The Empire and the century/Australia and its Critics
AUSTRALIA AND ITS CRITICS
By THE HON. B. R WISE
Australia is a very perplexing factor in the problem of Imperial politics.
From her geographical position—if for no other and more sentimental reason—her armed strength and the disposition of her people must always be a matter of concern and interest. Dominating the Pacific and placed astride of the trade-route between America and China, she is not only the outlying frontier of England on the Far East, which is the Empire's most vulnerable side; but she is also the ultimate heir of Java, Sumatra, and the Celebes in the event of the absorption of Holland by Germany. In one set of contingencies, when promptitude might make the difference between salvation and destruction, she could anticipate by a fortnight the landing of troops in either India or China; in another, she would be the mistress of the richest tropical possessions in the world, at a time when commercial supremacy largely depends upon control of the tropics.
Nor is Australia less worthy of attention if we regard her internal development and her material wealth. That four millions of people scattered over a continent which is as large as the United States if we exclude Alaska, and larger than Europe without Spain, should in one year (1904) export £57,000,000 of produce is almost without a parallel in history; and yet, as everyone knows who is acquainted with the country, even this vast output will be greatly increased when the engineers have solved the problems of water conservation and cheap transport, and when closer settlement has given new facilities for developing untouched resources.
And, thirdly, Australia is the most British country out of Great Britain. Canada has its French province, the Dutch are in South Africa, the United States is a medley of races, but 97 per cent. of the population of Australia is of pure British descent For the first time in history, as Sir Edmund Barton pointed out with apt terseness during the campaign for federation, there has been 'a continent for a nation and a nation for a continent.'
Such a country, so situated and with these resources, should have a great destiny, provided that its people are well directed and possess a clear conception of their public duty. What, then, is the Australian people? And what the aims and methods of its politics?
English sentiment toward Australia is suffering from a cold fit People are a little 'tired' of her! She no longer attracts immigrants, and her stocks and enterprises have become unpopular with that mysterious entity 'the market.' This is, no doubt, partly due to a reaction from the excessive praises heaped upon Australians for their war services, which, indeed, were great; but Australians are convinced that this is not the whole explanation, and that the present unpopularity of their country is also the result of the much less subtle influence of prejudice and calumny. The blame for this does not attach entirely to writers in Great Britain, although some London newspapers have appeared in the past to take excessive pains to disparage Australia. The worst enemies of Australia have been of her own household; so that popular instinct has labelled with the name of 'stinking-fish party' those superior politicians and writers who misrepresent the aims of the Australian democracy on the platform and in the press with a flourish of inaccurate vituperation, which, although it is intended exclusively for home consumption, is apt to mislead those who are not familiar with such methods of party warfare.
Whatever the explanation, the result is bad. Mutual understanding of each other's aims being the first essential of good feeling between nations, nothing is more likely to create differences than want of sympathy and knowledge, A young country, which is at present in the raw stage, but which is conscious of a great future, is always rather oversensitive to criticism. Dickens's 'American Notes' kept England and America apart for many years; and English criticism of Australia may be equally mischievous, if it does not change its tone and realize that Australian policy is neither selfish nor perverse, but is designed—however imperfectly the plan may be carried out—to give effect to definite ideas of social well-being, in furtherance of what Australia believes to be the best interests of the Empire.
It may not, therefore, be useless to examine very briefly what the Commonwealth, which was born with this century, has already done to justify itself, and what is likely to be its future. In the course of the inquiry we may find that a combination of circumstances has for a time somewhat discredited Australian Federation in the eyes of the public, who cannot follow its affairs closely, yet there will also be shown a solid basis of achievement; while only those who knew Australia in the old provincial days can realize how many dangers Union has averted, and what seeds of promise it has already planted.
It must be recognised at the outset that the Commonwealth is not only at present unpopular, but that it was never popular. For although it was established by a plebiscite, yet the impulse to it came from politicians, who were somewhat aloof from the party organization of their several States, and its provincial opponents were able, rancorous, and determined. Even of the majority who voted 'Aye' in favour of the Constitution most perceived the evils and the risks of Provincialism more clearly than they appreciated the significance of Federalism. Consequently, from the first the friends of the Commonwealth have seemed half-hearted and its enemies have been persistent.
