Title 1890 Australasian Federation Conference
Proceedings No. 1 - 6th February
Database Constitution Conventions
Date 06-02-1890
Source Parliamentary Library
System Id constitution/conventions/1890-1001

1890 Australasian Federation Conference

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No. 1.



New South Wales The Honorable Sir HENRY PARKES, G.C.M.G., Premier, and Member of the Legislative Assembly: The Honorable WILLIAM MCMILLAN, Colonial Treasurer, and Member of the Legislative Assembly.

New Zealand The Honorable Captain WILLIAM RUSSELL RUSSELL, Colonial Secretary, and Member of the House of Representatives. The Honorable Sir JOHN HALL, K.C.M.G., Member of the House of Representatives.

Queensland The Honorable Sir SAMUEL WALKER GRIFFITH, K.C.M.G., Member of the Legislative Assembly. The Honorable JOHN MURTAGH MACROSSAN, Colonial Secretary, and Member of the Legislative Assembly.

South Australia The Honorable JOHN ALEXANDER COCKBURN, M.D. Lond., Premier, and Member of the Legislative Assembly. The Honorable THOMAS PLAYFORD, Member of the Legislative Assembly.

Tasmania The Honorable ANDREW INGLIS CLARK, Attorney-General; and Member of the House of Assembly. The Honorable BOLTON STAFFORD BIRD, Treasurer, and Member of the House of Assembly.

Victoria The Honorable DUNCAN GILLIES, Premier, and Member of the Legislative Assembly. The Honorable ALFRED DEAKIN, Chief Secretary, and Member of the Legislative Assembly.

Western Australia The Honorable Sir JAMES GEORGE LEE STEERE, Speaker of the Legislative Council, and Member of the Executive Council.


Sir HENRY PARKES.-I beg to propose, and I have much pleasure in proposing, that the Honorable Duncan Gillies do take the chair as President of this Conference. Mr. Gillies is not only the Premier of one of the largest Colonies, but he has held that distinguished position with the assent of the inhabitants for a number of years. He is not only that, but one of the oldest and most deservedly respected public men in Australia, and, seeing that this Conference assembles in the capital of the Colony which he so well represents in the councils of this country, I think it is not only an act becoming in ourselves but an honour, and it is really a great honour, which is his just due. I am sure I need say nothing more to commend my motion to your acceptance.

Dr. COCKBURN.-I beg to second the motion. I feel that not only is the honour of presiding over such a Conference due to Mr. Gillies, as the Premier of the Colony in which the Conference is held, but also owing to the very important part he has hitherto played in the momentous question of the Federation of the Australian Colonies. As far as the general question is concerned, and as far as federating in [start page vi] every possible matter of detail, from the first Mr. Gillies has taken a most prominent position, and I feel that this Conference is doing no more than is due to place him in the chair.

Sir HENRY PARKES put the question, which was carried unanimously.

The Honorable D. GILLIES took the chair.

The PRESIDENT.-In taking the chair I can only say I thank you very much indeed for the honour you have done me in placing me in this position, and I thank Sir Henry Parkes and Dr. Cockburn for the agreeable way in which they have proposed that I should take this position. I am sure the duties of the position will be very simple, and I can only trust that during my presidency we will be in a position to arrive at conclusions, not only satisfactory to ourselves, but for the advancement and prosperity of the whole of the Colonies of Australasia.

Sir HENRY PARKES.-It seems a step consequent on the course I have taken that the President of the Conference have the same rights and privileges, both as to expressing his opinions and voting, as other members of the Conference, and in any case of equality of votes that he have in addition a casting vote. I therefore move to that effect.

Dr. COCKBURN.-I second the motion. I think it is a very proper resolution, and that the conclusions of the Conference will be advanced by the President having a voice in the deliberations as well as in the decisions.

The PRESIDENT.-Of course I should have anticipated, under any circumstances, the President would have some little allowance somewhat different from what is usually allowed in a Legislative Chamber. In this case, we are met to do very important work, and no gentlemen would like to occupy the chair unless he had more latitude than that usually allowed in the chair.

The question was put and carried.


Mr. DEAKIN moved, That Mr. George Henry Jenkins be appointed Secretary to the Conference.

Mr. PLAYFORD seconded the motion.

The question was put and carried.


The PRESIDENT suggested that a little more latitude than usual in the Legislative Chamber should be permitted to the members of the Conference in dealing with the matters before it. He suggested the ordinary latitude in committee for gentlemen to speak several times should be permitted without any formal question being put.


