other causes, it is doubtful whether legal regulation has done more than regularize and somewhat accelerate the process, and though an increase in wages need not necessarily result in increased prices, still in many industries the employers have been able (through trade associations and by other means) to pass on to consumers a considerable proportion of the increased amount of their wages bills. The suspicion that in this way part of the benefit of increased wages is lost naturally suggests to the wage-earners that what they are gaining is a nominal rather than a real increase.2
There is much difference of opinion in Australia as to the comparative merits of Wages Boards and Courts of Arbitration. Some prefer the former, because they cover the whole of a trade and are composed of experts; and it is alleged that as they come into being before a dispute has arisen, they can anticipate disputes and settle points with less friction than when those points are already in sharp issue. On the other hand, the Courts have the advantage of a wider range, covering every kind of controversy; they can proceed upon general principles, and the judge soon acquires experience in the questions that recur. Moreover, where a dispute extends beyond one State, some authority higher than that of a State is needed.
Few allegations of prejudice or unfairness have been charged against either the Courts or the Boards. Their wish to bring about peace is admitted. The Commonwealth Judge, whose decisions have been most closely watched and frequently canvassed, has generally, though not quite invariably, ordered a rise in wages, but this action seems to have had, no doubt with exceptions, the support of public opinion, and it must be remembered that the cost of living had even before the Great War been rising. Though it was at first the Unions that invoked the Court, the employers having become less suspicious than they were, sometimes set the Court in motion. The most humane and liberal among them often welcome a decision which, when it applies practically to the whole trade, screws up the men of harder hearts or more niggling minds to the level which these better men hold to be wholesome for themselves and the community. The employing class taken generally would rather have been left without the Court, but do not ask its abolition; and the growth of prosperity up to 1914 showed that the system of compulsory wage-fixing had not caused an industrial set-back.1
As in Europe and in America the bulk both of employers and of employees have hitherto agreed in deprecating recourse to compulsion for the settlement of labour disputes, a word may be said as to the reasons which enabled Australian workmen to enlist public opinion in its favour. Europeans deem it open to three chief objections. One is the interference with freedom of contract. Australians care nothing for that. They would call it a theoretical objection. The workers thought that compulsion would help them, and it did help them, for though wages would doubtless have risen anyhow, much strife might have been needed to secure the rise.2 A second is that the matter is not strictly judicial, but rather for the discretion of the Court (an argument like that used against the jurisdiction of the English Chancellor in the sixteenth century), and that as there is no general rule to guide the Court, different judges may apply different principles. And, thirdly, it is urged — this point being strongly pressed by Australian employers — that the method operates unequally upon the two parties to a dispute.1 The employer can be compelled to pay certain wages so long as he keeps his factory open, and he can escape liability only by closing it, whereas the individual workman cannot be compelled to work. The power given to the Court to meet this difficulty by fining the Union has not proved effective. In the earlier days, the awards were usually obeyed, but it is to be remembered that they have almost always prescribed a rise in wages. The gravest test will come when, in less prosperous times, workmen are denied some increase they ask for, or employers begin to ask for a reduction. In 1912 the system was working more smoothly than had been predicted. Recent accounts are less satisfactory. The Court still does excellent work in many of the main disputes; but it is alleged that when a strike has been compromised by an award conceding part of what was asked, another strike soon follows to obtain the rest of the demand, and that this process often repeated produces constant unrest. The frequent delays in the proceedings of the Wages Boards, the inevitable technicality of some of the rulings in the Courts, give rise to irritation. Strikes have not ceased, and some have attained alarming dimensions. In 1916 there were in various places 506 separate strikes, in one of which the (then Labour) Government surrendered, through the agency of a Commission, to the Unions in a strike entered on in defiance of the Act providing for adjudication by the Court. This gave a shock to the authority of the law. The Unions have sought to widen the range of the Commonwealth Court by so amending the Constitution as to give it jurisdiction over all disputes arising anywhere in the country. On the other hand, that extreme section of the wage-earners, sometimes described as Syndicalists, who call themselves the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.), denounce all peaceful methods for settling trade disputes, since they desire to overset by general strikes the whole industrial, or so-called “capitalistic,” system as it now exists.1
A review of the compulsory system as worked during the last fifteen years points to the conclusion that its failure to prevent strikes has been due to two causes, first, that as there could not be finality in the awards, the temptation to the Union leaders to make fresh demands soon after a rise in wages had been secured kept up irritation and uncertainty, and secondly that there was no means of compelling the wage-earners to comply with the awards. An eminent Australian of long experience has written: “The introduction of penalties in the form either of imprisonment or of fine, is an illusory protection. If the organizations concerned are reasonable and imbued with a spirit of obedience to the spirit and letter of the Law, neither imprisonment nor any other sanction is necessary. If the organization is strong, aggressive, and unreasonable, the threat of fine or imprisonment will not be a deterrent.” 2
One result of the legal regulation of wages, and of the attempts at a legal regulation of prices also, has been to bring the employers in every industry into closer relations with one another. They are made respondents together in proceedings taken by Unions to obtain higher wages or better conditions. They are forced into frequent conferences and combinations, and thus a sense of class interest is strengthened, and occasion given for those “friendly agreements” and “honourable understandings” in respect of prices and distribution which excite much displeasure in Labour circles. Those of the Labour leaders, however, who look forward to the nationalization of all property and all industries, probably regard with satisfaction whatever makes against the old individualism, even if in the meantime it induces those “combines” which in Australia, as in America, are objects of public aversion. The completeness of the organizations on both sides makes for strife, just as the possession of great armaments disposes nations to war. As employers leagued together harden themselves for defence, so trade union secretaries feel that they must justify their existence by making fresh demands: young men come into office in the Unions, and throw the militant Australian spirit into each fresh contest. Unceasing controversies create an atmosphere of disquiet and suspicion.
Want of space prevents me from pursuing this subject here, but a further discussion of the working of a similar system will be found in the chapter on New Zealand. Though in both countries the application of compulsion illustrates the tendency of the Labour party to extend the power of the State into new fields, a disposition common to all who think they can use that power for their own purposes, it must be understood that the public opinion of Australia as a whole, alarmed by the mischief which strikes were doing, and sympathizing with the desire of the wage-earners for a larger share of the products of labour, was generally favourable to the experiment. In 1919, though it had not satisfied the hopes it had at first raised, there were only two sets of extremists who would abolish it, the most rigid employers who dislike any interference with business, and the revolutionary Communists who wish to make an end of capitalism either by force of arms or by stopping the whole machinery of production and compelling capitalist governments to surrender.1
The entrance of the State into the field of industry as an employer has been supported by various arguments, some of them but distantly related to the real motives. Can it not by appropriating to itself the profits on vast national undertakings which would otherwise be absorbed by the rich, and by taking to itself the control of the making or selling of the articles in which a monopoly is being created, relieve the people from the pressure of monopolies or “trusts” (to use the American term), benefit the workers by providing employment when work is scarce, and by paying good wages, set an example other employers will have to follow? To those who cherish Collectivist ideals, it seems to provide the easiest, because the least startling, approach to that absorption by the community of all the means of production and distribution which is the ultimate goal of their hopes.
It is not, however, to any Collectivist views that the State ownership of Australian railways is to be ascribed. That was the natural result of the economic conditions which existed when lines began to be built. Nothing could be expected from private enterprise, for there was little capital in the country, nor was it then easy for private persons to obtain large loans in England, so the duty devolved on a public authority of providing directly, or by way of subsidy, those means of communication which were indispensable to the development of the country. The States assumed the duty. 21,181 miles of government lines were open for general traffic in 1918, besides 1241 miles similarly open but under private control, four-fifths of which were in Queensland, West Australia, and Tasmania.1 For a long time the railway administration remained in the hands of Ministries and the general managers they appointed, but political interference and favouritism were at last found so harmful that in each State control was transferred to Commissioners appointed by the Governor in Council (i.e. the Ministry). In New South Wales and Victoria there are three Commissioners, in the other States one only.
In every State the Minister for railways still directs legislation and answers questions in the legislature; otherwise the Commissioners have a free hand, though ministers can dictate the general policy to be followed, being in this respect subject to an embarrassing parliamentary criticism, for every member can bring forward any grievance a constituent, most frequently an employee, puts before him, and the unceasing pressure for higher wages is hard to resist. Railway construction is in some States assigned to the Commission, in others to the Public Works Department. Except in respect of the inconveniences arising from the existence of five different gauges, the railway system is worked with fair efficiency. Management is honest and the traffic grows. The general result shows a very small balance of profit after deducting from earnings the cost attributable to construction, equipment, loans, and working expenses.