There is nothing in this experience which need excite surprise. There was the same discontent in the early days of the United States, which found expression in the now half-forgotten rising known to history as the 'Whisky Rebellion'; and contemporary observers have related of Canada that, during the first ten years of the Dominion, not 80 per cent. of Canadians would have voted for its continuance had any opportunity been offered to them of expressing an opinion. It was the same in the case of the Scottish Union with Great Britain, which Lockhart, a contemporary, declared to be 'a base betrayal and mean giving up of the sovereignty, independence, liberty, laws, interest, and honour of Scotland'; and with regard to which he was as thoroughly convinced as any New South Wales provincialist that, if Scotland had only stood out, she could have made her own terms, so satisfied was he that England would not have a lost "a good thing."' 'Had the Scots,' he says, 'stood their ground, I have good reason to affirm that the English would have allowed a much greater number of representatives. The English saw too plainly the advantage that would accrue to England by a union of the two kingdoms upon his scheme, and would never have stuck at any terms to obtain it'
We can now inquire into some of the special difficulties which have beset Australian Federation.
The Government of Sir Edmund Barton had a difficult task from the beginning.
No first Federal Ministry is ever likely to arouse popular enthusiasm, both because it must be formed upon the unexciting basis of compromise and conciliation, and because its efforts must be directed rather to the framing of organic measures of administration, in which only experts can take interest, than to the stirring issues of party politics.
But Sir Edmund Barton was also confronted by other difficulties peculiar to Australia.
His term of office synchronized with the most disastrous drought which has ever scourged the continent; and, as every politician knows, no Government is ever popular when times are bad.
Secondly, he had to work from the first without a Press support.
Now, the Press has great influence in Australia. The principal organs of the several States had deservedly occupied for many years a position of such exceptional authority that they could make and unmake Ministries almost at the whim of their proprietors. Yet none of them had much influence in other States, although the Australasian, which is the weekly edition of the Melbourne Argus, has always had a large continental circulation. Only the Sydney Bulletin, which is published weekly, has made any serious effort to reflect the popular opinion of Australia as a whole. Consequently, when federation was accomplished, the great daily newspapers suddenly found themselves deprived of their paramount political power. Their thunderbolts fell harmless on the heads of representatives from other States; and the Ministry prepared its measures and conducted its proceedings without preliminary conferences in editorial rooms. This might have been of less importance had there been any broad federal issue upon which the newspapers could have taken sides; but there was none. The States are even yet in such varying stages of development that the dividing-lines of party politics are with difficulty understood in other States even by the professional politicians; and the only possible federal issue, that upon the tariff, was rendered unavailable for effective party use, except in New South Wales, by the recognised necessity, for well-understood financial reasons, of framing the first tariff upon a basis of compromise with a view to returning a sufficiency of revenue to each State to compensate it for the loss of its power to levy indirect taxes. Nor was the situation of the Government towards the Press improved when, in order to bring about a uniformity of postal laws, the Sydney newspapers were deprived of the valuable privilege of free postage, which they had enjoyed for many years. The Government of New South Wales shortly afterwards (1902) followed in the same direction by requiring payment for the carriage of newspapers on the Government railways. The net result of this combination of untoward circumstances is that the path of the Commonwealth has been beset with difficulties from the first, and that local and personal jealousies have raised a babel of complainings, in which the voices of the friends of federation have been drowned, and which has misled public opinion and obscured facts.
The First Parliament.
Yet the feeling of disappointment is not to be justified by the record of legislation. The first Parliament, although its members worked under novel conditions and without the aid of mutual knowledge, laid the foundations of the Union with a thoroughness which will only be properly appreciated when they bear the superstructure.
