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THE FEDERAL CONVENTION., Issue 10426, 22 September 1897
THE FEDERAL CONVENTION.
NOTES AND JOTTINGS,
[By Ore Owx Cokri^pondent.] Ostensibly Sydney is in a mid whirl of excitement on the subject of Federation. To the outer or uninitiated barbarian we are boiling over with it. finally, the thing is as dead a3 the proverbial door nail. Certainly, we have a Convention sitting here for the purpose of drawing up a constitution. But the mau in the street cares not, a dump fir the Convention or their works. It seems to be incredible that, whereas six months t>«o we were tin the midst of a Federal election campiien, in which ■ something liko 150,000 people voted, the:e should be such apathy about the matter now. One would ha've Ihoupht that at least there would haveb:en sufficient curiosity amongst p-oplc to induce them t.i fill the gUlt rie-i at Parliament Buildings to stare at th* foreign potentates gathered together. But there is not. The galleries are almost as silent as the tomb. Occasionally a belated individual of the better class will creep in with trepidation to gazi at the galaxy of talent brought together, but he seems to go out again sadly and very quickly. No ; if we may judge by what we see or hear amongst the peoplo, they have almost forgotten that there is such a problem as Federation before them. Perhaps the reason for this state of thii is to be found in the fact that the work now being done by the Convention is a rehash, served up cold, of what we have had before in the joint at Adelaide. The great que ations at issue have been fought out previously by the same men, and they are evidently not disposed to alter " their opinions very much. Another reason may be that the people have been nauseated on the subject through the eternal discussions which took place in the local 1 arliament; and yet another, and perhaps the greatest reason, is to bo found iu the tact that upon the main question at issue—the financial problem-members of the Convention have so far shown themselves to be utterly unable to frame an intelligible scheme, and so have perhaps lost caste. Jhe pubic apathy appears to have aliected the delegates themselves. There is a deathly dulness about the proceedings which seem, not to be enlivened by the slightest sally of repartee or even a row. If someone would but act up to our parliamentary precedents, come down with a few inches of whisky under his belt, and invite another delegate to settle the State right question or the powers of the Senate on the lawn at the back, Federation would be saved.
As I have indicated, the question of the finances has so f ar prove( j the „ reat stumohng - bluck to the Convention. uunog the recess the scheme arrived at in Adelaide of a sliding scale of adjustments for the different colonies ha? besn veritably torn to pieces. Every m>ui in the community, with or without the least pretensions to financial edacity, has come forward with a criticism and a little scheme of his own. I have now alongside me a heap ot pamphlets, newspaper articles, etc , which would take a week at least to wade throueh, nit to speak of their ti.estion. The orly point upon which there Is ar.v agreement, however, 13 as to the utter fa'ilure of the Convention scheme as a solution of the difficulty. I his is admitted by the delegates themselves, who, as far as can be judged, do not see daylight ahead. This is shown by the growing inclination to throw the onus of aiAVmF r l"estion, as suggested by Mr a i ~' Upon ,ho federal Parliament. Ana rea ly this appears to be the onlv way ou„ of a, big hole. It is almost impossible to sa y. w 1 ha t should or should not he done until the Fe leral Tariff is settled. No doubt the debate upon that questkn, if it ever comes to the stage of a debote in the federal larliament, will open up the whole subject, and the people who must settle the problem must; be those who have to arrange lor the revenue which must be dealt with. At any rate, the new T-irliameut would probably contain the bulk of the present delegates together with some others who mi -hi assist them. At present the matter heupposed to be in the hands of a Finance Committee consisting of the Treasurer, and one other delegate from each colony. But what roe Committee are doing no one seems to know. Mr E. Barton, the Leader of the Convention, admits his utter ignorant ot the proceedings of this Committer, and so tar, it appears, the Committee have done ?Z 1 ' ng A . Bl J t lhe g ene ral opiuion appears to be that they will recommend that every possible point shall be remitted to the federal Parliament, One point of interest has, so far, been made clear by the Convention, and that is that members generally have a very wholesome contempt for the local Legislatures, to jurige by the manner in which they have treated the suggested amendments of those bodies. Especially does this apply to the suggestions of the New South VV ales Houses. Both of these recommended a system of proportional representation for the Senate. But the Convention would have none of ,e. The division was a very clear indication of the state of feeling upon this point. It; was recognised that, if we are to have Federation, it can be upon no other footing than that of equality, and the antifederalists in tha local Parliament, who have been masquerading in the clothes of % ! er f 1, . 