Public management has its drawbacks when politics come in, as Australia has seen before and may see again. But there are also evils incident to the private ownership of those great lines of transportation which control the commerce of a country and hold in their hands the fortunes of large districts. From these evils the United States and Canada, and (in a less degree) France also, have suffered.
The undertaking by the State of industries usually left to private enterprise has been due to various causes. Besides the desire to secure good conditions of labour for the workers, there has been put forward the need for checking monopolies. This was made the ground for starting Government brick-works, when it was alleged that a ring of brick-makers was trying to secure exorbitant prices. So in West Australia the Government undertook the transport of beef to defeat the plans attributed to a “Beef Ring,” and started a line of steamers to resist a Shipping Combine. The New South Wales Government recently opened a mine at Lithgow.1 Some coal-mines have been acquired because the industry was deemed to be of national importance, and had frequently suffered from strikes, the miners being largely influenced by extremist propaganda. Australian opinion on the subject is still in a fluid state. While cautious men confine themselves to proposing to regulate by law industries in which sweating exists or monopolies threaten public welfare, the more advanced school seeks the extension of government action as a step towards Communism, and has carried in gatherings of the Labour party a demand for the “nationalization of basic industries.” The same issues that perplex Europe are being pondered in Australia.
A very high and universally respected Australian authority wrote to me as follows: “With regard to those great services which stand out as fundamentals of the life of a civilized community, a time of comparative quiet should be chosen for proposing special legislation. Some means of direct control, by the Board of Trade or other body in which employers will have a say, of freights, fares, wages, and working conditions will be necessary. If some real and not illusory representation is given to the men, accompanied with powers of continual inspection and publication (if thought desirable) of results, then but not otherwise will it be practicable to carry and enforce provisions making strikes in these services an offence against the law. … The fetish of trade secrecy must not be permitted.”1
It is no less difficult than important to ascertain the actual results of the State assumption of industries. Some sections of State employees certainly gain in having better wages, and all gain in greater security for employment. But what of the community at large? Is the work efficiently done, and done as cheaply as it would be on a system of private employment? My stay in Australia was not long enough to enable me to probe the matter to the bottom, and some of my informants may have been biassed. But such evidence as I obtained went to show that, in proportion to the wages paid, less work was done than private employers obtained. The workers were said to do as little as they well could. “The Government stroke” has passed into a byword. “They dropped the tools the moment the hour came for stopping,” because “the slower the work goes, the more of it remains to be done.” One informant not hostile to the Labour party remarked that the systematic practice of slack working to make every job last long had a bad effect on character, because it prevented men from doing their best. The foreman fears to keep the men up to the mark, or to dismiss them, because they may appeal to their Union, and the Union can influence the member of the Legislature for the district, and he in turn the Executive Government.2 If a Labour Ministry is in power, it cannot resist Labour pressure. Some of my informants declared that these things were notorious in the case of the great irrigation works undertaken by New South Wales and Victoria. Grievances real or fancied are constantly brought up in Parliament, wasting its time and lessening the authority of those who direct the work. When complaints accumulate, a Commission of Enquiry may be appointed, with further expenditure of time and money, and no relief of the disquietude. It is alleged that where Government owns the wharves, the workers, though paid twice as much per ton for loading and unloading as the ordinary market rate, loiter over their work to prolong it.
The Unions, practically controlling the Government whenever a Labour ministry is in power, are both employers and employed, and it is natural that where considerations of State business interest come into opposition with personal and political self-interest, State business interest should go to the wall. Some one has summed up the Labour policy as “more wages for shorter hours: less work, and more amusement.”
The Australian idea seems to be that instead of setting out to get work done and paying wages for it, Government should set out to pay wages and find work as a reason for the payment.
State employment is an easy way towards this goal, and has been accompanied by the virtual acceptance, in some States, of the liability of the Government to find work for persons unemployed. The logical development of this policy will obviously be the absorption by Government of the means of production and distribution, a development contemplated by most of the Labour leaders, though by not very many of the followers, and by a still smaller proportion of those who, though not wage-earners, support the party by their votes, in the hope that it will better their condition. In all progressive or aggressive parties there are some who are hotter, some cooler, some who have clear, others muddled minds, some who fix their eyes on a distant goal and march steadily towards it, others for whom one step at a time is enough. The rank and file of the Labour party are not yet Socialists in the common acceptation of the term, but (to adapt a phrase of Aristotle's) “though they are not Socialists, they do the acts of Socialists.” When a French observer had called them Socialists “sans doctrine,” another answered, “Say rather sans declaration,” but if that phrase suggests that they conceal their views it applies only to a minority. Socialist doctrine may grow, but at present they are divided not only as to aims but as to methods, for a section, stronger by youthful vehemence than by numbers, despises constitutional action, seeking, by frequent strikes and the use of violence in strikes, to overthrow the capitalistic system, while the more moderate elders complain that the recklessness of their young friends retards instead of hastening progress.1
Privileges for Trade Unionists.— Even before the creation of a Labour party it had been a prime aim of the leaders of the working men to strengthen the Trade Unions by drawing into them as many as possible of the workers. This was then desired for the sake of success in strikes, for the employers always fought a strike by bringing in non-Unionist labour (those who are in England called “black-legs” and in Australia “scabs") to take the place of the strikers. After Labour parties in the legislatures arose, there was a further advantage to be expected from the growth of the voting power of the Unions, for they form the basis of the party organization, so efforts were made to prescribe membership of a Union as a condition for Government employment. Another plan was to provide in the awards of Wages Boards and Courts of Arbitration that a preference should be accorded to Union men in the competition for work. This issue, warmly debated when the first Compulsory Arbitration Act was before Parliament in 1904, and again when an amending Act was passed in 1910, was settled by a provision leaving to the Court a discretion to direct that preference should be given to Unionists, “whenever it is necessary for the prevention or settlement of the industrial dispute, or for the maintenance of industrial peace, or for the welfare of society.” It would appear that such awards have been sometimes revised, so as to add, as a condition, that admission to Unions shall be open, as some have been accused of closing their doors against applicants, or of limiting the number of apprentices. A third part of the Labour policy is to restrict to the Unions the right to bring employers before the Arbitration Courts. When the Industrial Peace Act was being discussed in the Queensland Legislature in 1912, it was opposed by the Labour members because it omitted this restriction. The tramway strike of 1911 in Brisbane had arisen from a demand that only Union men should be employed. Though the number of members of the Unions — estimated in 1910 at about one-tenth of the total number of workers — has largely increased under the aforesaid provision for preference and through constant struggles with employers, there are still trades in which they constitute a minority of persons employed.
In 1905 the Commonwealth Ministry of the day, then receiving the support of the Labour party, passed, at its instance, in a Trade Marks Act a section prescribing a so-called “Union Label,” to be affixed to goods wholly manufactured by members of Trade Unions. This section was two years later declared invalid by the High Court, not only because such a label was not a trade-mark in the ordinary sense the term had when the Constitution was enacted, but also because it attempted to extend Federal action beyond the powers granted.
A request was seen in the Federal Labour platform of 1908 which included as a plank, “Arbitration Act amendment to provide for preference to Unionists,” while the Australian “Liberal Union” platform of 1912 contained the two following sections, which seem designed to pledge its members to a different doctrine, viz.: “To maintain the right of all men and women to work and enjoy the fruits of their thrift and industry, and to secure equal opportunities for all to do so,” and “to oppose preference to, or the penalizing of, any section of the community, whether as employers or employees.”
Proposed Labour Amendments to Federal Constitution
There remains another important issue, raised by the Labour party, that of amending the Federal Constitution so as to enlarge the powers of the Commonwealth Government. Two currents of opinion have brought the party to this conclusion and proposal. The first is the desire to extend the jurisdiction of the Arbitration Court to deal with all industrial disputes wherever arising. The second is the wish to enact uniform legislation in the interests of Labour over the whole continent. A third aim is to get rid of the Legislative Councils which are the strongholds of conservatism in the States, and thereby to complete the sovereignty of universal suffrage. Every party, when it finds itself in a majority, desires to use its power drastically, doing all it can while it can, for the mere possession of overwhelming strength is an incitement to put it forth in action.