When Sir Edmund Barton entered upon office (January, 1901) the States were separated by six different and often hostile tariffs. There were six postal and telegraphic systems, and six defence forces; while each of the six States was as a foreign country to its five neighbours in all matters of judicial process. In three years Sir Edmund Barton and Mr. Deakin, on whom, with Mr. R. E. O'Connor, the representative of the Government in the Senate, the chief labour fell—except in the case of the tariff, which was Mr. Kingston's especial care—had given Free Trade throughout the continent by a tariff which was a compromise between the highest and the lowest of the former rates; they had established uniform systems both for postal and defence purposes, which save increased efficiency at a reduced cost; and (with the capable assistance of General Sir Edward Hutton) they had passed laws by which the process of a State Court could be enforced throughout the continent Nor was this all! They had established a common suffrage, which gave a vote to every citizen irrespective of sex; they had set up a High Court to interpret the Constitution, and to serve (as events have proved) as a much-needed Court of Appeal from State Courts; they had made the Patent Law uniform, so that one application and one fee gives an inventor protection in the six States; and, above all, they had secured Australia for the white races by providing for the deportation of the Kanaka from the Queensland sugar-fields at the expense of the taxpayer, and by adopting the Canadian law against the influx of undesirable immigrants. And they had done all this (as has already been explained) without Press support, in a country where Governments depend upon the Press, and in the teeth of the bitter and persistent opposition of the New South Wales Provincialists. In one respect only have the anticipations of Federalists not been realized: the wider view and better tone which it was hoped that union would have introduced into politics was not immediately apparent. The Federal Parliament was certainly superior to the State Parliaments, but it showed at tunes a distressing want of dignity, and a tendency to subordinate larger interests to intrigues and personalities. But this is only to say that politicians changed their sky in coming to Melbourne, but not their manners; and it is noteworthy that the loudest complaints come from the most persistent intriguers, and those whose most frequent argument is the imputation of motives.
Unfortunately, the record of the second Parliament is not so good.
The Second Parliament.
Sir Edmund Barton, on becoming a Judge of the High Court, was succeeded in his Premiership by Mr. Deakin; and public opinion was soon tested by a General Election (December, 1908). The Ministry put forward a progressive programme, of which the principal planks were a tariff preference for British products, and a compulsory reference to judicial determination of all industrial disputes which extended beyond the limits of one State. On the local question of Protection or Free Trade there was to be a fiscal truce. The attitude of the Opposition as it was voiced in New South Wales was negative and critical; but, none the less, Mr. Reid, its leader, who has an unrivalled facility of platform speech—'fluent as a water-spout after rain' was a description of him by Sir Henry Parkes—carried the mother colony triumphantly against the Government. Since, however, his success was due to appeals to local and sectarian prejudices, it did not win him much support in the other States. It is characteristic of the man and of the short memory of Australian voters, when it is not jogged by the newspapers, that within six months of declaring to his supporters that the fiscal issue could not be dropped, and that the Victorian and Catholic sympathies of the Barton Ministry had been a menace to the liberties of New South Wales, Mr. Reid should have accepted office as the leader of a coalition based upon a fiscal truce, and taken for his colleague in the Premiership, having equal power, a Victorian who is also a Catholic!
The session proved remarkable for rapid Ministerial changes (Deakin, Watson, Reid); but its only legislative result was a truncated Arbitration Act, which, it is safe to prophesy, will remain a dead letter on the Statute Book. This measure was passed through its final stages by Mr. Reid, although he had denounced it at the time he was in Opposition. Barren, however, as the session was, it has defined the position of parties, and its incidents deserve notice upon that account.
Mr. Deakin resigned because a combination of Mr. Reid's followers with the Labour Party carried against him an amendment extending the operation of the Arbitration Act to State employés. The Governor-General, however, to Mr. Reid's unconcealed chagrin, entrusted the formation of the new Ministry to Mr, Watson, who held office for three months with success and dignity. The same Arbitration Bill, however, which had wrecked the (Government of Mr. Deakin proved fatal also to his successors. The blow came upon a proposal for preference to Unionists—Mr. Watson insisting that no measure for dealing with industrial disputes would be of value unless the Court had power to deal with the question of 'free labour,' and also that the small advantage of preference was only a reasonable compensation to workmen, who by the Act gave up the right to strike.
