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The Empire and the century/Imperialism and Australian Conditions

IMPERIALISM AND AUSTRALIAN CONDITIONS

By THE HON. SIR JOHN A. COCKBURN, K.C.M.G.


The centre of gravity of the inhabited globe varies from time to time, and the focus of interest shifts in conformity with the ever-widening circle of civilization. In the ancient world it was round the shores of the Mediterranean that empire-making conflicts were waged, and the deeds of those days still live as the heroic in history. The Mediterranean is, however, the earth's central sea no longer. But for the fact that it serves as a funnel for the Suez Canal it might, so far as the world-power is concerned, be regarded as an inland lake. It is scarcely even a continental boundary. Its southern shore is not now the limit of Europe; this is being pushed southward to the margin of the Sahara.

The central sea of the modern world—the international arena in which the future rank of nations will be decided—must now be sought in the Pacific. Here is the chessboard which progressive nations are anxiously watching in order to secure any coign of vantage which will increase their prospects of preponderance. The United States definitely adopted a foreign policy by the acquisition of the Philippines. Germany is incessant in activity among the neighbouring islands. The phenomenal advent of Japan among the greatest naval and military powers still further emphasizes the position, and the construction of the Panama Canal will increase its significance.

Australia has always been regarded with interest as one of the most important of the self-governing Colonies of the Empire, but this interest is now transcended by that which attaches to her position as one of the continents of the Pacific. Formerly the uttermost part of the earth, she may now at any time be brought into the very vortex of affairs. Eventually the Antipodes may become the apex. As one of the keys of the Pacific—as a battery for the reinforcement of British power in that region—everything that touches the welfare of Australia is of paramount importance to the whole Empire.

In estimating the outlook, the main fact should be borne in mind that Australia, like New Zealand, is essentially British—more British than any other Colony of the Empire; more British than even the heart of the Empire itself. Ninety-five per cent. of the whole population are British born or of British descent, and their characteristics indubitably proclaim their parentage. They have inherited the same practical, hard-headed common-sense which characterized their ancestors, the same faculty for making elbow-room, the same disdain of abstract theory, the same predilection for empirical methods, as opposed to the systems and generalizations of Latin races, which brought Great Britain to the front rank of nations; not precisely the qualities which have become fashionable during the recent age of laissez faire, when, having attained first place and distanced all rivals. Great Britain has been content with maintaining the status quo, but the qualities which marked the British race in the making—qualities which will have again to be cultivated when Great Britain ceases to rest upon past achievement, and once more gives way with a will in order to regain the lead lost through indifference, and through the habit of letting things pass in what was to her for a time the best of all possible worlds.

Australia, although a continent covering about a third of the area of the whole Empire, is also an island, and possesses in a marked degree the sea instinct which haunts sea-girt lands. The population has hitherto mainly occupied only a fringe of the littoral The capitals are situated close to salt water, and in Sydney the largest vessels afloat can berth in the heart of the city without docking. The early settlers brought with them to their new home that passion for the romance of the sea which was peculiar to the days of long sailing voyages. They still delight in the old sea chanties. Australia, sprung from the loins of the sea, has the same love for the element, the same longing for sea-power which characterizes Britannia.

This is doubtless one of the reasons for the pertinacity with which many Australians cling to the idea of an Australian Navy, despite the irresistible arguments of naval experts, so ably put forward by Lord Selborne at the last Colonial Conference, to the effect that the command of the sea depends on the capacity to detach naval strength from locality and to concentrate it in any part of the world where a hostile fleet exists in force. Command of the sea, however, in the opinion of Australians, does not prevent the possibility of damage from chance raiders, and this, they maintain, would be most likely to occur when the fleet was engaged in some distant operation. It is just when the fire-engines are away at some great conflagration that it is especially desirable for a householder to have at hand the means of extinguishing an incipient outbreak. The rejoicings appropriate to a great British naval victory in foreign seas might be marred amid the ruin caused by an irregular bombardment. Moreover, it is urged that the initiative and alertness which evolved the Australian soldier might with equal advantage be brought to bear on naval construction and strategy.

Australians view with regret and dismay the rapid denationalization which is taking place in the mercantile marine, where lascars and foreigners in ever-increasing numbers are daily ousting British sailors from employment. It is doubtful whether a supreme navy is possible except as a crown of a well-manned merchant service, and it would be well if, instead of denouncing the Australian Commonwealth for a well-meant effort to preserve employment for themselves and for British sailors on the great ocean liners, which at any time may act as auxiliary cruisers, Great Britain were seriously to consider whether it is wise to permit the conclusion to be drawn that the sea is ceasing to provide a career for the sons of the nation that rules the waves.

