Australasian Democracy

Produced by Al Haines





[All Rights reserved.]


The following pages have been written from the point of view of the year 1896, the greater part of which I spent in Australia. During the earlier months of the present year I was in New Zealand, but I was unable to continue my survey of general Australasian affairs.

A result of the limitation that I was compelled to impose upon myself will be observed in the apparent antiquity of the chapter dealing with Australian Federation; but this is not so great as might have been anticipated, the new Federal Convention having drafted a Bill which is based, to a large extent, upon that of 1891. For purposes of comparison I have, with the kind permission of the London agents of the Melbourne Argus, included an article in which that newspaper has summarised the provisions of the new Federal Constitution Bill.

I have also included a brief account of a visit to the Coolgardie goldfields which, though alien in purpose from the remaining chapters, may not be without interest as a record of personal impressions of a Province which has but recently felt the effects of a budding prosperity.

It has been suggested to me that I should attempt to discuss Australasian problems with reference to their applicability to Great Britain; but I have preferred to leave this task, of which the importance cannot be overstated, to persons of greater experience, and to confine myself to a record of Australasian action and to a comparison of the points of similarity or the reverse between the several Provinces. It will be seen, however, that, in some cases, as when dealing, for instance, with the results of payment of members and with the powers and privileges of Australasian Upper Houses, I have noted differences of conditions which must render deductions by analogy a matter of extreme difficulty.

The terms “Liberal” and “Conservative” are used to denote, respectively, the more and the less advanced parties in Australasian politics, and must not be taken to imply differences in opinion similar to those prevailing in Great Britain.

In conclusion, I would only say that my studies would have been impossible in the absence of kindly communicativeness on the part of politicians of all shades of opinion; and, on the social side, that I retain warm feelings of gratitude towards the committees of clubs and numerous acquaintances who extended to me the cordial hospitality of kinship.

    July 25, 1897.


Contrast between Western Australia and the Eastern Provinces—The Constitution of South Australia—The alliance between Liberalism and Labour—Joint action in the face of financial depression: Village Settlements, Progressive Taxation, the direct encouragement of production—The advocacy of an Elective Executive—The State and Religious Instruction1
The necessity for safeguards against financial extravagance and political pressure—The Crown Lands Act—The appointment of independent Railway Commissioners—The Standing Committee on Public Works—The Public Service Board—The unemployed, their numbers and treatment—The democratisation of the constitution—The Labour Party, its history, successes and aspirations34

The agitation of Central and Northern Queensland for separation from the South—The “Kanaka” traffic—White and coloured labour on the plantations—The Sugar Works Guarantee Act—The irregularity of employment in the sugar and pastoral industries—The conditions and opinions of the shearers—Assistance to dairymen and producers of frozen meat—The Labour Party, its history and prospects—Criticisms of the Government—The principles of State action54
Differences of conditions between Australia and New Zealand—The Public Works policy—Taxation on land—The Land Act of 1892—The Land for Settlements Acts—The Government Advances to Settlers Acts—The encouragement of settlement—The co-operative construction of Public Works—The unemployed—Continuity of policy82
Comparisons between the Australasian Upper Houses—Conflicts between the two Houses in Victoria—The proposed obviation of deadlocks—The utility of the Legislative Council—The antagonism between Town and Country—The Factory Acts, their justification and provisions—State Socialism: Railways, Irrigation Works, the encouragement of Mining, Subsidies and Bonuses, State advances to Settlers—The Unemployed and the Leongatha Labour Colony121

Constitutional history—The relations of Church and State—Natural impediments to development—The construction of railways—The scarcity of water—the promotion of the mining and other industries—The absence of parties in Parliament156
The restriction of the immigration of coloured races—Betting and lotteries—The adoption of a modification of Hare’s System of Voting—Conflicts between the two Houses of Parliament—Finance and Taxation—Land Grant Railways170
Indirect effects of the discovery of gold—Causes of the financial crisis—The origin and extent of State Socialism—The thriftiness of the working classes—Labour Representation in Parliament—Parliamentary Government—Direct Taxation—Conciliation and Arbitration in Industrial disputes—Protection and its corollaries—The feeling towards Great Britain—General conclusions244



Contrast between Western Australia and the Eastern Provinces—The Constitution of South Australia—The alliance between Liberalism and Labour—Joint action in the face of financial depression: Village Settlements, Progressive Taxation, the direct encouragement of production—The advocacy of an Elective Executive—The State and Religious Instruction.