The Federal Constitution had left to the States legislation relating to commerce, industry, and labour disputes within their respective limits, while authorizing the Commonwealth to regulate foreign and interstate commerce, and to provide for the settlement of Labour disputes extending beyond the frontiers of any one State. When objects which it had been sought to effect by Commonwealth legislation proved unattainable because the laws had been pronounced by the High Court to be ultra vires, the only means of effecting those objects was by amending the Constitution. Thereupon the Labour Government of 1910 brought forward and passed through Parliament two amendments, extending the power of the High Court to deal with Labour disputes wherever arising, authorizing the Commonwealth Parliament to legislate on the conditions of labour and industry generally, including combinations and monopolies, and enabling the Commonwealth to carry on any industry which each House might declare to be the subject of a monopoly. These proposals, rejected by a popular vote in 1911 by a large majority were, when resubmitted in 1914, again rejected by a smaller majority on a larger vote, the difference being possibly in part due to the fact that this second voting coincided with a general election at which the Labour party gained a victory.1 To secure the fair consideration of any alteration of the Constitution, it ought to be put separately before the people. The War having interrupted the further testing of public opinion, proposals for making particular amendments to the Constitution have now passed into the wider question of undertaking a general revision of that instrument, especially for the purpose of readjusting the relations of the Commonwealth to the States. If this task is to be undertaken,— and there seems to be a growing feeling that it has become necessary,— it would be best committed to a Convention specially chosen for the purpose, a plan which American experience commends.
The conditions which ought to determine the allotment of powers between a National Government and State Governments have changed in our time through the swifter means of transportation, and consequent increase in internal trade, and with the growth of huge incorporated companies operating all over a large country. Economically, therefore, there is a case for enlarging Federal powers. But political considerations point the other way, for local needs and conditions require local treatment, and are better understood and dealt with where local public opinion controls the legislature than by a Parliament of the nation. Queensland is to some extent, Western Australia and Tasmania to a greater extent, cut off from the other States, and each has problems not always the same as theirs. Men can show in the local legislature those qualities which fit them for the wider parliamentary arena; experiments in legislation or administration can be tried on a small scale, the other States watching the results and profiting thereby. The same passion does not rage with equal force over a whole country when it is checked by the existence of local divisions, even as in a large lake cut up into smaller patches of water by numerous islands scattered over its surface the waves run less high and subside more quickly than happens where one whole unbroken sheet is swept by a mighty blast. Local legislatures stimulate local political life, and give a variety to political thought: The existence of the States constitutes a certain check on the power of demagogues and the vehemence of any popular impulse. To entrust the destinies of the continent to one parliament and one set of ministers would throw on Australian statesmen a burden they may not yet be able to bear, and involve risks of a hasty action which might imperil the future.
If there is less respect in Australia for the Federal Constitution as a fundamental instrument than existed in the United States from the time of Washingon till the end of last century, this is due not merely to the fact that it is still young, but also to the dominance of issues which are the same all over the country. That which is called in America “States' Rights” sentiment is observable chiefly among the leaders in the State legislatures, who are attached to their local public life with which their own fortunes are bound up, and in men of the richer class, who are moved quite as much by their fear of the power of Labour as by any constitutional considerations. With the masses who have occasionally returned the Labour party to power theoretical and even practical arguments of a constitutional kind carry no weight. Labour policy covers the whole sky. Its leaders desire to take the shortest path to their goal, and “have no use,” as the Americans say, for any checks or restrictions, or, indeed, for any scheme that cuts up political power into fragments.
These remarks are ventured with reference not so much to the aforesaid amendments, which have been dropping into the background, as to the general issue of virtually abolishing the States and giving Australia a Unitary Government like that of New Zealand or Great Britain, an issue raised in the South Australian Labour platform of 1909 under the heading, “Unification of Australian States,” and which may again come to the front, though other objects are more immediately desired by the Labour party.
Labour Policy in Other Constitutional Questions
How far, it will be asked, has the most advanced political thought of Australia moved towards those expedients which radicalism favours in other countries, such as the election of judges, as in most of the American States and in the Swiss cantons, and those methods of direct legislation by the people which are practised in Switzerland and in many American States?
The answer is: Very slightly, because Australian radicalism has not found them necessary. A Queensland Labour Congress (in 1910) passed a resolution demanding “an amendment of the Constitution to deprive the High Court of power to declare unconstitutional bills passed by both Houses of the Federal Parliament,” but it does not appear that Labour men generally are committed to such ideas. The introduction of the Initiative and Referendum found a place on the Federal platform of the Labour party in 1908, and is sometimes referred to by their leaders as desirable, but it was not pushed further after the party gained control of the Federal Parliament. In the United States direct popular voting has been widely adopted, first, because the State Legislatures were distrusted; secondly, because the power of the “party machine” had controlled the action of those bodies and delayed legislation which large sections of opinion desired; thirdly, because the faith in popular sovereignty had become a dogma of almost religious sanctity. None of these causes exists in Australia. The legislatures obey the voters and the ministers obey the legislatures so promptly that the people can obtain what they want without their own direct vote, and this is so conspicuously the case as regards the Labour party that it is hard to see what they could gain, so long as their organization does its work effectively, by exchanging for caucus rule the direct rule of the voters, who might act more independently when acting outside the Organization, refusing to obey its dictation upon issues directly submitted to their own personal judgment. Nevertheless, the march of democratic sentiment may ultimately lead Australia into the American path. There is no feeling of respect for the legislatures to deter her, and every people is liable to be attracted by the suggestion that their power will be best exerted directly by themselves.
characteristics of australian democracy
The reader who has followed this outline of the trend of Australian legislation, and particularly of the policies of the Labour party, often the chief factor in legislation even when not holding a majority in Parliament, will probably ask, What is the attitude of public opinion towards the questions and schemes now in issue, and what are the characteristics of public opinion itself in Australia? Opinion is not necessarily the same thing as voting power, and may be imperfectly expressed in parliamentary elections or by parliamentary action. Large issues, going down to the foundations of economics as well as of politics in the narrower sense, issues fateful for the future, are being pressed forward in Australia more boldly than elsewhere, perhaps with less realization of their gravity. What is the nation's mind regarding them?
Public opinion is in all countries produced by the few and improved and solidified by the many. If we leave out of account the very few detached thinkers, and the very large number who do not care about public affairs at all, it consists in practice of the aggregate of the opinion of sections, local, or racial, or religious, or ocupational, or politically partisan. National opinion results from the intermixture of these sectional opinions, which on some few subjects coincide, in others modify and temper one another, in others sharpen one another by collision. Since the chief topics on which Australian opinion is practically unanimous, such as a White Australia, and the wish to make Australia a good place for the average man, have been already dealt with, we may go straight to the points on which opinion is sectional rather than general, first noting some facts which influence the formation of Australian opinion.
In Australia, considering its vast size, there is singularly little localism in ideas and ways of thinking. Local pride there is, and local jealousies, but that is a different matter. The types of opinion are class types, social or occupational types, not State types, for though each State is chiefly occupied with its own interests and politics there is less difference of character between them than between the four component parts of the United Kingdom. Even in isolated agricultural Tasmania, even in far-off Western Australia, called the most “radical” of the States, the same classes hold everywhere much the same views.
These types are three: that of the wage-earners and the poorer part of the population generally, that of the landowners and richer part of the commercial class, — merchants, manufacturers, large shopkeepers, — that of the professional men.
