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4-009 (Text)

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author,male,NN,un addressee
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Government English
Petitions & Proclamations
Clark, 1975
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4-009-plain.txt — 15 KB

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To the Queen's most Excellent Majesty
WE, your Majesty's dutiful and loyal subjects, the Legislative Assembly of Victoria, in Parliament assembled, approach tour Majesty with the expression of our continued loyalty and attachment to Your Majesty's throne and person.
Serious differences have occurred with the Legislative Council which are fraught with inconvenience and danger to the inhabitants of this portion of Your Majesty's dominions; and as systematic efforts are being made in influential quarters to misrepresent the policy and actions which we have sanctioned by unprecedentedly large majorities, we respectfully desire to lay before your Majesty a brief statement of the circumstances which have given rise to the serious complications and difficulties by which Your Majesty's Government in this portion of Your Majesty's dominions is at the present moment confronted. 
This Colony, on which Your Majesty was pleased as a testimony of your royal favour to confer Your Majesty's own name, is subject to a system of government framed as closely as circumstances permitted on the government of Your Majesty's United Kingdom. The framers of the Constitution stated in express terms their intention of creating a Legislature in which one Chamber should possess "the legislative functions of the House of Lords", and the other Chamber "all the rights and powers of the House of Commons". To the Constitution framed in the pursuance of this design Your Majesty, with the consent of the Lords and Commons, gave your assent, and it has been in operation for more than 20 years.
But from the beginning its harmonious working has been constantly disturbed by the claims of the Legislative Council to exercise a control over the public expenditure which has not been possessed or claimed by the House of Lords within the memory of living man. In violation of all constitutional usage the Legislative Council did, on 8th November 1877 - before any step had been taken with regard to payment of members - vote an address to his Excellency the Governor, the object of which was to induce his Excellency to refuse the anticipated advice of his responsible Ministers by declining to forward at their request the formal message to enable us to consider the question.
The recent general election took place by effluxion of time on the 11th of May last, when Sir James McCulloch was Chief Secretary, the result being so overwhelmingly adverse to his policy that the Government resigned without meeting Parliament, and Mr. Berry was sent for. The ministry then formed has ever since enjoyed our uninterrupted confidence, and that in a larger measure than any previous administration ever received from Parliament.
During the present session of Parliament this House cheerfully granted to your Majesty all the supplies necessary for the efficient conduct of the public service of the colony; but when the Appropriation Bill in which they were contained reached the Legislative Council, that Chamber ventured on a measure which the House of Lords in the most stormy contest with the House of Commons in past generations never were tempted to employ: they laid aside the Appropriation Bill, and left the entire public service, the local force for the defence of the country, the police for the protection of public order, the judiciary, and the officers of the public departments without salaries; and the contractors, to whom Your Majesty was indebted for the performance of necessary public services, without funds for the payment of their claims.
At the same time a Bill to provide forts and armaments in pursuance of the recommendation of Sir Wm. Jervois, the officer appointed by Your Majesty's Imperial Government to advise the colony in this respect, was adopted in this House, and sent to the Legislative Council for their concurrence. It was a measure of pressing and paramount urgency, as it was doubtful at that moment if Your Majesty might not find it necessary to take part in the war then waged in Europe.  This measure also the Legislative Council laid aside, and the hands of Your Majesty's Colonial Government, in providing for the public defence of the Colony against foreign aggression in an alarming emergency, have been consequently paralysed.
Other measures of supreme importance shared the same fate, and a session which should have been fruitful in legislative results has been rendered comparatively barren by obstruction from a Chamber whose ready co-operation and assistance the country had a right to expect after the decisive verdict at the ballot box on the 11th of May last.