The traveller who visited Western Australia in 1896 saw a country which was enjoying, owing to its goldfields, a phenomenally rapid development, with all its attendant advantages of a large increase in population, an expanding revenue, and abundance of employment. As he passed to the Eastern Provinces he found himself in the midst of communities which had been shaken to their foundations by the fall in the value of their staple products and the collapse of many banking institutions, and were putting forth strenuous efforts to restore the equilibrium between revenue and expenditure and to make a fresh start upon the path of prosperity. These efforts, varying in detail in different Provinces, have included the imposition of additional taxation, provision for the unemployed, and, in some cases, direct encouragement of production. The policy pursued by South Australia is of particular interest as her Constitution gives the freest play to democratic influences.

The House of Assembly is elected on the basis of adult suffrage; the Upper House or Legislative Council by adults possessing a property qualification consisting of a freehold of the clear annual value of £50, a registered leasehold of £20, with three years to run or the right of purchase, or the occupation of a dwelling-house of the clear annual value of £25. No property qualification is required in candidates for election to either House, and the Members of both Houses are paid at the rate of £200 per annum. Adults, upon reaching the age of twenty-one in the case of the Assembly or possessing the requisite qualification in the case of the Council, can claim to be placed upon the electoral roll and are entitled to vote upon the expiration of six months after registration; upon removal to another constituency, the vote can immediately be transferred. Plural voting is forbidden under heavy penalties, and all the elections, except that for the Northern Territory, take place upon the same day.

These conditions have enabled the democratic element to obtain a preponderating voice in both Houses, by a majority of one in the Council and by a considerable majority in the Assembly. During the last three years the Government has been in the hands of the Liberals under the Hon. C. C. Kingston, who has included in his cabinet two former Premiers in the persons of the Treasurer, the Hon. F. W. Holder, and the Minister of Education and Agriculture, the Hon. Dr. Cockburn. The Ministerialists have had the support of the Labour Party, which has been very successful with its candidates and now holds the balance of power. It was formed towards the close of the year 1890, after the failure of the maritime strike, in response to the feeling of the Trades Unions and other labour organisations that their objects would be obtained most easily by securing the direct representation of labour in Parliament. They were influenced also by the rejection by the Assembly of Dr. Cockburn’s proposals for progressive taxation in spite of promises made by a majority of the members before their election. A political programme was, accordingly, drawn up, which is the accepted creed of the Labour representatives, who number six in the Council of twenty-four and twelve in the Assembly of fifty-four members. It has successively been modified, as measures previously advocated have been passed into law, and contains the following principal items: The cessation of the alienation of Crown Lands by the substitution of some system of leasing; the remission of the duties on articles not grown or produced in the Colony, any resulting deficiency in the revenue to be made up by increasing the tax on land values; redistribution of seats on the basis of population; the encouragement of local industries by the extension of the State Export Department, so that producers may be able to obtain the full benefit of foreign markets; and Federation on a democratic basis. The Labour Party are opposed most strongly to the admission of coloured races and to assisted immigration, on the ground that the former would lower the status of the Australian workman, and the latter cause the supply of labour to exceed the demand and bring misery and destitution upon the poor. The relations of the Labour and Liberal members, which have been most cordial, are based upon mutual interdependence. The Liberals rely upon the support of the Labour members; the latter are not strong enough to take office, nor, I understand, do they wish to do so, and must support the Liberals in order to be able to mould the legislation to the shape that they desire. A prominent member of the Labour Party has thus summarised the position: “The hardest work in connection with some of the measures has been done by Liberals who, though not members of the Party, are generally found working in connection with that body. But it must be conceded that most of the planks which have been carried owe their early success to the fact of their adoption on the programme of the United Labour Party, and the persistent advocacy and solid votes of its members.” The policy of the Party has created a great amount of bitterness in the country, their successful advocacy of progressive taxation on incomes and land values and of other democratic measures having led them to be charged with being inimical to capital as such; but the Speaker of the Assembly, who is a Conservative, has stated in a recent speech that, “in speaking of the Labour Party, he wishes to do so with the greatest respect. They are a power in the House, and no Government could have retained office in the last Parliament without their support. The Labour representatives were picked men, clever in debate, unremitting in attention to their duties, and a credit to the districts they represented.” The leader of the Party is Mr. J. A. McPherson, a native of Aberdeen, who migrated to Adelaide in 1882 and engaged in the printing trade. He identified himself with Trades Union affairs, was elected unanimously in 1890 to be Secretary of the Trades and Labour Council, and still holds that position. He entered the Assembly at a bye-election in 1892, and is regarded as one of the ablest and most energetic members of the Labour Party. Mr. McPherson has a popular supporter in Mr. E. L. Batchelor, the colleague of the Premier in the representation of West Adelaide, who has risen from subordinate employment on the Government railways to be, at the age of thirty, President of the Railway Association and Secretary of the Party. Mr. Batchelor is a man of broad views and a keen student, and has brought forward a Bill for the institution of the initiative and referendum, which he considers to be suited to the small population of South Australia. The Party are fortunate in their leading men and show no signs of cleavage, their only serious difference of opinion having been in regard to the qualifications of Labour candidates. As long as solidarity can be maintained and the present leaders remain in the ascendant, no fear need be felt that they will subordinate the interests of the community to those of their own class, though they would be the first to admit that their main object is to protect the working man and to improve his position.