The hand-workers, clerks, shop-assistants, persons of limited means, are all educated. Illiteracy is practically unknown. Nearly all are what would be deemed in Europe comfortably off, i.e. they are well fed, well housed, except (to a slight, and rapidly diminishing extent) in some few city slums. “Sweating” practices have been eliminated, and there is no pauperism. Nobody need want, unless he is hopelessly unthrifty or addicted to drink; and drunkenness, once a grave evil, has been greatly reduced of late years. But though educated and blessed with more leisure than their brethren in most parts of Europe, the hand-workers of Australia are, as a rule, uninterested in what are called “the things of the mind,” reading little but newspapers and light fiction, and more devoted to amusements, sports, and open-air life, particularly enjoyable in their climate, than the corresponding class in any other equally civilized country. Sunday is recognized as the day of pleasure to an extent unknown elsewhere in the English-speaking world. An Australian said “The sun is the enemy of religion.” The average citizen cares less about public affairs than does the average Swiss or (native) American of the same class, and is less theoretically interested in democratic principles than are those two peoples. Civic responsibilities sit lightly upon him: nor does party feeling, except among Socialists, do much to stir his interest. Among the leaders of the Labour party one finds persons of natural shrewdness who understand politics from the practical side, having acquired experience in the management of trade-union affairs; and there are also some few man of marked intellectual gifts, who have educated themselves by reading, have thought out political projects, and can defend them by argument. But the mass do little thinking for themselves, and take their cue chiefly from their leaders or their newspapers, not out of deference or self-distrust, for they carry independence to the verge of indiscipline, but because, taking no thought for the morrow, they are content to fall in with views that seem to make for the immediate benefit of their class. The same remark applies to the rest of the less wealthy sections, such as clerks and shop-assistants, perhaps even to elementary school teachers and the lower ranks of the civil service, and likewise to that politically unorganized stratum of the middle class, such as small farmers and shopkeepers, which has not gone over to Labourism.
The richer people, pastoralists, merchants, and manufacturers, form a class rather more sharply cut off from the wage-earners than is the like class in Switzerland or Canada or Norway, though it largely consists of those who have risen by business talent, for Australia is a land of opportunity, where talent quickly tells. Among them, too, intellectual interests are not keen; business and pleasure leave little time for learning or thinking. The commercial man may keep an eye on politics, in order to resist what he considers the attacks made by Labour upon realized wealth; he may even subscribe to electoral anti-Labour campaigns. But he conceives that he would lose more by neglecting business than he would gain by spending time in defending business from the onslaughts of Labour. From this class there have come some few political leaders of conspicuous capacity, but on the whole, it contributes little either to the practice or the theory of statesmanship, and does not seem to have realized, any more than the leaders of the Labour party, how much thinking is needed if the problems before Australia are to be solved.
The professional class, which includes lawyers, physicians, engineers, clergymen, men of letters, and the teachers in the higher schools, is very small outside the four great capital cities, and within those cities belongs socially to the mercantile class. Some leading politicians not of the Labour party, and several within that party, have been barristers or solicitors. As in all countries living under a Rigid Constitution where a legal instrument defines the respective powers of a superior and an inferior legislature, legal questions arise, which have to be argued in Parliament as well as in courts of law, and these ought to secure an important place for the possessors of judicial learning. But the legislatures contain few such persons. The men of high scientific and literary attainments, who are found among physicians, journalists, engineers, and in the Universities, enrich the mind of the community, but take less part in public affairs than does the corresponding class in the United States, France, or Britain; and they also are most scantily represented in the legislatures. Altogether, the men occupied in study, thinking, and teaching contribute less to the formation of a national opinion than was to be expected, considering that they hold a position less obviously affected by personal interests than do either the rich on the one hand, who are threatened by progressive taxation, or the middle and poorer classes on the other, who desire to pay little to the State and receive much from it. They might therefore, to a larger extent than heretofore, exert a mediating influence between capital and labour, recognizing what there is of reason and justice in the claims of the opposing sections.
There remains that great and pervasive factor in the formation of opinion, the newspaper press, through which each type of doctrine can speak to the others. In Australia it stands high as regards both ability and character. It is above suspicion of corruptibility or black-mailing, is well written, gives an efficient and a generally fair and honest news service, is not, so far as I could ascertain, worked by politicians behind the scenes for their own purposes. It has not (with a few exceptions) lapsed into that vulgar sensationalism and indifference to truth which belong to an increasing number of organs in some older countries. One does not hear of its publishing interviews which put into the mouth of public men words they never used, and refusing to publish contradictions of stories proved to have been false. Australian criticisms of politicians are often bitter, but not more unfair than those to be found in the French or English press. In the later decades of last century, the three or four greatest newspapers in Sydney and Melbourne exercised more power than any newspapers then did in any other country, being at times stronger than the heads of the political parties. Moments are remembered at which they made and unmade ministries. Till the fusion of parties in 1910, the controversies of Free Traders and Protectionists were fought out in their columns, and while they served to enable each party to argue with the other, they exerted a restraining influence on both. The Labour party has had no considerable daily organ in the press, and its victories, won without such an organ against most of the great journals, proved what skilful organization can accomplish. It makes slight use of the newspapers to expound or defend its policies, and their criticisms tell little on its members. Though the working classes in the cities read the papers for the sake of the news, chiefly to be sure for the racing intelligence and athletic sports reports, the rural folk of the “back blocks” usually see only small local papers containing local happenings, so journalism does less than could be wished to help the antagonistic sections to comprehend and appreciate one another's position; nor is this gap filled by the weekly or monthly magazines, which, however, cannot fairly be compared with those of Europe or America, so much smaller is the population which they address.
In Britain and France the legislatures do much to form, clarify, and formulate public opinion. In Australia, though there are seven of them, they do comparatively little. Neither are there many associations, such as abound in the United States, devoted to the advocacy of particular doctrines or causes.
The types of Australian opinion I have sketched seem to run parallel along the lines of class rather than to blend in a unity within which they are mere variations. Except in matters appealing to patriotic sentiment, there is less of a general national opinion than in the United States and Canada, perhaps less than in Switzerland. In Australia certain elements needed to form breadth and to give variety, or to form a mediating influence between sharply opposing interests, have been wanting. The opinion of the richer sort as well as that of the masses runs in a groove with far too little of a sympathetic interchange of views. Class antagonism divides the people into sections almost as much as such antagonism, coupled with religious enmities, has divided France. Neither social equality nor the standard of comfort, much above that of England, which the workers enjoy, has softened the clash of economic interests. Each section, distrusting the other, sees its own case only, and it is hardly a paradox to say that the more the condition of the wage-earners rises, the more does their dissatisfaction also rise. The miners, for instance, receiving wages undreamt of in Europe, are always to the front in the struggle against employers, whether private companies or the State. Where other distinctions are absent, and a few years can lift a man from nothing to affluence, differences in wealth are emphasized and resented, deemed the more unjust because they often seem the result of chance, or at least of causes due to no special merit in their possessor. The people are gathered into a few large centres, where they lead a restless life, in which leisure means amusement, and there seems to be little time left for anything but business and amusement. Equal in inborn capacity to any other branch of the British stock, they have that want of intellectual curiosity and deficient love of knowledge for its own sake which foreign critics often note in that stock, as compared with the Italians, for instance, or the Celtic peoples, or the Norsemen, so the enjoyment of leisure tends less than was expected either to widen their intellectual interests or to stimulate their sense of civic duty. A distinguished Australian observed to me: “If our people had an intellectual vitality comparable to their physical vitality they might lead the world.” All this is doubtless true of most European countries, but it strikes the observer most in Australia, because comfort and leisure have grown faster there than elsewhere. Moreover, leisure from work does not mean quiet and repose, for the life of Australians is preeminently a life in cities. “The world is too much with them.” Men love to escape from the lonely inland plains where only the clumps of Eucalyptus break the uniformity of wide-spreading pastures, into the seaports, where ocean breezes cool the summer heat and the excitements of life are most attainable, a fact the more regrettable because along the eastern coast and in the mountains which border it, there are, especially as one approaches the tropics, many charming pieces of scenery.1 There are, moreover, too few centres in which opinion is made, and these centres are far from one another, so that the leaders of thought in each are not in close touch. Sydney is New South Wales, Melbourne is Victoria, Adelaide is South Australia. Some one has compared these cities, with their “back blocks” of forests and far-stretching grasslands, to Athens dominating and almost effacing her Attica, as Home did her Campagna, and Carthage her circumambient wheat fields and olive yards. Vast as New South Wales is, one thinks of its thinly peopled rural areas as a mere appendage to Sydney; for it is the urban population which impresses on the State its political character. No similar primacy is yielded to the capital in Britain, where Lancashire or Yorkshire or Scotland contribute as much to national opinion as does London; one must go to Buenos Aires for a parallel. Yet the four Australian cities are less efficient in stimulating thought, and in focussing and criticizing its results, than were city republics like Athens, or than are the greater cities of Continental Europe. Compared to Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Rome, they must needs have with their smaller populations fewer well-informed and powerful minds, but neither have they the intellectual vivacity and variety of those ancient cities which like Rhodes, Croton, or Syracuse, did not approach them in point of population. In Australia it is material interests that hold the field of discussion, and they are discussed as if they affected only Australia, and Australia only in the present generation. Nobody looks back to the records of experience for guidance, nobody looks forward to conjecture the results of what is being attempted to-day. There is little sense of the immense complexity of the problems involved, little knowledge of what is now being tried elsewhere, little desire to acquire such knowledge. Yet economic problems are no simpler here than they are in Europe, the chief difference being that errors may not so swiftly bring disaster to a new and naturally rich and thinly peopled country. The average Australian, apt to think first of how a scheme will affect his own household, takes short views and desires quick results. With few data drawn from the past, the past means nothing to him; if he thinks of the future his pride in Australia makes him sure that all will go well.