To no part of the Empire can the phrase Greater Britain be more aptly applied than to Australia. The national type and characteristics are those of the parent race, to which greater opportunities for development have been afforded, just as British flowers and fruit transplanted to Australian virgin soil flourish with unprecedented luxuriance. Physically, the native-born Australians frequently outstrip, both in stature and stalwartness, their parents of European origin. In many sports, such as cricket, they hold their own; and the oarsmen of the Paramatta River are unsurpassed for speed and endurance. Brilliant commanders, such as Lord Dundonald, Sir Edward Hutton, and General Rimington bear ready testimony to the value of the Australian Centaurs in the field. In the realm of art, and especially in vocal music, several Australians have excelled. The average Australian is active, alert, and keenly critical. The public men are bold and enterprising—as, for example, when in despair at the lethargy of the Imperial Government, Queensland hoisted the Union Jack in New Guinea, and secured a province for the Crown.

It is in the achievement of federation that the political initiative and resource of Australia have been most conspicuously displayed. The Commonwealth Act is a piece of constructive statesmanship which has received high encomiums from the most distinguished constitutional authorities. It is the first case in history in which communities have voluntarily, and without outside pressure, surrendered a portion of their autonomy. The movement, because it was optional, has been subjected to more severe criticism than if it had taken place under the dictates of necessity. Spontaneous as the action undoubtedly was, and premature as by some it was regarded, it was merely a case of performing at leisure a labour which the clash of arms in the Pacific would before long have rendered imperative. On the whole, the anticipations of the federal majority have been realized. But rights enjoyed from the cradle cannot be surrendered without some subsequent heart-burnings. No Federal Government which did its duty could avoid giving occasional offence to some of the States. The causes of complaint have, however, been fewer than might reasonably be expected, and much wisdom has been shown in dealing with them. The inventive genius of the nation was not exhausted in constructing the federal mechanism; the same skilful hands that erected it have superintended its working, and have been diligent in lessening the friction inevitable at the outset. It was known beforehand that the prohibition of the Kanaka traffic would give rise to trouble in Queensland; that the tariff resulting from a compromise between Free Trade and Protection would fail to give satisfaction to many manufacturers in Victoria; and that Western Australia would never rest content until linked in railway communication with the other States. But the two latter difficulties will be remedied, and the majority in Queensland have never regarded the importation of the Kanaka as otherwise than a temporary expedient. The drawbacks to federation are evanescent, the gains large and lasting. United Australia with her forces coordinated under one command faces the future with a confidence denied to disjointed States. Free Trade throughout the Commonwealth, reached, be it noted, through the pathway of Protection, has already given a marked impetus to manufactures and commerce.

Australians smile at the glib fallacy that England's industrial greatness was founded on Free Trade. They have read history to better purpose, and are satisfied that the industrial lead was attained by means of the most stringent system of patents, monopolies, and protection that the world has ever witnessed. It is in the temporary and now baneful effervescence of a system of free imports, not in the fiscal policy of the self-governing Colonies, that the departure from true British instinct is to be traced.

The germ of all that appears in Australian life is to be found in the Mother-land, and so-called Australian tendencies are merely accentuations of inherited proclivities. These may readily be traced in many directions. The oft-noted preponderance of population in Australian capitals is but a strenuous reflex of English city crowding. Undesirable as this movement appears, its university indicates it as an unavoidable state in the evolution of social solidarity. The deplorable diminution of the birth-rate in Australia is only an exaggeration of British example. The extension of the sphere of State activity, which is denounced as State Socialism, is the hardly more pronounced expression of a tendency which is apparent everywhere in the United Kingdom under the name of Municipalization. Australian Governments were driven by stress of circumstances to undertake many functions previously performed by private enterprise; it must not, however, be supposed that socialistic theory played any considerable part in their adoption. The measures indicated were devised by practical men to meet everyday requirements, and were not the outcome of any theoretical preconceptions.

