The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957) Wednesday 25 October 1865
Ministers and the majority of the
Legislative Assembly, with, the active assistance of Sir Charles Darling, continue their efforts to filch one of its greatest privileges from the Legislative Council, and to govern the country without obeying the law under which Cabinet and Assembly alike have existence. No effort has been made by
Ministers to bring the existing quarrel between the Houses to an end. Early in the month, the constitutionalists in the Lower House made a vigorous but
unsuccessful attempt to bring about a solution of the difficulty. Though supported by one or two members who were unable longer to follow Ministers in their obstinate defiance of the Constitution Act, the majority was too powerful, and the Government refused to hold
out the olive branch. In the Council a somewhat similar effort was made, a few of the members thinking that “the dead-lock had lasted long enough;” and that, in the interests of commerce, it was time the conduct of tho busi-
ness of the country in a legal manner should be resumed. The majority of the Council, however, took higher ground; and required, before receding from the position they had taken, that their constitutional privileges should be recognised. The effort to
bring the two Houses together by committee, with a view to a mutual understanding as to how the Appropriation Tariff Bill should be dealt with, was resumed in the Council last night by Mr. Henry Miller, and his efforts were
successful in inducing the Council to agree to meet the Assembly in committee, in the hope that a way out of the dead-lock might be found. As prorogation is impossible while Customs duties are collected on the mere resolution of the Assembly-a resolution which
would have no force the moment
the session ends-a short adjournment was agreed to by the Assembly, that an opportunity might be given to meet the Council. The usual ” whitebait,” it is understood, was discussed by Ministers and their followers last night.
The month, however, has been characterised by the most lawless act of which the Cabinet has yet been guilty.
On the plea that the simultaneous collection of Customs duties under the tariff sanctioned by law, and under that approved by the Assembly only, was embarrassing to trade and traders, the Cabinet resolved to abandon the legal tariff, and collect duties only on the new tariff. This resolution obtained effect on the morning of the 12th
inst., and since that date duties of 3d.per lb. on tea, 3s. per cwt. on sugar, 10s. per lb. on refined opium, and 6d. per cwt. on dried fruit, have been left uncollected. At the moment when this resolution was arrived at, the Attorney-Ge neral was applying to the Supreme Court for leave to appeal to the Privy Council in the cases brought by the importers against the Queen, in which the judges had decided unanimously that the
power of imposing this new tariff on the country, claimed by the Assembly, was not possessed by that body, and that the collection of duties under it was illegal! The privilege of appeal has since been allowed, purely as a matter
of courtesy, and not that the judges entertain the slightest doubt of the soundness of their decision. Pending the decision of the Privy Council we have the
extraordinary spectacle presented to us of a Government discrediting the judgment of the highest Court in the land, and substituting for the only tariff on which Customs duties can legally be collected, a system of duties which has not been assented to by Parliament.
By the course which has been taken, Her Majesty’s right of veto has been evaded; and His Excellency has not seen fit to interpose his authority to prevent this violation of the law and this invasion of the Imperial privilege. All the assistance His Excellency has lent to his advisers previously in their efforts to outrage the
Constitution pales before this last extraordinary act. How the representative of Her Majesty, whose chief business it is to uphold law and order, could have listened to the unscrupulous advice
tendered to him on this occasion, is not explicable on any other supposition than that, having already gone so far on the road of illegality, it was not worth
while stopping short. The merchants, however, have been warned that they are not
absolutely safe under the state of things which now exists. The new tariff has not been legally imposed on the country.
The history of the appeals to the
Privy Council from this colony
shows that the judges have very
rarely, if ever, been pronounced wrong in their interpretation of the law ; and there never was a case, perhaps, in which they were more unanimous, and more free from doubts, than in that already alluded to, involving the vali-
dity of the tariff. If the decision of the Privy Council upholds that of the Bench-and no one, excepting the present able íawyers by whom the Crown in this colony is advised, doubts that the decision will be of that character-the amounts of the short-paid duties may, and probably will, be required
from the merchants at some future
day, Some of the importers, it is well known, have already resorted to a means of protection against future demands, by passing goods at the reduced scale of duties in the names of clerks and boys, who will not be readily found when wanted. For the immorality of the practice the Cabinet are responsible.
The new tariff, which the M’Culloch
Ministry thus forces on the country, is by no means worthy of the efforts which have been made to force it upon the Legislative Council. It is almost start-
ling to be told, as the official figures tell us, that the imports in the first nine months of the year have fallen off about
a million sterling, and that in the same period the exports have declined nearly a million and a half. Something like a sixth of the entire export trade of the colony has been lost within the last unhappy nine months. As we have sent
away about the same amount of gold as we did last year, and as the quantity and value of the wool and other native produce shipped to England have not declined, this very great loss of trade must have occurred in our intercolonial business, and sufficiently accounts for the complaints which we
hear on every hand from the owners of vessels plying between this port and those of the neighbouring colonies. From
the beginning of the year to the 10th instant our imports were £9,900,077, as compared with ¿£10,9dG,935 in the same
period of 1864 ; and our exports were valued at only £7,772,484, as compared with £9,261,748. Figures of such a character as these, indicating the great decline in our commerce at so early a period of our histoiy, are well calculated
to arrest attention. They are traceable to no other cause than the operation of the tariff ; and we can find no consolation for the loss in the state of manufacturing industry in the colony. We
neither find employment increased nor wages improved. On the contrary, the streets were never more haunted by persons in search of engagements, and the demands of the unemployed upon the
assistance of their more fortunate friends were never more urgent than they are now.
The country is still considerably agitated on the subject, though the meetings which have been held of late in support of the Ministry in various parts of the country have been organized in Melbourne, and the resolutions and petitions that have been adopted have a
most suspicious family resemblance to each other. At Maryborough, the meeting called on behalf of the Government
and the Governor terminated in resolutions condemnatory of their course of action. The Chamber of Commerce has adopted a strong memorial to Her Majesty on the state of matters, praying for Imperial interference, especially in reference to the tariff question; and a very numerously attended and influential public meeting was held on Monday night, in St. George’s-hall, at which the same views of the situation were expressed. As matters stand, the “beginning of the end” does not seem to
be reached. There is no break in the cloud, to indicate the appearance of a better state of things. By the help of the London Chartered Bank which still advances money, and is
repaid through collusive confessions of judgments-the exigencies of the Tiea
Bury are provided for; Ministers once more enjoy their salaries ; and the votes of the Assembly-wherever the Ministry is disposed to make payments-are implemented without reference to the Legislative Council, and without an Appropriation Act.