Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

Something like 60,000 persons, nearly all men, have left the colony in the last three years, leaving behind them about 15,000 empty houses in Melbourne alone. No one questions the fact of the country being in a stable condition, but producers are taxed almost to ruin in order that the manufacturing interests of the towns may be supported ; unfortunately it is with this latter class that the voting power is practically supreme; Melbourne alone contains more than one-third of the whole population of Victoria.

It is now but little over half a century since the Imperial Government presented as a free gift to the inhabitants of the colony the whole of the land, which for natural fertility is unsurpassed by any other part of the Empire, whilst in certain portions of the province nature had stored up more than 250,000,0001. worth of gold, which required little beyond manual labour with picks and shovels to dig it up. The climate is one of the best in the world, and behind all these natural gifts there was the Old Country ready to lend money, if necessary, at a very low rate of interest, to help the rising colony, but this last has unfortunately been more of a curse than a blessing, as it produced a fictitious prosperity and reckless expenditure. Railways were made in districts where they could never possibly pay, and public works of every description on the most lavish and extravagant scale were carried out. Wages rose to an absurd height, and speculations in which every one was to become rich were undertaken. It will be said that the Government of the country ought not to have borrowed with such reckless indifference as regards the future. Had former Governments been composed of men who understood what political economy meant, undoubtedly the financial condition of the colony would be very different from what it is at present. Up to 1877, although the number of inhabitants (almost 900,000) was not really very far short of what it is to-day, the debt of the colony was only 17,000,0001., but in that

year the thoroughly Radical element succeeded in getting into power, and after having passed a Land Tax Bill which was severe in the extreme on landowners, it further proceeded to make the payment of members a permanent institution. Hitherto it had been for the duration of each Parliament only, a Bill being passed by both Houses as a temporary measure. Now the payment of members during the six years it had been tried had been found to be decidedly unsatisfactory. The general opinion of all thoughtful men who had the good of the colony at heart was, 'that although, theoretically considered, nothing could possibly be more in accordance with reason and justice than that payment of members should produce a number of hard-working, conscientious representatives, some of them taken from, and all acquainted with, the classes which usually find a difficulty in making known their wants and wishes, owing to the inability of those members to live without continuous manual labour, the result in reality was quite the reverse; it begat a race of trading politicians, who gained and held their seats on condition of pandering to the popular whim of the hour, and whose interest it was to stimulate the public excitement to the utmost, by keeping up a perpetual succession of agitations for so-called reforms, all appealing to the ignorance and cupidity of the masses, and differing from each other solely in their degree of extravagance and folly.' In order to make the payment of members permanent, the Radical Government which came into power in 1877 put the money vote for so doing in the Annual Appropriation Bill, which was prepared by the Lower House, thereby practically taking it out of the jurisdiction of the Upper House ; this the latter objected to, and a deadlock in parliamentary matters was the result. The Radical Government then carried out a coup d'état, which reads more like an extract from Roman history than anything else. The victims on the proscription lists were not actually put to death, but they were ruined, which is in the end much the same—some actually did commit suicide. The Government stated that, as the Upper House had not consented to pass the votes for the necessary annual expenditure, great economies would have to be carried out, and then proceeded to gazette out of the public service scores of men in every department, utterly regardless of the consequences. The Gazette of the 8th of January 1878 removed from office all judges of County Courts, the Courts of Mines, and the Court of Insolvency; the Chairman of the Court of General Session, all the police magistrates and wardens and every coroner and deputy coroner, together with some of the Crown Prosecutors. This meant a complete suspension of the administration of justice in all but the superior courts, where the judges are irremovable except by the action of both Houses of Parliament. The engineer and assistant of the Victorian Water Supply, the Admiralty Surveyor and his assistants, the collector of customs, the traffic manager of the railways, the engineer in chief and his secretary of the same department, and fifteen of the principal officers in the Department of Public Works were discharged. The military and naval forces of the colony were also disbanded. The chaos resulting made the Government restore the judges and a few others, but a subsequent Gazette added further long lists of dismissals from all public departments, making matters even worse than before ; such was the general distrust brought about that trade and enterprise were paralysed, and it took many years for the colony to recover. All this was done to keep the Radical party in power by making payment of members permanent. The Governor might have declined to sanction such extraordinary proceedings by refusing his consent until the matter had been referred to the Colonial Office, but this he did not do; it was, however, subsequently referred to the Home authorities, and a very decided answer was given which was certainly not satisfactory to those who had instituted and sanctioned these very startling proceedings, but the mischief from which the colony for so long afterwards suffered had been done. It may be

said that the colonists themselves ought to have put an end to the Government; unfortunately too many votes were dependent on a Government which kept up a fictitious rate of wages really on money borrowed from England. All the other colonies of Australia being producers and not manufacturers are consequently more or less freetraders; but Victoria, from its situation and the concentration of so many of its inhabitants in Melbourne, endeavoured to become the manufacturing centre of Australia, and to carry this out and

рау

the standard wages it was necessary to protect such industries by high import duties. But this was not sufficient for the Radical party then in office. An Eight Hours Bill and a measure for the prohibition of work beyond fixed hours were passed, free education was also instituted on a scale of startling liberality, although the parents of fully half those attending school could well have afforded to pay their share of the cost of instruction ; but such a contribution even now, in the present depressed state of the finances, would apparently be an infringement of the Socialistic creed that every one should get all he could out of the State, as no proposition for payment by those capable of doing so has yet been brought forward by the Government. At one time the grant for free education amounted to about 1,000,0001, --that is to say, to a quarter of the actual revenue.

The railway accounts being lumped in with the total of the colonial receipts give a statement of revenue which rather misleads those who do not understand colonial bookkeeping.