The principal measures of the present Administration, such as the Taxation Acts and the establishment of the Village Settlements and of the Produce Export Department, may be said to be the joint product of the Liberal and Labour Parties, and may be regarded as an example of the policy pursued by a pure democracy in the face of financial depression, dislocation of trade, and widespread scarcity of employment.

The object of the Act of 1893 which authorised the formation of Village Settlements was to prevent men of small means, who found difficulty in obtaining employment, from leaving the country by affording them the opportunity of settling upon the land and working it co-operatively with the assistance of advances from the State. Its main provisions were, that any twenty or more persons might form an association for the purpose of taking up a grant of land not exceeding 160 acres per head; that the work should be done under the direction of trustees appointed by members of the association from among their number, who should manage the affairs of the village upon principles of co-operation and equitable division; and that the Commissioner of Crown Lands might advance to any such association out of funds provided by Parliament, an amount not exceeding the sum of £50 for each villager and not exceeding one-half the cost of the improvements upon the land. The advances were to be repaid in ten equal annual instalments, with interest computed at 5 per cent. per annum on the moneys for the time being remaining unpaid; but the first of such instalments was not to be payable until after the expiration of three years from the date of the advance. The formation of settlements on a purely communistic basis was rendered possible by Section 78 of the Act, which states that “the rules” (of an association) “may require payment to a common fund or otherwise as may be determined of all or any part of the earnings of the villagers whether earned within the village or elsewhere.” Twelve associations were formed, mostly on the banks of the Murray, between the months of February and August, 1894, but not, with a single exception, on the lines intended by the Government. The extreme scarcity of employment and great poverty at Adelaide and in the neighbourhood in the early part of that year led them to form the remainder of persons who were almost entirely destitute. They were necessarily assisted at the start, but did not afterwards receive advances until the Government Inspector had certified that they were justified by the improvements made upon the land. The action of the Government was illegal throughout, as the Act stated expressly that the advances should be made out of funds provided by Parliament, and no funds had been voted for the purpose, but it may be condoned on the ground of the extreme urgency of the crisis. At the expiration of a year the limit had been reached in most cases, and further advances were indispensable to prevent the immediate collapse of the majority of the settlements. The Commissioner of Crown Lands, accordingly, introduced a Bill in which he asked for authority to increase the advances, under the same conditions, to £100 per head, and for further powers of control over the settlements. The Bill, which was hotly opposed, was not passed till a Select Committee had been appointed to inquire on the spot into the conditions and financial prospects of the settlements and had reported in its favour.

