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4-331 (Original)

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author,male,Machattie, Thomas A.,un addressee,male
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Official Correspondence
Clark, 1975
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Sir, - It was an instruction to me from the Bathurst Federal Convention that a manifesto should be issued to the people of Australasia embodying the results of its deliberations, and urging upon Federalists the necessity for an enthusiastic advocacy of a cause, which from its very grandeur is too often coldly and respectfully regarded rather than warmly supported. [505] To reach the people of Australasia, it is necessary to secure the co-operation of their great press organs; I crave with confidence the favor of your space, since the intention of this manifesto is to urge forward the great movement for unity.
With the Hobart Premiers' Conference of 1895, the Federal faith ceased to be followed by politicians alone, and came down into the hearts of the people. But from lack of immediate following action, the strength of the stimulus given by that conference waned, and in November, 1896, the advocacy of Federation sorely needed, in most of the Colonies at any rate, the assistance of popular agitation. That assistance the Bathurst Federal League attempted to give, and in the judgement of the impartial attempted successfully. Its deliberations were reported, its resolutions criticised by every journal of note in Australasia, and the majority of the delegates whom it attracted from six of the seven Colonies departed from it, enthusiastic promulgators of the doctrine - "Federation is necessary, and immediately necessary."
Apart however, from its effects in stimulating interest in the Federal movement it may be, I think, claimed for the Bathurst Convention that its discussions were of educational value in calling attention to, and seeking a remedy for, points of difficulty in the Federal Constitution proposed by the Draft Bill of 1891. The gentlemen attending our debates represented the greatest possible variety of interests and included many eminent politicians and financiers. The light of their opinion thrown upon the various clauses of the Draft Federation Bill of 1891 (discussion of which occupied the major portion of the Convention's time) will undoubtedly help to guide those who are entrusted with the consummation of Australian unity.
Two changes in the Draft Bill of 1891 emphasised the opinion of the People's Convention that so far as possible the Government of the new Commonwealth should be kept in the hands of those Who had given practical proof of their devotion to Australian interests. The term of citizenship making a man eligible for election to the Senate was fixed at ten instead of five years and for election to the House of Representatives at five instead of three years, While suggesting these changes as safeguards to Australian interests, the Convention showed itself fully alive to the importance of the Imperial connection. By an almost unanimous vote a resolution taking the appointment of the Governor General out of the hands of the Queen and providing for his choice by popular ballot was negatived. In many other ways the delegates assembled took care to show their appreciation of the benefits which Australia receives through being under the protecting aegus of the greatest Empire of the world. [506]
Whilst making no concessions to an untimely and ill-advised Republicanism, the Convention was actuated by a thoroughly democratic spirit. After a lengthy debate the mode for the appointment of the Senate provided by the 1891 Draft Bill (viz., choice by the various State Parliaments) was disapproved of and an amendment suggested giving to the great hotly of the people the power to elect the Senate.
The financial clauses of the 1891 Draft Bill were altogether remodelled. Perhaps no portion of the work of the great National Convention over which the late Sir Henry Parkes presided was so much criticised as that embodying provisions for the garnering and spending of the Federal revenue. The 1891 Draft Bill provided for the collection by the Federal authority of a revenue far in excess of any possible requirements, and for the distribution of the surplus in a manner which may be condemned as unfair. It is admitted by all that to entrust any Government with funds over and above the amount necessary for its expenses is unwise, the existence of a large surplus being always liable to cause extravagance and to lead to unjustifiable expenditure. The Bathurst Convention approved of a scheme (for the details of which they were much indebted to Mr. J. T. Walker) by which the Federal revenue and the Federal expenditure would almost exactly balance. Subjected to the criticism of the financial writers of the colonies, this scheme has in many quarters found high favour, and it is hoped that it will prove of value to the statesmen who will meet in the coming Statutory Convention.
That the basis of Australian Federation should be as large and complete as possible; that it should provide for the creation of a real Australian nation, not a mere makeshift Government liable to be vexed and thwarted at every turn - was the emphatic opinion of the Bathurst Convention. Better no Federation at all than a semi-impotent one, to which every jarring incident would threaten disruption - that was the spirit actuating its resolutions. The Draft Bill of 1891 was therefore amended in many ways to make Federation more real and complete. The control of the railways, a power left in the hands of the State by the National Convention, was by the Bathurst body recommended to be vested in the Federal Government. At the same time, whilst declaring for the handing over to the central authority of every function necessary for its maintenance as a dignified and complete Power, nothing that would trench on the rights of the constituting States was recommended. A worthy and powerful Federation, states perfectly autonomous as regards their own affairs - those were the two ideals aimed at. It will rest with the people, and with the people's representatives at the Statutory Convention to declare how far those ideals have been realized by the amendments made in the Draft Bill of 1891 by the People's Convention of 1896.
Now, having briefly stated the work clone by the Convention, especially with respect to the Draft Commonwealth Bill, it is my great satisfaction to add that, judging from correspondence received from various of the colonies and from other sources, the Convention has excited considerable interest and attracted very wide and general attention, it has given an impulse to the cause of Australian Federation and stirred numbers, previously indifferent, to give some thought to the subject. [507] It has helped to enlighten many on the nature of a Federal Constitution, and the necessity for Federation, who being uninformed were previously unable to take the intelligent interest in the movement they are now inclined to. This has been notably so with young men who have looked to the reports of the Convention for facts and theories, and have been moved by it to discuss the subject for themselves.
I may further express the hope that the report of the proceedings of the Convention, which has been prepared and will shortly be published, will be of service to the members of the Statutory Convention, and that the amendments suggested in the Draft Commonwealth Bill by such a popularly representative body as the Bathurst Convention will be of special value to politicians as indicating popular views on the matter.
The interesting papers by specialists, and the admirable speeches of those who are recognised experts in the policy of Federation, which are printed in full in the volume referred to, will be a contribution to the literature of the subject that I am sure will be highly appreciated.
It now remains only to congratulate the promoters and members of the Convention on the success of the work they have done for the good of the great National policy, and to urge upon the electors of the Australian colonies that they still further carry on the movement, and, by their lively interest in the subject, and by a judicious selection of the members of the Statutory Convention, bring the great ideal of unity to a successful consummation.
Bathurst, January, 1897.