Slike strani
PDF
ePub

Federal States, properly so called, i. e. States in which the central government exercises direct power over the citizens of the component communities. The same remark applies to the confederacies of the Middle Ages, such as that of the Hanse Towns and that of the old Swiss Cantons, as well as to the United Provinces of the Netherlands. The first true Federal State founded on a complete and scientific basis was the United States, which dates from 1788, when its present Constitution was substituted for the Articles of Confederation of 1776. Next came the Constitution of the Swiss Confederation, enacted in 1848, and replacing a much looser form of union which had previously joined the Cantons of Switzerland. Its present amended form dates from 1874. The third was the Constitution of Canada, established by the British North America Act of 1867. Still later came the Constitution of the North German Confederation (1866) enlarged into that of the new Germanic Empire (1871), a remarkable Federal State with a monarch for its head, and including as its members both large kingdoms, such as Bavaria and Würtemberg, and the city republics of Lübeck, Bremen, and Hamburg1. But this last-named Federation, instructive as it is, deals with conditions too dissimilar from those of Australia to furnish many precedents in point. It was the Constitutions of the United States and of Canada which the Australians studied most carefully, and whence they drew as well inspiration as many useful suggestions. And the student who

One might add the Constitution of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, which is a sort of double federation. But it is too peculiar to serve as an example to other peoples proposing to federalize.

examines the Australian scheme will find it interesting to note many points that recall, by way either of likeness or of contrast, the systems of the United States, of Switzerland, and of Canada. It is only with these three that I propose to compare the Australian Constitution in the pages that follow. As I am writing not for lawyers but for students of history and of constitutions, who desire to understand the nature of this new Government sufficiently to follow with intelligence the course of political life under it, I shall pass lightly over its more technical and more purely legal aspects, and dwell rather upon those general features which will give to the future Australian polity its character and spirit.

II. THE MOVEMENT FOR FEDERATION.

Like the settlements of Britain in North America, the Australian settlements were organized as Colonies at different dates, and several of them independently of the others1. So, again like those of North America, each remained legally unconnected with the others, except through the allegiance they all owed to the British Crown, which sent out Governors to administer them. These officers were at first practically despotic; but when self-government was conferred upon a Colony, they became the nominal heads of an executive which in fact consisted of ministers responsible to the elective legislature of that Colony.

1 New South Wales in 1788, Tasmania in 1825, Western Australia in 1829, South Australia in 1836, Victoria in 1851, Queensland in 1859. Victoria and Queensland had however been originally settled (1836 and 1826), and for some time administered, from New South Wales, while Tasmania had been made a penal settlement as early as 1804.

Little as there was in the way of official connexion between the scattered settlements, their inhabitants always deemed themselves Australians, giving their sentimental attachment rather to the country as a whole than to their respective colonies. They were all English; they all lived under similar conditions: their local life had not lasted long enough to form local traditions with which sentiment could entwine itself. The very names of some of the colonies did not favour individualization, for who would call himself a Newsouthwalesian? And the idea that the colonies ought to be united into one political body emerged very early. As far back as 1849 a Committee in England had recommended that there should be a Governor-General for all Australia, with power to convene a General Assembly to legislate on matters of common colonial interest, and a bill introduced into Parliament in that year contained clauses for establishing such a legislature. These provisions were dropped, for the time was not ripe, yet the idea continued to occupy the minds of Australian statesmen from that year onwards; and it received a certain impulse from the creation of the Canadian Confederation in 1867. What it wanted was motive power, that is to say, a sense of actual evils or dangers to be averted, of actual benefits to be secured, by the union of the Colonies into one National State. Democratic communities, occupied by their own party controversies, are little disposed to deal with questions which are not urgent, and which hold out no definite promise either of benefit to the masses or of political gain to the leaders. However, in 1883 events occurred which evoked a new Pan-Australian feeling, and indi

cated objects fit to be secured by a united Australian government. The late Lord Derby, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, was the most cautious and unsentimental of mankind. He belonged to the old school of English statesmen who deprecated-and in some cases wisely deprecated-further additions to the territories and responsibilities of Britain. Disregarding the representations of the Governments of several among the Colonies, he neglected to occupy the northern part of the great neighbouring island of New Guinea which Australian opinion desired to see British, and permitted it, to their great vexation, to be taken by Germany. About the same time the escape of convicts into Australia from the French penal settlement in New Caledonia had caused annoyance, and movements were soon afterwards made by France which seemed to indicate an intention to appropriate the New Hebrides group of islands. These occurrences roused the Australians to desire an authority which might deliver their common wishes to the Home Government and take any other steps necessary for guarding their common interests. Accordingly a conference of delegates from all the Colonies, including New Zealand and Fiji, met in 1884, and prepared a scheme which was transmitted to England, and was there forthwith enacted by the Imperial Parliament under the name of The Federal Council of Australasia Act, 1885. This scheme was, however, (as I observed when it was under discussion in the House of Commons) a very scanty, fragmentary and imperfect sketch of a Federal Constitution. It had no executive power and no command of money. No colony need

join unless it pleased, and each might withdraw when it pleased. Thus it befell that the plan excited little popular interest, and gave such faint promise of energetic action that only four colonies, Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania, and South Australia, entered into it; and of these South Australia presently withdrew. Meanwhile the need for some general military organization for all the Colonies began to be felt; and further objects attainable by union floated before men's minds. With the increase of trade and industry, the vexation of tariff barriers between the colonies grew daily less tolerable. Subjects emerged on which uniformity of legislation was felt to be needful. The irrigation question, one of great importance for so arid a country, brings New South Wales, where some of the large rivers have their source, into close relation with Victoria and South Australia, and requires to be treated on common lines. These and other grounds led to an Inter-Colonial Conference of Ministers at Melbourne in 1890, and then to the summoning of a Convention of Delegates from the Parliaments of all the Colonies, including Tasmania. This latter body, which included many leading men, met at Sydney in 1891, debated the matter with great ability, and produced a Draft Bill, which became the basis of all subsequent discussions. The movement, hitherto confined to a group of political leaders, now began to be taken up by the people, and became, especially when the financial troubles of 1893 had begun to pass away, the principal subject in men's minds. That crisis had shown all the Colonies how closely their interests were bound together, and had made them desire to remove every hindrance

« PrejšnjaNaprej »