Free Trade meeting 

The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957) Wednesday 25 October 1865




A meeting of the citizens of Melbourne opposed to the illegal and unconstitutional proceedings of the Ministry was held on Monday, 22nd inst., at St. George’s-hall. It was convened at the instance of the Free trade League, and the admission was by ticket. To defeat this justifiable and necessary precaution, the friends of the Ministry resorted to most discreditable tactics. Forged tickets, bearing a facsimile of the embossed stamp of the Free-trade League were issued, and were freely distributed amongst the adherents of the Protectionist party. The fraud, however, was opportunely discovered before the hour appointed for holding tho meeting. 

Mr. F. J. Bligh presided.
The Chairman, in opening the proceedings, remarked that the object of the meeting was to petition the Queen on a matter of the very greatest importance to the colony. (Cheers.)
Mr. B. F. Bunny, who moved the first resolution, said he thought it waa high time that those persons who had the welfare of the country at heart-who felt an interest in the colony -should come forward and publicly protest against the unconstitutional and illegal proceedings of the individuals composing the present Ministry (cheers); and that they should also make known, as well as they could, far and wide, that those doctrine which the demagogues who were backing up the Ministry and misleading the people were promulgating, were not the doctrines upheld by the respectable inhabitants of the country. (Renewed cheering.) He came there to protest publicly against the invasion of the rights and freedom of the people by the present Ministry. (Hear, hear.)

The resolution which he had to propose was as follows:- “That this meeting views with alarm the illegal and unconstitutional proceedings of the Ministry, and regards with especial repugnance their last and most flagrant act, by which they have dispensed with the Audit and Customs Acts, and have allowed articles to be taken out of bond without paying the duties imposed by law.”

The resolution alluded only to one-the last-flagrant act of the Ministry, but it entitled him to discuss the whole of the conduct of the Ministry, which had led to the present crisis in public affairs. To understand the question properly, it was necessary to consider what was the first step taken by the Ministry. Without any overt act being done, or without any apparent cause, the Ministry endeavoured to coerce the Legislative Council, and compel them to pass the new tariff without giving them a chance of discussing or deliberating upon a matter of such vital importance to the country. By means of what was called a tack, the Government virtually said to the Council “Either you must refuse to pass the Appropriation Bill, and consequently leave all the debts of the country without the means of payment, or you must pass a bill for an alteration of the tariff, which you have never deliberated upon, and probably never will approve of. That was the dilemma in which the Ministry endeavoured to place the Council. “You shall not do that which you are willing to do, unless you do that which you aro unwilling to do.” Was that a position in which a deliberative body ought to be placed? (No.) It should be remembered that the Council was composed of individuals who had not merely a voice, but both a voice and a stake in the country.

Was the Council to perform its legislative functions, or was it to be bound to obey the dictation of the Ministry and the Assembly for the time being? (Hear, hear.) Upo what grounds had the Ministry attempted to thrust the tariff down tho throats of the Council? It had been alleged that it was a question of privilege, but where did the Assembly get the privilege from which they claimed? Did they get it under the Constitution Act? If so, the Council possessed the same privileges as the Assembly, for the Constitution Act gave privileges to ” the Legislature of Victoria,” and not to the Legislative Assembly. The “able lawyers” who advised the Government did not dare to assert that the right of initiating taxation was one of the privileges of the Assembly, independent of the terms of the Constitution Act. It was the Constitution Act alone, which gave the Assembly the right to initiate taxation. The privilege of the Assembly in this matter was therefore a question of law. The law said that the Assembly should have the right to originate taxation; and there the law stopped. It did not say that the Assembly had a right to perfect taxation-to impose duties, and to compel the Council to agree to them. That, however, was what the Assembly had attempted to do ; it had endeavoured to abrogate the position which the Council had given to it under the Constitution Act. If taxes could be levied by the voice of a single House, the Upper House might as well be abolished at once. If the Government had the entire control of the purse strings-if they had the command of the revenue of the country-what was there to prevent them making any use they liked of the public fund? What was there to prevent them doing something still worse than what appeared to have been done with some of the money which the Ministry had so illegally and despotically wrested from certain classes of the community? Some persons-he did not say who had carried their support of the Ministry to the length of going to the expense of forging tickets similar to those issued by the Free trade League for admission to the meeting (Cheers, and cries of “Shame.”) They had gone to the expense of forging tickets for the purpose of introducing people to the meeting who were hostile to the object of the promoters, in order that the proceedings might be disturbed, and the object of the meeting frustrated. Where were such proceedings to stop? If they would forge tickets for such a purpose, there was nothing to prevent them establishing some power which would dragoon and subjugate the colony. (Cheers )

