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4-180 (Text)

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addressee,male author,male,Parkes, Henry,74
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Government English
Imperial Correspondence
Clark, 1975
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4-180-plain.txt — 6 KB

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Sir, - Your telegram, explanatory of your views in favour of bringing the machinery of the Federal Council into operation in giving effect to the recommendations of General Edwards for the federalisation of Australian troops, reached me last week in Brisbane. Being extremely anxious to meet your wishes, I lost no time in re-examining the provisions of the Federal Council Act; and I regret that I cannot concur in your view, that the Council possesses the requisite power to constitute, direct, and control an united Australian army. The sub-section of clause 15, to which you specially referred me, appears to supply evidence to the contrary. The two words "general defences" are included in a long list of secondary matters, such as "uniformity of weights and measures" and the "status of corporations and joint-stock companies", and it would be a very strained interpretation that could give to those two words so used a definition of legal authority to deal with a matter second to none other in the exercise of National power. It is not for me to say what is the precise meaning of the words on which you rely; but it is contended that they cannot be construed to mean the creation, direction, mobilisation, and executive control of a great army for the defence of the whole of Australia.
For more than twenty years I have had the question of Australian federation almost constantly before me; and I cannot be accused of indifference to it at any time, merely because I had become convinced from earlier examination, while others were adopting the scheme of the present Federal Council at a later period, that no such body would ever answer the great objects of Federal Government. ; Leaving the provisions of the Act as to the legislative capacity of the Council, we are at once precipitated upon an impassable barrier, in the fact that there does not exist in it or behind it any form of executive power. Supposing, for example, that the Federal Council's recommendations, or enactments, for the movement of Australian soldiers could be accepted, there could not be found anywhere a corresponding executive authority to give effect to them. 
The vitally important recommendation made by General Edwards is one, in any light from which it can be viewed, of national magnitude and significance. The vast sums annually expended by the Continental Colonies for defence works and Services would be of greatly enhanced value in time of public danger, if the scattered j and unconnected forces locally maintained could be brought under one command, and, whenever advisable, directed to one field of operations. I am satisfied that this cannot be done by any existing machinery. The Executive Governments of the several colonies could not act in combination for any such purpose, nor could they so act independently of each other. The Federal Council has no executive power to act at all. The Imperial Parliament, on the application of the colonies, could, no doubt, pass an Act to constitute the Federal Army under one command, and to authorise its operations in any part of Australia; but the colonies could never consent to the Imperial Executive interfering in the direction of its movements. Hence, then, this first great Federal question, when looked at fairly, brings us, in spite of preferences or prejudices, face to face with the imperative necessity for a Federal Government. And why should we turn aside from what is inevitable in the nature of our onward progress? It must come, a year or two later possibly, but in any case soon.
I hope I need not assure you that this Government is anxious to work in harmony with the Governments of the sister colonies in the matter under consideration, and is desirous of avoiding subordinate questions coloured by party feeling or collateral issues. It is a question to be put to the mind and heart of Australia, in view of the destiny of Australia, and on which it is hoped all sections of the collective population will unite without regard to narrower considerations. Believing that the time is ripe for consolidating the Australia's into one, this Government respectfully invites you to join in taking the first great step, namely, to appoint representatives of Victoria to a National Convention for the purpose of devising and reporting upon an adequate scheme of Federal Government. With much deference to the views of the other colonies, it is suggested that, in order to avoid any sense of inequality in debate or any party complexion, the number from each colony should be the same, and should be equally chosen from both sides in political life; and that, in the case of each colony, the representatives should be elected by Parliament and receive commissions from the Governor in Council. It is further suggested that six members from each colony would be a convenient number, both in regard to combining a fair representation of the two Houses, and at the same time not making the Convention too unwieldy. In each case four members might be taken from the Assembly, two from each side; and two members from the Council, one from each side.  In the case of Western Australia, where only one House exists, possibly only four members might be elected. If New Zealand joined, the Convention would as a result consist of forty members.
The scheme of Federal Government, it is assumed, would necessarily follow close upon the type of the Dominion Government of Canada. It would provide for the appointment of a Governor-General, for the creation of an Australian Privy Council, and a Parliament consisting of a Senate and a House of Commons. In the work of the Convention, no doubt, the rich stores of political knowledge which were collected by the framers of the Constitution of the United States would be largely resorted to, as well as the vast accumulations of learning on cognate subjects since that time.
Although a great and pressing military question has brought to the surface the design of a Federal Government at the present juncture, the work of a national character which such a Government could, in the interest of all the colonies, most beneficially and effectively undertake, would include the noblest objects of peaceful and orderly progress; and every year the field of its beneficent operations would be rapidly expanding. I devoutly hope that you will be able to take the view which I have briefly explained, of the necessity now pressing upon these colonies to rise to a higher level of national life, which would give them a larger space before the eyes of the world, and in a hundred ways promote their united power and prosperity.
Permit me, in conclusion, to say that you place much too high an estimate on my individual influence, if you suppose that the accession of New South Wales to the Federal Council rests with me. In my judgment, there is no person and no party here that could persuade Parliament to sanction the representation of this colony in the present Federal Council.
I have the honour to be, Sir,
Your most obedient servant,