SIR JOHN WILLISON.
Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen,--All that I can say about Australia must be fragmentary and inconclusive. It is a land of immense distances and of infinite variety. I was there too long to write a book about the country and yet not long enough to confess complete ignorance of its conditions and problems. I touched only the fringes and the centres, but was fortunate enough to meet many of those who are active and influential in the political, industrial and social affairs of the Commonwealth. I saw as one of its poets saw:
The vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,
And at night the wondrous glory of the everlasting stars.
But perhaps one gets more out of contact with men than he ever gets out of the mere contemplation
Sir John Stephen Willison was born in Huron County, Ontario. He entered on his career as a journalist with the London Advertiser in 1882, passed to the Toronto Globe in 1883, and became its editor-in-chief in 1890. In 1902 he left the Globe and became editor-in-Chief of the Toronto News. In 1910 he was appointed correspondent in Canada for the London Times. His wide acquaintance with men prominent in politics, the charm of his literary style, his sparkling wit and kindly humour, his restrains in the discussion of great questions, and his ever abounding faith in the influence of the British Commonwealth of Nations in world affairs have earned him an eminence attained but rarely in Canadian journalism.
of nature even in its most beautiful and most wonderful aspects.
The story of Australia is full of romance, of tragedies of sea and bush and plain, of the struggle to get and the struggle to hold among landowners, squatters and selectors, of the strange wild life of gold fields and silver camps, of the eager competitions of the great shearing stations, of wandering sundowners and wayward jackeroos, of priests, publicans and sinners, of heroic endeavor and long endurance, of pitiful reverses and solid, continuous achievement.
We in Canada have perhaps less of the temper of adventure than the Australian people. We do not go out so often nor with such serenity and confidence upon the long trails that lead to the ends of the earth. To most of us in Canada the sea calls across great distances and the appeal is less intimate and less persuasive. But the sea calls forever to Australians and always in the language of England and Empire. It is estimated that during this year between 70,000 and 80,000 Australians made the long journey to Great Britain and that their total spendings would aggregate between $400,000,000 and $500,000,000. They think nothing of two or three months on the sea, or of absences from home of six months' or twelve months' duration. Many of their sons go to Oxford and Cambridge, and in all their reading and thinking they are closer to Great Britain than we are in Canada.
Australia has as good a press as there is in the world. The cable services are singularly comprehensive when the immense cost is considered. In the editorial columns public questions are discussed with dignity, sobriety and authority. In reporting and interviewing there is remarkable accuracy. The chief newspapers, however, are controlled by wealthy proprietaries and between the Press and Labour there is an eternal conflict. The leaders of the Labour party profess to believe that they are misreported or unreported and, whatever substance there may be in the grievance they so dearly cherish, it seems to yield a fair harvest of political capital. So far as I could discover, the Australian newspapers are not unfair to Labour in reports and despatches, but they do represent the forces and interests against which Labour has to contend in its struggle for political control.
The best plays run for months in the theatres of Sydney and Melbourne. The average production is of higher quality than we get in Canada. For that there is a reason. It is a long and a costly journey to Australia. A failure in Sydney or Melbourne means disaster. Hence only the best actors with the best companies can risk a season in the Commonwealth. When we were there Dion Boucicault, Seymour Hicks, Oscar Asche and Gertrude Elliot were playing nightly to crowded houses. Melba, with a wonderful company of artists, recruited in Europe, was just closing twelve weeks of Grand Opera in Melbourne, and during all those weeks there was seldom a vacant seat or a vacant box in the theatre in which the company appeared, although it had an actual seating capacity of four thousand. It must be remembered, too, that Sydney is a city of only a million people and that Melbourne has a population of only 800,000. Could the best English actor with an adequate company play for two or three months continuously in Toronto or Montreal, or could we fill Massey Hall for ten or twelve weeks of Grand Opera even with Melba as the supreme attraction? Australia is distinguished for its love of music and for the generous patronage which it extends to the distinguished artists of other continents. It is said that this is as true of the rougher and more remote communities as it is of the intellectual centres. It may be that there comes down the years the voices of camp and station in those old songs of home and love and sentiment and passion which have ever been the solace of pioneers in the solitude and loneliness of new lands and far-away places.