It might be absurd to suppose that the seven gentlemen forming the Ministry had any such bold and noble ideas as getting absolute and despotic power in the country-it might be absurd to suppose that they would ever attempt to raise themselves above the position of simple citizens receiving salaries from the state; but it was impossible to tell what they might do, with the control of the public money, for they had already set the law at defiance. (Hear, hear.) There was nothing to check the actions of the Ministry-there was nothing to prevent them using the moneys which they obtained by their present unlawful proceedings for any purposes which they thought fit. (Hear) What did Mr. M’Culloch do after the Appropriation-cum Tariff Bill was laid aside by the Council? He proposed a series of resolutions, which were adopted by the Assembly, declaring that they would not pass any other Appropriation Bill on account of the year 1866 until the Council agreed to the tariff. No one who had read those resolutions could form any other opinion than that they were the petulant, peevish ebullitions of angry children, rather than the deliberate convictions of serious statesmen. (Hear, hear.)

Before the Assembly tacked the tariff to the Appropriation Bill, the Speaker, though he said that joining the two bills together was not a tack, declared that it would be necessary to suspend the standing orders before that course could be adopted: but the Assembly refused to suspend the standing orders, because they knew that, if the standing orders were suspended, they must have recourso to the usage and practice of the English Parliament, and Mr. Shaw Lefevre had declared in 1841, that it was unconstitutional to join a bill of supply with an appropriation bill.

Mr. Michie had said that the Legislative Council had a legal right, but not a constitutional right, to reject the bill. The only right, however, which the Council had in the matter was conferred upon them by the Constitution Act, which expressly gave them the right to reject any money bill. It could not therefore be said that the Council had a legal, but not a constitutional right, to reject the bill. The two terms were in fact convertible. Mr. Michie’s endeavour to overrule the right of the Council was therefore absurd. The Speaker’s explanation was still more remarkable. He said that the Upper House had the right to do what they had done, but that it had not been the practice for them to do so. The Upper House had never exercised the right simply because the Lower House had never had the audacity to present such a bill to them before. (Cheers.) Putting aside all questions of free trade or protection, he contended that the Upper House had a perfect right to reject the bill. As a representative bodv, they had a right to discuss the measure. It was said that tho Council only represented some 9,000 people; but they represented the whole of the property of the colony, and the, whole of the people who possessed property. ‘ (Cheers, and a few cries of “No,” which caused a slight interruption.) The so called analogy between the Legislative Council and the House of Lords was an absurdity, because the Council was a representative body-it represented the people who bad a stake in the country ; and he hoped those persons would support the Council in their endeavour to prevent the country being ruined. (Cheers.) Having brought about a dead-lock-having placed the Council in the embarrassing position of being compelled to lay aside the Appropriation Bill for the year-the Ministry determined to stick in office as long as they could, and, with the aid of a majority of the Assembly-which they used as a very convenient shield-they set about scheming to get the use of the revenue of the country, and defeat the law, and keep the Upper House in its state of nullity. They sent a circular to the banks holding the public account, which circular bore on the face of it an intended fraud. (Cheers and interruption.) They endeavoured to get money illegally, which they could not obtain legally. They said nothing about how the money was to be repaid, and five of the banks refused to assist the Ministry. The sixth, however, agreed to do so and it was clear that they had received some hint as to the suing and confessing judgments, which had since been carried on, and by means of which something like £500,000 had.been obtained. (Cries of “Shame.”)

