The West Australia question [NSW Parliament, 8 August 1889]

[Editor: This record of proceedings in the Legislative Assembly (NSW) of 7 August 1889 was published in The Australian Star (Sydney), 8 August 1889. It includes a report of George Dibbs’ “I have a dream” speech.]

The West Australia question.

Sir HENRY PARKES said that, in reply to Mr. Traill on the previous day, he had said that he would ask the House to pass a resolution conveying an address to the Queen in regard to the West Australia question. He should now, with concurrence, move a resolution adopting the following address, and directing it to be signed by the Speaker, and forwarded by cable and letter through the Governor to the Secretary of State for the Colonies:—

“To the Queen’s Most Excellent Majesty, — Your Majesty’s most loyal and dutiful subjects, the members of the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales in Parliament assembled, desire to approach your Most Gracious Majesty and humbly to make known our views on matters of momentous interest to the whole population of Australia. A bill is at present before your Majesty’s Imperial Parliament to confer the rights and privileges of self-government upon the inhabitants of the colony of Western Australia, numbering about 43,000 of your Majesty’s subjects, who hitherto have held possession of nearly one-third of the entire territory of Australia. The population of the other Australian colonies, occupying a little over two-thirds of the whole territory was, on June 30 last, 3,087,000 of your Majesty’s subjects. Your Majesty’s subjects, the members of the Legislative Assembly aforesaid, with all dutiful respect, desire to urge the justice and expediency of passing into law, with the least possible delay, the bill introduced by your Majesty’s Ministers with such provisions as shall confer upon Western Australia a constitution similar to the constitutions enjoyed by the other self-governing Australian colonies. The members of the Legislative Assembly aforesaid further respectfully urge that any and every part of the territory of Western Australia not included within the provisions of the new constitution shall henceforth be reserved for and, as soon as practicable, brought under a form of Government similar to those of the other colonies, and shall be held exclusively for the purposes of Australian settlement and colonisation by persons from the other colonies and from Great Britain and Ireland. Your Majesty’s loyal and devoted subjects, the members of the Legislative Assembly aforesaid.”

Very few words would be required from him in support of the address. The Government had asked the other colonial governments to meet in conference on this matter. Affecting as it did about one-third of the entire continent, the subject seemed one on which a conference would be particularly appropriate. There was no doubt that West Australia was now entitled to a constitution similar in character to that enjoyed by the other colonies of the group — (cheers) — and it was to emphasise that point that he had included a clause to that effect in the address. In the last clause it was desired to disclose, once and for all, that the day had now come when they might safely act on the maxim of Australia for the Australians. (Cheers.)

All that had been done in Australia hitherto was due to the high colonising spirit which the colonists themselves had possessed. Having arrived at such a stage that they could manage their own affairs surely the time had come when they should think of what the future of the continent should be. The future ought to be purely Australian. (Cheers.)

That sentiment he expressed with the most sincere feeling of loyalty to England. He had no dream of separation from England and the adoption of a different form of government in Australia. The time was rapidly advancing when Australia would be a great power on the face of the earth, but he could see no reason why it should not be still allied to the mother country.

He did not agree with the idea of Imperial federation which had been promoted by many eminent men at home. There could be no federation of one dominant power with several smaller powers. Still there might come a time when these colonies would be brought into agreement as one great Australian people, and when there might yet be a union of the empire by an alliance of the South African, the North American, and the Australian colonies with Great Britain. He thought there was a promise of British-speaking people throughout the world uniting. One judge of the great Federal Supreme Court once said that the United States might at some time or another in the future again re-enter the bond of unity with the parent country. (Hear, hear.)

Anyone who had had the slightest experience of America knew well the yearning of the great part of that interesting people after the mother land. In many instances they were more British than the Britons themselves. When in America he never at any time heard the expression of a sentiment that could be construed into approaching antipathy to old England. He had heard from merchants in California and the New England States expressions of that kind — that they would rather trust to English institutions than to their own. He hoped that it was no strained opinion of his own that the time might come when even the United States of America and the people of the United Kingdom and its offshoots would act in some kind of friendly lines for carrying on the great work of civilisation all over the world. (Hear, hear.)