It has been a political as well as an economic misfortune that an element conspicuous in the Northern United States and Canada is here scantily represented, viz. the occupying owners of small agricultural properties. This element has begun to grow, especially by an increase in the number of dairy-farms co-operating in the making of cheese and butter, but its growth needs to be quickened; it might have grown still faster in the interior had the railway system been better laid out. The rural areas fit for tillage are still insufficiently peopled, for immigrants come slowly, the growth of population is lamentably slender since the birth-rate is extremely low, the drain from the country into the towns, where life has more variety and amusements, seems irresistible. Moreover, the wool-shearers, a considerable section of the rural population, are migratory, not settled in villages but following their work from one sheep-run to another.
It may be thought that a country gains politically by having comparatively few subjects to think about and deal with, as Australia has only domestic and economic questions, with no foreign or ecclesiastical distractions. But is this really so? May it not be that the mind of a nation is stirred and widened when it has other problems to solve besides those that touch its business life? The Australian horizon is narrow and politics too much occupied with the consideration of results directly measurable in money. This may be a reason why, though all Australians are alike unfettered by theoretical dogmas, alike proud of their country, alike desirous that it shall be a good place for everybody, classes seem unduly suspicious of one another, and fix their minds upon those matters in which interests seem to conflict rather than on those which all have in common. It was hoped that the fervour of feeling aroused by the Great War, and the pride in the dashing valour of Australian regiments, would have created a sense of national unity drawing classes together. But this does not seem to have happened.1 The rich give scant sympathy to the reasonable aspirations of the workers; the latter assume the opposition their plans encounter to be due only to the selfishness of the rich, and themselves betray an exclusive spirit when it is a question of admitting immigrant workers from England herself.
The Australians do not show in politics that fickleness of which democracies have been often accused, for many of their statesmen have through long and chequered careers retained the loyalty of the masses. But though it is well that a statesman whose honesty has once won their confidence should retain it, their indulgent temper is apt to forget misdeeds which ought to have permanently discredited an offender. Memories are short, and it might sometimes be well if they were longer. Tergiversation, and still more severely pecuniary corruption, are censured at the time, yet such sins are soon covered by the charitable sentiment that “Bygones are bygones.”
Though parliamentary debates are acrimonious, and though class antagonism prevents men from comprehending and making allowances for the views of opponents, public opinion is on the whole kindly, free from bitterness and rancour against individuals. Here one sees a marked contrast between the English-speaking democracies and those of the ancient world, where intestine seditions often led to ferocious conflicts, or, as in the later days of the Roman republic, to wholesale proscriptions. The long-settled habit of respect for law and the provision of constitutional methods for settling disputes have stood the children of England in good stead. However high the waves of party strife may ever rise, one cannot imagine a time at which such things could happen among them as happened in the Parisian Terror of 1793, or as we have seen happening recently in Eastern Europe. Nor must the traveller omit to note an undercurrent of prudence and self-restraint among the working masses, who are by no means so extreme as many who profess to speak for them. The notion of Direct Action by strikes and the scheme of one all-absorbing combative Union have not won the approval of these masses.
In forming their impressions of what Australia is and does, Europeans and Americans must never forget that the settled parts of this wide Continent have a population less than that of Belgium, with a number of thinkers and writers small indeed when compared with the old and large countries of Europe, and even with such countries as Switzerland and Holland. All these countries, moreover, are in close touch with one another, and profit by one another's writings and practical experiments in statesmanship. Australia lies so far away that, although the best books reach her and the great world events produce their impression, that impression is fainter. No such constantly flowing and bubbling stream of free criticism and debate upon all political and economic issues as one finds in Europe and North America can be expected here, so the stimulus to thinking is less keen and constant. Nor is it fanciful to add that the isolation of this continent has induced a half-conscious belief that it can try its experiments without fear of suffering from the disapproval or competition of the distant peoples of the northern hemisphere. Schemes are the more lightly tried because there is less sense of responsibility and a more confident faith in the power of a new country to make mistakes without suffering for them.
To wind up this survey of Australian conditions let me try to answer two questions — First, What has democratic Australia achieved both in the way of good administration, and by that kind of moral stimulation which, in ennobling national life as a whole, raises the thoughts and enlarges the horizon of individual citizens? Secondly, What conclusions regarding the merits of popular government does its record suggest?
The conditions which have affected politics have been already described. There is a homogeneous population, isolated, left free to shape its own institutions and steer its own course, protected from foreign interference by the naval power of Britain, to which it is now adding its own, with no old animosities to forget, no old wrongs to redress, no bad traditions to unlearn. Inequalities of wealth have grown up, but there are few monopolists and no millionaires, and nowhere does wealth exert less influence on legislation or administration.1 Social influences count for little or nothing in politics. Australia and New Zealand have provided, better than any other civilized countries, an open field for the upspringing of new ideas, new institutions, new political habits.
Democracy has given the people the thing for which government primarily exists, public order and laws steadily enforced. Except for the rioting frequent during strikes, less serious latterly than similar troubles were in 1890, disturbances are rare, and lynch law unknown. Convictions for serious crime diminished between 1881 and 1912 from a percentage of 69.3 per 10,000 of population to a percentage of 26.2, though the police service was certainly no more efficient forty years ago than it is now.2
The administration of justice has been in upright and competent hands, enjoying the confidence of the people.
The permanent Civil Service is honest, diligent, and tolerably capable.
Direct taxation presses pretty heavily upon the richer people, who, however, seem able to bear it. Indirect taxes, especially high import duties, affect all classes by raising the price of commodities, but the consumers do not greatly complain, thinking they recoup themselves as producers. Financial administration is honest, though far from economical. The public debt, both national and local, was too large for the population even before 1914, but much of it is represented by assets, such as railways, and it was not, when the Great War came, more than the resources of the country were then enabling it to support.
For education, elementary and agricultural, ample public provision is made, and the four greater States possess excellent universities. Tasmania and Western Australia, both comparatively small in population, are trying to follow. Secondary education has been hitherto less well cared for, and the buildings of the elementary schools need to be improved.
The railways are pretty well managed, and the roads good, considering the difficulties of maintaining them over immense stretches of thinly-peopled country. Public health is duly cared for, and the death-rate low in cities as well as in the country, in some States only ten per thousand. Intemperance has notably diminished, less through legislation than owing to a general improvement in the habits of the people.1
Great irrigation works have been undertaken in New South Wales and Victoria, whereby the cultivable area has been increased by many hundreds of square miles. Forestry, however, has been neglected, and little done in the way of replanting in districts where fires have wrought widespread devastation.
The machinery of government works smoothly. Elections are quietly conducted, ballots taken and counted with no suspicion of fraud. Bribery is practically unknown; public meetings less disturbed than in England.
The administration of some government departments is unsatisfactory and often wasteful, not merely from want of skill, but largely because political considerations have weakened disciplinary control and caused high wages to be paid to slack workers.
In the legislatures, as in all legislatures, there is selfishness, intrigue, and factious spirit, but little corruption, and no serious abuses connected with private Bills have arisen, such Bills being indeed few.
Local government has been imperfectly developed, for the difficulties it encounters in the thinly-peopled areas are obvious, but it is reasonably efficient as well as honest. There is some little jobbery, but only in one or two great cities have scandals arisen.
State industrial enterprises (other than railways), if not conspicuous failures, have not been successes, and do not seem to have so far proved helpful to national progress. They are generally believed to be wastefully managed, with an output below that obtained under private management.
The number and extent of strikes were at first reduced by the system of compulsory arbitration, but they continue to break out from time to time, sometimes spreading widely, and involving heavy losses to all concerned.