The Australian Colonies obtained their autonomy at a time when the tide of laissez-faire dogma ran high. The adventurous settlers who planted the British flag in these distant lands were familiar with the predictions of dire calamity uttered by orthodox economists against those who ventured to transgress the narrow circle within which the legitimate functions of the State were supposed to be circumscribed. They were sturdy individuals like their forefathers, and nothing would have been more congenial to their proclivities than to adhere to the old belief that public weal is best advanced by private action. In the modem world of industry, however, the isolated individual counts for little. At the outset there were in private hands no stores of capital sufficient to furnish the means necessary for organized effort on a large scale. In endeavouring to provide the first necessity of civilization—railway communication—it was found that private enterprise was wholly unequal to the task. In New South Wales, between 1846 and 1854, unsuccessful attempts were made, but the Government had to step in and complete the work. Similar results were experienced elsewhere; and it came to be recognised that railroads and other great engineering works should be constructed by the State, for the simple reason that there was no other means of getting them carried out.

State enterprise, adopted perforce in the first instance as the plan on which the industry and activity of the Australian Colonies ranged themselves, was retained because it was found that an adequate and immediate reward to individual effort was afforded by that system. It is true that there were in Australia some public men of philosophic cast of mind who, observing the advantages of governmental action, deliberately set themselves to enlarge its scope in every possible direction, and their efforts found reinforcements in every rank. The essays issued by the Fabian Society attracted much attention, and made converts not only of many of the Labour party, but also of some of the wealthiest, most cultivated, and most influential members of society. But these influences were almost negligible; the mam body of public opinion moved towards material and immediate ends, unconscious of any predetermined destination.

The magnitude of her public debt in proportion to the Australian population is due to the fact that it has been advantageous for the State to perform many public services which in other countries are undertaken by municipal bodies or private enterprise, Mr. Coghlan, in his admirable statistical account, gives the total expenditure of borrowed money in Australia:

£
Railways and tramways 136,600,855
Telegraph and telephones 3,771,758
Water-supply and sewerage 29,846,167
Harbours, rivers, and navigation    17,373,507
Roads and bridges 6,482,948
Public works and buildings 17,188,178
Defence 2,379,825
Immigration 3,409,132
Advances to settlers 508,435
Land for settlement 745,049
Loans to public bodies 2,416,607
Total £220,121,461

The excess of receipts over expenditure from the following sources for last year was:

£
Railways and tramways 4,285,960
Water-supply and sewerage 629,354
Harbours, rivers, and navigation 184,905
Advances to settlers 7,702
Land for settlement 21,109
Loans to public bodies 111,773
Total available to meet interest on capital cost  £5,240,803

Thus a return of 2·30 per cent, is derived from the total loan expenditure. It is evident, therefore, that although some mistakes may have been made, the borrowed money has on the whole been wisely expended. The railways, representing the bulk of the public debt, were constructed and are administered not so much with the view of yielding profit as of promoting settlement and encouraging production. They could readily be made to yield larger profits if worked solely with that object. As they stand, the railways alone are an asset worth the whole of the debt. But as an additional security there are still in the hands, and at the disposal, of the various Governments 1,782,558,693 acres of unalienated land. So that the investor in Australian stocks is secure beyond all possibility of question.

There is no more absorbing or debatable question than the extent to which State or municipal enterprise can be carried with advantage to the community. There can be no question as to the direction in which the whole world is at present travelling. The construction of the Pacific cable by the British and Colonial Governments in direct competition with private enterprise may be cited as the latest and most pronounced expression of State Socialism. Australia, in common with New Zealand, is conducting experiments from which other countries may, in matters of the deepest importance, derive the dearly-bought lessons of experience without expense to themselves, and can ascertain what it would be well to avoid and what to imitate in the solution of problems with which they may soon be called upon to deal.

Doubtless the explanation of the apparent anomaly that the United States and Australia, those two great sister offshoots from a common ancestry, are poles asunder as regards the sphere of State activity is to be found in the different condition of industry and transport at the time of their origin. The foundations of the policy of the United States were laid ages anterior to the advent of railroads and the industrial revolution. The giant power of steam had not then been harnessed to human service, intricate and expensive machinery was unknown, and highly-organized industry was unnecessary. There was at that time nothing in the problem of colonization which surpassed the power of men single-handed or grouped together for some temporary purpose. Knit together in the strongest bonds of fellowship by religious fervour, and welded by persecution, the Pilgrim Fathers possessed the solidarity favourable to successful cooperation; but there was none of the outside pressure of industrial necessity which moulded the more divergent elements of Australian settlement into combined effort In each case the best available road to successful settlement was selected. The methods differed, not because of any change in the national temperament, but because the conditions were altered.

