The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957) Wednesday 25 October 1865
MEETINGS OF CHAMBERS OF COMMERCE.
A special meeting of the members of the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce was hold on tho 20th inst., at the Hall of Commerce,
for the purpose of “considering the probable effect upon commerce of the recent action of the Ministry, and the expediency of memorialising Her Majesty the Queen on the subject.”
Mr. Phipps Turnbull, president of
the chamber, occupied the chair. There were more than fifty members present.
The Chairman having stated the object of the meeting, would only express a hope, in the cause of law and good order, that no revolu-
tionary proceeding on the part of this or any other Ministry would be sanctioned by the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce. (Ap-
Mr. H. W. Fabhab moved the first resolution:-“That this meeting views with alarm and apprehension the action of the Victorian Ministry, in assuming the absolute and irresponsible control of the
finances of the colony, enforcing on the one hand now duties and remitting others without legal sanction, and on the other hand
expending the public funds without the authority of an Appropriation Act, and in violation of established laws. That tho unauthorised remission of duties only adds to
the insecurity and embarrassment of the importers, who may hereafter be required to make
good the same; and that the practical suspension of constitutional government by the present Ministry is imperilling the credit, the security and the future well-being of the colony.”
This resolution was one which met with his entire concurrence, and he had no doubt but that the Chamber of Commerce, by adopting it, would express collectively, what they had already done individually, namely, a condemnation of the conduct of the Ministry during the last two or threo months-he
might say nine months, indeed, but that he desired more particularly to refer to those last very extraordinary proceedings on the
part of the Government, which had excited a lively alarm thioughout the commercial community. The question now was, not one of the tariff, but of the constitution under
which they lived. The members of the commercial community were prepared at such a crisis to forget their immediate interest as traders, to cast aside the tariff altogether, to put aside altogether the
question of free trade versus protection, and to consider solely whether such a violation of
the constitution as had recently taken place ought to be allowed.
On this ground it was that he asked them to adopt the resolution.
Mr. Murray Smith (Smith, Strachan, and Co.) seconded the resolution. If the new tariff were set aside by the Privy Council-and even Mr. Higinbotham must admit the possibility of this being done-the
new duties would have to be refunded ; but the remissions of 3s. per hundredweight on
sugar, and 3d. per pound on tea could not be recollected, because importers had taken the alarm, and a whole array of native youths
was being employed in passing entries, with a view, should the old tariff be resumed, of defrauding the revenue. And this was done,
too, with the connivance of the Customs authorities. Was it possible that the introducers of
such a System could find favour either with the free-trader or protectionist who had the slightest love of law and order? As the
Ministry had defied law and order, had defied the Legislative Council, had dolled the merchants as a body, and, above all, had
defied the Supreme Court, it was time to turn to the only remedy left, and to ask Her Majesty whether she would not interfere, through her Ministers, to save the colony
from a reign of tyranny and chicanery.
Mr. James Balfour said that, though he had not prepared any amendment, he felt inclined to move one. In England, during changes in the tariff, duties were imposed on the authority of the Lower Houbo until the matter was disposed of by the House of Lords.
(” For a few days.”) Here the Upper House had not as yet disposed of the matter (laughter)-nor was it likely to do so-(renewed laughter) – and, consequently, the action of the Ministry at the present moment
was exactly the same as it was seven or eight months ago. Then, in reference to the remission of the old duties as affecting trade
and commerce, it seemed to him that the effect was to relieve the community from the payment of double duties.
He was not lawyer enough to say whether the Ministry had the power to do it or not, but the chamber knew that there was precedent for their conduct. The bill for repealing the tax on units of entry was dis-
allowed by the home Government, but the wharfage rates, which in the meantime were substituted for that charge, were still levied,
although the act imposing a tax on units of entries remained law. As to the control of the finances by the Government, the Governor,
and the Assembly, he considered that in that matter also the Government had endeavoured to ease the credit of the country,
to preserve it from confusion, and from a commercial panic. (” Ob, oh.”) He did not see what else they could have done (” Resigned.”) That would have made confusion worse confounded. (” We should have got a better Ministry.”) That, he believed, was the secret of the opposition, and he was glad that it had come out. If a new Ministry
had assumed office it must have gone to the country, and where was the money to come from while the elections were going on?
