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Australian Federation
By Sir John A. Cockburn, K.C.M.G., M.D., with a Preface by The Right Hon. Sir Charles W. Dilke, Bart., M.P. (1901)


Sir John Cockburn has been good enough to ask me to write a few words of Preface to his volume, in which he has collected various expressions of his views upon the Federal movement in Australia.

On the happy accomplishment of the end of that long and interesting course of modern history, in the proclamation of the Commonwealth, and opening of its first Parliament, no one is personally to be congratulated more warmly than the former Prime Minister and present Agent-General of South Australia.

Sir John Cockburn is not, like the great Victorian federalist, Mr Deakin, and many of the other Federal leaders, “native-born,” and he settled in Australia only after having been a gold medallist of London University. No man, however, of home birth has more completely identified himself with Australia, both in his own colony, which has led the way in many Liberal movements, and in Australia as a whole. As he himself, I think, has written, the colony of South Australia has played a great part, if not a leading part, in the Federal movement. Sir John Cockburn and his colony were supporters of the Federal Council movement which contained the legislative germs of union. Adelaide was the scene of the chief sitting of the Federal Convention; and its admirable Clerk of Parliaments1 was the Clerk of the Convention who was privileged to communicate to the world what was in fact the Commonwealth Constitution, almost exactly as it now stands. The Referendum, which pronounced popular approval of that Constitution, was first taken in South Australia, and the legislature of that colony was the first to pass the Address to the Queen praying for the Act of Parliament.

In Sir John Cockburn’s book we have a sketch of the Federal movement of Australia from the first. The growth of the Federal Council is described, as well as the difficulties which were placed in its way. We then come to the merger of Federal Council feeling in favour of the Commonwealth feeling, and lastly to the success of the Commonwealth movement itself. Sir John Cockburn was a staunch and uncompromising supporter of the Federal Council, and, like Mr Deakin and others, long believed that it might have been made efficacious for bringing about what at the time would have been a sufficient union. Sir John Cockburn naturally found it difficult at first to weaken his allegiance to the Federal Council and to sever himself from it. The Federal Council offered a reasonable hope of a safe evolution, gradually bringing union to Australia, as in New Zealand the Provinces, and in Switzerland the Cantons had gradually become virtually united into a nation. Sir Henry Parkes, who had been the real author of the Federal Council movement, stood aloof from it for many years and crushed it. Some of us thought that his action had retarded the cause of Federation in Australia. We may now, in looking back, admit that Sir Henry Parkes’ conception of a grander movement, more rapidly attaining to maturity, has been justified by the event.

In regard to the proceedings of the Convention some democrats may doubt whether Sir John Cockburn should be supported by advanced Radicals in the stand that he made on behalf of the Senate in the new Constitution. But the Senate of the Australian Commonwealth is a highly democratic body, and even an opponent of the bicameral system may admit that no prejudices which are based upon knowledge of other Upper Houses, or on the precedents of other countries or of the colonies themselves, are applicable to a Senate elected by vast constituencies with the same franchise as that prevailing for the House of Representatives. The Labour party indeed have at the first election obtained a larger proportional representation in the Senate than in the other House; a fact which was anticipated by observers in the mother-country, though not expected at the time of the Referendum by the Labour leaders of the colonies themselves. Sir John Cockburn moved the resolution in favour of one-man-one-vote, as regarded the Federal franchise, and that for a direct Referendum on the Constitution, and, although at first badly beaten, has been successful in both these causes. His personal course and the course of his colony in respect to the Federal movement have been honourable and consistent, and we may hope that the South Australian Members of the Senate and House of Representatives of the Commonwealth will continue to play that leading part which their past would lead us to expect.

In the recent speeches of Lord Rosebery and other statesmen we may detect a certain vein of pessimism as to the future of the British Empire, which we may also discover, treated from another point of view, in the recent writings of Mr J. R. Macdonald and other democrats. There is, perhaps, too marked a tendency to contrast the mother-country as she stands with the United States; and there is no better antidote to that bane—national depression of mind—than to consider the development of such colonies as South Australia and New Zealand, of which New Zealand (separated from the Australian Continent by a geographical distance too great to make her able to join the Commonwealth as a mere province) has in the past learned much from South Australian example. Let us hope that the spirit of South Australia, and her wise and bold course of expcrimental legislation, will affect the Commonwealth as they undoubtedly have affected the history of New Zealand. The Commonwealth Constitution has taken much from the South Australian Constitution. The mode of settling disputes between the two Houses, for example, was suggested by South Australian provisions. In one respect the South Australian Constitution stands so far as I know alone:—it is the only Constitution with which I am acquainted which has ventured on a definition or explanation of that useful word “unconstitutional.” The spirit of rapid advance by legislative effort, combined with prudence and good sense, which has distinguished South Australia, may well become, we may hope, the dominant distinction of the Commonwealth Legislation.


Australian Federation
By Sir John A. Cockburn, K.C.M.G., M.D., with a Preface by The Right Hon. Sir Charles W. Dilke, Bart., M.P. (1901) (pdf)

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