Tues 21 April 1868
THE LOYAL LIBERAL REFORM
A meeting was held at St. George’s-hall yesterday evening, to inaugurate an association to be called the Loyal Liberal Reform League. About 1,200 persons were present, and the proceedings were of an orderly character.
Mr. GEO. ROLFE was voted to the chair. He said that the meeting had been convened for the purpose of inaugurating the Loyal Liberal Reform Association. Those associations were, he contended, of great importance at all times, but especially on occasions of
emergency. They were for instruction and ‘for union, whenever the rights and liberties and freedom of the people were interfered with. Associations of this kind were regarded with great favour by the statesmen and by the leading statesmen, too-of Great Britain. The agitation in favour of the Reform Bill of 1832 would ‘probably be fresh’ in the recollection of most of them, and they would remember that had it not been for the agitation that took placo at that time the Lords’ would never have passed the bill. So also in the case of the Corn-law agitation and the passage of the last Reform Bill. A reform league was formed before this last bill was proposed, and Mr. Gladstone favourably received a deputation from it, and Mr. Bright also spoke in warm terms of the necessity for such associations. The association ‘which now came before the colony contemplated the performance of that which should havo been .done in 1854, when our Constitution was framed,(hear, hear.) At that time the Legislature was a Council composed partly of nominees and partly of representatives, which, he was told, did not represent one out of 100 of the people. It was this body that passed our Constitution, and they refused to hear at the bar counsel who wished to address them for the people. Institutions were for the people, and we wore the ‘people who sent persons to the Legislature, who must make laws to suit us, and they were to maintain our rights and our liberties, and not to curtail them, or to thwart us unless we ask for something wrong. But when wo asked for what was right the Legislature must not refuse us, especially when we only asked that the Constitution should be so altered as to bring it in accordance with the minds of the people. The association would not seek to destroy; it would seek to build up such institutions as should be for the good of the greatest number. It was called ” loyal” advisedly because it had been said that the people wished to disconnect this country from home. (Cries of “No.”) He felt assured, that there was nothing further from us than to separate from Great Britain. There was a determined love for the institutions of the old country. (Hear, hear.) There was no part of the empire more loyal than the colony of Victoria.
Letters of apology for non-attendance were read from Messrs. Burrowes, Wrixon, Casey, Macgregor, Balfour, and Bindon, M.L.A.’s. Mr. Bindon’s letter, which was received with cheers, was as follows :
“Sir,-I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your letter, enclosing the prospectus of the Loyal Liberal Reform As- sociation, and asking me to take part in its public inauguration. I am at present holding office as a Minister of the Crown until my successor is appointed, and therefore I think precluded from complying with your request. I must, however, observe that I was returned to Parliament for the purpose of forwarding the express objects of your association, and I therefore consider it my duty to give you whatever support I can consistent viith my present position. I believe political organisation is essential to political liberty. In England, organisation is the order of the day. Mr. Disraeli is recruiting with his Conservative Working Men’s Association; and Mr. Afiliéis and Mr. Stanfield, both members of the late Administration, and Peofessor Fawcett, M.P., are lecturing for the Reform League. If all this be neces- sary in England, where the Conservatives have beaten the Liberals in radical reform, how much mote necessary is it here, where the avowed object of a party is to ‘strangle democracy’- where the contest lies between the retarding and progressive-where minorities are proposed to govern majorities. My colleague, Mr. Higinbotham. Requests me to say that he is likewise precluded from attending your meeting, but concurs in the views which Ihave expressed.
“I have tho honour to remain, your obedient servant, “SAMUEL H. BINDON.
“Richard Mackay, Esq., Reform
“Tennison-stieet, St. Kilda, April 13.”
The SECRETARY then read the programme of the society, which has been already published, and the constitution, which was as follows :-” The constitution of the association is as follows-that contributions and support aie required from all persons approving of the principles and objects of the association; that all poisons so approving shall, on payment of a not less sum than one shilling, be registered as members, and entitled to members’ tickets for the present year; That Ihe association shall bo governed by a committee elected from its members.”