(“Nonsense.”) What would they have done then ? (” Why, pass the Appropriation Bill.”)
The Ministry had taken the only course open to them. They set the wheels in motion again. Doubtless they did this by a mild revolution. (Laughter.) Better there should
be a revolution, though, than stagnation.
Under those circumstances, he begged to move as an amendment, ” That this meeting feels that the recent action of the Ministry
has been conducive to the advantage of the trading and commercial interests of the com-
A member of the Chamber suggested that Mr. Balfour should move the substitution of the words “lively satisfaction” for “alarm,”
in the original motion. (Renewed laughter,)
The amendment was not seconded.
Mr. J. Spowers, in supporting the motion, expressed his regret that the amendment had not been seconded, in order that the chamber might have seen what was the comparative strength of those who dared to come before
the commercial community and justify the illegal action of the Ministry. On the other hand, however, it was very satisfactory that no, one had ventured even to second the amendment. (Hear, hear.) With respect to Mr. Balfour, remarks, he would observe that
the meeting did not object to the mere fact of the Government levying new duties, but their objection was, that the Governor, with the advice of his Ministers, had dared to repeal the law of the land without the authority of Parliament. It was this which caused the alarm; because, from the action of His Excellency and his present advisers, it was evident that any Ministry, with the sanction
of the Governor, might set aside the law.
There was therefore ground for very serious alarm, because there was no guarantee whatever for the security of life and property if such a state of things was allowed to go on unchecked. (Hear, hear.) It was very well to try and throw rose-water over the action of
the Ministry; but the probable consequences of such action in a community like this were
fearful to contemplate. It must be remembered that the present Ministry was a comparatively respectable Administration; indeed,
the members of the Ministry were generally considered to be very respectable until they resorted to discreditable dodgca-dodges which were unworthy of a parish vestry. Nothing but such conduct as that of the lowest class of pettifogging attorneys could have instigated the proceedings which the Ministry had taken. It was most erroneous to say that there was any cause for the action, which they bad taken. Mr. Balrour said that they had adopted every constitutional means to get the
Appropriation Bill passed. He (Mr. Spowers)denied that they had done so. What was tho first action of the Ministry? They chose to imagine that the Legislative Council would throw out the Tariff Bill if
it were sent up separately, and consequently they determined, without ascertaining the opinion of the Council, to put the tariff in such a shape-by attaching it to the
Appropriation Bill-that they might, if possible, deprive the Upper House of the exercise of a power that was expressly reserved to
them by law. The privileges of the Legislative Council were not merely like those of the House of Lords, for the Constitution Act had
expressly reserved to the Council the power of rejecting any money bill. The Government knew that, and they attempted by a ‘side wind to deprive them of that power.
The Ministry thought the Council would not dare to reject-that they would not have the pluck to reject-the Appropriation Bill with the tariff attached to it. They found out
their mistake, and then they went on from one mistake to another. Mr. Balfour had said that they endeavoured by every constitutional means to bring about some reconcilia-mtion. What was tho first act of the Government after the Council laid aside the
Tariff-cum-Appropriation Bill? Mr. M’Culloch proposed in the Legislative Assembly a resolution, which declared that they would never send up another Appropriation Bill until the Council passed the other
one with the tariff tacked to it. That
was a very strange mode of attempting to bring about a reconciliation. It was a great mistake-a political blunder; but, according to Mr. Balfour, it was reconciliation.
Again, when there was apparently an opening for some conference with the Upper House, the supporters of the Ministry forbade the committee of the Assembly, which was appointed to confer with a committee of the Council, to go into any subject that would be
likely to bring the differences between the two Houses to anything like arbitration.
Again, when the Uppor House lately took action, what course did the Ministry adopt?
Did they take any step to bring about a conference or smooth the way to any reconciliation between the two Houses? They did no
such thing. (Hear, hear.) As if to show that the Government were determined to do without the Legislative Council, a decree was
issued from the Commissioner of Customs’ department that the duties according to the old tariff would no longer continue to be
levied. Did that give any chance to the Upper House to move in the way of reconciliation?