The report, which was dated November 14, 1895, and the evidence upon which it was based, gave a complete picture of the disadvantages under which the settlers laboured and of the drawbacks of the system of distribution. The land selected for the villages was such, it was pointed out, that it could not be cultivated except under irrigation. This had necessitated the erection of a costly pumping plant, which the settlers had difficulty in purchasing, as they could offer no security for payment. When the plant was finally obtained, it was found, in some cases, to be unsuitable; in others it could not be properly worked in the absence of a capable engineer. The settlers, brought together at haphazard by destitution and not by their knowledge of agricultural pursuits, had wasted much time and labour through ignorance, incapacity, and insufficiency of proper tools. They had lacked a strong controlling hand to direct their operations, and had disobeyed the trustees whom they had themselves appointed; and as the trustees had little power discipline had been nonexistent, and quarrels, at several settlements, of continual occurrence. Order had been restored with difficulty, as the only punishment was expulsion, upon a decision of the trustees ratified by a vote of the villagers, and many villagers had voted against expulsion from the fear that they in their turn might be subjected to a similar penalty. The arrangements for the distribution of rations also had caused considerable dissatisfaction and led to disagreement between single and married men, as the former felt that the latter received a share of the stores out of proportion to the work they had done. The general system was, that rations were issued on a sliding scale, according as a man was single or had a large or small family, and was to that extent purely communistic.

The difficulties encountered by the settlers had been such as would have discouraged most men, but, in spite of them, the total number had only fallen in eighteen months from 598 to 440, and the majority of witnesses expressed themselves satisfied with their lot. They admitted the necessity of further advances, but pleaded that they had a heavy burden to bear in the cost of machinery, and that their labour, especially in the planting of fruit trees, could not yield an immediate return. The financial position was thus summarised:—The Government had advanced £26,000, the unpaid accounts amounted to about £11,000, and the improvements were valued by the Commissioner of Crown Lands at £41,000.

During 1896 the further advances had been expended, but the settlements had not become self-supporting, and the increased burden of debt and uncertainty as to the future had caused many of the settlers to become disheartened and others to leave in despair. On the other hand, the appointment of an expert to exercise the additional powers conferred upon the Commissioner and to give advice to the settlers, had led to the diminution of quarrels and disagreements among them and to a better direction of their work. In view of these facts the Government decided to close four of the settlements which had been formed upon land unsuitable to the purpose, owing to the poorness of the soil or the absence of facilities for profitable irrigation. It has been estimated that the remainder have sufficient irrigable land to maintain a population of about three hundred families, and that they require an average of about £25 per settler to make them self-supporting. A few enthusiasts alone believe that any portion of the principal of the loans will ever be repaid; but the Government will have no cause to complain if they receive regular interest on the money. Some difficulty is likely to arise in the disposal of the produce. There is a considerable market for vegetables on the river, but it will soon be overtaken by the supply. The settlers will probably devote most of their land to fruit growing and dairying, and will be able to take advantage of the Export Department.

The settlers should have a better chance of success in the future, as loafers are gradually being weeded out, and the process is to be continued until the settlers shall have been reduced to such as have shown an honest desire to make homes for themselves and their families upon the land. This course has been rendered possible by the large exodus of working men to Western Australia, which has reduced the pressure upon the local labour market. The Government desire to approximate all the settlements to the level of Murtho, which alone was formed of persons who had considerable means of their own. The settlers, about twenty in number, put an average of £60 each into the venture and left good situations out of enthusiasm for the principles of co-operation. They are intelligent, well-educated men and women who are bound to put forward every effort to be successful, as otherwise they will be in a worse position than at the start. They work all the land upon the method of joint cultivation on the ground that, as different forms of produce are grown, it is of importance to be able to concentrate the greater portion of the labour at any point where it may be required, and, under the influence of communistic ideas, give to all an equal share of the results of their united efforts. This system would have seemed, from the constitution of human nature, to be doomed to failure; but an amount of work has been done in planting and clearing which testifies to continuous and sustained labour, disagreements have been rare, and the settlers, in conversation with me, expressed themselves as contented with their lot and confident of eventual success. They do not regard themselves as recipients of charity, as they have received advances on the same conditions as holders of Working Men’s blocks; on the contrary, they regard themselves as pioneers of a new movement, and desire, not only to make homes for themselves and their families, but to prove that land can be worked successfully on a co-operative, almost a communistic, basis. If the Murtho settlers succeed, they will do so by the continued exercise of mutual forbearance and from the impulse of a common enthusiasm.

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