What would they say if, in private life, a trustee of funds collusively created a debt, and made use of the owner’s name against himself, to pledge his funds in payment of the debt? (Cries of “A swindle” “Pentridge.”)

If such things were done in private life, the guilty person would be proceeded against civilly, or criminally, or both. (Hear.) If the Ministry could raise £500,000 in three months by illegal means, what was to prevent them raising any amount they liked, and diverting it to any purpose they liked ?

Notwithstanding the action of the Legislative Council, and the decision of the Supreme Court, the Government were determined to raise duties by their own fiat, and had declared, by a stroke of the pen, that duties which they were bound to collect should henceforth be remitted. (Cheers, and some interruption.)

These things were none under the pretence of following the practice of the English House of Commons. But in England the Customs never levied duties in such a case without taking bonds to protect the state if the resolutions of the Commons should not become law. Here the Ministry, in their usual autocratic fashion, said they would not take these bonds. And how could the mercantile community feel safe under such circumstances? “Who could say what action the next Ministry, would take in the matter? And was this the position the country should be placed in-to submit to a wanton, wicked, and wilful alteration of duties-a wanton, wicked, and wilful dispensing with duties established by men as good as the Ministry (“Never”)-and a wonton, wicked, and wilful interference with the constitutional rights of the Upper House? He would like to allude also to that remarkable document issued recently by His Excellency the Governor in defence of his action, and more especially to those legal reasons, which were, he presumed, to be attributed to the “present able legal advisers of the Crown.” (Cheers and laughter.) The object of His Excellency’s reply to the Ballarat deputation was of course to show that the financial action the Ministry had taken was justified by law, by the constitution, and by the exigencies of the state.

The document, therefore, went to show that during a certain period, when Mr. Fellows was Solicitor-General, a certain way of administering the public revenue was considered to be legal; wherefore it was argued that the Ministry were justified in dealing with moneys which were not public funds in a way which no one had yet ventured to say was legal.

The next argument was that the Constitution Act was a sufficient appropriation; and the next, that the agencies of the country were such that His Excellency was justified in disbursing moneys under the powers of his commission. Therefore, three legal courses were pointed out as reasons why a fourth course should be resorted to, one which no one had ever attempted to show was legal-namely, the milking use of the act for enforcing claims against the Crown in a manner never contemplated by its framers.

Mr. Murray Smith seconded the resolution. The time had now come when every right-minded honest man should lay aside political differences, and unite in a hearty condemnation of the existing state of things, (Cheers.) He said all right-minded men, whether protectionists or free-traders, whether they liad consistently opposed the fiscal policy of the Government, or whether they had lingered too long unwilling soldiers in the Ministerial camp. The question was not one of tariff. They were there because they claimed to be friends of law and order, and because they charged the Ministry with a violation of both. Wrong in the commencement, the Ministry had blundered from fault to fault, until t had culminated in such an act as ought to render them incapable of any longer occupying a public position in Victoria. (Cheers.) The Ministry had committed no light act. They had shown the way to anarchy and ruin. They had sapped the foundation of our tower of strength, so that the lightest breeze might sweep it to the ground. No parallel for their conduct could be found in English history.

In all their toils and troubles Englishmen had ever claimed to live by the law. Let it not be said that this, the youngest but the most prosperous and energetic, of British colonies, was doomed to a retrograde and subversive policy, and to have the Constitution granted her violated and trampled upon. (Great cheering.)