This free education granted to everyone was given on true Socialistic lines, religious education being most carefully provided against : even passages in the ordinary reading lesson books which suggested such a thing as an all-ruling Deity being carefully eliminated. There have been some slight improvements lately with reference to this subject, but a late Minister of Education actually took the trouble to print a pamphlet showing why religious instruction should not be given, principally on the plea that it might differ from the dogma of the Roman Catholics (one quarter of the population), and yet this was brought forward when the same Roman Catholics would have nothing to do with such mistaken training for the young. Although religious instruction can be carried out in both Voluntary and Board schools in the United Kingdom, the Minister of Public Instruction of Victoria took the greatest care to demonstrate how 'not to do it'in Victoria. Attempts have lately been made to show that Sunday schools and such like give religious instruction to half the children of Victoria ; a newspaper controversy, however, proved that not above one-third of the children in the colony received any religious instruction or training whatever. The exclusion of the teaching of history in State schools except in the most sketchy manner further assists in depriving the colony of those incentives to self-help and pride in the deeds of their forefathers which make a nation. Divine teaching and human experience are

apparently both considered superfluous by those responsible for the mental training of the rising generation in Victoria.

In the United Kingdom and all other English-speaking countries School Boards look after educational expenditure, but in Victoria it is in the hands of a Minister of Education; the teachers have consequently become a powerful political body, which can exercise no small influence at elections and can take care of itself, as was shown at the last general election, when civil service employés, including the railway men, really turned out a Government which proposed to make further reductions specially affecting them. The expenditure on State schools, even in the present condition of financial depression, is between 600,0001, and 700,000l. per annum ; this speaks for itself.

The railways are also managed on Socialistic principles, which naturally are not a commercial success. An able manager was obtained from a great railway company in England to put matters straight; but his system and proceedings did not suit the Radical element in Melbourne: an agitation was got up against him by the leading Radical newspaper of the colony--the only literature ever read by the great mass of manufacturing labour-and the Government paid him compensation to go; the result being that already stated—viz. that the annual loss in the railways now amounts to nearly half a million (annually), that being now the cost to Victoria for railway management on Radical principles.

The same vicious system was also carried out with regard to taxation on imports, and, as already mentioned, high duties were imposed to protect the manufacturing interests; speaking roundly, the tariff in 1887 was 25 per cent., in 1889 it was raised to 35 per cent., and in 1892 to 50 per cent. Unfortunately, however, the most talkative Labour Member could not reverse what might in matters of political economy be almost designated the laws of nature. With a restricted market, the workmen very soon supplied more than could be consumed, and the result has been, that as duties went up wages came down, till at last the leading Labour Member actually declared in Parliament that Victoria had become a hell on earth for work

men.

It is instructive to notice that when protection is highest, the suffering is apparently the greatest. In the boot-making trade, for instance, where there is an import duty of 58. per pair, wages are now so low that 300 workers specially petitioned for assistance to emigrate to the gold-fields; they stated that they were almost on the verge of starvation. Coach-making is another instance of a very highly protected trade failing. To assist coach-builders an excessive duty was placed on all descriptions of carriages; on broughams it was 501. each. What is the result to-day? A very good second-hand brougham can be bought for 301. One article is a necessity, the other a luxury; but the effect of the mistaken policy is the same in both, as it is also in the cloth trade and many others. Even in the spiritmaking trade, where Victoria whisky and brandy are only favoured to the extent of 38. per gallon—costing the State, however, 60,0001.the enterprise is said to be not at all a success. Some protected trades, such as sugar refining, pay the fortunate shareholder 10 per cent. as well as give high wages to the operatives—all at the expense of the rest of the colony. A thorough revision of the tariff in the direction of free-trade principles would unquestionably bring relief to every one and send the revenue up with a bound, but with Radicalism in power the struggle, though commenced, is so arduous as to be almost hopeless; the Labour Member stating apparently as part of his political creed that import duties should be imposed not for revenue purposes but to stop imports entirely !

The descent to the present financial depression was intensified by the great strike of 1892. Up to 1889 money flowed in in streams from England, wages of every description were at an extraordinary figure, landed property had been boomed to an extent which now appears incredible, and the prosperity of the colony to an ordinary observer seemed unbounded. The Trades Hall Council of which the leading Labour Member in the present Victorian Parliament was the President—was at the height of its power, and dictated to master as well as to man. Not content with regulating the price of wages, it at last attempted even to dictate to a shipping company in what vessels the different engineers and sailors should be employed. This was the last straw. The shipping company declined to be so dictated to, and the result was that the Trades Hall Council called out on strike all the employés of the company; this was soon extended to all shipping companies and wharf labourers, and finally to the collieries which supplied the steamers with coal, and, to put pressure on the public, the gas stokers were called out, and an attempt made to cause even domestic servants to follow. Free labourers were employed, and then physical force was used to coerce them ; this at last became so threatening that the permanent troops as well as the mounted infantry and volunteers from the country districts had to be assembled in Melbourne, some of the militia at the same time being kept on duty to guard the large magazines near Melbourne in which were stored the small arms, ammunition, and 600 tons of powder. These decisive measures eventually brought the strike to an end, but not before public confidence and commercial enterprise had received a shock which contributed eventually to the disasters of the terrible period of bank failures, which soon spread to all the other Australian colonies. The unfortunate colliers of New South Wales, who had joined the strike, found at the end of it that nearly all their foreign trade was gone, never to return; Japan and India having taken it.

The Radical party never forgot or forgave the men of the Ministry which acted with such decision in calling out the troops, neither

« ElőzőTovább »