The Guardian July 12, 2000

Prime Ministerial junkets and federation

While the present Prime Minister and a gaggle of former Prime Ministers, 
state Premiers and assorted officials live it up in London at taxpayers' 
expense the issues and circumstances which led to the federation of the 
Australian States are being ignored.

Manning Clark wrote in his History of Australia that "the moves 
towards federation were the product of neither popular hunger for 
independence nor of any widespread determination that Australians should 
claim responsibility for making their own history".

Many, at that time, remained under the spell of one of Australia's earlier 
citizens, Wentworth, who declared the objective to be a "new Britannia in 
another world" despite The Bulletin printing on its title page, 
"Australia for the Australians".

The basis for federation grew along with the growth of the economy and the 
development of communications. It was no longer acceptable that tariff 
barriers, which impeded open trade, should exist between the various 
States. There were also the beginnings of an Australian national sentiment 
which were captured in the poems of "Banjo" Paterson and Henry Lawson.

In 1891 a National Australasian Convention met in Sydney to debate a draft 
constitution. The delegates to this and subsequent assemblies which finally 
drafted a constitution were all members of the rising capitalist class 
whose economic interests were pushing them more and more in the direction 
of federation  a federation under the protective wing of the British 
Empire. There was no thought of a republic in those circles.

As always, hip pocket interests created divisions among these business 
representatives of the newly emerging nation. They were divided principally 
along the lines of protection or free trade.

In those days "free" trade did not mean what it does now. It was mainly a 
question of free trade across the borders of the separate Australian 
States. International trade, except with Britain, was limited.

The constitution was drafted and remains in place today with but few 
amendments. It was put to the people of the separate States in two 
referenda in 1898 and 1899 and carried, thereby, creating the legal basis 
for federation that took place on January 1, 1901.

It is interesting to note that the principal contestants in the first two 
elections following federation were the Protectionists and the Free Trade 
Party with the Protectionists polling just ahead of the Free Traders. The 
ALP, which had been formed in 1890, secured an 18 percent vote in the first 
election and 31 percent in the 1903 elections.

Both the Free Trade and Protectionist Parties soon died out to be replaced 
by the Liberal Party. From that time, Australia's political scene has by 
and large been dominated by the two-party system.

But there were other issues than trade. There were those who did not think 
it democratic to have a Senate which was made up of the same number of 
Senators from every State irrespective of their population  a situation 
which still exists.

There were those who supported federation because they believed that a 
federal government would be better able to look after the defence of 
Australia in a region that was always to be dominated by Asian countries, 
even though at that time they were colonised and completely under the thumb 
of the British, Dutch, French and German imperialists.

The defence of Australia meant keeping Australia "white". Even then the 
idea of the "yellow hordes" sweeping down from the north was being invoked. 
A federal government would be able to implement more effective immigration 
laws that would keep out unwelcome neighbours who did not speak the English 
language and had a different skin colouring.

None-the-less, federation was an inevitable and progressive step forward. 
The recent defeat of the referendum for a republic shows, however, that 
much remains to be done to achieve full independence.

The recent junketing in London also shows that there are those who even now 
hope that, instead of making our way with our Asian and Pacific neighbours, 
time will stand still and we can remain a bastion of Britain and, more 
importantly, that other Anglo-Saxon creation, the USA.
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