On Mr. Watson's defeat everything was in concision. He had always looked forward to an agreement with Mr. Deakin, and was understood to have formed his Ministry with a view to an early reconstruction to effect that end. Nor was Mr. Deakin averse to the alliance. His health, however, was at the time bad; and the thread of the negotiations was broken by misunderstandings and suspicions on both sides. The Trades Hall Party in Victoria were averse to any coalition with the Liberals, and Mr. Deakin declined to lead any Ministry on terms which left him at the mercy of an irresponsible 'Machine.' Consequently, in Mr. Watson's fall Mr. Reid obtained his long-coveted opportunity. He was, however, powerless alone, for his following was not one-third of the House. Mr. Deakin, however, possessed of the idea that 'cricket could not be played with three elevens in the field,' agreed to support Mr. Reid in order to restore the two-party division, provided that the latter would abandon his opposition to a fiscal truce and accept the measures of the Barton Government, which six months previously he had promised his electors to repeal These conditions seemed reasonable enough to Mr. Reid! He accepted office with a light heart, and set to work at once to get into recess. A large section of the Liberals under Mr. Isaacs refused to follow Mr. Deakin, and, going with the Labour Party, left the Ministry dependent on the single vote of an ingenuous legislator from Tasmania, who excused his support of the Ministry upon the plea that to withdraw it meant a dissolution! Mr. Reid, however, undismayed by this close voting, pressed gallantly towards recess. Events have proved that his instinct was not at fault, for within a week of the meeting of Parliament (July, 1905), he was left in a minority of seventeen. Anxious to divert attention from the pressing questions of Preferential Trade and Tariff Reform, and mindful of many provincial successes as a stirrer-up of strife, Mr. Reid had employed the recess in the familiar tactics of setting class against class by raising the bogey of 'anti-Socialism.'
In vain Mr. Deakin asked for definitions and explanations: to define and explain would have exposed the fraud, which in time, like other scarecrows, ceased to frighten. Forced thus to meet the House without the support of Mr. Deakin, Mr. Reid, in desperation, abandoned all attempts to legislate, and, staking everything upon the hope of dissolution, proposed a scheme of electoral redistribution as the only measure of the session. Mr. Deakin promptly moved an amendment to the Address that the House was anxious to proceed with business; and Lord Northcote, upon this being carried, properly refused Mr. Reid a dissolution. Mr. Deakin is now Prime Minister with a Cabinet of Liberals, and having the support of the Labour Party.
Thus the second Parliament has, in eighteen months, unmade three Ministries and passed one Act. It is not a pretty story, but the time has not been wasted if the Progressives have learnt discipline and cohesion.
The Labour Party in the States.
Moreover, while the politicians have been marking time, the features of the Constitution have been becoming clear. The conception of federation, which involves a division of powers between Commonwealth and States and a limitation of those of the Commonwealth, is proverbially difficult of comprehension; so that it is not strange that voters should be only now beginning to perceive that most social questions are the concern of the States and not of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth Parliament can deal, indeed, with any question which is remitted to it by two or more States; but, while provincial jealousies remain so strong, this power is not likely to be invoked. But directly the Labour Party perceive that the realization of their immediate programme must be sought in the State legislation, the work of the Commonwealth will be more closely confined to defence, preferential trade, external affairs, and the necessary but prosaic work of consolidating the State laws on the few matters of general concern which are within its sphere of action.
The power to legislate on matters of 'trade and commerce' gives, it is true, a large power of interference in social matters; but until the political development of the States becomes more equal, which will happen under the influence of the Labour Party, this power is not likely to be largely used. Thus, such institutions as the Industrial Arbitration Court of New South Wales and the Wages Boards of Victoria will be developed by the local Legislatures, until time makes clear that uniformity of industrial legislation throughout the continent, making allowance for geographical differences, is necessary to secure fair terms to all competitors. Even in regard to immigration, which is one of the thirty-nine subjects entrusted to the Commonwealth, legislation can only be tentative, so long as each State jealously refuses to modify its land-laws in such a way as to make possible a large and comprehensive scheme.