Mr. THOMAS M’COUBIE, M.L.A., moved, “That this meeting views with satisfaction the inauguration of the Loyal Liberal Reform Association, and approving of the objects contemplated, hereby pledges itself to support the association by all constitutional means.” He observed that he believed that he had, been selected to move this resolution because he ‘was an old colonist of twenty-eight years’ standing, and he had taken part in public struggles for ‘ enforcement of the people’s lights. And he was led to believe that this league would be as successful as one with which he had formerly been connected. He had taken part in a league formed to prevent convicts landing in the colony. They were determined that the convicts should not land, even if they had to take the guns and prevent by force that landing. He considered that it was the duty of the people to stand out for their liberties. He would briefly refer to the history of tho piesent crisis. He would go no further back than the conclusion of the first deadlock, when Sir Charles Darling managed, with great talent and ability, to compose the first quarrel between the two Houses; and the fact that he was recalled at that moment showed the absurdity of a Secretary of State attempting to govern a colony 16,000 miles distant. So annoyed were the people at That recall, that the Assembly passed a motion granting to Sir Charles Darling the sum of £20,000. By that vote the social and moral position of the colony was pledged, provided the assent of the home Government and the Queen were obtained. The Queen and the home Government had allowed the money to be granted, and Sir Charles Darling, on the faith of ‘that vote, had given up his position in the colonial service. Therefore he submitted that the credit of the colony was pledged to this vote as much as to any other vote ever passed by the Legislature. But the people did not care so much for this paltiy £20,000. It was only 6d. per head on the whole-people; but it did not fall so much on the poor as on the rich, for the employers of labour and domestic servants paid more to the taxation, and they would therefore feel it more. To the working-men it would be only 2d. or 3d. per head, and if it did fall on the heads of the rich people they could afford to pay it. And to pass this vote was only an “act of justice to an inoffensive and worthy public servant. But apart from the vote there was a great political question involved, namely, that those representing the whole of the people should have the control of the public purse, and that that power should not be possessed by a small oligarchy, representing but a few. This principle was as wide as the Anglo Saxon race, for it had been held for the last 400 years, that representation should go hand in hand with taxation. And in this colony the taxation was chielly paid by working men, for those servants who were employed practically had deducted from their wages whatever indirect taxes the masters paid on their account. By indirect means he believed that the working-men paid the whole of the taxation, and that they, therefore, should really have the power of the purse. He said nothing against the power of the Upper Chamber as an independent body, or one possessing co-ordinate authority, he had great respect for it, for as an old colonist he was to some extent identified with the principles and sentiments of those gentlemen; and he would be very sorry to see the power of the Upper House curbed when exercising its legitimate function. The Council had, in his opinion, the same power as the House of Lords possessed in legislation but they did not possess the same power as the Assembly in financial matters. The distinction had always been maintained between taxation and legislation. (Hear, hear.) The speaker then proceeded to quote the Earl of Chatham, Mr. Gladstone, and the Duke of Argyll, in support of the doctrine that the difference between taxation and legislation was essential to liberty, and that the Upper Chamber of the Legislature was by necessity debarred from interfering, in,
Financial matters. He asked what would happen but coercion when a small oligarchy set itself against the expressed will of the people, and attempted to take advantage of
what Lord Chatham had happily described as a mere form of law? Having urged that this new organisation should effect a reduction in the public service, he proceeded to contend that democracy was quite as consistent with loyalty as aristocracy; in proof of which he referred to the condition of France, which country he had lately visited, and where he found democracy completely in accord with the existence and the power of an emperor, History, especially in Scotland and England had proved that the people were always more in agreement with the king than with the nobility, and he was not afraid of democracy in Victoria. He admitted the wealth and talent on the other side; but, while advocating no violent change, he was anxious
that the people, who knew their rights, should never give lliem up.
Mr, GRAHAM BERRY, who seconded the proposition, regarded this, meeting as at solemn protest against government by despatches. The people here were not, as in England, still struggling for their manifest rights and they should take every advantage of their position; for he could not but remember that no people in the world possessing the franchise had ever been so insulted by the opposite faction, or put up so quietly with the insult. (Tumultuous cheering.) His preatest complaint was. that tho people of
Victoria had put np with this crisis so long, . foi this tyranny of a minority was unbearable. Lookingatpaststruggles.hecouldnothelpfecl ing that the power of the people had not been used with tho force that might havo boen employed, or the Legislative Council would not be found occupying its present position. They had been allowed an impoi tance which ho did not believe the Constitution gavo them : and, he asked, would this sort of thing havo been allowed in Great Britain, where the Lords would not have been permitted to stop supplies for a single day? (“No, no.”)The whole theory of taxation and supply was, that the Crown asked for money from the people, the Commons granted the money, and the Lords concurred, and the form of law was often given after the money was spent. The Assembly had, he submitted, had in its own power to vindicate the position it had taken up, and to make the Appropriation Act a mere form (applause) a mere legislation of votes already passed and of money already paid-a page in the national ledger, to show for all time how the affairs of Victoria were carried on, and nothing more. He could corroborate the statement that the same parties had always supported popular movements, and that the same men had always opposed them. Even before responsible government the same faction that now opposed the people had acted so as to make the place almost too hot to hold the diggers, who were making the colony. The diggers had been chained to logs and stirrup-irons-treated, in fact, in such a way as no men were ever treated before, except they were slaves. The same oligarchy tried to keep the people down now, and the little gods in their own estimation. He only wanted the representative of the Crown to act as the Ciown would act at home, and to keep within the letter of his instructions, and the contest would not last very long. It was absurd to think that a House representing but a small portion of the people could successfully be antagonistic to one elected by 200,000 persons could long oppose the national will and pleasure. If the Upper House were right, and thought they could influence the opinion of the people, they had ways open to them to do so; but when the people had intimated what their will was, the Council ought to yield to it.