Monopolistic and other combinations have scarcely yet become, but might become, a public danger requiring to be restricted by legislation or taken over by the State.
Except in bringing to the front some few Labour leaders of ability, democracy has done less than was expected to evoke talent or to awaken among the masses any keen interest in public matters other than wages and the conditions of labour, nor has it roused members of the richer class to take that active part in public life reasonably expected from educated citizens.
That the standard of comfort is nowhere higher over a whole people, if indeed anywhere so high, as in Australia, that nowhere is life more easy and leisure for amusements so abundant, cannot be set to the credit of democratic government, for it is largely due to the favours of Nature. It has, however, a significant influence on the national mind, encouraging a self-confident optimism which enters bodily on experiments.
Parliamentary debates do little to instruct or guide the people, nor do the legislative bodies inspire respect. There is singularly little idealism in politics.
What are the peculiar characteristics democracy here presents? To what sort of a future development do the existing phenomena point? What are Australia's contributions to the stock of the world's experience? What lessons does it teach fit to be learned, marked, and inwardly digested by those who are constructing popular governments elsewhere?
The Labour party, having in 1911 obtained a majority in both Houses, formed a Ministry and ruled the country for some years. Thus for the first time in history (apart from moments of revolution) executive power passed legally from the hands of the so-called “upper strata” to those of the hand-workers. Australia and the world saw a new kind of government of the people by a class and for a class. Instead of the landowners or the richer people governing the landless or the poorer, the position was reversed: the latter imposed the taxes and the former paid them. Class government, which democrats had been wont to denounce, reappeared, with the material difference that the governing class is here the majority, not the minority, of the nation. Yet this new rule of the working masses showed fewer contrasts than might have been expected with the old rule of the landed and moneyed class in England before 1832, or the rule of the middle class that followed. Hardly any political and few large economic changes were effected. There was nothing revolutionary. The stream of change continued to flow in the well-worn channels of parliamentary constitutionalism. The bulk of the Labour men have not been Socialists, and few of them extremists in their radicalism. Theoretic doctrines had little charm, and the common-sense moderation of the majority restrained the impatience of doctrinaires or fanatics. There was no passion, because there were no hatreds, no wrongs to avenge, no abuses to destroy, like those which have often roused ferocity among revolutionaries in countries that had never known, or had lost, constitutional government.
The power of a Class party has been built up on a local and vocational foundation which covers the whole country with a network of closely knit and energetic organizations, working incessantly for common aims. These local organizations culminate in a parliamentary caucus in each of the legislatures, State and Federal, which concentrates the full strength of the party upon its legislative and executive measures. Whenever a Labour party holds power, the parliamentary caucus, itself largely controlled by central Labour organizations outside the legislatures, supersedes the free action both of representatives and of Executive Ministers, and thus ministerial responsibility to the electors is for the time reduced, since it is to the caucus that the Ministers are responsible. This caucus system has not been violent in its action, but it works in secret, substituting a private conclave for public debate, depriving the people of that benefit which open discussion coming from both sides was expected to secure. All this has been made possible by the British system of parliamentary government, a logical result of the principle which concentrates power in the majority for the time being, however small it may be, of the representative assembly.
The action of State authority, both in limiting freedom of contract between individuals and in taking over industries previously left to private persons, has gone further than in any other democratic country except New Zealand. Australia shows the high-water mark, so far, of collectivistic or socialistic practice, though with very little of avowed socialistic doctrine. In particular, there has been a further advance than elsewhere towards the provision of employment by public authority and increasing the payment made for it, as well as towards the compulsory regulation by State authority of wages and other conditions of labour. This has been effected not only by direct legislation, but also through the judicial department of government, which has received functions partly legislative, partly administrative, that seem foreign to its normal sphere.
Let me note once more that these changes have been effected:
Without violent party struggles or breaches of the peace. “All things have been done decently and in order.”
Without attacking the institution of private property as an institution, or doing any conspicuous injustice to individuals.
Without, so far, seriously affecting the prosperity of the country.
Without, so far, reducing the individual energy and self-helpfulness of the Australian people.
It need hardly be said that the time during which these novelties have been in operation has been too short, and the scale of their operation too small, for any change in this last-mentioned direction to become manifest. The present generation grew up under an individualistic system. They are the children of the bold and enterprising pioneers who first explored and settled the country. It may be forty or fifty years before the results of State control and State socialism can be estimated.
The evidence I gathered enables me to say no more than this, that the results so far obtained do not encourage the extension of the experiments tried, and that these results are due to tendencies permanently operative because inherent in human nature, known long ago and likely to appear wherever a democracy may embark on similar policies.
Happily exempt from many causes of strife that have distracted Europe, Australian legislatures have been busy with land questions and the respective claims of squatters and” free selectors,” with tariffs, with taxation, with such industrial subjects as strikes, wages, and conditions of labour — all of them matters which touched not the imagination or the heart, but the pocket, and which were discussed not on grounds of economic principle, but as bringing gain or loss to some one class or group in the community. They were important but not inspiring themes. Chatham once enthralled a listening senate when he spoke of sugar; and silver once roused frantic enthusiasm at an American Presidential election. But the men and the occasions that can work these wonders come rarely. They have not come in Australia. Though its politics have not been dull, for they have been strenuous and changeful, they have been prosaic. What room for idealism among tariffs, trade marks, and land taxes? Patriotism no doubt there has been, a patriotism proud of the strength, the self-reliance, and the prosperity of Australia, and which glowed with bright hues when in 1914 the youth of Australia volunteered to fight in Europe not for Australia only, but also for a cause in which the fortunes of the world were involved. But this patriotism, this vision of a great Australia, Queen of the Southern seas, belonged to a different sphere from that of politics and did not tell upon the politicians. Thus there has been a sort of commonness in political life, a want of that elevation of spirit and that sense of dignity in conduct that should belong to men charged by their fellow-citizens with the affairs of a nation growing rapidly to greatness.
It might have been supposed that in such conditions of political life the standard of honesty would have declined, and many Australians say this has happened. But though the air of Australian politics has neither an ennobling nor an intellectually bracing quality, it is not, broadly speaking, corrupt nor corrupting, While in playing the party game against adversaries every advantage that the rules permit is taken, it rarely happens that a statesman abuses his position for his own private profit. Constituencies are not bought, nor are newspapers; the permanent Civil Service is upright: one hears less said about the pernicious power of money than in any other democracy except Switzerland.
No one would desire that causes of strife such as those which made politics exciting in England and France during the nineteenth century should exist in any country merely for the sake of stimulating men's minds to higher flights than the conflict of material interests has produced. As well desire war because it gives opportunities for heroism and supplies themes for poetry. But there are human aspects in which material interests may be regarded that have failed to receive due consideration in Australia. There might have been more sympathy on the one side and on the other more comprehension of the difficulty of economic reconstruction, and on both sides an attempt to reconcile the claims of different classes in the spirit of a wide-minded philanthropy, together with a keener appreciation of the need for adjusting legislation to habits and motives that are a part of human nature.
What light do the facts here set forth throw upon the probable future of government in Australia?
The longer a man lives, the more is he surprised at the audacity of prophets, of the foretellers of evil no less than of the visionary enthusiasts of progress. I can well remember the gloomy forecasts in which not only European travellers but Americans themselves indulged in 1870 when they contemplated the political evils which then afflicted the United States, and which made municipal administration, and in some States the judicial bench itself, a byword and reproach among the nations. Most of those evils have now disappeared. Never despond: unexpected good arrives as well as expected evil. Less than twenty years ago a friendly and very intelligent French observer1 predicted that if things continued in Australia to follow the course they were then taking, capital would disappear, the spirit of enterprise would be destroyed, employers would be terrorized, confidence would vanish, and at last there would come a revolution. Things have continued to follow the same course, at an accelerated pace, but none of these calamities seems appreciably nearer. Those who hold that certain economic laws operate as inevitably as the laws of nature are entitled to say that some of the causes already at work will produce certain effects, if conditions remain the same. But conditions never do remain quite the same, and who can tell which of them will change, and in what direction? Much may happen in Australia, a land which has seen many changes since 1890. Parties may break up; their tenets may be developed in one or another direction. In English-speaking countries parties are less fissiparous than in continental Europe, yet they are from time to time rent by differences of doctrine or by the rivalries of leaders. The caucus system, though it has given less offence to the general public than might have been expected, might by abusing its power induce a reaction, lose the confidence of sections among its supporters, and collapse. The secret of the effectiveness attainable by a pledge binding every member of a Parliamentary party, discovered by the Irish party in the House of Commons under the leadership of C. S. Parnell, was most successfully used, yet that party broke in two before his death, though national sentiment, the main factor in its cohesion, had remained unbroken. So a caucus system like that of Australian labour may be loosened if new issues arise, if mistakes discredit the leaders, if personal jealousies drive in a wedge of disunion and break up the party into sections.2 Some observers expect a popular disappointment with paternalism, and a recoil from it should the defects continue which the management of governmental undertakings have shown.