Thus we may expect to see an increased Labour activity in the State Legislatures, which perform much of the work which in England is done by Municipalities, and less in the Federal Parliament.
This need occasion no alarm. The States are many years behind Great Britain in their social legislation, and most of the measures in the programme of the Labour Party (e.g., workmen's compensation, taxation of land values, better inspection of factories, and better sanitary laws) have either been for many years the law of England, or are advocated by one or other of the political parties. All these proposals are denounced as 'Socialism' in Australia.
The timid, indeed, may take heart from the experience of New South Wales, where there is simply no evidence that the legislation which has been supported by the Labour Party has had any prejudicial effect upon capital or industry. Capitalists have grumbled, as Englishmen always will, but the statistics of our industries show a steady growth both in the amount of capital invested and in the output. Even during the depression caused by the unprecedented drought, the industries affected by the Arbitration Act showed a steady expansion; while no manufacturer or other person has ever yet adduced evidence to the Court that an award has worked harshly, although the request for complaints of this nature has been repeatedly and publicly made. Yet, to judge by the vague declarations of politicians and leader writers, one would imagine every industry was being throttled. It may be so—indeed, it must be if the newspapers say so—but the official returns, which are supplied by the manufacturers themselves, furnish no evidence in the affirmative, and much to the contrary. It would be idle to quote figures, which change from year to year and are open to misconstruction, because the latest information is always available to any inquirer at the office of the Agent-General for New South Wales, Victoria Street, Westminster. During all the period, too, that New South Wales has been working under the Arbitration Act she has been free from strikes, which by the Act are made a misdemeanour, and no trade union has refused obedience to an award which has been made against it. Sweating, too, has been abolished in the clothing trade, where the abuses were, relatively, as great as in the East End of London. The situation, indeed, has been fairly put by the impartial correspondent of the London Morning Post with reference to a refusal to work on the part of a small section of coal miners:
'The indirect influence of the Australian Act is, of course, a most potent element in the pressure placed upon the men.… The Act and the Court taken together must be credited with exercising a new and effective control over public opinion at large, which has paralyzed the active assistance of all other unions in this State and throughout Australia. Not a finger is being lifted on behalf of the strikers, not a penny is being voted for their sustenance, not a single speech has been made in their behalf by any Labour leader in or out of politics. The champions of arbitration cannot stultify themselves by any connection with those who are defying its principle and attempting to defeat its tribunal. However futile the police prosecutions about to be heard may prove, and must prove if they are to embrace all those who have laid down their tools, the Arbitration Act has at least isolated them and their quarrel, separating them and their cause from their own comrades in other trades as well as from the rest of the community. Such a spectacle has never before been witnessed in this State or in the Commonwealth, where the solidarity of trade unionists has extended and intensified many strikes that would have been comparatively innocuous if left to themselves' (Morning Post, March 17, 1905).
These words emphasize what it is the object of this paper to make clear—viz., that no serious political party in Australia countenances attacks on capital, or contemplates wild-cat legislation. Indeed, the best security which capital can have is that the predominant party, which is to-day the Labour Party and those who sympathize with its aims, should have responsibility as well as power. The solid elements of sanity, patriotism, and sagacity which make its strength would then be visible to all the world, and even hostile critics would perceive that the extreme utterances of agitators or enthusiasts are not more representative of the aims or methods of Australian Labour than the speeches on a Sunday afternoon in Hyde Park are representative of the opinions of the working-classes of Great Britain.
The Labour Party.
For the moment, however, the Labour Party is a cause of offence to persons in authority who have the ear of the Press, and a stumbling-block, through misunderstanding of its aims and methods, to many well-wishers of Australia.