The resolution was then put, and was carried by an overwhelming majority, only some twenty or thirty persons voting against it.
Mr. D. Holroyd (barrister-at-law) proposed the second resolution-“That this meeting heartily approves of the firm and dignified conduct of the Legislative Council in resisting the revolutionary attacks of the Government and in maintaining the Constitution as by law established: and hereby expresses its earnest hope that that body will steadily adhere to the course which it has adopted in the present crisis-a course which this meeting believess will secure for the Legislative Council the lasting esteem and gratitude of the great majority in the community.” He wished every man in Victoria to understand the crisis through which the country was now passing-to realise that the question was not one of tariffs, or of reform of the Upper House, but was, whether the country should be ruled according to law ? Respect for law had become engrained in the character of Englishmen. What was it distinguished Great Britain from the nations of Europe, but the complete submission of her inhabitants to the laws, and their steadfast adherence to the constitution under which they lived? What but the example of obedience set by Her Majesty the Queen rendered her more revered and honoured than any sovereign who had ever occupied the throne? Now, he would tell them what the law really was, as regards taxation and appropriation. Beginning with the Constitution Act, that statute empowered the Legislature of Victoria-not the Assembly alone, but the Legislature-to impose duties of Customs. These duties forming part of a consolidated revenue, which was to be appropriated as directed by the Legislature. So far the Council and the Assembly had co-ordinate powers. Where they differed was, that money bills were to originate in the Assembly, and could be rejected, but not altered, by the Council.

That was the law; he cared not who gainsaid it. Now, however, a privilege was claimed for the Assembly to levy taxes by its own resolutions ; but so far from this being correct, the fact was that the Constitution Act conferred equal privileges on the two Houses; and if the Assembly had the power to raise money by resolution, the Council had the power also. What was sauce for the goose was sauce for the gander. He had now told the meeting what the law was. It was the law which the judges of the land had laid down ; and no lawyer; in the colony who was not a partisan of the Ministry, and whose opinion was worth a brass farthing, would contradict him. He did not believe in the gospel according to St. Francis. (Laughter.)

The speaker then recounted the history of the tariff and went on to say:-In the events which had subsequently passed the Governor had neglected his duty as Her Majesty’s representative. (Loud cheers, and a few cries of ” No.”)

He was about to add that His Excellency had also made himself on active partisan. He had been told that it was an insult to criticise the Governor, or to petition for his recall ; but as an Englishman be claimed the birthright of full freedom of speech. (Loud cheering ; and some interruption, which was caused by a protectionist on the platform calling for “Three cheers for the Governor.”)

He claimed a right to criticise and canvass the conduct of the Governor, and to censure it, if it deserved censure. (Hear, hear.) As an Englishman he had a right to criticise the conduct of the most exalted person in the state. When the address from the Legislative Assembly, asking the Governor to take measures for the payment of the civil servants was presented, His Excellency at first made a response to the effect, that it was not competent for bim to sanction the issue of money from the public account for the payment of the civil servants, or for meeting any other public obligations, until the amount required was rendered legally available by an act of Parliament, duly parsed by the three branches of the Legislature. That was followed by a startling and extraordinary document, in which the Governor announced to the Legislative Council that he had, without violating either the spirit or the letter of the law, succeeded, with the advice of his Ministers, in making temporary and provisional arrangements to meet the inevitable pecuniary liabilities of the Government, and at the same time said that, as he understood the views of the Assembly, they were contending for a fundamental principle of the constitution. If that language meant anything, it meant that the Governor considered it consistent with his duty to aid his Ministers in enforcing the claim of the Assembly to levy taxes by its own resolution, which claim he had a very short time before declared, with the advice of the same Ministers, to be illegal. (Cheers).

The liabilities were not inevitable, because Ministers might have avoided them; and the means adopted were not temporary or provisional, because they were still in force. (Renewed applause.) Mr. Holroyd proceeded to comment upon the conduct of the Ministry in violating the Constitution Act and the Audit Act, and borrowing money, without legal authority, from the London Chartered Bank.

Neither the Governor nor the Ministry, he said, had any authority to raise money which was to be paid again out of the public revenue. What was the next stop? 