In old countries the barrier of established custom, the ties of tradition, and the friction of vested interests, offer a serious resistance to every innovation; to strike out any new line of action in the face of such obstacles presents difficulties similar to those encountered in laying out a new thoroughfare in a crowded city. Here and there a monument of antiquity must be preserved and worked into the scheme, and the plan has to be modified accordingly. In young countries, where the ground is comparatively unencumbered, no such intricate problems occur, and convenience alone has to be studied. Under these simpler conditions the self-governing Colonies have acted as pioneers in the introduction of many measures which have subsequently been adopted, or appear likely to be adopted, in the Mother Country. Australia is the home of the Ballot and the Real Property Act The system of graduated death duties was established in Australia long before its introduction in the United Kingdom.

Old-age pensions, so frequently advocated in the Mother Country, have already been several years in operation in New South Wales and Victoria, and doubtless before long will be general throughout the Commonwealth. The franchise enjoyed since 1894 by the women of South Australia, and more recently by those of West Australia and New South Wales, has been extended to all women for both Houses of the Commonwealth Parliament. The Referendum, so often cited favourably by Mr. Chamberlain as a means of lifting great national questions above the fog of party, is the recognised method in Australia for settling knotty problems and obtaining a popular verdict free from personal or political bias.

Much adverse criticism has been directed against the Commonwealth for its laws restricting immigration. But a law forbidding the indiscriminate introduction of labour under contract is a necessity in a country where the ruling rate of wages is higher than in Great Britain; where Factory Acts provide for boards that fix the rate of wages; and where the minimum wage is in force. There was hardly a voice raised in the Commonwealth Parliament against the clause providing for this restriction, and there was no division upon it. It was evident that without some such provision an unscrupulous employer might hoodwink those working at lower wages in other countries into binding themselves for a term of years at a rate which, though nigh enough to entice, was still below the Australian standard wage. The full Australian citizenship is open to the world, but he who desires to partake thereof should enter the country free and untrammelled.

The law was never intended to apply to such a case as that of the historical six hatters, who, however, were not sent back, as is so frequently stated, but, on the contrary, were admitted directly their employer applied for the requisite permission. The episode was a regrettable incident, for which a little passing inter-State jealousy was probably responsible, out does not give ground for all the clamour which was raised against the Act.

The exclusion of coloured races may be accepted as a fixed and final determination. This is not, as is frequently supposed, a mere labour question. It is a national resolve, which is shared by the great majority of every class, to preserve at all hazards the purity of the race. Those living at a distance can hardly appreciate the gravity of the position. Without immigration laws, Australia, situated as she is, would be inundated by alien races, and would soon cease to be a white man's country, and autocratic in place of parliamentary methods of government would in some parts have to be adopted. The racial trouble in the United States indicates that prevention is the only course to pursue in view of an evil which is apparently without remedy. The widespread impression that white men cannot perform manual labour in the tropical regions of Australia is without adequate foundation; it is continually refuted by actual experience. The difficulty is not that the white man cannot work alongside of the black, but that he will not. Professor C. H. Pearson, in 'National Life and Character,' remarks: 'When he' (the black labourer) 'multiplies, the British race begins to consider labour of all but the highest kinds dishonourable, and from the moment that a white population will not work in the fields, on the roads, in the mines or in factories, its doom is practically sealed.'

It is doubtful whether there is so much real economy in coloured labour as some imagine. It is undoubtedly more manageable and docile, and these features naturally have a charm for employers; but docility is not the quality on which the greatness of the British race was based. It was not the docility of our forefathers that won for us our civic and political liberty; nor were the sea-dogs who built the Empire renowned for passive virtues, which are as little calculated to maintain as to found an Empire. In the eagerness to unearth treasure we must beware lest we sap the very foundations of the Imperial structure. Rome, the prototype of Great Britain, fell because the sturdy agriculturists, racy of the soil, were displaced by bond labour; for though the latter might till the land with profit to their masters, they could not wield the sword necessary to defend the homestead.

There is nothing either strange or novel in the ideal held by the Australian democracy that the worker should enjoy a living wage, that he should have leisure for recreation and self-improvement, and that some provision should be. made by which he is enabled to spend the evening of his days free from want and without the humiliation of the workhouse. What does it profit the nation that life has joys for the privileged few if the masses are not well housed, clad, and fed? It is as though we should be satisfied if the officers of an army &red sumptuously while the rank and file were in want. It is not thus that campaigns are won, and it is not by neglect of wealth-producing labour that nations attain either happiness or prosperity. The welfare of the workers who constitute the body of the nation has been the aim of the best men and the greatest thinkers in all ages; but while others have been satisfied with the expression of a pious opinion, Australia and New Zealand have endeavoured to reduce it to practice. Certainly the case of New Zealand, where measures have been carried to the fullest extent in this direction, seems to bear out the view that such a course not only is not inconsistent with national prosperity, but appears to be an efficient instrument to that end.