The changes in the attitude of the Labour Party towards federation curiously illustrate the perversity and unexpectedness of politics. Although one of the resolutions on which the Constitution was based declared in express terms (upon motion by the present writer, made at the first meeting of the Convention) that its purpose was *to enlarge the power of self-government of the people of Australia,' and although the Bill was drawn, in conformity with this direction, upon more democratic lines than any Constitution past or present, the Labour Party opposed its adoption at every stage, because they were unaccountably possessed of the idea that the equal representation of States in the Senate would prevent majority rule, and that the movement towards national unity cloaked some insidious design of 'militarism' and 'imperialism.' No sooner, however, was the new Constitution established than these misapprehensions vanished, and the commonsense of the people perceived that the influence of a well-organized party with definite ideas must be increased, and could not be diminished, by widening the area of its political influence. Thus, after a year's experience of its operation, the Labour Party changed completely round, and became the ardent supporters of a Constitution they had previously denounced, and at the second General Election (1908-1904) so greatly increased their strength as to become the dominant influence in the Commonwealth Parliament. Whoever, therefore, wishes to understand the drift of Australian politics must not misunderstand the Labour Party.
Now, the Labour Party is by no means the party of the 'larrikins' (as has been absurdly stated by some writers in the English Press), for these find their account with the older political organizations which have money to spend, but contains the best and most serious elements of Australian public life. It certainly has a fringe of discontented 'have-nots' and a small wing of extremists who have preached 'Socialism in our time,' but without indicating by what legislative measures they could reach this goal, and without influencing public opinion to any appreciable extent. The party, indeed, comprises most of the farmers, nearly all the Bush-workers, and the city trade unionists, with a sprinkling of clerks and younger University and professional men; and although its present loose organization gives too much scope for intrigue in the selection of Parliamentary candidates, its leaders are men of recognised probity and ability, and its action has never been influenced by the prospect of personal gain.
The one just cause of complaint against the Labour Party, and that which alone separates it from the Liberals, is the dominance of the 'machine' outside Parliament and of the 'caucus' within. Both these instruments of organization would seem in their present form to have outgrown their usefulness. It is only in its early days of weakness that a party need bind all its members by a pledge, and require them to accept every plank in its platform, even although most of these may be mere counsels of perfection which are not likely to be within the field of practical politics for many years. But when a party has gained strength, and can express its ideas in definite and practical proposals, it is surely a sign of strength and involves no risk to leave a certain freedom of thought and action to its Parliamentary representatives. The Labour Party in Parliament has already realized this need for greater freedom, but the organizations outside continue to insist upon the 'solidarity pledge,' although they have lessened its stringency and agreed upon a working arrangement for the next General Election with those Liberals who are in general sympathy with their immediate aims. It is certain that as the party gains in power and responsibility it will be able to maintain an equally effective discipline by means which are less derogatory to the personal independence of its members. For the present, however, the 'caucus' and the 'machine' expose the party to suspicion and attack.
In judging of the value of the Press denunciation of the Labour Party, the circumstances of Australia must be taken into account. The traditional responsibilities which attach to the inherited wealth of an aristocracy are almost non-existent in a new country, where most men win their wealth from very small beginnings; so that the rich realize with difficulty that property has duties as well as rights, and are nervously apprehensive of attacks or criticism. To such persons the growth of the Labour Party has appeared a formidable portent, heralding the very destruction of our social system. Oblivious of the record of their own parties, they unite in a chorus of protest against what they call the 'class' policy of the Labour Party, and band themselves together with much parade and noise in order to oppose 'Socialism.' The newspapers, which, being commercial enterprises, must to a great extent reflect the opinions of the advertising classes, echo these dolorous cries, and enter with avidity upon a campaign which has at least the merit of creating a clear issue between the wealthy and influential classes on the one side and those on the other who, in their anger at what they have considered to be an unfair suppression of Labour opinions, have often gone to extravagant lengths in denouncing the newspaper Press.
