23 FEBRUARY 1850, Page 12


THE AUSTRALIAN-COLONIES-GOVERNMENT Tiles exact truth with respect to opinion in New South Wales on the question of one or two Legislative Houses, has not yet been stated. There have been contradictory statements on the subject, neither of which is correct. The colony, say official people here, prefers a single House : no, says the other side, the colony objects to a single House—prefers two Houses. Both statements are right, and both wrong. The colony would prefer two Houses—would prefer a likeness of the British constitution, as respects the number of legislative bodies—but on a certain condition ; on condition, namely, that the second or Senate-like House shall not be com- posed of mere nominees of the distant Colonial Office. Rather than have a second House so composed, the colony wishes to pre- serve the one House composed in part of nominees and partly of elected members. And the reason is plain. The body of Downing Street nominees have less power, when mixed in one House with twice their own number of elected members, than they would have if they formed a separate legislative body. As a distinct legialative body, they could at any rate prevent all legislation that was not agreeable to themselves, the nomi- nees of Downing Street : Downing Street, through its House of Nominees, could nullify every act of the House of Repre- sentatives ; whereas, being mixed, in the proportion of only one-third, with the representatives of the colony, the 'creatures of Downing Street are comparatively weak and harmless. 'Therefore, says the colony, give us two Houses, provided both be se consti- tuted as virtually to represent our wants, opinions, and wishes : on that condition we prefer two Houses ; for we anxiously desire to possess a constitution as like as possible to that of our mother- country : but if a large portion of our whole Legislature is to con- sist of nominees of the distant Colonial Office, as it does now, we prefer having them, as we have them now, in the same House with our representatives, where, being a minority, they have far less powers of hinderanee and interference than they would have as a separate coequal branch of the Legislature. If any of our law- makers are to be nominees of Downing Street, a single House is the better for us, because it is more Colonial—more local—less sub- ject to Downing Street—more capable of staying and forcing Downing Street on occasions of need (that is, whenever Downing - Street meddles with our local affairs)—than a distinct represents.- _ tire House would be if it were controlled by a distinct House of - nominees. Give us two Houses, provided both be Colonial ; but do not divide our present House into two, making one of them a mere tool of Downing Street : rather leave us as we are, with the nominees of Downing Street considerably swamped by double their number of elected members. We do not like our present constitution; but we like it far better than the proposed substitute. This view of the question, which is really that of New South Wales and the other Colonies, will come home to us in angry words about a month hence, just too late to serve as a guide to Parlia- ment. If in the interval we reenact the present constitution of New South Wales, and extend it to the other Colonies, we shall have given to all of them a constitution which none of them like ; or if we now place the nominee members of the New South Wales Council in a separate House, and extend that constitution to the other Colonies, we shall have done what all of them will like still less. In either case, but most in the latter case, we shall have be- lied our own professions, (being those of Lord John Russell, which public opinion hew approves,) by framing for these Colonies a con- stitution of government which, instead of establishing local author- ity in local matters, provides, first, by means of nomineeship, for a large amount of Imperial authority in Local matters and, secondly, by means of representation, for discord and collision be-, tween the representative and the nominated portions of the

Legislature between the Colonies and the Mother-country.

But then, says Downing Street, our bill authorizes the one House to divide itself into two, if it pleases, by constituting the nominee members a separate House. Yea, but that isjust what it will not please—what the representative two-thirds will never allow. And if the one House were authorized to frame two, neither of which should consist of nominees, but both of persons chosen somehow by the colony independently of Downing Street, this would not be giving to the colony authority to please itself ; it would be giving that power, not to the colony, but to a legislative body which by our own admission is unfit to last. We say that the present legis- lative body is bad, and ought to be amended, (for if not, why authorize it to destroy itself and set up another ?) ; and then we confide the work of constitutional reform to the very body which we acknowledge to be unfit for even common legislation. The scheme is nonsense reduced to practice. Then what ought to be done ? If the object is to carry Lord John Russell's declaration of principles into effect, we ought to do one of two things : either we ought to establish two Houses, both of them representing Colonial interests and opinion, as the two Houses of Britain and the two Houses of the United States repre- sent British and American interests and opinion; or we ought to confide the business of determining whether there shall be one House or two, and of what sort both shall be if two there arc, not to the present Legislature of New South Wales, in which the Governor and nominee members of Council largely represent the Colonial Office, but to the elected members of the Council by themselves, without the participation either of Downing Street nominee members or of the Downing Street Governor. In other words, (supposing always the object to be as aforesaid,) we ought either to make a good constitution of " local self-government" for these Colonies, or we ought to give them constituent authority to make one' for themselves. The latter course, considering our ig- norance of Colonial wants, wishes, and capacities, would probably be the best ; the former would be reasonable in itself, and agree- able to our professions : our actual course is contrary to our pro- fessions, and contrary to all reason as well. But, again says Downing Street, the Colonies would rather have the proposed measure than no change. Yes, the four Colonies would, -which at present have no representation in their govern- ment : they will be happy to receive the means which New South Wales already possesses of resisting the Colonial Office, harassing it, making government impossible, and so in the end obtaining that real management of their local affairs, without which none of these Colonies will ever again be at rest or at peace with the Mother- country. And there are provisions of the bill, such as some local authority with regard to the waste lands, and some increased local jurisdiction in money-matters, which New South Wales will cheer- fully accept as means of at once augmenting Colonial and dimi- nishing Colonial- Office influence—as means of getting more local self-government through maid g government from Downing Street more and more difficult, and more and more troublesome and un- desirable for Downing Street itself. But what a way of establish- ing Lord John's " local self-government " for these Colonies ! not to mention the risk of sovereign independence being taken some fine day, when the patience of the Colonies shall be exhausted in con- flicts with that Mother-country which resides in the great house at the bottom of Downing Street.