The motion was carried without a dissentient.
Mr. G. P. SMITH moved the second resolution :-“That the following gentlemen, forming the council of the association, with power to add to their number, have the confidence of this meeting, and they are hereby requested to take all possible means to promulgate its objects throughout the country, by the enrollment of members, and the formation of branch societies: Messrs. J. B. Crews, Geo. Young, J. Balfour, Geo. Rolfe, the Hon. J. M’Crae, Gavin Shaw, Edward Cope, M.L.A., James M’Kean, M.L.A., Knaggs, Stoiy, W. Bates, M.L A., M. L. King, M.L.A., Ambrose Kyte, James Fergusson, J. G. Buitt, M.L.A., Tankard, Robb, Thos Brun ton, T. W. Vine, T. Y. Au dcison, H. J. Hart, James Farrell, H. Beau- champ, John Etcroid, M.L.A., G. P. Smith, M.L.A., Geo. Ciuib, Thos. Mitchell, Irving, Chus. Cock.Robt. Byrne, M.L.A., W. Ashley, Wilier, li. If. Cooling, Robertson, Allen, Douglas, and Mier.”
Mr. CARR, M.L.A., seconded the resolution, and expressed his firm opinion that had this organization existed in 1854 the Constitution of Victoria would have been of a very different kind. Even at that distant time he had done his best in the good cause, and it was in consequence of the petition of himself and a friend, drawn up at his (Mr. Carr’s) own fireside, that the qualification of mem- bers of the Upper House was reduced from £10,G00 to £5,000, and the number of votes in either House by which the Constitution could be altered reduced fiom two-thirds to one-half. Now, however, there was but one object in view-viz, to assimilate our Constitution in letteras well as spirit to that of England ; for if the Howards, Percys, and Russells of the House of Lords were unable to interfere in financial affairs, how much less should our little Legislative Council be allowed to do so? But he believed the scheme lay deeper than the mere question.of the Dar- ling vote and the power of the purse, and that the object of the Opposition was to destroy the constitutional freedom the people now possessed. What they could not do themselves it seemed the Duke of Buckingham was ready to do for them, for the general rule of the Colonial-office seemed to be to keep ct everything quiet, and take as little trouble as possible. If the House of Commons guarded tliëir rights so jealously, how much more should our Legislative Assembly show themselves worthy of their ancestors! In conclusion, he remarked that much was said about “old hats,” but “old rats” were much worse m, and he warned the people and the constituencies to take care and have none of them.
The resolution was then put, and carried without opposition.
Mr. COOK moved the third resolution, as follows:-“That the council of this league be empowered to address His Excellency during the present political struggle on any question whereby the rights of the people and their constitutional liberties are endangered.” The present question was, he declared, who was to have the control of the finances of the country; and he quoted Lord Glenelg, once Secretary for the Colonies, and Professor Hearn’s Government of England to show that it was in the highest degree unconstitutional to interfere with the internal government of any country that is possessed of responsible local government. He argued that under the latter circumstances it was absurd to go outside in the country to ask any advice. The remainder of Mr. Cook’s speech consisted of little more than a repetition of the aiguments previously raised.
Mr. D. BLAIR, M.L.A., seconded the resolution, remarking that he was there to throw into the association 2,000 stalwart miners in Crowlands; and he could tell the men of Melbourne that, whatever might be the divisions in the city or in the towns on this question, there was noise among the miners. His instructions fiom his constituents were, not to yield for a moment of time or an inch of space the power of the people to supreme authority in this colony, he knew no higher authority, and he recognised no other authority, than the will of the people ; and even if the contest, instead of being between the Assembly and the Council, was between the Assembly and Her Majesty, he would still maintain the supremo right of the people to govern the country. (Hear, hear.) Indeed, he wondered that there should ever have been any question about it.
The speaker next mentioned what he had done in the cause of constitutional liberty while occupying the position of a contributor to The Argus, and described the present articles as written by lunatics for lunatics, (applause); for the writers actually mistook Swift’s matchless irony for a plain statement, and when, that great writer advocated the dominance of the minority as a joke, took it all for earnest. After speaking for some minutes in this strain, Mr. Blair deplored that sixty members of Assembly, representing at least 300,000 or 400,000 people, male and female, were with him, and that this battle once fought and won, need never be fought again.
The resolution was carried nem con., and on the motion of Mr. M’Kean, M.L A.,seconded by Mr. F. L. Smyth, M.L. A., a vote ot thanks was passed to the chairman, and the proceedings terminated.