Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER L: questions now before the australian people - Modern Democracies, vol. 2.
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CHAPTER L: questions now before the australian people - 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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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.
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.