Federation letters: Appeal by the Premier and the Treasurer [3 June 1898]

[Editor: A letter from Charles Cameron Kingston (the Premier of South Australia) and Frederick William Holder (the Treasurer of SA) regarding the proposed federation of the colonies of Australia. Published in The Advertiser, 3 June 1898.]

Federation letters.

Appeal by the Premier and the Treasurer.

To the Editor.

Sir — We earnestly ask electors to vote for the Commonwealth Bill on Saturday next, for their own good and for the good of Australia.

1. We favor Federation in the interests of Australian national life; for the sake of unity and fraternity, and for the strength and safety which they beget; and for the sake also of the progress and prosperity, peace and concord, which history tells us Federation alone can secure.

2. At present, in the absence of Federation:—

(a) Hostile border duties, cut-throat railway rates, contested riparian rights, and disputes as to territorial boundaries, cramp trade, cripple commerce, harass industry, and engender and foster intercolonial jealousies, which threaten to develop into deep-seated grievances, permanently estranging sister States.

(b) Effective local defence is impossible, whether by arms against the open foe, or by legislation against colored races, which have already invaded the continent, and whose servile competition imperils the comfort of white workers.

(c) Australian citizenship is unknown, and our local letters of naturalisation are worthless beyond our borders.

(d) Differences exist in the various States in the laws affecting the sacred relations of husband and wife, and of parent and child.

(e) There is no authority capable of dealing in the interest of the Commonwealth with national questions, such as invalid and old age pensions, industrial conciliation and arbitration, and other matters of kindred importance.

(f) Cheap money so necessary for the development of Australian resources, and for the relief of Australian taxpayers is unknown in the sense in which it is known in Canada.

(g) Australian courts are denied the right of finally interpreting Australian laws, and justice is delayed by appeals to the court of another hemisphere.

The above conditions are each a public misfortune, and have been long recognised. Time and again for years past efforts have been made to provide a remedy. They have all failed, and they must continue to fail till the advent of Federation. For in the interval the mode of uniform legislation necessitates the concurrence of six Governments and of 12 Houses of Parliament. In provincial politics the passage of any measure of first importance through two Houses of parliament is frequently beset with the gravest difficulties, provoking heart-breaking delay. How much greater must be the difficulties and delay in case of 12 Houses of Parliament. The failure of repeated efforts to secure uniform Australian legislation shows most clearly that at present it is practically impossible.

3. But under Federation in relation to all national questions one Australian Government will act for all Australia, and one Australian Parliament will legislate for the Commonwealth and the States. Border duties will disappear. Cut-throat railway tariffs will be abolished. Riparian rights will be subjected to reasonable control. Local tribunals will be created to which questions of disputed boundaries may be conveniently referred.

Effective defence will be facilitated by the consolidation of Australian forces under one command. Immigration will be restricted or prohibited as a white Australia requires. No citizen of one State will be denied by another the rights of citizenship, and legislation will be rendered possible and uniformity guaranteed on all national questions.

Cheap money will be brought within the reach of Australia equally, as in the case of Canada. Australian constitutions will be finally interpreted by Australian courts, and Federal legislation may forbid the delay of justice by Imperial appeals. With all this there will no interference with State independence in State affairs, but the great principle of home rule will be preserved to each State in its fullest integrity in all matters of purely domestic concern.

4. The above are indeed magnificent results. They will chiefly be secured through the instrumentality of the Federal Parliament. The wisdom of this body and the probability of its sympathy with public sentiment must greatly depend on its constitution. We hope that our advice may be entitled to some degree of attention from the people of South Australia. With a deep sense of the responsibility of advising, and speaking from intimate personal association with Australian Federal efforts of recent years, we unhesitatingly advise every South Australian democrat that the proposed Parliament from the standpoint of the people will be immensely in advance of any Parliament ever established or seriously proposed in any British-speaking community.

Both Houses will be elected on the same franchise — the State franchise for the local House of Assembly. No sectional representation is provided for in either Chamber. No property qualification is required for membership. No plural voting will be permitted. Both Houses will be paid. One House and half the other will retire every three years. The House of Representatives may be dissolved at any time. Further, to solve a deadlock, both Houses may be simultaneously dissolved. In South Australia adult suffrage for both Houses of the Federal Parliament is preserved beyond the possibility of federal interference. The popular House will control the Federal purse, and the Government of the day will exist only upon the breath of its good will. Under such a system the people of Australia will through the Parliament of the Commonwealth control their national destinies with a plenitude of power never previously enjoyed by any British people.

It is a much better charter of popular Government, much in advance of that possessed by the people of South Australia, and immeasurably superior to anything to be found in any other part of Australia. It is a constitution well worthy of the enthusiastic acceptance of a triumphant democracy, and we recommend it as such, not only as good in itself but as a model in conformity with which provincial Parliaments may some day be fashioned and reformed.

