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AUSTRALIAN FEDERATION AND ITS BASIS.
BY EDMUND BARTON.
The Constitution under which it is proposed to unite the Australian Colonies establishes a federation under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. It is more democratic than the Constitution of the United States, and not only more democratic, but more federal, than the Constitution of the Dominion of Canada. Let me make a few comparisons. It is a constitution markedly of the British type, in that it operates not only by way of constitutional government, but by way of responsible government. The Federal Ministry are liable to be displaced at any moment by the vote of one House, the House of Representatives : and the overwhelming power of its vote is assured by giving over to it the control of the purse-strings. The Senate has a veto, of course; but, as we shall see, that veto may be rendered ineffective in the case of continued disagreement between the two houses.
Of the sixteen federations of the world, fourteen recognize the principle of equal representation in one of the two chambers of the National Legislature. I hold the opinion that the federal idea naturally suggests such a condition; and that, apart from academic arguments, federalists may well demand it, in view of the fact that its maintenance has secured so fair a balance in the federal evolution. It will amuse American readers to be told that Australian provincialists daily, and through great numbers of their speakers, insisted that the War of Secession was entirely traceable to the existence of equal representation in the United States Senate. One of the strangest incidents of this contention is that it was most loudly asserted by the men who professed academic superiority. Was their fault an ignorance, or an ignoring, of history? In the Australian Federation, original States will have equal representation in the Senate.
The plan of the Australian Constitution will probably not surprise an American; yet, if it were largely different, it would surprise an Englishman. One of the striking sayings which marked the debates of the Convention which met at Adelaide in 1897 for the purpose of framing the Constitution was an utterance by Sir Richard Baker, shortly before his appointment to the Chairmanship of Committees. He said of the idea of implanting Responsible Government in a Federal Constitution: "Either Federation will kill Responsible Government, or Responsible Government will kill Federation.” Sir Richard Baker supports the new Constitution. We may infer that he does not believe that either Responsible Government or Federation has received its death blow. A problem which appeared to a strong and learned constitutionalist to be insoluble at the outset has probably been solved, and in such a way that we shall see the mainspring of a federation, the principle which aims at blending the voice of the people and that of the States, preserved, while no jot is lost of those strong principles which, among men of British race, are now considered indispensable to their instruments of self-government.
Now, the Constitution of the United States provides that “all bills for raising revenue must originate in the House of Representatives, but the Senate may propose or concur in amendments as in other bills." Under the Australian Constitution, not only must revenue-raising bills originate in the House of Representatives, but appropriation bills also must begin there, and the power of amendment in the case of money bills is emphatically denied to the Senate. There is a power to suggest amendments by message; such a power would perhaps exist, without express authority in the Constitution; but it is impossible to mistake the sternness with which the Australian charter declares and conserves the power of the people to decide questions of taxation and expenditure, through the House which represents the voting power according to its numerical value.
I have said that the Constitution is attacked on the ground that original States are equally represented in the Senate, and that the Senate will thus be the stronger of the two houses. How would American citizens appraise the power of a Senate which cannot originate or amend either a revenue or an expenditure bill? It will require more than a personal assurance to make one of them believe that a Senate so pent is still, to quote the adversary, "the dominant House."
Although the United States Senate represents the States in the light of their equal contractual capacity, Americans have not told the world that it fails to represent the people of the States. Ours, however, is a case in which, "in the grips," citizenship rules according to numbers, and not according to States. It will be said that the rule of numbers will destroy the separate life of States; this is delicate ground. Are States to prevail in their numbers, irrespective of citizenship majorities ? Are citizens to prevail in their numbers, irrespective of the future interests and existence of States? If either of these things were true, there could be no federation. The quarrel that our anti-Federalists raise is in the assertion that one, the latter of these propositions, is essential. It is cloaked by the assertion that it means majority rule; but the majority of the States and the majority of the people must both be reckoned with. If we fail as to one, we approach unification; if we fail as to the other, we draw nearer to a form of union which proclaims its weakness in every step. Surely, the true solution of a difficulty of this kind is one which enables the machine of government to continue its work, while it is made clear that the vital force of the equally represented States is not exercised in vain. While it is made certain that the will of the majority will prevail, it is also made certain that arguments must be heard. There is only one ultimate tribunal; to ignore that would have been to ignore the popular force which impelled the union of the colonies. But it is possible to recognize this in all its strength, and still to ensure that the minority is to have the fullest opportunity to offer to a reasoning community the supreme influence of argument on behalf of State interests.