The Government had, in fact, taken no steps whatever towards a reconciliation. (Hear, Hear.) A great deal had been said about the
Council not having passed or rejected the bill, or made the Assembly cognizant of what
had become of it. The Upper House, however, had, immediately they knew tho course which the Government were going to take,
appointed a committee to search for precedents, and, after the committee presented their report, they passed a resolution declaring that they would not receive any bill
from the Lower House in the form in which the Government threatened to send up the Appropriation Bill-namely, with the Tariff Bill tacked to it. They determined that the bill should be laid aside if it were sent up in
that form. The Government were, therefore, perfectly well aware of the course which the Council intended to take. When the bill was
sent up, the Council received it and read it a first time, merely to ascertain what was really the character of the bill; and when they had found out what the object of it was, they did as the; had threatened to do-laid it aside. The Ministry knew beforehand that the bill was to be dealt with in that way. By laying it aside, the bill was as much rejected as if it had been
formally rejected. In 1807, a Malt Duties Bill, containing on appropriation clause, was
passed by the House of Commons, and sent
to the House of Lords, by whom it was, on account of the appropriation clause, laid aside. Did the House of Commons on that
occasion pass such a flagrant resolution as the Legislative Assembly had passed, and declare that they would never send an Appropriation Bill up to the House of Lords unless that particular Malt Duties Bill was passed?
No; but, on the contrary, they appointed a committee to search the journals of the Lords, and, finding what had been done with the bill, they sent up a fresh measure, which was afterwards passed by the Lords. The Ministry
had shown no desire for reconciliation; but every step they had taken had been taken as
if for the purpose of shutting the door against any reconciliation. Every possible insult had been heaped upon the Legislative Council. The Governor-or perhaps, the Governor and the Ministry, as His Excellency complained of his
actions not being recognised as the actions of his responsible advisers-had, by receiving a
certain petition which had recently been presented, approved of the use of phraseology towards the Legislative Council which would.
never have been sanctioned by any Secretary of State at home. If any petition of the kind had been offered for presentation to tho Queen at home, the very fact of its containing such abuse of the Legislative Council would have
caused Its rejection. (Hear, hear). There was one other point in Mr. Balfour’s, speech which he thought it necessary to notice. Mr. Balfour said that the action which had re-
cently been taken by the Mlniatry must be considered satisfactory, because it had been sanctioned by the Governor. The sanction of the Governor, however, did not make the collusive borrowing of money from the London Chartered Bank satisfactory. It was no satisfaction that the Governor had conspired with the Ministry to break the law; it
was no satisfaction that His Excellency had sanctioned Mr. Francis in abrogating the old tariff without the authority of law; it
was no satisfaction that the Governor had sanctioned all the illegal proceedings of the Government; but, on the contrary, it made the matter worse. (Hear, hear). It made the consequences which were to be apprehended
from such proceedings the more frightful and alarming. The sense of insecurity which such illegal and unconstitutional proceedings
occasioned was all tho greater because those proceedings had ontained the sanction of the
Governor. (Hear, hear.) He did not think that there was anything else to notice in Mr. Balfour’s speech, except his exceedingly funny
fancy that the recent action of the. Government had tended to encourage trade. (Laugh-
ter.) Everyone knew that trade had materially fallen off; and that the intercolonial trade had been seriously interfered with by
the new tariff. (Hear, hear.) It might ba a matter of perfect indifference to some persons whether the soft-goods men, as they were called, were injured or not; but apparently .
nothing would delight the Ministry and their supporters so much as hoisting up Messrs. Stevenson or Messrs. Sargood by
one of the pulleys of their own warehouses. Recourse to the lamp post would be a very satisfactory conclusion to all the illegal proceedings which had taken place; and unless a check were put to those proceedings, that would be the recourse. (A laugh.) He could not conclude without
endorsing Mr. Murray Smith’s expressions of regret at the conduct of the Government
towards those who had lately been their friends. He used the term “lately,” because
it was impossible that the mercantile community could recognise as friends any longer
men who had abused ond vilified the commercial classes-men whose actions had not only been personally obnoxious to the commercial classes, but dangerous to the welfare of the whole community. (Applause.)
The resolution was then put, and carried, with only five dissentients.
Mr. F. J. Bligh proposed the next resolution :-” That the following memorial to Her Majesty the Queen ha adopted, and, when signed, be presented to His Excellency the
Governor for transmission ; and that the committee of the chamber be requested to take the necessary steps for giving effect to this
” TO HER MOST GRACIOUS MAJESTY QUEEN VICTORIA.