The pretence upon which the Appropriation Bill was laid aside is that it contained an item of expenditure which ought to have been provided for by a separate Bill. The Constitution of this Colony confers on the Legislative Assembly the exclusive right to initiate taxation and appropriation, and in express terms withholds from the Legislative Council the power to alter, in the slightest particular Bills of either class. An Act of the Parliament of Victoria, assented to by the Legislative Council on two successive occasions, appropriates a portion of the public revenue to reimburse members of both Chambers their expenses in relation to their attendance in Parliament to the extent of £300 per annum. This Act, unless renewed, expires with the present session. A vote for £18,000 was accordingly included in the annual estimates of expenditure, to continue this system till the end of the current financial year. Subsequently it was suggested in the Assembly that it Would be more satisfactory to the Legislative Council to have the provision again made in a separate Bill, and such a Bill, continuing the system till the end of the present Parliament (which will expire by effluxion of time in May 1880), was sent to the Council. They had twice before passed Bills of a similar character, but this Bill they negatived the second reading of; and immediately afterwards the Appropriation Bill, containing not the same proposal, but a sum providing for the same service for a period of six months, was also laid aside to assert their unfounded claim of prohibiting a particular item of expenditure authorised by the Legislative Assembly.
We respectfully submit to Your Majesty that the rejection of the Appropriation Bill, a measure the Legislative Council has no power to amend or alter because one item among many hundred was objected to, is a clear attempt to obtain indirectly and regardless of consequences a privilege which the Constitution Statute has in express terms withheld from that Chamber.
The ground upon which the Forts and Armaments Bill Was laid aside is that it contained the preliminary paragraph known in Acts of Parliament granting aid to the Crown as "the free-gift preamble", implying a free gift made to the Crown by that House on which the Constitution confers the power of the purse.  It will be enough to assure Your Majesty that the form of the Bill was expressly copied from Acts passed by the Imperial Parliament during the reign of Your Majesty to provide for the defence of the United Kingdom.
We humbly submit to Your Majesty's gracious consideration, therefore, that the question at issue is a very simple and intelligible one. It is, whether a Chamber elected by a small section of the people in which 16 persons constituted an absolute majority, a Chamber whose members are certainly not distinguished by any historic or eminent personal claims on the consideration of the community, shall be permitted to assert a control over the public expenditure which the Peers of England have long relinquished.
In the face of this reckless and unconstitutional action, by which the supplies granted by us to Your Majesty were arrested in transitu, Your Majesty's Colonial Government, who possess the full confidence of this House, had to consider what measures would most conduce to save at the same time the credit and character of the Colony and the just and necessary authority of Parliament. The refusal of an Appropriation Bill amounted in effect to the discharge of every officer in the public service, and to the closing of all public establishments supported by the State, which in this country include railways, telegraphs, public libraries, and lunatic asylums, as well as schools, post offices, and prisons. Under these circumstances the choice of Your Majesty's Victorian Government lay between anarchy, the sure forerunner of revolution, or a recurrence to the practice which obtained previous to the year 1862, of paying the public creditory on our votes in Committee of Supply reported to and adopted by the House. Loyalty, no less than sound policy, decided for the latter course, and we, the Legislative Assembly, have by a majority of 52 to 23 adopted the following resolution: - "That all votes or grants passed in Committee of Supply become legally available for expenditure immediately such resolutions are agreed to by the Legislative Assembly; and that henceforth, in view of the serious public inconvenience caused by repeated rejections of the annual Appropriation Bill by the Legislative Council, this House resolves to revert to the practice which prevailed prior to 1862."
In the meantime economy and retrenchment in the public service have been adopted by Your Majesty's Colonial Government with our full concurrence, and although personal inconvenience and loss are inseparable from a state of affairs such as now prevails in Victoria, we are happy to assure Your Majesty that inconvenience and loss have been reduced to minimum, and that up to the present time the provision has been made for the preservation of law and order, the administration of justice, and the efficient carrying on of Your Majesty's Government.
The Legislative Council, in a recent address to Your Majesty, have suggested that Your Majesty's Colonial Government, instead of proceeding to economise the public funds at their disposal by reducing expenditure wherever it was practicable, might have preserved the action of responsible Government either by resigning their functions or by recommending a dissolution of Parliament.  
We humbly submit to Your Majesty's consideration that, had they resigned their offices while they possessed the undiminished confidence of the House, they would not have preserved, but have sacrificed and betrayed the principle of responsible government, which recognises such confidence as one of its cardinal conditions. And though a dissolution of this House (the only Chamber liable to a dissolution) while fresh from its constituents would be a harsh and unreasonable measure, they were restrained from having recourse to it still more powerfully by the consideration that, on a former occasion, when a minister supported by a large majority in this House, dissolved the Assembly in a contest with the Council, he had afterwards to report to your Majesty's representative that the Council refused to be bound by the result of the appeal.