The plan of raising wages by law, and then proceeding to raise duties on imports in proportion to the rise in wages, cannot go on indefinitely. It is possible, though hardly probable, that, before the limit has been reached, large further advances may have been made towards the supersession of private enterprise through the absorption by the State of a constantly increasing number of industries. The question of wages would then pass into a new phase; for when most of the workers are paid directly by the State, they can fix their own wages through their control of the legislative machinery, voting to themselves whatever wages they please. To make up what the State would lose by the difference between expenditure on wages and the value of the product of labour, further progressive taxation would be needed, if there were fortunes left to bear it.
Other possible economic changes lie in the lap of the future. A succession of dry seasons might bring bad times for all classes, with results unpredictable in their effect upon present labour policies.
Constitutional development, which, though perceptible only at intervals, is unceasing, being indeed as unavoidable in States as are growth and decay in a tree, may show new forms. Representative government, transplanted from the mother country, lost its old character when power passed from Parliament as a whole to the parliamentary caucus, and even from that caucus itself to a body standing outside and controlling the caucus, the Trades' Hall. A demand for the direct action of the voters by the Initiative and Referendum, devices which have won favour in the United States and Switzerland, might then arise. The Australian Labour leaders have hitherto been satisfied with a system which has brought them many triumphs, but the idea of direct popular legislation is more conformable to the democratic principle that the whole people should rule than is the domination of one class through a legislative caucus.1
New questions may emerge if the Commonwealth, already called to deal with high matters beyond its own limits, takes a more active part in world-politics than it has yet done.
Much may moreover depend on the unpredictable factor of the personal quality of the statesmen who will come to the front in the two parties within the next twenty years. Maladroit leadership on the one side, skilful and stimulating and inspiring leadership on the other, might make a great difference where class interests and the forces of opinion are so nearly balanced as they have been in Australia during the last twenty years.
Finally, there may be intellectual changes. The diffusion of higher education may raise the level of knowledge in all classes, may enable them to realize that neither statutes nor those who administer them can prevail against the facts of human nature, may cause the people, who have more leisure than any other people, to spend more of it in reflecting upon the conditions and principles which determine political progress and national well-being. The more highly educated class in particular may arouse themselves to take a livelier interest in public affairs, and to send more of their best men into a political career. Public opinion may become wiser and wider, riper, more truly national and less controlled by class feeling than it has latterly been.
Should any one of such changes occur, it would of course come slowly. In the United States the return of the more educated classes to activity in the field of state and municipal government began thirty years ago, and has not yet gone so far as reformers trust it will. Of the other changes indicated as possible, none seems likely to deflect the main stream of Australian ideas and wishes. The trend of sentiment and the political habits of the masses are already so clearly marked that the tendency to throw burdens upon the richer sort, and to use State power for objects that promise to benefit the citizen even at the risk of limiting his freedom, may hold its ground for some time, suggesting further experiments, the success or failure of which will accelerate or arrest the march towards communism. With its present prosperity the country can afford to lose money upon experiments tried at the expense of the few, even if failure may ultimately injure the many. Each of these will deserve to be studied by itself, and judged on its own special merits or demerits in working. Older countries will look on and be grateful for what Australia can teach.
Among the general lessons for democratic governments which Australian experience affords, that of widest import bears upon the character which Party government takes when Party coincides with Class, and upon the consequences to a representative assembly when it passes under the control of a pledge-bound majority of its own members, each forgoing his own liberty and owning the authority of an extra-parliamentary organization. It is hard to keep popular government truly popular, for power seems inevitably to slip back into the hands of the few, however strictly constitutional may be the forms. Australia has got no nearer than has any other country to solving the problem of government by the whole people with fairness to the whole people, but has given one more proof of what needed no proving, that a class dominant as a class will always govern in its own interest.
The Australians, like the Americans, may not have used to the best purpose all the gifts of nature, and especially the great gift of a new land in which they could make a fresh start, delivered from the evils that afflicted the old societies. They have committed some serious mistakes and tolerated some questionable methods. But they have a great recuperative power. The maxim that nations must not presume too far upon their hereditary virtues is one that no nation can venture to forget. Some have suffered from forgetting it. Yet in Australia it is hard not to be affected by the youthful vigour and optimistic spirit of the people. We may well wish that there were more of them, for they are an asset precious to the world, as well as to that Commonwealth of British nations whereof they form a part, a virile and high-spirited race, energetic and resourceful, a race which ought to increase and spread out till it fills the vast spaces, so far as habitable by man, of the continent that is its heritage.
The transportation of convicts ceased in New South Wales in 1840, in Tasmania in 1853, in Western Australia in 1868.
Originally £400, it was in 1907 raised to £600, and the action of the Parliament which voted to itself the addition was severely commented on. In 1920 it was suddenly further raised to £1000. The same thing had happened in the United States and in France.
The Constitution of the Canadian Dominion can be changed only by the Imperial Parliament which enacted it in 1867; but this arrangement, which seems to leave less power to the Dominion Parliament than the Australian Parliament possesses, does in reality give the former more power, for the Imperial Parliament is accustomed to comply as a matter of course with requests for amendments proceeding from the Canadian Parliament, when satisfied that they represent the general will of the people, whereas in Australia a bare majority only of the States and also of the people is required.
Two exceptions were, however, mentioned to me, and there are doubtless others.
It was, however, believed at the time that in the two Referenda on the question of compulsory military service the women voters of all classes largely contributed to the defeat of that proposal. Western Australia, in which it was carried, has the smallest proportion of women.
I was told that it may reach £2000, but as at the same election a Referendum on a proposed amendment to the Constitution may be voted on, it is not easy to distinguish how much of the total expenditure is attributable to each issue.
A statute directs enquiries to be made regarding such help.
An Act of 1909 imposes penalties on those who disturb an election meeting with intent to frustrate its purposes, and another (of 1911) subjects to a penalty offensive comments on a candidate at an election, if published without the writer's name.
In Queensland, when a popular vote (Referendum) was taken in 1917 on a proposal to abolish the Second Chamber, the proposal was rejected by 165,000 votes against 104,000.
This sentiment went on growing in America till in 1913 it carried an amendment (the seventeenth) to the Federal Constitution, by which the election of senators was vested in the people.
In 1919 the application of a plan providing for preferential majority voting resulted in the election of 17 members of the largest of the four parties with 860,060 votes, one member of another party (Labour and Socialist), with 820,000 votes, and no member of the two smallest (the Farmers and the Independent) parties, which together aggregated 173,000 votes. This outcome has given scant pleasure to the advocates of Proportional Representation.
In 1912 the Speaker was not wearing any robe of office, this having been disused, but in the Parliament of 1913 it was restored.
Successful business men are more often than not managers of a large company, and in so far not free to give their time to politics.
But Sir G. H. Reid remarks in his autobiography on the rudeness common in the legislature of New South Wales in his day.
In the States usually called “Premier.”
A very careful and experienced observer wrote to me in 1920 as follows: “There has been a good standard of personal integrity in public men and this has generally been maintained, but in recent years there have been some grave scandals leading to the retirement of Ministers or members from public life, and in some cases these suspicions have been so strong that the whole matter has not been thrashed out and that others were implicated. In some States the establishment of a practice whereby Members of Parliament are regularly employed by persons having dealings with Government exercises a pernicious influence on the tone and standards of public life.” This is said to happen especially where land transactions are concerned. I gather that the level of purity has declined somewhat during the last decade or two.
It was observed that, although the employees themselves might be confined to the two constituencies, their sisters and cousins and aunts, as well as their wives and daughters, could continue to vote in all the others.