8t ». will have the opportunity afforded them of carrying out their designs. _ It may bo remembered that recently ln the Upper House Mr Pilcher, who shares with- Sir Julian Silomons the leadership of the New South Wales Bir, threatened, should the principle of tional representation not be agreed to to introduce a Bill, to amend the Federal Enabling Act. Under that statute, the Convention Bill will be forwarded to the people for a direct vote as to its adoption or rejection. Mr Filcher's Bill would alter this arrangement, so that the Convention Bill would undergo final revision by the local Legislature before being submitted to the popular vote. A similar Bill, introduced in the Assembly during the present sesaion of Parliament by Mr Haynes, did not get through for wane of time. But both Houses were so strong on the point of proportional representation that it is quite possib.e such a measure would be carried. Then good-bye to Federation for a decade at least. A great deal has, of course, been done towards clearing up the business of the Convention by the decision as to equal State representation in the Senate. But another equally importaut question had still to be decided as affecting the interests of the smaller States, and that was as to the powers of the Senate. This turned out to be the crucial point in the negotiations between the representatives of the different sets of States. The majority of the men from the smaller States claimed that not only should they have equal representation with the larger ones in the Senate, but they also wished that House to have coordinate powers with the Lower House: in other words they wished the Senate to be the dominant House. Sir John Forrest, as representing perhaps the most important of the smaller States, was the leader of this party, an d it appeared at one time that he would have strong support. But since the session at Adelaide many opinions have changed and a number of delegates from the smaller Mates, seeing that if they persisted in their demands Federation would never be accepted in the larger States, wisely came round. Finally, the division showed that the commonsense party were in the ascendant, and amidst cries of " Rats " from the burly knight from Westralia his co-ordinate power provision was wiped out. Practically these two main points as to the Senate are the only great results achieved so far by the Convention. But they are very important, and the rest will L£!n Sa T, Dg eXCept a3 t0 the Gaanoe question. The great matter which is whether, the Convention will go right through now, or adjourn to suit the Vietonans, .whose General Elections take place next month. The position is very uncertain at the time of writin/ though probably before this reaches you a decision will have been arrived at It is a tribute to the power of the Press'that the stumbling-block to Federation is a great daily paper-the Melbourne "Age. ; That journal, which governs Victorian politics, and keeps the Turner Government in as easily as it could turn that Miuistry out has declared for a postponement of Fede*
ration for a few years, and Sir George Turner is now the element which has to be considered in the question of adjournment, or even of Federation itself. It is known that he wishes the Convention to adjourn for a considerable time. But the great majority of the delegates, and even a moiety of those from Victoria, want to finish up now if possible. This could easily be done before the end of next week, if the financial question were remitted to the Federal Parliament. If it be left to the delegates themselves to decide no adjournment will take place, but Sir George Turner, under pressure from the ' Age,' may insist upon it as the prise of Victorian adhesion, and theiein lies.the rub. From conversations I have had with delegates, however, I incline to the opinion that the Convention will complete their labors before rising. In fact, the point is being raised as to whether, under the Enabling Bill, it can again adjourn. The Convention, though so dull in many ways, is still a very interesting gathering. Many notable men are there, though parhaps as a whole it is hardly up to the standard of its 1891 predecessor in intellectual capacity. Mr Barton is undoubtedly the dominating personality of the whole group of delegates. His mastery of the entire subject is wonderful. Not a point is raised but he has a ready answer, an authority available, or a diplomatic little speech. Next to him comes Mr G. H. .Reid, our Premier, who has improved his status if anything tince his return. Sir George Turner is a somewhat unstable quantity, but he i 3 a thoroughly practical man. His lieutenant, Mr Isaacs, is more brilliant, and a veritable waterspout of words, while Mr Deulun maintains his reputation for showy speech-making. Of the others, Mr Wise (N S.W.), Mr Higgics (Victoria), and Mr Glynn (Sout'i Australia) are theareats3tsuccasses of the new men 3ince IS9I. The "flies in amber" are Messrs J. T. Walker (N.S W.) and Simon Fraser (Victoria), though the former, as a sop to his vanity, has been appointed, along with Mr Reid, to the Finance Committee. A remarkable feature of the Convention as a whole is the numb r c f big men physically here assembled. Of the fifty, at least onehj.lf, 1 should s.iy, are over Oft iu height, and the majority of them, if not tall, are burly. Does it mean that, after all, brains go with bulk ? Sydney, September !.">
THE FEDERAL CONVENTION., Issue 10426, 22 September 1897
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