Hopes and Fears of Federation

Hopes and Fears of Federation
Terms to Know
 Constitution: The document which sets out the
relationship between the states (formerly colonies) and
the federal government. It details which level of
government has power in specific areas.
Convention: A formal meeting where delegates, elected
or otherwise, gathered to draft or modify the constitution
Billites: Those in favour of the constitution bill and hence
Anti-billites: Those opposed to the constitution and
Secede: To withdraw from federation or a colony.
Please note colonies before federation and states after.
Road to Federation
 1883: A Federal Council was established where
colonies could discuss common concerns. It did not
have any power to pass laws and colonies decided
individually to enact recommendations. Council was
disbanded by 1899.
 Oct 1889, NSW Premier Henry Parkes made his
famous Tenterfield speech which renewed the
impetus for federation.
Road to Federation
 In the speech he declares: “…surely what the
Americans had done by war, Australians could bring
about in peace. (Cheers).
 In relation to national defence: “…to preserve the
security and integrity of these colonies that the whole
of their forces should be amalgamated into one great
federal army.”
 On railway transport: “…from South Australia to
Queensland, a stretch of about 2000 miles of
railway…to adopt a uniform gauge, it would be an
immense advantage in the movement of troops.”
Road to Federation: Defence
 1889: British military expert Major General J.B. Edwards
investigation into Australia’s military position military
position concluded that only a federated force could
adequately defend the continent.
 Historian Geoffrey Blainey: “The six colonies gloried in
being separate. They ran their own post offices…built
their own railways, and conducted their own
immigration programmes…each colony controlled its
own defence forces. South Australia had gunboats, New
South Wales had torpedo boats and Tasmania had its
volunteers…in 1889, the seven colonies of Australia and
New Zealand could call on 30,000 volunteers in an
emergency but barely 1000 servicemen.
Road to Federation: Defence
 Defence was becoming an increasingly important
issue: France moved into the New Hebrides in 1871
and Germany colonised the eastern portion of New
Guinea in 1884. Russia was expressing colonial
interest in the region while the British fleet was on
the other-side of the globe and the empire was
waning in power.
 Subsequently invasion and defence was becoming an
issue that could be addressed with federation.
‘Defence Not Important?’ Ray Willis
 Historian Ray Willis argues that the issue of defence and
invasion was only an issue for a minority of people in the
 According to Willis in his “Defence Not Important?’ he
argues “…in the 1890s much was said about the lack of
danger to Australia…[there was] also the period of
relative calm in Europe and most of the world from 1889
to 1899.”
 AGL Shaw agreed: “…while the British navy was supreme
there seemed little danger of foreign aggression in the
remote Pacific. Admittedly there had been some little
stir…[but] confined to a small group of the population.
‘Defence Not Important?’
 Conversely Manning Clark states: “Defence, fears of
coloured labour, and economic interest strengthened the
motives for union over the last twenty years of the
century….Indeed every war scare in the Pacific…led to
talk about federation”
 Blainey supports this assertion: “By the early 1880s they
[Australian colonialists] were not sure whether they
should rely so much on Britain…Many Australians rightly
feared that Germany would annex part of New Guinea
and nearby islands and that France would annex the New
Hebrides…the Australian colonies agreed to defray [pay]
part of the cost of the British naval squadron…based in
 A tariff is a charge or tax placed on goods when they
enter a border. Each colony had a tariff charges at their
 Two-fold effect: raised on funds for the colonies and
protected local industries as the imported goods were
more expensive.
 Mirams: “The collection of duties caused much irritation
as well as hindering commerce.”
 These tariffs were directly related to the intense rivalry
and jealously between the colonies especially NSW and
NSW vs Victoria
 Further these two states had diametrically opposed
economic philosophies – NSW advocated free trade
while Victoria was protectionist.
 Free Trade: removal of laws and rules that hamper
the free movement of goods being bought and sold
across borders.
 Protectionist: introduction of laws and rules that
protect local businesses from outside competition.
 NSW was fearful that Victoria would use its
economic dominance to create a protectionist
Free Trade vs Protection
 Victoria had a policy of high duties (taxes/tariffs) to
protect industries from overseas competition.