Sir HENRY PARKES.-Might I say I think there should be entered on our Record of the Proceedings the names and the representative character of the several gentlemen who represent the respective Colonies. I think it would be a mistake if our Proceedings were silent on that point. I should imagine it will be sufficient if those gentlemen present themselves and say they are duly authorized to represent their Colonies, without presenting any particular commission.

The PRESIDENT read the names of the representatives present, who thereupon rose and announced that they were duly accredited to attend this Conference by their respective Governments.


Sir HENRY PARKES.-Mr.President: Under ordinary circumstances I should be indisposed to depart from what has usually been the practice of not admitting the public to the proceedings of a body of this kid. But this is unlike any other Conference that has assembled in these Colonies. All Conferences, and I believe I am correct in so speaking, have assembled under very general powers, and they have, in point of fact, actually transacted a variety of matters of business. This Conference however, has assembled through unusual circumstances to consider one question alone, and that is a question which more directly interests the inhabitants of all the Colonies than most questions considered by bodies of this kind. Independently of all that, I think the Conference must partake of a character unlike that of other bodies. Most of the Conferences, speaking from some personal experiences, have been more of a consultative character [start page vii] than of a deliberative one. That is, in their proceedings men have said things which naturally enough they have desired to modify, entirely alter, or withdraw. They have spoken sometimes under a misapprehension, which they have to correct, and altogether the proceedings have been, to a large extent, of a conversational character, and exercised by those influences which enter into a private conversation; but this Conference, if I understand the object of its assembling will have to fully consider-which we can only do by debating-questions submitted in stated resolutions, and considering that it will be to a large extent a deliberative body to debate questions rather than enter into minute consultation as to the particular form which matters are to take, and also considering the vast importance to the populations of these Colonies which the proceedings will present, I should think that the circumstances would be met if we came to the conclusion that for some time at the opening of every sitting we should be considered as in committee, while any matter of a disputatious character, admitting of new views and explanations, and all that kind of thing which arises in committee, should be considered with closed doors; but when the business of which the Conference was seized by a stated resolution from the chair, that the public should be admitted. That is the view of the case which seems to meet, I believe, the general desire of the public, and would give this body confidence in transacting its real consultative business in the ordinary way of a private committee.

I therefore move,

1. That whenever the Conference is in committee the public be not admitted.

2. That when the Conference is engaged in debating matters formally submitted by resolution the public be admitted.

Dr. COCKBURN.-I think the question depends on what the proceedings of the Conference are to be. If the proceedings are to be more of a deliberative character, and to touch the question more in the general bearings than in the details, then I can very freely second the resolution. If, however, the Conference intends to go into details, I think the resolution might act to the detriment of the business of the Conference. If the intention is that we should deal with the question generally, without attempting to enter into the closest details, then I think there can be no objection, but, on the contrary, there would be every advantage in having the Press present.

Sir JAMES LEE STEERE.-A resolution might be submitted when we are not in committee.

The PRESIDENT.-Of course in that case notice would have been given, and the members would have an opportunity of discussing it, but if it were thought desirable before concluding the matter to consider it in committee, that might be done, and then we could have an opportunity of free discussion while the Press was not present.

Sir SAMUEL GRIFFITH.-I apprehend we are met here principally for the purpose of exchange of ideas amongst ourselves, as representing the public opinions of the different Colonies, as to bow far Federation is practicable at the present time, and to that extent we should be witnesses giving our own opinion as to the state of public opinion. We shall be exchanging ideas. Some members of the Conference believe that a perfect Federation is possible now, others that it is not practicable, and they may feel it their duty to point out the difficulties. And those difficulties will have to be met. We cannot shut our eyes to them, and they will be the real difficulties that will meet us when we go to our respective Parliaments, and the doubt I entertain is how far it is desirable those objections should be stated and combated in public. We might possibly give handles to our opponents, or, on the other hand, furnish excellent answers to their objections, but that is the great part of what we shall do. We cannot arrive at any definite resolutions as to a definite form of Federation. On the whole, I come to the conclusion that the greater advantage will be in allowing the public to be present when discussing the general questions.

