22 AUGUST 1885, Page 10


WE have given credit,—not, we think, more than was deserved,—to Sir Michael Hicks-Beach for finding time to pass the Australasian Federation Act through the House of Commons in the last days of the Session. In spite of the fact that neither New Zealand nor New South Wales have at present assented to that Act, and that both, therefore, are outside the Federation, and in spite of the fact that there is evidently no intention at present to assimilate the Customs- duties or to create a Customs Union even among the Colonies Which have given their assent to the Federation, we hold that this Act may prove one of the greatest results of the last Par- liament,—in the far future, perhaps, one even more important in its consequences than the great Reform Acts themselves. Let us consider what it really effects.

It enables the Colonies which have asked for Federation—in other words, all the Australasian Colonies except New South Wales and New Zealand—to pass laws, with the assent of the Queen, overriding the laws of all the federated Colonies on such subjects as the relation of Australasia with the islands of the Pacific,—or laws preventing the influx of criminals from other countries, or regulating the fisheries in Australian waters beyond the territorial limits ; further, to take measures for the common defence of the united Colonies against an enemy, or for enforcing quarantine, if the legislators of any two or more Colonies have invited the Federal Council to legislate there- on ; and, again, to pass laws giving effect to the Civil Courts of any one Colony within the territories of the other con- federated Colonies, and for enforcing the criminal processes of one Colony in the limits of another Colony. These are but specimens of the subjects on which the Federal Council can, and quite certainly will, take such measures that all the federated Colonies will be, in effect, and as far as regards these matters, a single State governed by the same laws and co-operating for the same purposes. For example, supposing, what is moat likely, that one of the first Acts of the Federal Council shall be to exclude French convicts from the ports of the Federation, and that such an Act receives, as it would doubt- less receive, the assent of the Crown, the Colonies federated would recognise at once that they were identified for good and evil with a policy which they regard as essential to their welfare, and yet as involving them in a certain amount of common peril. And this feeling would draw them so close together that it would, in our estimation, hardly be possible, looking to what popular feeling is, for New South Wales to hold aloof from a Federation in the action of which her people would feel so deep an interest, and for the triumph of which they would feel so keen a desire. It seems to us, then, that when once this Federation gets to work, and begins to pass laws which affect all the Colonies included in it, it will be barely possible for New South Wales,—though we cannot speak with equal confidence of New Zealand,—to stand aloof. Conceive that any quarrel with France were rendered likely by the action of the Federal Council, what would not be the pressure of popular feeling in New South Wales to insist that the oldest of the Australian Colonies should take her right place amongst the others in defending a policy in which none of the Australian Colonies would be more deeply interested than herself Or take the case of a law regulating the Australian fisheries, and therefore involving dis- putes with other countries,—as almost all fishery laws do. New South Wales would at once realise that, as regarded her own fisheries, she could take none of the advantages of such a law without entering the Federation ; now when she had realised this, is it likely that the popular feeling in New South Wales would long admit of her holding an inferior position in futile isolation Nay, take the case of enforcing criminal pro- cesses of one Colony in the limits of another Colony. Suppose Victoria to have gained the right of apprehending a murderer or a highwayman who had fled to Queensland without further ado, while New South Wales were at the same time compelled to go through all the dreary process of requiring the extradition of any similar criminal from her own territory who had just fled across the frontier, would it not be intolerable to the Colony to remain in this inferior position while a more distant Colony was reaping all the benefits of a substantial union We hold that limited as the new Federation is, it is so essentially subservient to the good of the Colonies to which it applies, and will give them so new a sense of unity and power, that the only Continental Colony to which it does not as yet apply will feel that she is at a very great disadvantage, and that she will be eager to repair the mis- take which she has committed by electing to stay out in the cold. And if this be so, as we believe it will be, the process cannot stop where it is. More and more every year will all the Colonies feel the vast advantages of union, and compete with each other in the work of making the union more real and perfect. No doubt for a time the liking of some of the Colonies for Protection, and the liking of others for Free-trade, will prevent the question of a Customs Union from being entertained by the Federal Council. But even this will come in good time. Once let one or two of the Colonies ask for an Order in Council referring the question of a Customs Union between them to the Federal Council, and the convenience of such a Customs Union, abolishing as it would all frontier Custom-houses, would be so keenly felt, that it would not be long before we saw other Colonies dropping in. Perhaps New Zealand, which, as being isolated by the sea, has a sense of independence of her own, and whose economical conditions are different from those of Australia Proper, may remain for a long time without any closer approximation. But of the Continental Colonies,—including, of course, the close neighbour, Tasmania—we may assuredly say that the lesson of Federation once learned will spread, and spread rapidly, till before long this very imperfect Federation Act will grow into something as real and national as the constitu- tion of the United States. Nor will the difficulties be at all increased,—rather will they be much diminished,—by the fact that all the Colonies are, and will probably long remain, united under a Crown in which all of them feel a common pride. The Australasian Federation Act of 1885 will prove, we be- lieve, to be the cradle of a vast and mighty State.