As I have mentioned, the operation of responsible government is secured by making the House of Representatives the real custodian of the purse. There is further security in a provision which will be of interest to Americans. After the first general election, no Minister of State is to hold office for a longer period than three months, unless he has become a member of one or other of the houses. In the insistence on the principle of continuous responsibility lies the main difference between the Australian Constitution and that of the United States.
The power of the national or collective voice will be greater in Australia than it is in America. The power of the individual States will be greater than it is in Canada. But these two powers will not be allowed to continue in a condition of deadlock. If the two houses differ twice upon the same bill, then, if it has originated in the House of Representatives, the two houses may be dissolved simultaneously. If afterwards the difference continues, the Governor-General, with the advice of his ministers, may order a joint sitting, in which all the members, whether of the Senate or the House of Representatives, may deliberate together, and must vote together on the bill as last proposed by the House of Representatives, and on amendments made therein by one House, and not agreed to by the other. Any amendments affirmed by an absolute majority of the combined strength of the houses are to be taken as having been carried; and if the bill, together with any amendments so carried, is affirmed by an absolute majority, it is to be taken as passed by both houses, and it is to be presented to the Governor-General for assent. How effective this provision will be as to money bills, which have been the usual subjects of deadlocks under the several local constitutions, will appear from two facts; first, that it can only be called into action when the bill on which the difference arises has originated in the House of Representatives; secondly, that, as money bills must not be amended in the Senate, a final determination must be upon the precise form in which the House of Representatives chooses to leave the bill. Inasmuch as the House of Representatives is to contain as nearly as possible two members for every one in the Senate, there is little doubt that the cases will be few indeed in which the will of that house will not prevail at a joint sitting. Personally, I doubt if we shall ever reach a joint sitting, because the power to dissolve both houses simultaneously is, in itself, so drastic that, in all probability, its exercise will be avoided by reasonable concession.
But the people have yet further security for the absolutism of their self-government. Instead of being elected by the several Legislatures, as in the United States, senators are to be directly chosen by the people. They will each represent the whole of the State which elects them; while, in the House of Representatives, the members will be representatives of districts. The voters for each house will be the same persons, the difference being that, in voting for senators, each State is to be one entire electorate, and
will have equal representation without respect of number; while, in voting for the House of Representatives, each State will be represented in electoral divisions, purely according to the numbers of inhabitants. There is one broad fact which secures that each house will be popularly representative. This is that the franchise will be the same for the electors to each chamber.
Until a franchise, to operate uniformly throughout the Commonwealth, is made by the Federal Parliament, the suffrage will be in each State that which exists in elections to its lower chamber, which, in most of these colonies, is called the Legislative Assembly. The Federal Parliament, however, has no power to make a restrictive suffrage for Federal elections. It cannot by any law prevent any adult person, who has or acquires a right to vote at elections for the Legislative Assembly of a State, from voting at elections for either house of the Federal Parliament. Now, there is one colony, namely South Australia, which already gives the suffrage to women, as well as to men. It will follow that the federal franchise law must, in order to be uniform, extend the suffrage for the Australian Parliament to women in all the States. The conditions of membership of either of the Federal houses are:
1. The attainment of the age of twenty-one years;
2. The qualification of an elector for the House of Representatives;
3. A three years' residence within the limits of the Federal Commonwealth;
4. The being a British subject, either natural born or for five years naturalized,
It will be of interest next to state the principal powers of legislation which the Federal Parliament is to possess. There are thirty-nine of these, of which the principal are: Trade and commerce with other countries, and among the States; taxation, but so as not to discriminate between States, or parts of States ; bounties on production or export, which must be uniform throughout the Commonwealth; borrowing on the credit of the Commonwealth; posts, telegraphs, telephones and the like; defence; lighthouses, light-ships, beacons and buoys; naturalization and aliens; immigration and emigration; influx of criminals; the people of any race, other than the aboriginal race in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws; external affairs; the acquisition, with the consent of a State, of any railways of the