Courtesy Reuters

Problems of Federation in Australia

ON THE first day of the twentieth century the six Australian colonies became united as a federal Commonwealth, under a constitution of their own making but formally enacted by the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The stimulus to closer cooperation was manifold. During the second half of the nineteenth century certain foreign Powers had taken an interest in the islands of the Pacific that was by no means to Australia's liking. France, already established in New Caledonia and suspected of designs upon the New Hebrides, began in 1864 to use the former island as a prison for her récidivistes; Australia returned to the path of righteousness in 1867 with the final abandonment of the transportation of convicts as a means of increasing her scanty population, and in her newly acquired respectability resented the existence of a foreign jail so close to her shores. In 1875 the United States and Germany acquired interests in Samoa, and soon afterwards it was rumored that the latter Power was casting covetous eyes on northeast New Guinea. In 1883 Sir Thomas McIlwraith, then Premier of Queensland, sought to forestall German designs by annexing that territory in the name of the Queen; but the English authorities, in repudiating the annexation, plainly intimated that if the Australian colonies desired to extend their territorial limits they must first create a responsible all-Australian government.

But the internal factors were of more importance than the external as an inducement to union. Secondary industries were being established in Australia, the volume of exports and imports was steadily increasing, and the commercial classes began to object to the tariff barriers which most of the colonies were raising against the products of their neighbors. Trade unionism, growing in strength in the closing years of the century, regarded colonial boundaries with indifference and tended itself to seek a national basis. In 1893 Australia had its first taste of genuine depression; public extravagance and private speculation led to a disastrous inflation of land values; the bubble burst, and all but

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