Turner consequences of 1864

“This is not the place to elaborate the arguments that have been advanced in favour of “or in opposition to the doctrine. Numberless writers have dealt with it in its special application to Victoria, and it is very doubtful if all the discussions which have filled the pages of Hansard and the columns of the daily press for the last forty years have materially modified the opinions held respectively by supporters and opponents. Yet, while arguments have had little effect, results cannot entirely be ignored, and it will be seen in the annals of the twenty-five years following that in which
Parliament complied with the popular mandate, and established
ft *
Protection, that Victoria lost the pride of place she then occupied as the wealthiest, the most populous, and the most attractive place on the Australian Continent.

In the beginning of 1865 the colony was in a “thoroughly sound position. Customs’ duties were collected on only about a dozen articles, all of them of the nature used for revenue purposes the world over. The total revenue, at a little over £3,000,000, left a surplus on the year’s expenditure. The public debt of £8,000,000 had been spent on railways and water supply to Melbourne, both distinctly remunerative works. Eighty thousand miners, nearly one-half of the male population between twenty-five and fifty years of age, were at work producing gold to the value of £6,000,000 a year. Half a million acres of land were under cultivation already, and though this represented but a fraction of the area alienated, the importation of breadstuffs had been reduced to less than half what it was in 1855. The only obstacle to the colony feeding itself lay in the difficulty of securing sufficient and suitable labour for this primary industry. There were 118 flour mills throughout the country; no less than 782 manufactories, using machinery amongst them valued at £1,773,000, and exporting their products to “the adjacent colonies to the value of £230,000 in 1864. Wages were on the average quite double what would have been earned by the same class in England, while, with the exception of house rent, the cost of living was very considerably less. Trade was active, employment was abundant, and the community as a whole was basking in prosperity.

Less than thirty years later the same community was in the depths of despondency, losing the cream of its population, staggering under an unbearable burden of debt and a greatly enhanced cost of living. The Government railways had accumulated a deficiency of some £8,000,000, and were being worked at a loss of £300,000 a year. Wages, after a few years of artificial inflation, had fallen to such a level, that the leader of the Labour Party in Parhament had told the House that the workers in Victoria ” had never been in such a deplorable condition as at present,” and the same authority asserted that in a large number of “Victorian industries the hands were worse off than the London dock labourers,
whose desperate strike for a living wage had evoked sympathy and assistance even in Melbourne. Processions of the unemployed deranged the traffic of the streets; their orators denounced the Government as the cause of their distress, and demanded that the Government should provide the remedy. It was not easy; for in lieu of the helpful and resourceful men of the fifties, a new generation of town-bred factory operatives had been nurtured into existence, whose training and environment tended to the production of cramped minds and debilitated frames. Thousands of young women had flocked into this kind of employ, that gave them the scantiest of remuneration, the minimum of useful instruction, and absolutely unfitted them for the capable discharge of the duties which should make home life attractive to “the industrious artisan. At the date of the census of 1891, after twenty-five years of State aid in the nursing of manufactories, 43 per cent, of the entire population of the colony had gravitated into Melbourne and suburbs, and preferred to live there in intermittent employment, on the verge of starvation, rather than face the hard life that follows the plough or delves in the mine. The number of miners at the same date had fallen to 21,000. Many of the more energetic, whom Victoria could ill spare, had been lured away by the attractions of the little known Western Australia, the glamour of the “far away hills “. The less enterprising contented themselves with petitioning Parliament to bear the cost of fitting out and maintaining prospecting parties to search for gold, which undoubtedly existed in scores of untrodden gullies within their own borders.

“Finally, the Government, finding that free railway passes, liberally distributed, only relieved them of the presence of the impecunious for a brief holiday, took up their alleged responsibilities and produced Factory Acts, Wages Boards, Anti-sweating Boards, and promised Courts of Arbitration and other devices for which the working man clamoured, because he began to realise that it was he, and not the manufacturer, who had most need of Protection.
Of course, it is not assumed that Protection alone was directly responsible for all these changes. It simply means that Government took the initiative by stepping outside the definite principles upon which nearly all economists are agreed, that the functions of
the State outside of protection to life and property should be as limited as possible; and that it is unjust to impose a burden upon the whole community, the benefit of which is confined to a portion only. Having gone beyond the safety line, the Government felt itself constrained to bear increasing  burdens, which grew out of this first false step. It found itself unable to resist the pressure of the manufacturer who strove to translate protection into prohibition; and having jdelded there, it could not withstand the demand of the working man to be rendered independent of the gains or losses of his employer. Hence it came about that the whole community began to regard the Government as the mainstay of all industry, the helper in every season of difficulty. Under this impression individual enterprise was weakened, and the tendency to lean on the support derivable from State socialism permeated all classes, with the debilitating effect of an oriental fatalism.”
Excerpt From: Turner, Henry Gyles, 1831-1920. “A history of the Colony of Victoria from its discovery to its absorption into the Commonwealth of Australia.” London : Longmans, Green and Co., 1904. iBooks. 

This material may be protected by copyright.

Excerpt From: Turner, Henry Gyles, 1831-1920. “A history of the Colony of Victoria from its discovery to its absorption into the Commonwealth of Australia.” London : Longmans, Green and Co., 1904. iBooks. 

This material may be protected by copyright.


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