Nor is there any danger that such a course will lead to any falling off in circulation. For the Australian Press syndicates its cable news; and for this reason, and because of its inherent strength and merits, has been able to defeat all the efforts of the Labour Party to establish a morning paper. Thus, although in their reports of news and speeches the leading Australian papers are usually fair, those who read their comments on the Labour Party and its doings must accept them as they would the comments of any party newspaper upon the actions and policy of its political opponents. It would be as proper to take the opinion of the Daily News on the Boer War as that of the Sydney Morning Herald or the Sydney Daily Telegraph on the policy and measures of the Labour Party.
Socialism is charged against the Labour Party as the head and front of its offending; but the nature of this crime is not defined. Yet what is 'Socialism'? Is it, as the Sydney Bulletin inquired in a recent issue, 'Socialism' to run a factory to make the postman's clothes, and yet not 'Socialism' to run a post-office? Or is it 'Socialism' to light a street, and yet not 'Socialism' to light a sandbank? Or is it 'Socialism' to run a mine, and yet not 'Socialism' to run a mining-battery? Is it 'Socialism' to tax land values, and yet not 'Socialism' to tax building improvements? Is it 'Socialism' to build ships, and yet not 'Socialism' to build punts?
In one sense, no doubt. Socialism is the collective ownership of all means of production; but the Australian Labour Party, much to the chagrin of their opponents, the 'Socialists'—for there is a 'Socialist' Party in Australia which runs candidates against the Labour Party—has not adopted this policy as a plank in its political platform. It has only gone so far as to maintain that collective ownership should supersede or prevent monopolies, which is the creed of the Progressive Party on the London County Council, and the mainspring of almost all the activities of such Municipalities as Birmingham and Glasgow. In practice, this would mean that the Commonwealth Government would buy out the Tobacco Trust, and thus establish a State monopoly in that most profitable source of revenue, similar to that which the Colonial Office now enjoys in Cyprus, and to those which have existed for many years in other European States whose rulers have never yet been suspected of 'Socialistic' tendencies.
But the Labour Party is perhaps more discredited by a partisan disparagement of its specific measures than by a general attack upon its so-called Socialistic principles. The dispute between the Commonwealth and the Orient Company over the mail subsidy furnishes a recent illustration. Probably there is not one person in a thousand, even of the well-informed, who does not believe that all this trouble was occasioned by the clause in the Postal Act which required the employment of white crews on all mail-boats. Yet the question of white labour has never entered into this dispute. The letter from the Secretary of the Orient Company, which was published in the Times of March 30, 1905, should finally dispose even of this hardy fiction, although, judging from experience of similar cases, it will probably be resurrected at the next Australian election. 'The Six Hatters' is another case in point. The 'Undesirable Immigrant Act' forbids the importation of indentured labour, in order that all contracts for service in Australia should be made in the country itself, where both parties can have the same knowledge of all the conditions. It is one of the many paradoxes of the Antipodes that British sentiment should have been aggrieved by this attempt on the part of Australia to protect British workmen against being made victims of an unfair bargain. Naturally, the grievance comes from a misunderstanding. An enterprising manufacturer of hats omitted to obtain a permit to land six operatives whom he had brought from England under contract. There was a question whether, as skilled artisans, they were not outside the Act; but, however that might be, he was officially advised of a means by which he could have remedied his oversight within a few hours. But our manufacturer was starting a new business, and the Sydney newspapers were looking for a stick with which to beat the Barton Government. No good business man could be expected to let slip so excellent an opportunity. Accordingly for five days the new hat factory monopolized public attention, while Australia rang with indignation against the Government. When a sufficient advertisement had been obtained, the permit was applied for and the men were landed. And they are all of them now members of the Labour Party, and one of them holds office in a branch! It is probable that the mythical accretions round this simple incident have done as much injury to Australian credit as the drought itself. The Petriana myth—that the shipwrecked crew of the barque Petriana were forbidden to land in Melbourne because of their colour!—is another story of the same kind, but fortunately this, although much more grizzly in its horrid details, was too shamelessly exploited at the General Election of 1904 to be of any further use for circulation in England!