There are phases of life in Australia for which there are no counterparts in Canada. For the most part the climate is so friendly that all the year round men may live in the open and sleep under the stars. There is in parts of the country excessive heat in summer but seldom a severe touch of winter. The Australian winter, as we found it, resembles October in Canada. Many houses are not heated, and in colder weather there is often a touch of discomfort. So the trains are not heated save by electric footmats which promise more than they perform. But I was in five of the States of the Commonwealth and I travelled many hundreds of miles on Australian railways in comparative comfort. To provide even during the winter for such a system of heating as we have on the trains in Canada would be uneconomical and unwarranted by Australian conditions. We in Canada would do as Australia does if we had the Australian climate.
One who goes froze Canada is naturally interested to compare the Australian state railways with the railways of America under private control. But there is no true basis of comparison. In some of the States the tramways of the cities constitute a portion of the general railway system. In Melbourne the electric suburban roads, which carry a huge volume of traffic are controlled by the Victoria Railway Commission. On the other hand a great proportion of the freight and not a little of the passenger business of Australia is carried by the coastal steamship services. We must remember, too, that half the population of the Commonwealth is concentrated in a few seaboard cities and that the highways of the sea are open all the year round as against five or six months of effective water competition with the railways of Canada. Again the differences in gauges make rail-carriage of inter-State freight difficult and costly. Going from Sydney to Brisbane one has to transfer at the border of New South Wales to the Queensland Railway System; going to Melbourne it is necessary to make a like transfer to a Victoria State Railway; and beyond Adelaide, in South Australia, one has to make several changes to connect with the Transcontinental Railway System. These differences in gauge with the grave inconveniences which they involve are largely the result of inter-State jealousies which made union of the Australian States under a common government such a long and difficult process and it is not certain that a quarter of century of Confederation has produced a national spirit to which public men can successfully appeal against State loyalties and State prejudices.
It will be remembered that the Australian Constitution is modelled upon that of the United States rather than that of Canada. The States retain all powers and privileges which were not definitely surrendered to the Commonwealth. But I think Australian statesmen have become convinced that the powers vested in the Central Government are inadequate for effective and efficient legislation and administration. If they could remake the Constitution, they would not adopt the American or even the Canadian system, but would follow the example of South Africa, and establish in the Central Government every reserve of power necessary to ensure its authority, supremacy and dignity. It was expected that after Confederation there would be reconstruction and reorganization of the railways upon a standard gauge, but public opinion has not been coercive enough to compel action as against other heavy demands upon the Treasury for great social and national objects.
We did not discover that arrogance among employees of the State railways that we were led to expect. There was, instead, uniform courtesy and civility, one's baggage did not go astray and nothing that could make travelling easy and comfortable was neglected. No doubt Australian railway services could be improved but, whether or not there are disadvantages in State control, under all the conditions good results have been achieved in Australia and nothing is more certain than that any proposal to hand over the railway to private companies would be summarily rejected by the Australian people.
It is difficult to make Australia understand why there is no powerful political Labour party in Canada. In each of the Australian States there is a Labour party and only a few years ago Labour governed the Commonwealth. It is true, as has been said, that one-half the population of Australia is to be found in four cities, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane. But that fact alone does not explain the strength and solidarity of the Labour movement.
Australia has been a great laboratory of social and industrial experiments. No other country perhaps has enacted so much legislation to secure industrial peace and possibly no other country has so many strikes. Unionism has sunk its roots deeply into the social and industrial system. The governing principle in State and Commonwealth is that the condition of the average man is the true test of civilization. In so far as governmental regulations ensure fair wages they are defensible; in so far as they encourage laziness and reward shiftlessness they bring evil. But even among employers there are vital differences of opinion as to the general effects of Australian Labour legislation. There is an element among employing capitalists who curse Labour without ceasing just as there is a Red element in Labour which hates those who build and loves those who destroy. But the great body of Australian workers are patriotic constitutionalists, at least as honest in motive and as responsible in action as the aggressive employers by whom they are assailed.
In Australia, as elsewhere, the employing classes are defamed by those among them whose only god is gain, and the workers by those who would wear the linen they have not spun and drink the wines they have not produced. But one does feel that Australia has a grievous excess of industrial machinery. The Wage Boards have compulsory powers which are the natural attributes of autocracy. There is conflict between State Boards and Federal Boards. There is inquisitorial investigation into the details of private business. There are preferences for Unionists which have the iron touch of coercion. There are awards which gravely embarrass employers and unduly increase cost of production. There are awards, too, which reduce the wages of efficient workers and increase those of the less efcient and the positively inefficient. There lies the chief evil of many of these Australian regulations, for surely the individual has a divine right to exert his powers to the utmost and surely, if initiative, efficiency and enterprise are not rewarded, the wheels of human progress will be retarded and the average level of human comfort will be reduced.