5. Federation under the Commonwealth Bill is therefore of great worth. Moreover, it is offered to South Australia without cost. Estimates differ as to the precise financial results, but we unhesitatingly reject the suggestion that there will be any reduction in wages. The extended and freer markets which will be opened for our produce and manufactures must result in a greater volume of trade and business, and a corresponding increase of employment. Scores of business men certify to this. We need fear no competition with the other States. This was proved eight years ago before the Intercolonial Free-trade Commission. The industry, intelligence, and enterprise of our people are equal to those of our neighbors. Their people labor under conditions similar to our own. If, as may be, the Federal tariff is protective against the outside world we shall be free from foreign competition, even in New South Wales markets, which we at present share with all.

The Finance Committee of the late Convention estimated the prime cost of Federation to South Australia at from £30,000 to £33,000 per annum. A much greater sum would be little indeed to pay for the Federal benefits — the priceless advantages we have roughly sketched. It would not represent the ordinary fluctuations of a revenue aggregating approximately £2,500,000.

But against any possible cost there must be credited any plainly provable profit, and £33,000 annual debit entirely disappears when set against £10,000 per annum, which the railway authorities declare must result from the abolition of cut-throat railway rates, and £40,000, which will be South Australia’s annual share of the saving of interest on conversion of her debt through the Federation on the basis of figures supplied by Canadian results. In the statement of £10,000 per annum railway revenue credit is simply taken for fair charges receivable from extra South Australian sources without the haulage of another ton of goods for another mile, and no account is taken of the largely increased volume of traffic which the railway authorities confidently predict must also ensue. Nor in the above figures is Federation credited with any amount of economies in viceregal and Ministerial salaries, which each state if federated will be able to effect without touching the Public Service.

6. Further, South Australia at present submits to a loss of £70,000 per annum in relation to the Northern Territory. There is also an accumulated deficit on this account. We might avoid this by disposing of the Territory to a syndicate, which would be well pleased to relieve us of the debt and responsibility and to pay a handsome premium. But such a transaction would lead to the establishment of a huge landed monopoly in our midst and to an agitation for the introduction of servile races. South Australia will be no party to this, and is content to abide the loss until a United Australia takes charge of the Territory and relieves us of the debt and responsibility in the interest of all. Mutually satisfactory terms would not be difficult to arrange, and when arranged South Australia may be fairly credited, as a result of Federation, with the relief from the burden which she now cheerfully undertakes in trust for Australia and in the interests of posterity.

7. Some critics urge that the constitution is too rigid, others complain of its liability to alteration. It errs neither on the side of rigidity or laxity. In non-essentials there is conceded to Parliament the liberty of alterations, but in all essentials popular confirmation is most properly required to the validity of Parliamentary amendments.

8. We have shown that Federation can be achieved on the most democratic basis, and with the most magnificent results, and so far as South Australia is concerned without one farthing loss. This, too, when debiting against Federation all probable contingencies, crediting nothing which cannot be clearly proved as plainly realisable, and making no attempt to place any pecuniary assessment upon increased national honor, and dignity, and nationhood, and brotherhood. Why then should we hesitate? We know of no reason for delay. Rather, we know of many for eager acceptance of the opportunity. In other colonies it is urged that South Australia and the less populous States are too highly favored by the constitution. We think that all are fairly dealt with, but if the objection be allowed to prevail, and delay ensues it means that South Australia’s right to the advantages at present proposed to be given to her will be challenged and contested.

What South Australian is so wanting in patriotism as to desire this? We have nought to gain and all to lose by delay. What South Australian worker is so blind as not to note that the interests of a white Australia would be endangered by representation at a fresh Convention, of the special interests of those who desire the introduction of servile races? Yet delay points strongly in the direction of such representation:—

There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life,
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

We believe that we have arrived at a crisis in our history, that a fatal and possibly an irremediable mistake will be made in the interests of Australian unity, national life, popular government, and constitutional reform if the well-wishers of these great causes fail to appreciate the opportunity for their advancement, which will be given on Saturday next.

It is with all reverence that we conclude with the expression of the fervent hope that at this eventful period Providence may grant the people grace to

Know the seasons when to take
Occasion by the hand, and make
The bounds of freedom wider yet.

— We are &c.,

C. C. Kingston.
F. W. Holder.

Adelaide, June 2, 1898.

The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA), 3 June 1898, p. 5

Editor’s notes:
riparian = living or located on the bank of a river or a watercourse, or related thereto

[Editor: Corrected “before Intercolonial Free-trade Commission” to “before the Intercolonial Free-trade Commission”.]

[Editor: The original text has been separated into paragraphs.]

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