We in Australia ought to take in hand the work of colonisation or modern civilisation over every foot of Australian soil. They knew the marvellous power of free government in developing the industries of the people. They had seen that here in the colony at the south and in the great colony on the north. They could readily imagine the advance which West Australia would make when she received her constitution, and it was their duty to use their influence to hasten the day when the charter of our liberties would be complete. But we were concerned in what was to follow in that enormous slice of country which would be still left immediately under no form of Government. It was supposed that there were persons of great influence in the mother country who sought to hold that portion of the territory known as Western Australia as the ground on which the redundant population would be shot, with no object but to get rid of it. We wanted no element of that kind here. Great Britain wished to deport the least valuable population; we wished to receive the most valuable, (Hear, hear.)

Therefore there was no hope of an agreement between those who were advocating these parts of the English population being sent away. He thought all the Australian colonies had an interest in watching the developments in West Australia. We had one common interest in seeing that no new form of Government took root which should be inconsistent with the Government of these colonies. Under no specious device should be planted in any part of this fair land a class of people who would establish any inferior class of social grade. It was for the few people of this land to avert the errors of our ancestors, and to try and found for ourselves a newer and purer quality founded on the everlasting basis of good will and peace. They would send that address as an expression of opinion that West Australia should recover her inheritance in full measure and in good time — (hear, hear) — and, secondly, that that being done, such an arrangement should be made that any remaining territory in another colony should be a kindred character to us, and should rise in good time and at no distant date, so that we should be one glorious chain of free commonwealths, and as such able to hold our own with the British nations on the face of the earth. (Hear, hear.)

Mr. DIBBS desired to second the motion which had been moved by the hon. member, and he could safely say that there would be no obstruction in any shape or form, and that the resolution would be arrived at with the unanimous voice of the House. But they had a little right to complain that the hon. gentleman had not given them notice, so that those of them who took a great interest in Australian affairs could be given some little time for the consideration of the matter. It was springing a mine on them to vote an address to her Majesty the Queen on a subject of such great importance. They were willing, however, to suspend the ordinary business of Parliament to allow a matter of that kind to be submitted without any notice being given; nevertheless it was unfair to hon. members who took a lively interest in the matter.

He concurred in the sentiments given by the Premier of keeping Australia for the Australians, and he was desirous of carrying it to a greater length than the hon. member would go. He cared not what they thought of us in America. Australia had arrived at such a stage that she was an element to be reckoned with the other countries. But Australia should be kept for the Australians, and there should be no form of government except upon the liberal basis on which they stood if they had to come to united action.

But he had a dream that there would be a different form of Government in Australia than that which ruled to-day. Our enormous and rapidly-increasing population pointed to the fact that Australia would be a State in a few years as great as the United States of America. He looked forward to the date of that change in Government taking place. The necessity of a national life was springing forth, and we would be as great as and equal to the European nations. This great territory was bound to be a nation separate and altogether free of the tramels of any other country. We were willing to be allied to England, but the time would come when the colonies would be separate states, and united similar to the United States of America.

What Western Australia claimed was given to Queensland only a few years since, and see how it had improved that colony. With her small population West Australia had done what New South Wales never did. They had built 440 miles of railway lines, 2000 miles of telegraphs, they had 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 sheep, and they had all the energy and ability to render the colony an important factor in the growth of this great continent. However England might desire to keep that Crown colony for the purpose of flooding our shores with paupers or convicts, they must enter a united protest against such a course. If they did that the English Government might give way with good grace. We were more concerned in the future of Western Australia than England was; the colony would become equal to us in time both in population and wealth. The colonies would go forward at no distant date, so that Australia would become a nation as free as England was herself. (Hear, hear.)

Mr. TRAILL had to congratulate the leader of the House on the course he had taken in the matter. He had on that occasion put himself at the head not only of the people of New South Wales, but of the people of Australia. The Premier of the colony on this occasion stood as the leader of the kingdom of Australia. He had taken the proper place on this occasion, but he was only sorry that he did not take the step earlier. He only regretted that these resolutions would reach the Throne somewhat late to effect what might have been gained if they had been despatched at an earlier date.