There are unions of journalists which prescribe hours, wages and the amount of work which may be performed. There are unions of stenographers and unions of barbers and unions of waiters in hotels and restaurants. Most powerful of all Australian unions, perhaps, is that of the workers at the great sheep and cattle stations who exercise great political influence in the Commonwealth. I saw nothing of these sheep and cattle stations, and therefore I cannot speak with authority upon one of the most vital and interesting phases of Australian development. But one met many of those who are financially interested in sheep and cattle and grain and fruit and could not fail to learn something of the relation of the primary producers to the progress and prosperity of Australia. At the moment, however, I desire chiefly to emphasize the fact that the shearers and other classes of outside workers are as strongly organized as the industrial and commercial workers in the cities and there is found one of the chief sources of the strength of the Labour party in the Commonwealth. There are, of course, radical differences between agricultural conditions in Australia and in Canada. This country has few large estates and organizations of farm employees would be a difficult if not an impossible undertaking. But the Labour party of Australia embraces wage earners alike in town and country, and many of those who work with their heads as well as those who work with their hands. It has been strengthened also by the enfranchisement of women, for the wives, daughters and sisters of workers vote far more freely than do those of other classes. But nothing is more discouraging in Australia than the low percentage of qualified voters who cast their ballots in political contests. The average, I believe, is between sixty and sixty-five percent. That is a pitiful showing in the very nursery of democracy.
There are men of high ability and distinction in the Australian Labour party. One of these is Right Hon. W. R. Hughes, who exercised a moral power during the war only below that exercised by Lloyd George himself, but who like Lloyd George has fallen into strange popular disfavour. There are such men as Mr. Charlton and Mr. Anesty in the House of Representatives. Mr. Anstey, too, often flogs himself into oratorical fury but Mr. Charlton, who leads Labour in Parliament, is a man of moderate temper and high character, respected by his opponents and well regarded by the country. It is Mr. Theodore of Queensland, however, who looms up as the leader of Labour in the future. He is able, bold, aggressive, the servant of the unions, but not their tool. Disciplined by experience in State politics, he will probably display more of constructive than of destructive quality in federal affairs. But the more deeply one looks into Australian political conditions the more soundly one becomes convinced that the fundamental principle of responsible government is challenged and denied when Parliamentary leaders are required to take orders from an outside caucus, that wise and stable government is best secured through a national party representing all classes, sections and interests, and that the old British two-party system is the best that has been devised for the government of a free country. But a party which fails to seek a due proportion of its candidates among the workers in field and factory cannot be national nor can it fail to stimulate the class spirit in the groups which are ignored. The Southern Continent, as has been said, has been a nursing-mother of democracy, but not all of the legislative children which it has reared could be wisely adopted by other countries and not a few, one believes, will be finally disowned in the country of their origin.
There is no doubt that Labour strikes easily in Australia, and that the losses through industrial conflict are tremendous. One wonders if disputes are not provoked where so much machinery is provided for their adjustment. Besides it is inevitable in all machinery which has a political character that voting majorities will get the balance of advantage from its operation. Generally the awards of wage boards will favour workers rather than employers. Because this is so the wage boards are not likely to be idle and the search for new grievances and the formulation of new demands will continue. But out of interminable disputes and costly conflict there is growing among employers an increasing and resolute determination to have industrial peace and contented employees. In important industries, systems of profit-sharing have been adopted or workers have been encouraged, or even assisted, to secure stock in the companies by which they are employed. So far as I could discover there is absolutely no disposition among Australian employers to tolerate interference in management, but there is a distinct movement towards a partnership in the profits of industry, and where this has been found practicable the temper of Labour has improved and its efficiency has increased.