” May it please Your Majesty, we, your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the merchants and bankers of the city of Melbourne,
members of the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce, beg to approach your Majesty with the assurance of our devoted attachment to your Majesty’s person and throne.
” It is with extreme reluctance that we venture to bring under the notice of your Majesty the fact that
the trade and commerce of this important colony, as well as its general interests, are injuriously affected and imperilled by the course of action which has
been adopted by the responsible advisors of your Majesty’s representative, supported by a majority of one branch of the Legislature, and that such action is
altogether opposed to British law and constitutional usage.
“The differences existing between, the two Houses of the Victorian Legislature have doubtless been
reported to your Majesty, leading, as they have done to the virtual rejection by the Legislative Council of the annual Appropriation Bill, owing to Its having annexed to it a Tariff Bill, Intended to effect important changes In the fiscal policy of the colony, and by which annexation it was sought to preclude the members of the said Council from any participation
in legislation thereupon, and to deprive them of their
rights and functions as a deliberative body, and a coordinate branch of the Legislature.
“We beg humbly to submit to your Majesty that many of us are Importers of merchandise and European products, and that all of us are more or less interested
in the commerce of the colony.
“That a feeling of alarm and insecurity pervades the minds of the mercantile community generally, owing to the fact that the sanctions of law are disregarded and openly violated by the present Victorian Ministry.
“That now Customs’ duties are levied, and others remitted and treated as repealed, without the concurrence of more than one of the three branches of the Legislature.
“That, notwithstanding the decision of the Supreme Court of the colony that such a course is utterly illegal and indefensible, the importors are compelled to submit to the dictum of the Commissioner of Customs, or to suffer still more serious losses in the detention of their goods.
“That no redress can be had for those manifest wrongs except the slow and expensive one of legal
proceedings, wilfully protracted by the Crown law officers of the colony.
“That even the remission of duties becomes under the circumstances a serious evil, as we are advised
that any succeeding Ministry would have it in their power to enforce the payment of them hereafter from
the importer, who would then have no means of recovering the same from his purchasers.
“We further beg most humbly to state to your Majesty that this feeling of alarm and insecurity is
greatly increased by the means which have been resorted to by the Victorian Ministry (sanctioned, it
would appear, by your Majesty’s representative), for expending the public moneys out of your Majesty’s Treasury, in evasion of those acts of the colonial Parliament which were intended to regulate their disbursement.
“We would humbly submit to your Majesty that the existence of the state of things above mentioned
amounts to a practical suspension of constitutional government, and an assumption of power on the part
of the present Ministry which is at variance with the maintenance of your Royal dignity and prerogative,
and furnishes just ground for alarm and apprehension on the part of your Majesty’s loyal subjects resident in this colony.
“We therefore most humbly pray that your Majesty will be pleased to adopt such measures as in the wisdom of your Majesty’s constitutional advisors shall be deemed best for the redress of our present grievances, and for the reestablishment of that safe
and constitutional rule amongst us which it was intended by your Majesty, acting with the advice and
consent of the British Parliament, should be enjoyed by us. And,” &c.
Mr. G. Martin seconded the resolution.
Mr. T. J. Sumner said that,
disinclined as he was to take any part in public affairs, he felt that he could not, as a citizen, abstain from
coming forward to support a petition which set forth so moderately, exactly, and fairly
how a state of things existed in the colony in defiance of the judges and of the law.
The motion was put and carried unanimously.
Mr. C. B. Bright moved a vote of thanks to the chairman.
Mr. Lorimer seconded the motion, and in doing so expressed his satisfaction that the meeting had taken place. A great many remarks had been made upon the chamber
not taking an active part in the agitation.
Businessmen naturally looked to the chamber to take the lead in all matters appertaining to trade and commerce; and it was thought that the aiming of so deadly a blow
at commercial interests generally ought to have elicited more active opposition from the chamber than it bad done. It would now be
seen, however, that, with five exceptions and three of the dissentients were members of
one firm-the chamber was unanimous in condemning the illegal and desperate course
taken by the Government.
According to Mr. Balfours own admission, the Government were effecting a revolution-a mild one, Mr. Balfour said, but still a revolution-and what was revolutionary must be presumed to be illegal.
The motion having been put and carried nem. con., the proceedings terminated.