Accompanying the development of democracy in Australia, there is, however, no sign of enervation or laxity on the part of the governing power. The will of the people, once definitely ascertained, carries with it the corollary of inflexible enforcement The duly accredited representatives of the manhood and womanhood of Australia have little of the timidity of public opinion so frequently displayed by those whose authority is based on a more limited franchise. Anti-vaccinators do not scare them, and they are not afraid to adopt severe measures for a definite public good. For example, the agricultural departments succeeded by rigorous administration in eradicating scab from the sheep scattered in millions over mountain ranges and vast plains—a herculean accomplishment when compared with the futile efforts in these islands. Acts which would be resented as arbitrary if imposed by an autocracy or oligarchy are obeyed without protest when the legislative power is unquestionably in the hands of the whole people. Regulation and restriction are then regarded not so much as infringements of liberty, but rather as a laudable exercise of self-control. There is truth as well as satire in Lowell's witty lines:

'Democracy gives every man
The right to be his own oppressor.'

One thing, however, is needful to enable Australia to realize her destiny, and that is increased population. Unoccupied lands are not only a passive hindrance to prosperity, but are a positive source of weakness and peril. In this, as in other respects. Nature abhors a vacuum, and covetous eyes may be cast on vast, unoccupied areas. If the coloured element is barred, the white must be encouraged. The diminishing birth-rate makes the matter more urgent. A country with merely a marginal population is as an empty shell, which may collapse at a touch. Prudence, as well as duty to others, impels to action. Mr. Deakin has already emphatically pronounced his opinion as to this pressing necessity. Western Australia has appointed a Commission to deal with the aspect of the problem in that State, New South Wales is taking active steps, and Queensland has always been alive to the requirement.

Among the matters which, owing to their importance and to the impotence of private initiative, demand State action, the adjustment of population should take a leading place. Systematic immigration is a comparatively neglected field, and might with mutual advantage be undertaken by the combined forces of the British and Colonial Governments. It may be noted that, while critics impress on Australians the necessity of attracting population, they often vehemently denounce measures for facilitating land settlement, which must form the basis for an increase of population. The resumption by Governments of portions of vast pastoral leases for permanent agricultural settlement has often been stigmatized as land robbery, and laws providing for the repurchase of large and sparsely-peopled estates for closer settlement have been condemned by some usually enlightened and right-thinking English journals, and yet these measures were indispensable means towards the simultaneously advocated end. The misconceptions which arise even in fairly well-informed circles as to occurrences in Australia, and especially as to the aims and results of legislative action, would be amusing were they not provocative of mischievous misunderstandings.

Gentlemen in London who take a prominent part in discussions concerning the Colonies, and so volubly lay down the law, are to be congratulated that the responsibility of the helm is not in their hands; otherwise the course of the ship of State might be brief. The settlement of a huge continent like Australia, where distances are so enormous, presents many novel difficulties. The conditions of soil and climate are, in many cases, unprecedented and peculiar. Many of the regions in which flocks and herds abound are without permanent water. This has to be provided, often at great cost, before successful settlement is possible. In agriculture the recognised system of rotation of crops can be carried out in only a few localities. Methods of forming so successful in other countries have to be unlearnt before a successful start can be made.

The power evinced by Australia of recuperation from the effects of the late prolonged drought is astonishing. In many sheep farms the natural increase in the flocks last year exceeded 100 per cent. The wheat available for export during 1904 was estimated at 40,000,000 bushels, and the imports of wheat from Australia to this country in that year largely exceeded those from Canada. Exempt from the rigour of winter, and with the boon of two springs in each year, Australia has unrivalled advantages for production. As the land of the golden fleece and sheaf she is peerless. The panegyric of Pliny on the British Isles quoted by James Harrington 250 years ago in the 'Commonwealth of Oceana,' applies in many respects to the Colony which has now succeeded to the title.

'O the most blest and fortunate of all countries, Oceana! how deservedly has Nature with the bounties of heaven and earth endued thee! Thy ever fruitful womb not closed with ice, nor dissolved by the raging star; where Ceres and Bacchus are perpetual twins. Thy woods are not the harbour of devouring beasts, nor thy continual verdure the ambush of serpents, but the food of innumerable herds and flocks presenting thee, their shepherdess, with distended dugs or golden fleeces.'