The bank presented collusive petitions, praying that the money, which had been borrowed might be repaid, and the Attorney-General-whose first duty it was to protect the rights of Her Majesty and uphold the law-collusively confessed judgment, and acknowledged the money illegally borrowed was legally due. (Hear, hear). The petition to Her Majesty, which the Legislative Council had prepared, contained a summary of most of the proceedings taken by the Government. Since that petition was framed some other important events had occurred in the colony. The Commissioner of Customs (Mr. Francis) had continued the collection of the new duties, in defiance of the Supreme Court, and pending an appeal to the Privy Council; and, moreover, he bad issued an ukase directing that the deposits formerly demanded for the payment of the old duties, in the event of the new tariff not being passed, should no longer be required, Thus Mr. Francis, by his own will, not only overruled the Supreme Court, and anticipated the judgment of the Privy Council, but put it out of the power of future Governments to repair the consequences of his illegal acts. What was wanted was that the country should be governed honestly, and that industry should be allowed to pursue its natural course, untrammelled, unshackled, and unswaddled by protection. (Loud and prolonged cheering.)

Mr. J. S. Johnston seconded the resolution.
He said that many months ago he determined to retire from public life, and he had repeatedly declined invitations to appear again on the platform ; but the timo had now arrived when it behoved every man who had the well-being of the country at heart, or who desired the preservation of his property, to come forward, and endeavour to avert the evil consequences of the terrible misrule under which the colony was suffering. (Cheers.) It was a misrule the evils of which no one could overrate- a misrule which had already become a precedent, and might hereafter be used as one for attacks, spoliation, and injustice, the foreshadowing of which was alarming to contemplate. (Hear, hear.) So much had already been written and said as to the course adopted by the Legislative Council that he could not attempt to throw any new light on the subject. The Upper House were described as a set of obstructives, but if they were obstructives, every individual who placed a lock on his door, or a fastening on his window, was more obstructive. (Applause and laughter.)

The Council only said to the Assembly, ‘You shall not take our money without our consent ;” while they said to the more daring, but not less lawless burglar, ” You shall not take our money at all.” It had been said that the Council ought to be swept away.
They had seen enough of Government by a single Chamber, however. Were they to have, also, a single Chamber composed of delegates from constituencies like the one which had summoned Graham Berry before it, presided over by a morbidly conscientious gentleman, whose present business was to concoct legal quibbles by which all laws could be broken? Better, he for one said, be ruled by a single despot, who knowing that he had but one head felt that he must take care of it, than by the bydra-headed body he had described, whose reasoning was groans, and whose arguments yells. (Applause.) Without stopping to applaud the conduct of the Council, he would express his hope that by adopting the resolution the meeting would show that one section of the community-and not the least intelligent section-was with the Upper House in the stand it had taken. He regretted that the name of the Governor should have been introduced into political discussions.

No one could have respected and esteemed more than himself that fine old English gentleman-Sir Charles Darling. He would ask, though, who it was that had caused the degradation His Excellency had suffered who had dragged him through the mire to hold him to the gaze of the British empire as a deluded victim of a confidence utterly misplaced? (Cheers.)
Mr. J. W. Randell, in supporting the resolution, stated the reluctance with which he appeared on a public platform, but said that he would have felt a traitor to his country if he had not come forward to express his detestation of the unconstitutional conduct of the Ministry. He was as sorry as any one could be to have to allude to His Excellency; but how could they help doing so when His Excellency had proved unfaithful to his Royal Mistress? (“No,” and cheers.) Well, the Governor’s instructions stated that he was to administer the government “according to such laws as are now or shall hereafter be in force in our said colony;” and the judges having declared what the law was, had not His Excellency hacked up the Ministry in their wrong-doing? The Governor had brought criticism upon himself by becoming a mere partisan of tbe Ministry. Better, according to His Excellency’s own address to the Ballarat deputation, be without a Governor at all than have such a representative of the Crown. His Excellency declared that he was an automaton in the hands of his Ministers-a mere thing, with nothing to do but to eat, to drink, to attend amusements, and to sleep.

That, be was sure, was not tho view Sir Henry Barkly would have taken. He appealed to the community not to so led away, by false iafiues regarding protection and free trade, from the defence ot the constitution.