The truth is, that in the application of the White Labour Policy, Australians have neither lost their heads nor forgotten their responsibilities towards the Empire. Realizing their dependence upon the sea-power of England, they are endeavouring to improve the conditions of sea service in order to encourage the employment of British seamen. The clause prohibiting the employment of black labour upon mail steamers may have been an awkward step in this direction, but if this has any substantial influence in excluding British lascars from employment—which, seeing that most black crews are Arabs or Malays, is open to grave doubt—the door is always open for negotiations to the Indian Government; since Australians would achieve their object equally well by insisting that the equipment of all subsidized steamers should be up to a prescribed standard in order to insure the efficiency and proper treatment of the crew.
The employment of black labour upon shore stands upon a different footing. Upon this part of the White Labour Policy there can be no compromise, because if black labour gains any footing upon the continent, either the low standard of living will depress the higher with unerring certainty, just as under Gresham's law bad money always drives good money out of circulation, or there will be a section of the continent peopled by white masters and black slaves whose instincts and interests will always be antagonistic to the rest of the Commonwealth. It is true that the tropical portions of Australia may remain undeveloped in consequence for many years; but Australians are prepared to make this sacrifice rather than endure the evils of a mixed race or create in the North a repetition of those Southern difficulties which nearly severed the United States. At the same time, the policy is administered with due regard to the susceptibilities of foreign States. No respectable traveller is excluded or in any way inconvenienced on account of his colour. Thus, Indian potentates pay visits to Australia without any restrictions; and during the four months the Labour Party was in office arrangements were made with the Japanese Empire to admit Japanese merchants, students, or visitors, who were furnished with proper credentials from their Foreign Office. Fortunately, the Government of the Mikado is adverse to the immigration of Japanese labourers.
It is an error to suppose that the democratic party in Australia is opposed to immigration. Following the example of the United States, Canada, and Natal (which has since been followed also by the Cape Colony), the Commonwealth has determined to maintain its present standard of efficiency by excluding paupers, criminals, and other undesirables. The Commonwealth law upon this subject is almost textually the same as that of Canada, Natal, and the United States; while it is administered with so much more consideration to British interests that no white British subject has ever been excluded from Australia under its provisions. The same cannot be said of either the Dominion or South Africa. Yet both these countries are praised for their activity in attracting immigrants, while Australia, under the odium of 'The Six Hatters,' is blamed for excluding them! As a matter of fact, the first excess of arrivals over departures since the banking crisis of 1892 has occurred since the advent to power of the Labour Party. The excess, it is true, is small (1,889), but it marks the turn of the tide, and holds out promise for the future, when the Labour Party is sufficiently strong to overcome the State jealousy of Commonwealth action, and arrange an active immigration policy.
Nor is the attitude of the Labour Party less favourable to Imperial interests in other directions. They have steadily supported an effective system of national defence, under which every boy at school will be trained in the use of arms, from the belief that a citizen army is the best safeguard of democracy, and that a country which is worth living in is worth fighting for. In this respect they offer an admirable example to the Liberal Party in Great Britain. There is not the same unanimity about Preferential Trade, which, like Free Trade and Protection, has been left an open question by the party. Mr. Watson, however, its leader, is in hearty accord with Mr. Deakin on this subject, and it is known that he will be followed by three-fourths of his present party. The best evidence of the strength of feeling among the Australian Labour Party in favour of a closer commercial union throughout the Empire is afforded by the desperate appeals which are being made to them to change their attitude by the political leaders of English trade unionism.
The future, indeed, is with the Federalists, of whom the Labour Party is the active wing, although Liberals who are in general sympathy with Labour aims, but differ from them as to method, are found in the same camp. The Provincialists, indeed, have had their day, although Sydney for a short time yet will raise a vain and belated protest against any Australian policy. The Commonwealth, however, gains steadily with the growth of national sentiment, and local prejudices and jealousies will gradually die out when the people of Australia see themselves as others see them, and have learnt to 'think in continents.'