If a dissolution of this House would settle once for all the principles upon which the finances of this country shall be regulated for the future, we would welcome such an appeal, however costly or inconvenient to ourselves. But this is the fourth occasion on which the Legislative Council have thrown the affairs of the Colony into confusion by rejecting an Appropriation Bill, and the time has arrived when, instead of a temporary expedient to settle a temporary controversy, some effectual barrier must 'be established against the recurrence of so grave a public calamity. Nor was their attempt to exercise an unwarranted control over the public expenditure the sole or even the gravest offence of the Council against the public interests of this colony. In that Chamber the owners of great estates, and the tenants of great territories leased from the Crown, have always predominated, and whenever a Government was in office that did not subserve their class interests they have expressed their displeasure by throwing out, sometimes without debate or explanation, public measures carefully matured in this House, and greatly desired by the people. Many times it has happened that nearly all the important Bills of a session were thus sacrificed; and this practice has more or less prevailed during the entire period of their existence. No community could have borne such a calamity with more temper and patience than Your Majesty's subjects in this Colony, but the present aggression has brought forbearance to an end.
It is our confident belief that it is the gracious desire of Your Majesty that Your Majesty's subjects in this Colony should enjoy to the same extent with Your Majesty's subjects in the United Kingdom the privileges of Constitutional and Parliamentary. Government on the English model, and that is our sole aim and desire. 
More than 10 years ago, in one of the many controversies which the claims of the Council have provoked, an agreement was at length, as it seemed, arrived at to the effect that the practice of the lords and Commons respectively should be observed by the two Chambers in this Colony as to all subjects of aid and supply. To give effect to this agreement a joint standing order of the two Houses was suggested, and the Council have recently pleaded as their justification for not having carried out the agreement that it was not found practicable to frame a standing order having the requisite authority. During the present session this House have assured the Council that they were ready to concur in an Act of Parliament on the subject, whose authority could not be doubted. To this proposal the Council have made no reply; and they still persist in claiming and attempting to exercise a power in financial questions far beyond that exercised by the House of Lords.
We have performed a public duty in making Your Majesty acquainted with the actual condition of this portion of Your Majesty's dominions. It would not be decorous to trouble Your Majesty with any forecast of the measures which we consider necessary to restore public tranquillity and prosperity, now so seriously disturbed. These measures will reach Your Majesty in the ordinary process of parliamentary procedure through Your Majesty's representative. But we trust Your Majesty will confidently believe that loyalty to your throne and person, and attachment to the empire, will unite in whatever we undertake, with a desire for that wise and broad-based liberty, which it will be the chief glory of Your Majesty's reign to have established throughout your dominion.
We cannot conclude without alluding to a paragraph in the address of the Legislative Council to Your Majesty reflecting upon some of the public measures of Your Majesty's Colonial Government as if they were personal acts of his Excellency the Governor. We need scarcely assure Your Majesty that Your Majesty's representative in this Colony has strictly followed the example of his Sovereign in performing no public act except with the advice of sworn councillors, upon whom alone the responsibility of such act devolves. It is only by ignoring fundamental maxims of the British Constitution that any personal or individual responsibility can be placed on the Crown or its representative for such proceedings.
It is suggested that whatever may be considered as open to party objection in the recent measures of Your Majesty's Colonial Government might have been avoided if the Governor had only refused to give them his assent. But it will be well known to Your Majesty that if the advice of Ministers possessing an immense majority in the popular branch of the Legislature were refused by the Crown, and recourse had to advisers representing a minority, the result would not be peace, but more perplexing and disastrous trouble.
We trust the impartiality and neutrality of the Crown, which endears it to the people, will never be relinquished in any part of Your Majesty's dominions; and we do not hesitate to say that if any representative of Your Majesty were so unwise as to employ the influence and authority of the Crown to help a minority in impeding the wishes of the great body of the people, the certain result would be to diminish the just authority of his office and the legitimate influence of the Crown.