A high authority told me that this consideration was believed to have influenced some judicial appointments during the last decade, and that judges of the inferior courts are sometimes selected with too little regard to their attainments.
Sometimes (e.g. in Hobart) the ratepayer has a number of votes proportioned to his valuation.
The proposal that the Mayor should be elected by the citizens has not so far received much support.
A lucid and interesting account of education in Australia, from which I have derived help, may be found in chaper xii. of the Federal Handbook, prepared in 1913 for the British Association which then visited Australia
The Roman Catholic Church has latterly, especially in New South Wales, where there is a large Irish element, and in Queensland given its support to the Labour Party, which largely consists of men of Irish stock, and it has become an ardent advocate of Irish claims to self-government. Thus religion has come, practically for the first time, to be a factor in Australian politics.
I quote them from the book of Mr. W. M. Hughes, The Case for Labor (first published in 1910), p. 66, where the pledge system is explained and advocated. So far as I know, these terms have remained in force, but whether that is so or not the principle they embody continues to rule.
This caucus system has been retained by the present Labour party, which is now the regular Opposition in the Commonwealth, both in the Commonwealth Parliament and in any States in which it happens to be in a minority.
Nearly all of my informants regarded woman suffrage as having materially added to the strength of the Labour party. Women seem to vote less than men. In a recent New South Wales election for the State Assembly the percentage of men voting, where seats were contested. to the total number on the roll was 76, that of the women voting 65.
The present generation of Labour members is, however, described as rather inferior to those whom the early struggles of the Labour party brought to the front, and there would seem to be to-day fewer leaders of the calibre I noted when visiting Australia.
Even the use of the words “Empire” and “Imperialism” excites in some quarters a suspicion lest self-government should be encroached upon by the establishment of any sort of central authority however restricted its functions.
What is said in the text is of course said with reference to the world as at present existing. To think of a future centuries ahead is to think of conditions under which race fusion may be advancing much faster than it advances to-day, and should our planet, or human life upon it, last till another Ice Age returns, the process of fusion may by then have blent all the races into one.
The adjustment of details in the protective tariff has, however, sometimes led to lobbying in the Commonwealth Parliament.
The extension of railway communications has been tending to reduce this source of loss, because when water cannot be found for the sheep it has become easier to take the sheep to the nearest water.
Estates below £5000 in value are exempt, and the rate, beginning at one penny in the £ (i.e. 1/480) for estates between that and £18,000, rises thereafter by one half-penny in the £ up to sixpence in the £ on estates of £80,000 or more. An additional one penny in the £ (1/240) is charged on all owners who do not reside in Australia.
This may be compared to the tenure called in the Roman law Emphyteusis.
Handbook for Australia, p. 468, where a valuable discussion of the whole subject, too long for quotation here, may be found. No proceedings against dumping have in fact been taken. The matter, however simple it may look in principle, proves puzzling in practice.
To leave to Parliament the determination of what were “reasonable conditions” was to impose on it a duty difficult to discharge in an independent and impartial spirit.
What is said in the text about legal enactments regulating trade and labour is to be taken as referring generally to the facts as they stood in 1913, when things were fairly normal. I have not found it possible to keep abreast of the changes, legal and economic, that have come to pass since that year, and conditions were, of course, abnormal during the Great War and for some time afterwards.
Federal Handbook, p. 471.
This has now ceased.
See Turner, First Decade of the Australian Commonwealth, p. 303.
It was originally fixed in New South Wales at four shillings a day, but this was not meant to be necessarily a living wage, that being left to be settled by the Arbitration Courts from time to time. A prominent politician once said that a minimum wage of seven shillings a day was “fixed like the law of gravitation.”
A high authority, head of an Industrial Court, testifies to the great saving of time when lawyers conduct the cases of the parties.
I quote from an instructive article in the Harvard Law Review for November 1915 by the President of the Court (Mr. Justice Higgins), in which the principles on which the Court acts, the mode of applying those principles, and the results so far attained, are set forth with singular clearness and fairness. Those who are interested in the subject are recommended to consult this article, and a later one by him in the same Review (volume for 1919).
“While the percentage of wages paid on the total value of the output of manufacturing industries increased between 1908 and 1912 from 19.08 to 21 per cent, the percentage available for interest, depreciation, other charges, and profit also increased uniformly from 16.5 in 1908 to 17.9 in 1911, though it decreased slightly (to 17.2) in the following year, showing that, in spite of the increased wages, the percentage available for interest, etc., had increased. Available evidence, therefore, indicates that the effect of the legislative control of wages and conditions of labour has been of benefit both to wage-earners and employers."— Federal Handbook (ut supra), p. 478.
A well-informed Australian friend, not belonging to the Labour party, wrote to me in 1912: “Whatever may be said in detraction of the system of legal regulation of wages, it is undeniable that at no time in the history of Australia has the general level of return on capital been higher than it is at present or has been during the last few years.”
A Labour organ wrote in 1914: “Compulsory arbitration, in Labour's conception of it, is an instrument of progress, a means for bringing about, without violent dislocations of the social fabric, a more equal distribution of wealth.”
See as to this Harvard Laic Review (ut supra), pp. 33 and 37.
In 1895, when in charge of a measure brought into Parliament to deal with the matter, I found British working men just as generally opposed to a compulsory settlement of trade disputes as were employers, and this seems to be still the attitude of both parties.
Australia, Problems and Prospects (published in 1919), p. 36, by Sir Charles Wade (now a Judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales).
As these pages are passing through the press cablegrams from Australia state that a measure is pending in the Commonwealth Parliament for materially altering the constitution and functions of the Arbitration Court, and creating another body for settling disputes.
Between 1912 and 1917 a trans-Australian railway 1051 miles long, connecting South Australia with Western Australia through a region largely uninhabited, was constructed.
In 1917 a Fire Insurance Office was set up by the Labour Government of Queensland, and employers were required to effect insurances for workmen's compensation either with the Government office or with private offices licensed by the Government. No licenses were issued.
In Australia, as in England, the possibility of granting to the workers some share in the management of industries, as well as in profits, is beginning to be considered as its importance deserves.
Sir C. Wade observes, ut supra, p. 45: “In Government undertakings laxity in discipline or efficiency was soon manifested by loss instead of profit. … As in construction [of works] so in the administration of Government Departments political interference should be avoided. Experience shows that if a strike takes place in a Government establishment, Ministerial intervention is enforced and a concession made to the strikers. The Government position is always difficult. If the Ministry resist the demands, votes may be imperilled; if they yield, discipline may be threatened.”
When in 1919 the extreme Socialist (Marxian) party launched a scheme (similar to that of the I.W.W. of America) for the creation of one all-embracing union of Australian workers,— popularly called the O.B.U. (One Big Union),— in order to organize general strikes and reach its ends by revolutionary methods, strong opposition came not only from the moderate Labourists in general but from the powerful Union called the A.W.U. (Australian Workers' Union), which includes the bulk of the rural workers, and also from the politicians of the Labour party. See as to this Round Table, Nos, for June and for September 1919.
Of. Federal Handbook, p. 576.
Papua has now become a sort of dependency on Australia, through the mandate given to Australia after she had been recognized as a member of the League of Nations.
Many travellers in the British Antipodes, struck by the splendid snow mountains, valleys, lakes and fjords, of New Zealand, where the grandeurs of Switzerland are combined with those of Norway, have done less than justice to the quieter beauties of Australia; and few have spoken of its wealth of brilliantly coloured flowers.
It has been suggested that this failure to attain the expected unity may have been partly due to the controversy which arose over the question of compulsory military service and to the way in which that controversy was handled.
The only other democracies known to me in which money has counted for so little in politics are the Orange Free State (as it was before the war of 1899), Switzerland and Norway, all of them countries in which there were hardly any considerable fortunes.
Here as elsewhere it seems sufficient to give pre-war figures, because the conditions from 1914 to 1919 were exceptional.
So far as I could gather, it is not so fertile a source of crime and poverty as in Great Britain, where the failure of Parliament to deal effectively with it has been for many years a serious reproach to democratic government.
M. Voisson in his book La Nouvelle Australie; M. Biard d'Aunet, in his L'Aurore Australe, is almost equally pessimistic.
Signs of such schisms were visible in 1920.
Queensland has already adopted a plan for referring to a popular vote the decision of conflicts which arise between the two Houses of its Legislature.