Mr. PLAYFORD.-Without disapproving of the admission of the Press, we have no precedent for it in Conferences, either in the Colonies or in America. The Americans never admitted the Press when they made their Constitution; the Canadians at Quebec did not admit the Press; and you cannot point out, I believe, one single precedent for admitting the Press to deliberations of this sort. At the same time, I am willing that the Press should be admitted, and that we should state our case, so that the public may thoroughly understand the grounds on which we have come to certain conclusions. It is utterly impossible that the question of detail can be kept [start page viii] absolutely in the background-the whole subject is based on detail. The Conference we are asked to attend, according to the Commission drawn out by the Governor, and signed by the Acting Administrator of the Government, is that we are met here for the purpose of considering whether an additional forward step with regard to Federation is possible at the present time or not, and in the very nature of things we ought to be able to go back to our Parliament and say that we considered this question along with the other representatives from the other Colonies, and we are prepared to say to what extent the Federation shall go. If we just pass a bald resolution to the effect that we are ripe for Federation, one may think that by Federation we will be going on the lines of the United States, another that we are going on the lines of the Dominion of Canada, another the Swiss Republic, another on the lines of the States of Holland. Nobody would know what we meant. We should talk a lot of platitudes, and the people throughout the Colonies would not understand what we were driving at. We must consider this point-is the time ripe for the further extension of Federation? If so, to what extent? And unless you answer those two questions, we shall fail in our duty to those who have appointed us and sent us here. I speak for the

two Houses of Parliament in South Australia. It will be impossible to discuss these questions without going in some cases into very close details, and giving reasons why we want the extension or limitation of powers and so on. I shall be quite prepared to do my part publicly, and prepared that the Press should take it down, and that the people of the Australian Colonies should know my views on the matter. We are not met for the purpose of building a Constitution, or drafting a Bill for the approval of the Legislatures, and to go on to the Imperial Parliament; but I contend that the people of these Colonies expect us to do more than pass a bald resolution. We must show the limits within which we can go in regard to Federation.

Mr. McMILLAN.-The remarks of the last speaker lead me to ask what is really the intention of this Conference, and I think we should understand that at the very onset. It seems to me if there is one thing we have not to discuss it is details. It seems to me that the Conference has met together to frame certain resolutions, the outcome of which will be a Convention under the sanction of the different Parliaments. We are here because we believe that a large wave of public opinion has that over the Australasian Colonies, and no man can judge absolutely to what extent that wave has permeated the masses. No man can say that in his Colony there is a large and overwhelming majority in favour of Federation. He cannot say it with certainty. Now the whole object of all our controversy here will be to decide as to the form of that Convention. We are here not to say what particular kind of Federation shall take place in the future, but what is the limit of that Federation, but we are here to decide whether there is such a wave of public opinion throughout these Colonies that it has removed the question from the mere sentimental airiness in which it has existed for some years past and has brought it into the region of practical politics; therefore our resolutions, I take it, will, to a great extent, declare that the time is ripe when this matter should be discussed by all the different Colonies, and the outcome of this, I should hope, would be that all the delegates here will decide that the Colonies should be asked through their Parliaments to send representative men, absolutely untrammelled, to a Convention to discuss the whole of this great question in all its bearings, both generally and in detail. But it seems to me that for us to enter into details in a discussion of this question in this Conference will lead to a great deal of difficulty, insuperable difficulty among ourselves, an great difficulties when we meet our Parliaments when we come into session again. The great reason for admitting the Press is that the discussion is to be, on broad and public lines, on the question whether public opinion has advanced so far that we proceed to the formation of a Convention.

Sir JOHN HALL.-I think it is premature to discuss now how far we should go into detail. The proper time for that will be when the resolutions are before us. The only question now is how far our proceedings should be open to the public, and I submit that Sir Henry Parkes' proposition is a very practical one. If honorable members look at it they will see that it is very elastic. Whenever, either at the commencement of or during our sittings, the time arrives when we think the Press should be excluded, we can declare ourselves in committee. If we wish to discuss details giving rise to differences of opinion which it may not be wise to give to the world, we have only to do so in committee. On the other hand, if we are giving [start page ix] reasons why an earnest attempt should be made to form a grand Federation of the Colonies, which reasons it is desirable that the public should know, then the Press will be admitted. I support the resolution, and leave for consideration hereafter how far we shall go into detail.

Sir JAMES LEE STEERE.-I agree that we should be departing from the question before the Conference in saying what shall be our future deliberations. The question is whether the Press shall be admitted; I am entirely in favour of it. Mr. Playford say's it is without precedent. I think one of the great reasons why these Conventions have to a certain extent failed has been because the Press has not been present. They have not received the support in the Colonies and been so successful as they would if the Press had been admitted. I think the balance is all in favour of the proceedings being public; I shall therefore support the motion.

