Advocate (Melbourne, Vic. : 1868 – 1954) Sunday 24 June 1871
On page 8
THE CRISIS, THE MINISTRY, AND
A MINISTERIAL crisis acts as a Ioadstone of the Press quite as strongly as it does of the Parliament. If it tries the honour, the good faith, and the earnest honest regard for the public welfare above all things else, of the men who have had confided to them the political representation of the people, it also tests the justness and fitness of the claims of the Press to be accepted as the exponent of public opinion
and the guide that points the way toward policy and effective statesmanship. The crisis which has resulted in displacing Ministry of Sir James McCulloch, substituting for it a Government under the leadership of Mr. Duffy, is no exception in this respect. It has necessitated the immediate expression of opinion on the part of the Press as to what might, or could have, or actually has been done to meet the requirements of the occasion, just as it has forced the Assembly to deal practically and promptly with the exigency and the outcome of the operation of the test is, we regret to say, not quite as creditable to the Press as it is to the Assembly.
This, however, must not be taken absolutely; for there are exceptions as far as the Press is concerned. There are journalists who fully comprehend what is expected of
them and what is due to the common good, at their hands, when the Government of the country, from any cause, breaks down; these have honourably and ably acted up to their sense of duty on the present occasion. They have discountenanced faction and vexations, and dishonest attempts to throw difficulties in the way of the resumption of the administrative and legislative conduct of public affairs by the new men chosen for the work. Parliament having discarded the recent occupants of Ministerial office, and others having succeeded them In accordance with the usages of constitutional Government, the obvious course for the honest and disinterested journalist is to aim at making the change, or enabling it to be made, the means of producing that measure of progress and of good to the State which the regime of the former Ministry had failed to effect.
Both in Melbourne and the country districts journals of weight and character have taken this course. Without making themselves partisans of the new Ministry,
They have accepted it in a spirit of confidence and hope, and they calmly await the development of its policy and conduct before undertaking to pass judgment.
This is not only fair to the men who have taken upon themselves the very uninviting task of making amends for the blunders,
and mischiefs, and shortcomings of the Government of Sir James McCulloch; but it is also what is just and due to public welfare. The journals that have acted in this creditable manner during the present crisis are those which are
conspicuous for their independence in every sense of the word, for their vigour and their outspoken boldness on all occasions which call for a courageous and able expression
of opinion. They are the exceptions
in the ranks of journalism. But their influence and support outweigh all the rest; and it is an augury of good import to the new Ministry that they frankly hold out to it the right hand of welcome. There are
other journals as pretentious as they are shallow and feeble, as self-assertive as they are injudicious and discredited in
popular estimation, as venal or as blindly prejudiced as they are distrusted and disregarded
by public opinion. These have
not hesitated for a moment to flaunt their gibes, and their taunts, and their sneers in the faces of the new Ministers, as though the latter had acted with unprecedented
impropriety and shameful wrong in giving practical effect to the will of Parliament in filling up the vacant places of the depose Government. They have not sagacity enough to perceive that they are thus only, illustrating the fable of the viper and the file. It is only themselves, and not those whom they assail with the poisoned tooth of malice,
that they hurt. They are simply furnishing farther grounds for that want of confidence and want of credit they have long inspired the public with in reference to their views or their advocacy upon all things political, whether men or measures.
The Argus signalizes itself on this occasion by one of the strangest of those unaccountable fits of the spleen to which it periodically becomes a victim. It shakes
all over with tremulous rage at the bare mention of Mr. Duffy as Chief Secretary, with a body of active-minded and intelligent politicians at his side as his colleagues in the Government. Its manifestations of
spite and ill-will are like the involuntary quakings of St. Virus dance, so palsied, and impotent, and inopportune, and grotesque
are they, and utterly harmless
withal. Seeing how intense and yet how erratic and causeless are the anger and the censure of the Argus on this occasion, those who have not hitherto been able to account
for that journal’s complete loss of all influence with the public will now find the clue to the fullest explanation. For years past there is no guiding mind to control or direct either with vigour, sagacity, or consistency, the editorial course of this erratic and erroneous journal It drifts; but its devious track is uncertain, and serves only to mark the currents which the skilful mariner in the sea of politics
must avoid if he would escape shipwreck.
Judging by the ordinary standard of rational intelligence and consistency, the Argus should speak favourably of the
Ministers who had shown the country it “as no longer helplessly dependent on the worn-out and incapable Government of Sir James McCulloch. The Assembly had no
sooner passed its overwhelming vote of censure last week on the McCulloch Ministry, than the Argus chimed in with a downfall-chorus of censures and denunciations
against the displaced Chief Secretary mid his colleagues.
Down with them, said the Argus ; they deserve their fate. Let them perish; the country will benefit by their giving place to men who
do something for the common good whilst in office. But no sooner have their successors come forward than the poor witess, wandering journalist stultifies
by wilfully running foul of them and attacking them personally and by name in the hysterical style of the screeching fishwife. He affects to sneer at pretended incompetence of Mr. Graham in matters of finance, as though the stammering, confused, and incomprehensible
Mr. Francis had furnished us with the model of what a Treasurer ought to be.
His remarks about Mr. Grant are so cowardly, mean, and contemptible, as to be beneath notice. But we will not follow this ill-conditioned and ill-advised journalist further in his vagrant scurrilities. It is sufficient to have pointed the finger of scorn at the degraded and discredited
newspaper, whose praise is censure and whose censure is praise.
The Daily Telegraph follows feebly in the same gutter—sporting in the mire like a true mud-lark. But the larrikin-like abusiveness of the Telegraph is at all events
intelligible. It’s a matter of pence with it.
Whilst the Government. advertisements were
withheld the little snarler kept on snapping savagely. But latterly the pabulum that soothes even the most vixenish curs was provided, and forthwith Ministers were beslavered with a spaniel’s fawning. Dread fear, however, has now seized on the little barking nuisance. It is afraid the mess of Ministerial pottage will be lost to
it. The new men may not think it worth its food. It is so conscious of its own worthlessness that it takes for granted it will be left to starve. Hence all the whining and yelping that have been going on since the McCulloch Ministry have left
office. But is the hungry journalist so infatuated as to imagine the public will set any value on his interested praise or disparagement
of whatever Government happens
at any time to be office? Our contemporary is not by any means so infatuated; but it serves his purpose to put forward pretensions in that direction. His cue is to
endeavour to appear to be what he knows he is not—viz., the m possessor of power and
influence—in the affectation that those who have something to bestow, will think him worth subsidising. But he may be assured
that most people see through and understand his game; and they only despise him and it. The new Ministry will stand or fall by its own merits, irrespective of hireling praise or blame.