And this brings us to the scheme of federation. Federation by force—federation without the free assent of all the parties to it— is a measure of tyranny. It is of the very essence of a permanent or even tolerable federation, that every state composing it shall enter it by free will. The wise men who founded the American Union were deeply impressed with this main principle of the federal tie : they knew that a forced federation is like a forced marriage—almost sure to be unhappy, and_only fit for divorce. The Australian-Colonies-Government Bill authorizes any two of the Colonies to force the other three into a federation against their will; and it greatly encourages one of them to join in the exercise of so tyrannical a power. It does this by deoreeing, first, that not the Colonies as coequals, but each colony according to its popula- tion, shall be represented in the Federal Legislature, (a blot that was smartly hit by Mr. Frederick Peel) • and, secondly, that the capital town of New South Wales shall be the seat of the Federal Government. Thus, New South Wales, whose population exceeds that of the other Colonies, and whose federal representa- tives would be always at home, whilst those of the other Colonies must travel great distances in order to attend meetings of the Legislature, will virtually command the Federal Government, and will be able to force upon the other Colonies such general laws as New South Wales may deem most conducive to its own interests even in opposition to theirs. The case would be less grievous if the principal town of New South Wales were, as Washington in America was at the time of its institution as a federal capital, near the geographical centre of the federated group ; whereas it is far away from the centre of the whole country which is to be sub- ject to the federal authority. This then, we say it confidently, is a monstrous provision. The proper substitute for it would be to enact, that any two or more of the Colonies shall be free to join in a federation when they shall see fit, and on such terms only as they shall freely approve with respect to the constitution of the Federal Legislature, to subjects of federal authority, and to the seat of the Federal Government. Were this donee it is highly probable that the five Colonies, or at any rate four of them, would Agree to a federation for some few general purposes. And even as it is, the offer of authority to federate may not be rejected by any of the Colonies • but if it is accepted and acted upon, the object of the Colonies will be, not comfortable useful government as respects general purposes, which is the proper object of a federation; but the creation of an Australian force—the force of union—capable of wresting from Downing Street the uncontrolled Australian management of Australian affairs. The evils of an unjust federa- tion are as nothing compared with those of government from. Downing Street: so, this most unjust federation may be snatched at, as representation will be though controlled and hindered by nomination, because it may be deemed a potent means of obtaining, through a more formidable agitation, the sine qua non of Colonial peace and prosperity—complete independence of Downing Street mall local matters.

