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4-345 (Text)

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Government English
Imperial Correspondence
Letters Federal Convention Bathurst 1896
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From His Excellency the Governor of Victoria.
Melbourne, 17th November, 1896. 
Dear Dr. Machattie, - 
A press of engagements has prevented me from sending an early reply to the letter which you addressed to me as President of the Bathurst Federation League.
I have much pleasure in assuring you that I take the deepest interest in the cause of Australian Federation. The recent course of foreign affairs should impress all thinking men with the necessity of Federation for the purposes of defence. By concerted action, defensive preparation will be at once more efficient and less costly. There are no difficulties in the way of common action. 
Already Ministers are meeting for consultation. I regard these meetings as the prelude to more formal deliberations, and more precise and positive engagements for mutual help when danger threatens.
There are many other purposes for which Federation is desirable, and in relation to which there are no difficulties. Such are the postal service, the opening up of markets, the coinage of money, the admission of aliens, and other similar questions.
A customs union is most desirable, but these colonies must first come to some common accord on the question of tariffs. Let us confidently hope that sooner or later a compromise will be found. 
The way to a wise conclusion lies not in heated argument, but in close  observation of practical results elsewhere. In the present stage it is perhaps fortunate that neighbouring colonies, under conditions very similar to those which obtain in Victoria as to climate, products, and cost of labour, are making trial of opposing fiscal systems. They will give, in the course of time, an object lesson which will greatly help to a sound conclusion as to what is best for the local and the general interest.
The Federation which was proposed at the last Convention at Sydney embraced other matters of difficulty. It was proposed to provide the Federal Government with a revenue by the surrender of the customs duties. The Federal expenditure at the outset is estimated by Sir Samuel Griffith at £250,000. The assigned revenues would aggregate £9,000,000. It was proposed to repay the surplus revenue to the States in which it was raised. All experience shows how hard it is to resist the temptation to bring expenditure to the level of income.
Sir Samuel Griffith suggests a further investigation of this part of the subject. That will probably be the view of the Convention when it meets. Investigation involves delay. In the interval immediate action should be taken on such matters as are ripe. 
Federation for defence is first in order of importance. It is admitted on all hands to be within the range of practical politics.
On one other subject of difficulty I venture to throw out a suggestion. I refer to the selection of a Federal capital. It is not possible that a solution may be found by the assembling of the Federal Parliament from year to year in the capitals of each of the Federal States. The first meeting would be held in the capital of the parent colony; the succeeding meetings would be held in other colonies in the order in which they were severally erected into independent colonies.
It is evident that the task of federating Australia is not unattended with difficulties. It must be admitted that we have no precedent in history for a federation, under no pressure from without, between States so widely separated as are the Australian colonies by distance, and so far advanced in independent local self-government. On the other hand there are great advantages to be gained. Local jealousies will be removed. The dignity of Australian citizenship will be raised. The strength which consists in union will be immeasurably greater. The influence of Australia at the heart of the Empire and throughout the world will be more felt when its people speak, not as members of small, rival States, but with one clear voice.
With the most sincere wishes for a most successful meeting at Bathurst,
I have the honour to be,
Yours most obediently,