It was nearly two months since he placed a motion on the business paper calling attention to the matter. On May 28 such a motion appeared, and he thought that was the means of making the Premier take cognisance of it and recognise the seriousness of the subject. But action was not taken at once.

Subsequently, on July 5, when he came to move the motion, the developments of the intention of the Imperial authorities with regard to West Australia had assumed another phase; and then it appeared doubtful whether a free constitution would be granted to West Australia at all on the present application. He then received an assurance from the Premier that the Government would not sleep over the matter, but the Government did sleep over it until July 27, when the Premier told the House that nothing had been done.

But the Government then seemed to have awakened to the occasion, for they found after this that a movement was taking place throughout the colonies on the subject. There had been no sleeping after July 27.

If the Premier had moved in the first instance the Legislatures of the colonies would have agreed to pass resolutions which would have assisted the matter. Instead of people in England committing themselves to the action which they had done they might have formed another opinion.

This Legislature stood at the present moment demanding a right on the part of Australia, and there was no necessity to have said anything in the resolution as to the loyalty they felt for the old country. That went without saying. We were loyal above all things to this country of our own, this land of Australia.

He thought a great federation was before them; there might be a general federation of the English-speaking peoples throughout the world. Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke once said that the true way to federation was by separation. It was quite possible, as the Premier had said, that that great people in the Republic of America might yet find a tendency to unite themselves with the English people of the mother country.

Mr. TOOHEY desired to take the unusual course for him of congratulating the Premier for his splendid and timely action on this great question. (Cheers.)

The leader of the Opposition had complained that sufficient previous notice had not been given to deal with the question or permit hon. members to make themselves acquainted with it. But the greatness of the capacity of a man was shown by his ability to rise to a great occasion. How much more effective was it that the matter should be dealt with in this manner, and that the House should suspend its legislative operations to give voice to the true sentiments of the people. (Cheers.)

By having adopted this course New South Wales had taken the position which she was entitled to take as the leading colony of the group — (renewed cheers) — and to-morrow her voice would be the first to be heard in England, speaking in behalf of their brother colonists on the other side of this great island continent. (Hear, hear.)

This was not a matter which previous preparation would make them the better able to deal with. The question arose, and the man arose with it; for the moment made the man and the nation too. (Cheers.)

Although the Premier had not been forced into any particularly hurried action the present opportunity had indicated the real character, the thoughtful nature of the hon. gentleman. He had seized the opportunity in the best possible manner, and he (Mr. Toohey) congratulated the country on it. (Cheers.)

He congratulated the Premier, also, for his action that night had shown that two of those on the Opposition side who were once among the strongest Imperialists had declared for Australian nationalism. Not long ago, not so many months back, he with a few others stood side by side to resist the passing of a measure which they did not believe embodied in practical form the true sentiments of a national Australia. The hon. members he had referred to were against them then, but now they found that by the action of the Premier they had abandoned the cry of Imperialism, and re-echoed in the truer form the aspirations of a true Australia. (Cheers.)

Mr. PLUMB, as a West Australian pioneer, agreed with the action of the Premier. West Australia should have the same rights of self-government as the eastern colonies. If the northern portion was not included within the jurisdiction of the proposed new colony it should be reserved to be dealt with as a separate portion of the continent, not under Imperial rule, but under the control of the other colonies.

The motion was carried unanimously, amid considerable cheering.

The Australian Star (Sydney, NSW), 8 August 1889, p. 3 (second edition)

Editor’s notes:
commonwealth = a nation or state founded on the principle that it shall be governed by its people (normally via elected representatives) for the common wealth, i.e. governed for the common good or general welfare of the people

hon. = an abbreviation of “honourable”, especially used as a style to refer to government ministers, or as a courtesy to members of parliament (as a style, it is commonly capitalised, e.g. “the Hon. Member”)

mother country = in a historical Australian context, Great Britain; may also refer to England specifically (may also be hyphenated, i.e. mother-country)

mother land = in a historical Australian context, Great Britain; may also refer to England specifically (the term may be capitalized or not; it may be rendered as one word, i.e. “motherland”; or it may be hyphenated, i.e. “mother-land”)

[Editor: Changed “more British than the Britains” to “more British than the Britons”.]

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

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