Amonest these matters, money-matters will be deemed the most importalt. The bill reserves for Downing Street a large control over the money-matters of all the Colonies. There is less of this distant control in money-matters than the bill of last year pro- posed ; but very, important items of expenditure in the Colonies, of money derived from taxation of the colonists, are scheduled or stereotyped by this measure of the British Parliament. As money-matters are those on which colonies, as well as the -only. nation from which colonies now emanate, are the most. sensitive— the least disposed to tolerate any authority which, being distant, is necessarily ignorant and careless—as the interference of Eng- land with their money-matters is just what the colonists of Eng- land., being English, hate most of all—Parliament would do wisely to strike out of these Downing Street constitutions every pro- vision that touches Colonial money-matters. And it would be a still wiser course, if, as respects cases of removal from office in the Colonies, in which the Imperial Government shall differ from the Colonial in thinking that compensation for loss of office ought to be given, the compensation-money were to be provided by the Im- perial GOvernment As it is, every man acquainted with the Co. lonies knows—is perfectly certain—that questions of compensation'. to officers who have been forced upon the Colonies, who have ill- treated and crowed over the colonists, and whom, when deprived of power, the colonists will despise as much as they hate them now, must prove a source of bitter quarrelling between the Colonies and Downing Street—of Colonial irritation and towards the na- tion which permits such follies as that we are denouncing. Why should we meddle at all with the money-matters of these far dis- tant Colonies ? Or if we do, let us at least cease to talk big, with Lord John Russell, about our desire to establish a real government of the Colonies by the Colonies themselves. Lord John doubtless believes (and, so does Mr. Frederick Peel) that these constitutions will _give to the Colonies some consider- able amount, at any rate, of real local self-government. Mr. Peel tells us very distinctly why he thinks so ; and Lord john Rus- sell's reason for this belief is probably the same : for this is the foundation of the general belief that the measure which has been framed in the Colonial Office gives effect to the declarations of principle made in the House of Commons' by the Prime'Minister. " It is," said Mr. Peel, "what I conceive fiche the main principle of the bill, that has my hearty approval ; I mean the principle of popular representation as an indispensable institution in our Cola nial Governments." But does representation in a colony give Colonial self-government?, It does not. There was representation in Lower Canada, with a most democratic suffrage, for very many years before the rebellion of 1837, That " indispensable institu- tion" taught the French peOple of Lower Canada, who before it was given to them had not conceived the idea of local self-govern- ment, to understand and ardently to desire the power of managing their own affairs : but it did not give them this power. On the' contrary, for about twelve years before the rebellion, during three successive Parliaments, the government of Lower Canada was carried on—the public affairs of the colony were exclusively managed—all power in local matters was exclusively wielded—by a small minority, which hardly ever had the support of more than a quarter—which sometimes for years together was only supported by a sixth, and sometimes only by an eighth—of the representa- tive body. Representation was given, but without its proper con- sequences. The proper consequences of representation have been put into an expression that is now familiar—" responsible govern- ment"; that is, government by those who enjoy the confidence and can obtain the support of the representative body. Lower Canada was not governed by those in whom the majority of the representative body confided ' • it was governed continually by those whom the majority distrusted, hated,' and vehemently opposed. The opposition was always in office. The official choir; and their adherents —being a small minority, but supported, as moat'of the officials were appointed, by Downing Street, and having, in the Downing Street Governor and the nominees of Downing Street in an Upper House, a preponderating power in the whole government—set the repre- sentatives of the people at defiance, and ruled in spite of them ; how shamefully, Lord Durham's Report fully sets forth. In that case, the grant of representation without its consequences has been justly likened to the excessive inconvenience and absurdity of lighting a fire in your room with a view to *arrant warmth, and then stopping up the chimney. The blinding and stilling effect was inevitable. The government of Lower Canada, with abundant representation, was, _to- use Lord Durhara's apt expres- sion, "a constituted anarchy." This is what we are going to make for the Australian Colonies. These new constitutions give repre- sentation to the colonists, but give them nothing else : all the rest of what composes the machinery of government will be appointed by _Downing Street, and be solely responsible to that distant bureau. The greater distance in the Australian case between the London Office and the distant Colonies—being more than four times the distance between Downing Street and Quebec—makes the present case incalculably worse : for the evils of distant go- vernment are intolerable in nearly exact proportion to the distance between authority and its subjects. In answer, some official gentleman may say, Canada and the other North American Colonies have now got responsible government : we of the Colonial Office doubt interfere with them ; though we retain the power to interfere by means of our Gover- nors and Councils of nominees, we do not exercise it. And that is, to a considerable extent, true. Responsible government does to a great extent exist in Canada, notwithstancling a constitu- tional machinery for preventing it. The parts of the constitution of Canada which authorize Downing Street to govern there, will not work. Practically the rebellions in both Canadas, with their immense cost to England, the exposure of the old system by Lord Durham's mission, the spread of the population of the United States to the very 'frontier of Canada, the impossibility of keeping up the constituted-anarchy, state of things, the certainty that if the attempt were made it would cause British North America to join the American Union in spite of whatever efforts England might make to prevent it—all these things have conspired to wring from Down- ing Street the concession, in practice, of the proper consequences of representation fOr Canada and the other North American Colonies. But the concession was made with extreme reluctance, slowly, costively, and painfully by those who had to part with power. For proof we refer to the whole history of that concession through the Colonial administrations of Lord Sydenham, Sir Charles Begot,

Lord Metcalfe, and Lord Elgin. Each of those servants of Down- ing Street yielded something—as much as he could not help yield- ing. They all yielded to the danger of a refusal, considering what had gone before and the proximity of the United States. What re- sponsible government our American Colonies have obtained, they owe to threats and to their position by the side of free and sympa- thising America : and even now the reluctant, hesitating, half-and- half, vacillating manner of the concession, together with a huge remnant of Imperial meddling in local affairs by means of Imperial troops supporting and adding by extrinsic means to the local force of the party that happens to predominate for the moment, exposes rngland to the risk of losing her North American Colonies by means of the anncvation of Canada to the United States. But let us view the Canadian case in its most favourable light—let us believe that the concession of responsible government was done quickly enough and well enough for success—still there is nothing in Australia which insures that the concession will there be made at all. Australia has no adjoining United States as Canada has, no adjoining France as Jersey and Guernsey have, to make England afraid of attempting to govern that most distant part of the world by an authority resident in London. In this measure, which again comes before the House of Commons on Friday sennight, the ma- chinery is perfect for keeping up in Australia enough of Colonial Office government in local affairs for producing and maintaining, with the aid of representation, the state of the fire without a chimney. For proof we refer to the bill itself, and to the many acts which must be studied in order to understand its purport. This last defect of the bill—its dependence on many other acts— was clearly pointed out by Sir William Molesworth and Mr. Roe- buck. Considering all its defects, we cannot help saying that if the Members of the House of Commons cared as much about the Australian Colonies as they do about any railway or turnpike bill, they would not fail to alter this Australian Constitution in most of its leafing provisions.