Page:The Dictionary of Australasian Biography.djvu/307

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DICTIONARY OF AUSTRALASIAN BIOGRAPHY.

in 1862, and in June of the following year became Premier of the colony of Victoria as Chief Secretary, and for the last four years of its existence Postmaster-General in a Ministry which held the reins under circumstances of extraordinary turmoil until May 1868. Mr. (now Sir) George Verdon was Treasurer of the new administration, and intimated his intention of renewing, under their ægis, the proposals which he had unsuccessfully put forward when occupying the same position in the Heales Ministry for the reduction of the export duty on gold and of the import duties on tea and sugar, and of supplying the deficiency by the imposition of ad valorem duties on the importation of articles which entered into competition with the local industries. Though the proposed duties were only to range from 5 per cent. to a maximum of 10, and were fathered by a Ministry mainly composed of Free-traders, who advocated them on revenue grounds, the importing interest at once took the alarm, and rallied to their support all that class of unbending economists whose devotion to free trade led them to regard it as an axiomatic principle admitting of no exceptions on grounds of fiscal expediency or the exigencies of a new community. Simultaneously the declared protectionists, who were daily growing in popularity, declined to accept the ministerial proposals as anything more than a halting step in the right direction; and when, at the general election in 1864, the ranks of this party were greatly reinforced, it is not surprising that the M‘Culloch Government should have been strengthened, instead of weakened, in their determination to carry through their very moderate proposals. The free trade party were intrenched in the Legislative Council, where their majority was overwhelming; and availing themselves of the experience acquired in the previous session, when payment of members having passed in the Assembly, was ignominiously rejected in the Council, the Ministry resolved to secure that there should be no repetition of such tactics in relation to their tariff. Backed by their large majority in the Assembly, they determined to tack the tariff to the Appropriation Bill for 1864, and thus to vindicate once for all, as had been done by the House of Commons in past times, the supremacy of the Lower House in matters of finance. The Council accepted the challenge, and threw out the Appropriation Bill, thus depriving the Government of the means of paying the civil servants, the works contractors, and other public creditors. Sir James M‘Culloch was not, however, a man to be easily beaten, and he found ready to his hand a legal weapon which for the time being at least would enable him to frustrate the action of the Council. Whilst with one hand the Government collected the new duties on the authority of the Assembly alone, they took advantage of a clause in the Audit Act which directed the Governor to sign the necessary warrants for the payment of any sums awarded by verdicts of the Supreme Court to persons who had sued the Government. The Government, to start with, borrowed £40,000 of the London Chartered Bank to meet pressing payments, and the Bank, at their instigation, sued them for the amount owing. The Government law officers let judgment go by default, the Governor signed the needful warrant, and on it the Treasury paid the amount of the payment to the Bank, who re-loaned it to the Government. And so the process was repeated and the deadlock avoided. It having been complained that the Council had not had an opportunity of passing the Tariff Bill without the indignity of the tack, the Government in 1865 passed the bill through the Assembly in a separate form, but in the meantime withheld the Appropriation Bill. This the Council regarded as adding insult to injury, and promptly rejected the Tariff Bill. The Government on this decided to appeal to the country, and came back strongly reinforced; their followers, when the House met in Feb. 1856, numbering fifty-eight out of a total of seventy-eight members. The Tariff Bill was again sent up to the Council; and a despatch, censuring the conduct of the Government in collecting the new duties on the vote of one house alone, having in the meantime been received from Mr. Cardwell, the then Colonial Secretary, they were emboldened to again throw it out. Sir James M‘Culloch thereupon resigned; but the Governor found it impossible to get other advisers, and Sir James resumed office. He now suspended his financial arrangements with the London Chartered

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