NSW had a policy of low duties to encourage trade and
low-cost of goods. Many of NSW’s leading industries
were built on overseas trade.
These two colonies could not agree about laws on
imports if there were to be federation.
Most other colonies had protectionist policies therefore
NSW was concerned about the future economic direction
of federation.
It was finally resolved by choosing to deal with this issue
after Australian Federation was formed.
 Immigration was the one issue that all colonies
 Even though historians like Willis downplay it as a
causal factor, it did create a bond, a unity amongst
 Clark: “Between 1880 and 1900 the fear of coloured
labour degenerated into hysteria in the eastern
colonies…[they] feared a lowering of their living
standards from competition between white and
coloured labour.”
 Blainey agrees quoting Alfred Deakin who identifies the
Japanese as having “inexhaustible energy” and “their
endurance and low standard of living that make them
such competitors.”
 Shaw: “…all colonies were unanimous; all had passed
similar legislation to preserve the purity of White
 Subsequently many historians argue that each colony
had their own means of legislation to deal with
maintaining a White Australia however Ann Curthoys
counters that there was a fear that the effectiveness of
these laws were questionable.
Chinese Immigration
 1888 a shipload of Chinese are turned away from a
Melbourne port told they could not land.
 When the ship sailed to Sydney the largest popular
demonstration of its time arrived at the port to stop
the human cargo from arriving on their shores.
 Alfred Deakin and the Bulletin were vocal advocates
of blocking increased Asian immigration.
The Mongolian Octopus
 The Bulletin published an infamous cartoon entitled,
‘The Mongolian Octopus’
 The image is of an octopus with a male Chinese head.
The face is purposely depicted in an unattractive and
aggressive manner. The tentacles are quite literally
strangling everything that Australians hold dear with
each tentacle representing the evils of Chinese
immigration (cheap labour, immorality, opium,
small pox, etc.).
The Mongolian Octopus
Melbourne Conference
 Following Parkes Tenterfield speech a conference was
called to discuss the forming of federation. It was held in
Melbourne in Feb 1890.
 Involved six colonial premiers and two representatives
from New Zealand as a potential seventh colony.
 At the meeting the delegates sought to move towards an
independent union not a republican as they desired to
remain loyal to the United Kingdom (Hirst).
 After the success of the Melbourne Conference they
agreed to meet again.
Sydney Convention 1891
 Sought to draft a constitution that would have to be
approved by the colonial parliaments (which still
included New Zealand).
 Premier of Qld Samuel Griffith was seen as the chief
architect of the document.
 NSW parliamentarian Edmund Barton and SA
premier Charles Kingston also played a significant
role in the drafting.
 Could not agree to introduce a Bill of Rights like the
American model.
Failure of the Sydney Convention
 The document failed to gain any popular support.
 Historian Helen Irving: “The Bulletin was quick to
denounce it and New Zealand decided to withdraw”.
 AGL Shaw: “Rarely has there been a greater flop. In
New South Wales it was violently attacked as unjust
and likely to jeopardize her free-trade policy…The
other colonies did nothing or discussed the scheme
in a desultory fashion…The whole project seemed to
be stillborn.”
Factors halting Federation
 Two unforseen factors temporarily halted the
federation train and even prompted Henry Parkes to
withdraw his support.
 An economic depression in the 1890s resulted in the
loss of jobs and the associated loss of confidence by
industry. Subsequently battles between workers and
bosses on the waterfront and the pastoral industry
 Furthermore the King Drought of 1895 caused huge
problems for both the pastoral and agricultural
Men of Federation: Henry Parkes
 Henry Parkes was the premier of NSW and a vocal
advocate of federation.
However he did not play an active role in the drafting of
the constitution or in working with the other delegates.
He was largely seen as a figurehead/ the public face of
However his leadership in the formation of federation
was questionable as he had dropped the proposed
constitution in the early 1890s which led to other
colonies to follow suit.
Some historians have argued that he was in favour of
federation purely as a means to secure his place in
Men of Federation: Samuel Griffith
Men of Federation: Edmund Barton
Men of Federation: Charles Kingston
Men of Federation: Andrew Inglis Clark

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