Mr. H. S. Smith moved the third resolution :-” That the following petition to Her Majesty the Queen be adopted, signed by the chairman, and presented to His Excellency the Governor for transmission to the Queen:


“Most Gracious Majesty,

“We, your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, inhabitants of the colony of Victoria, beg to

Approach your Majesty with expressions of our deepest attachment to your Majesty’s throne- and person.
“Your Majesty lias, doubtless, been informed of the differences which have arisen between the two Legislative houses of this colony, and which have led to complications which seriously Imperil the peace, prosperity, and Well-being of the community.

“Those differences havo arisen in consequence of an attempt on the part of the present Ministry of Victoria to annex to the Annual Appropriation Bill a bill effecting a total change in the fiscal policy of this country, and also a bill for altering a part of the territorial revenue, such a measure being calculated not only to affect the rights of the Crown by repealing the present Customs Act, and the Using of duties for one year only-thus rendering the supplies even for the Governor’s and the Judges’ salaries dependent on an annual vote of Parliament-but to invade and encroach upon the rights of the Legislative Council, as fixed by the Constitution Act, to an equal and co-ordinate voice In the legislation of this colony.

“This question, and all the circumstances which have arisen in relation to it, have been fully and faithfully set forth in a certain petition to your Majesty which was adopted hy tho Legislative Council of this colony, and presented to His Excellency the Governor, for transmission to your Majesty, in September of the present year; and to the statement and prayer of that petition your present petitioner, beg most humbly and respectfully to call your Majesty’s attention.

“Your petitioners would earnestly beg to call your Majesty’s attention to the fact that Customs duties are at the present time being levied at the port of Melbourne by the authority of the resolutions of the Legislative Assembly alone, without the legal and usual sanction of the three branches of tho Legislature, and contrary to the decision of the Judges ot the Supreme Court of Victoria. Also, that the public moneys are being disbursed out of your Majesty’s treasury in evasion of the terms of the statute properly provided for the purpose of regulating; the control and disposition of the public funds.

“These proceedings, apparently sanctioned by the authority of your Majesty’s representative in this colony, have already produced a general sense of alarm and insecurity in the minds of your Majesty’s loyal subjects in Victoria, and are calculated seriously to endanger the existence of constitutional Government in this portion of your Majesty’s dominions.

“Tho Legislative Council of this colony is an elected body, composed of thirty members, and Is elected by persons possessed of a certain freehold or leasehold qualification, by graduates of any recognised university, by members of the learned professions, by ministers of religion, and by officers of your Majesty’s military or naval service. These qualifications on the part of the electors have rendered the Council a fair reflex of the property, education, and Intelligence of the community.

“lu the course which the Legislative Council pursued in dealing with the annexed bills or supply and appropriation they were supported by one of the largest petitions ever presented to either branch of the Legislature.

“Your Majesty’s petitioners therefore humbly pray that your Majesty will graciously take into your consideration the gloat and important question at issue between the two Houses as herein before set forth; and especially the right or authority of the Government for the timo being to borrow money and collect duties upon the simple resolutions of the House of Assembly.

“Your Majesty’s petitioners beg most humbly to submit this memorial, in order that your Majesty may be fully Informed of the grave constitutional question really at issue between the two Houses, and may take such measures as your Majesty may deem fit for the correction of the existing abuses, for the maintenance of your Royal dignity, and for the safety and satisfaction of your Majesty’s petitioners in this colony.”

Mr. W. HEYMANSON seconded the motion. He announced that he was a manufacturer
On page 3
one of the very men whom the Ministry intended to benefit by their splendid tariff, (Cheers.) As the employer of 200 workpeople, he declared that the tariff was an abortion; it was neither protection nor free-trade. It resembled those atrocious compounds sold by quack doctors, which had all the nausea without doing the good of physic. The real question now was the upholding of that law so dear to all Englishmen, and, as a foreigner, he might declare equally dear to Anglicised aliens. A foreigner himself, he loved England and her institutions, because he appreciated the difference betweon a despotic country and one which enjoyed a free constitution, as Great Britain did. The Ministry, however, had abused the constitution for their own purposes. (Hear, hear.)

The resolution having been adopted, a vote of thanks was given to the chairman, and the proceedings, which occupied about two hours, then terminated.


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