One believes, or at least one desires to believe, that sooner or later in Australia and elsewhere humane employers and efficient workers will unite to secure industrial peace and high production, to compel the idle and the shiftless to draw a fair share of the load, to make the dole a disgrace to the individual and a shame to the nation, and so to recast the social and industrial system that no man who is willing to work will be denied the privilege of earning his daily bread and no loafer or malingerer be allowed to live upon the toil of others. Nothing is more certain than that this great end cannot be achieved by legislation alone, but employers who provoke unwise political action become fewer and there are signs that workers become less willing to demand that governmental meddling in business which is bad for government and bad for business. One cannot challenge the settled conviction of Australia that the condition of the average man is the true test of civilization and, however one may regard some of the social and industrial experiments of the Commonwealth, it is doubtful if in any other country there is a higher average of comfort or more of that spirit of independence which gives dignity to the individual and high temper to the community.
In fiscal policy Australia is resolutely, aggressively and invincibly protectionist. It is difficult now to believe that New South Wales was one of the last strongholds of free trade. So far as one could discover, that State is now as protectionist as Victoria which was the nursery of tariff sentiment in Australia. It is the deliberate and settled policy of Australia to import nothing which can be manufactured within the country. If a duty of 25 percent is necessary to establish or maintain an industry 25 percent is imposed. If forty or fifty percent is required the higher rate is levied upon competing products from outside. The duties upon farm machinery, for example, run as high as fifty or sixty percent, and even the leaders of the Country Party admit there is no prospect that they will be greatly reduced. It must be remembered also that the great distance of Australia from the industrial countries necessitates freight rates so heavy that they constitute a considerable protection for Australian industries. The Labour party is as protectionist as the National party which draws its chief support from the industrial and financial interests. It is held by the great mass of the people of Australia that they must provide home markets for many natural products, and employment for town workers at high wages, and that Australian capital must have opportunity for profitable investment within the Commonwealth. They give a preference to Great Britain but it is conditional upon adequate protection for Australian industries and in all trade negotiations with other countries, even with New Zealand and Canada, they will consider nothing which could check the expansion of an established industry or prevent the creation of a new industry. This is not the time or the place to defend or attack Australian policy, but one may perhaps suggest that the Commonwealth affords no support for the notion that Canada is the chief fortress of protection in the Empire.
Drought, as we know, has been Australia's great affliction. The country has few rivers and there are rainless seasons when sheep and cattle die by tens of thousands. Very heavy expenditures for irrigation have been made to overcome this tremendous disadvantage, and over very considerable areas an adequate supply of water is now assured. But there are still many districts where a day of rain is as a cloth of gold and there are times when water is rationed as is food in a time of famine.
It has often been said that conceit and arrogance are distinguishing characteristics of the Australian people. If one takes the war as a test, the indictment is not sustained. They have a great and solemn pride in what Australian soldiers achieved, but I never heard any offensive boasting nor any whining over the tremendous losses and sacrifices which the war entailed. One has often wondered if there was anger or resentment among the people over the tragic adventure of Gallipoli. But when the subject was mentioned, and it was seldom mentioned, there was never any word of reproach for the Imperial Government nor any suggestion of grievance over the cruel losses of the Australian army in that desperate and ill-fated enterprise. It is not much to say that the soldiers of the Commonwealth had their full share of hardships and suffering. They had the long sea journey in crowded ships and often under most trying climatic conditions. They fell in tens of thousands at Gallipoli. They served on the hot plains of Egypt and Palestine. They fought stern battles in France and Flanders. In Australia as in other Dominions there were differences of opinion over the war or, at least, as to the measure of obligation which rested upon the Dominions but there was as great unanimity of feeling as in Great Britain, for there is no considerable population in the Commonwealth or in New Zealand that is not British in birth or orgin and devotion to the Mother Country and the Empire was beyond all other considerations the sentiment which called the Australasian people to exertion and sacrifice. In their isolated. position on the Pacific those five or six millions of people vitally need the support of Great Britain but behind their action in the war there was no sordid calculation nor any anxious thought for their own immediate or future security. They gave freely of all they had of men and resources and they neither lament nor repent. All over Australia, on the plains, at crossroads, in rural villages, on wide green sloping hillsides, are seen memorials to those who fell. These are not always artistic or impressive, and many have a common design, but they are seldom ugly and they are never neglected. In the great park at Perth there is a long winding avenue which they have named the Avenue of Honour, lined upon either side with young oaks and pines, each bearing the name of a soldier of Western Australia and at one point a row of five commemorates the sacrifice of a single family. At Ballarat, famous in other days as one of the most wonderful gold fields ever discovered, there is a very remarkable memorial to the soldiers of that district who fell in battle. With their own hands the young women employed in a great factory planted young trees for a distance of fifteen miles along the highway and each submits to a small annual assessment to plant flowers and keep the ground watered and the trees protected. Thus Australia remembers its dead while it has not neglected those who survived the long ordeal of battle. Through the generations those memorials will carry their messages of duty and sacrifice and for all time they will touch the soul of Australia and inspire its people to high endeavor and noble achievement.