Mr. BIRD.-It appears to me that we can hardly compare ourselves in this Conference with the Conventions that were appointed and that met to draft a Constitution, either for Canada or for the

United States, both of which Conventions, as we well know, met in secret, and all their deliberations were kept secret, unless it was our intention to frame a Constitution here, as was done by those bodies, for recommendation to the several Parliaments of the States or Provinces. It appears to me that the case with us is very different from theirs. I am certainly in favour of the Conference being open to the public when we are discussing those broad questions of a general character which do not, if I may use the term, descend to detail; but it appears to me that, before we shall be prepared to discuss generally such leading resolutions as we are prepared to discuss in public, it will be almost necessary to spend a considerable time in discussion in committee, and those discussions must necessarily involve a good deal of talk about the details which at times must be considered before the resolutions of a general character can be properly debated. I am in doubt whether the resolution submitted exactly and fully meets what is desired, for, according to the second portion of this resolution, it would be open to any member of this Conference to submit a resolution which would involve a considerable amount of detail, and yet as the resolution stands, being submitted as a resolution at the Conference, it must be discussed in the presence of the public or the Press. I think, instead of this, we should have something which would help us when a question which involves very debatable details is introduced by a resolution-there should be a power of referring that to a committee, otherwise, according to this, any member might insist on the discussion being carried on before the public, even though the resolution as submitted formally was of a character involving many details which we would all like to have discussed in private. I suggest a little alteration in that direction, in order to make the Conference open to the public in regard to the more general resolutions, and exclude the public on those occasions when we want to go into details, arranging that those should be discussed in committee, and not take place in connection with the discussion of the resolutions to be formally submitted when the Press is present.

Sir SAMUEL GRIFFITH.-Suppose any member of the Conference proposes a resolution with details in, that can be referred to the committee at once for discussion.

Sir HENRY PARKES.-If any notice whatever is given, the Conference, before it proceeds to its business in its own Possession, can discuss that motion, whether it is a motion that should be proceeded with in committee. I apprehend the Conference will be in committee when it first meets every day; and no resolution could be proceeded with until there is an opportunity of deciding it in committee. Suppose I give notice of a resolution full of details as to how a Federal Constitution should be constructed, I could not, by any possibility, proceed with that until the Conference had had an opportunity of considering it in committee.

The question was put and carried.


It was agreed, on the suggestion of the President, that all notices of motion must be given on the day preceding the next meeting or that if any honorable member desired to bring on suddenly any important motion it must be with the leave of the whole of the members of the Conference present.


The Conference agreed to sit from day to day as the Conference might determine. It was agreed that the hour of meeting each day should be eleven o'clock.

[start page x]


The PRESIDENT asked if members of the Conference desired to give any notices of motion for the next day of meeting.

Sir HENRY PARKES said he desired to give notice of the following motion, to test what he thought must be tested, viz., as to the feeling of the Conference as to the time being ripe for federation:-

That, in the opinion of this Conference, the best interests and the present and future prosperity of the Australasian Colonies will be promoted by an early union under the Crown, and, while fully recognising the valuable services of the Members of the Convention of 1883 in founding the Federal Council, it declares its opinion that the seven years which have since elapsed have developed the national life of Australasia in population, in wealth, in the discovery of resources, and in self-governing capacity, to in extent which justifies the higher act, at all times contemplated, of the union of these Colonies, under one legislative and executive Government on principles just to the several Colonies.

Mr. DEAKIN.-I will not give notice of the following resolutions to-day, desiring that they first be considered in committee. As the framing of these resolutions is a matter of some importance, I now only suggest in the rough what seems to me to be the necessary supplement of the resolution to be moved by Sir Henry Parkes:-

1. That the members of the Conference should take such steps as may be necessary to induce the Legislatures of their respective Colonies to appoint delegates to a National Convention, empowered to consider and report upon an adequate scheme for a Federal Constitution.

2. The Convention should consist of seven members from each of the self-governing Colonies and four members from each of the Crown Colonies.

3. As some time must elapse before a Federal Constitution can be adopted, and as it is desirable that the colonies should at once take united action to provide for military defence and for effective co-operation in other matters of common concern, it is advisable that the Federal Council should be employed for such purposes so far as its powers will permit, and with such an extension of its powers as may be decided upon, and that all the Colonies should be represented on the Council.


On the suggestion of Mr. DEAKIN, it was agreed that the Conference should from time to time give directions when the Conference was open to the Press and public, and that Hansard should give the usual fall report.


Mr. DEAKIN moved, That the Conference do now adjourn until to-morrow.

The question was put and carried.

And then the Conference, at twenty minutes past four o'clock, adjourned.

D. GILLIES, President.

GEORGE H. JENKINS, Secretary to the Federation Conference.