Australia is distinguished for its devotion to sport. Betting is common, if not almost universal, in all classes. The chief sports are racing, football, rowing, cricket, polo and bowling. All these games are peculiarly British and in all they excel. The teams which go out to Great Britain from Australia test the mettle of the best sportsmen which the Old Country can produce. In sport as in all other pursuits and activities they reveal that high self-confidence which is the distinguishing characteristic of the people. It is not mere conceit or arrogance although it is sometimes and often misunderstood. Those wide spaces of plain and sea, the indulgent sun and the shining stars give buoyancy to the spirit and confidence in the favour of the gods. It has been said by a sour critic that "God Almighty's sunshine is Australia's damnation." No doubt the favorable climate tempts to sport and, in a land where men may play in the open all the year round, games absorb much of the time and energy of the people. Racing is continuous and the attendance at the chief racing events runs into tens of thousands. From a stand in Sydney I saw in a wide circle at least thirty thousand people at football matches. Both at Sydney and at Melbourne one is amazed at the ease and celerity with wich these multitudes are carried to the sporting fields and back to thir homes in city and suburb. One doubts if any other community in the world has such a wonderful system of local transportation as Melbourne possesses. And it was chiefly to accommodate the huge crowds which attend sporting events that these facilities were provided. One wonders how far this almost universal devotion to sport effects the commercial and industrial efficiency of Australia. What would be the effect in Canada if all the year round we gave as much time to sport as we give during the four months of summer. I do not mention golf because the subject conceals a high percentage of explosive material. All of us find a defence for the sport to which we are specially devoted. There are many thousands of people in Australia and New Zealand who will insist that Lawn Bowling is a sport and not merely a distressing manifestation of mental decay and physical debility. At least the absorption in sport so universal in Australia suggests an eager, virile and robust people and, when all is said and all the facts of situation and opportunity are taken into account, it may be that no other nation in the British Commonwealth has achieved greater things, developed a finer manhood, or laid the foundations of a truer democracy.
One who goes round the world with open ears and seeing eyes must be impressed, as it seems to me, not so much by the power and majesty of the British Empire as by the tremendous responsibilities and obligations which lie upon its people. From Toronto to Vancouver we cross three thousand miles of British territory and any contact with the Pacific suggests the mystery and the potency of China and Japan, and the possible effects of hostile political action in those countries upon Great Britain, Canada, Australia and India. At Suva in Fiji the flag flies in evidence of British ascendency in the South Sea Islands. We go on to Auckland, the commercial capital of the British Dominion of New Zealand, and one of the most happy and prosperous states in the world. From New Zealand we cross the Tasman Sea to Sydney and first touch the Commonwealth of Australia where five or six millions of free adventurous, confident British people are holding a continent for Throne and Empire. From Sydney we sail for over twenty-five hundred miles along the Australian coast and across the great Australian Bight to Freemantle whence we set out on the long voyage to Ceylon. Ten days later we land at Colomba, under British sovereignty, and where we are within ten or twelve hours of India with its teeming multitudes and all its baffling problems. From Colomba we cross the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea to Suez. At Aden, often described as the gate of hell, and at Perim there are British garrisons, martyrs of Empire, sweating out their lives in the devastating heat of an intolerable climate. From the Red Sea we look to the shores of Palestine under a British Protectorate, and the mind fills with thoughts of sacred things and holy places. At Suez we enter the Canal, secured against foreign control by the genius and vision of an alien seer who by a happy fortune governed England for a season. Along the Canal there is still some of the wreckage of war and in a hot dawn on the bare wide desert we see a great war camp where British and Australian soldiers bore the miseries of heat and dust and sand with heroic fortitude and unbroken endurance. We leave the Canal at Port Said where it is said all the scum of Europe gathers. As we enter the harbor we see British soulders at play in front of the barracks. Ashore we find already evidence to the slovenliness of Egyptian government. Out from Port Said we enter the Mediterranean and at last leave the ship at Naples where we find at anchor in the harbour the powerful Mediterranean unit of the British fleet. Across the continent of Europe one feels the dominating position of Great Britain on the exchanges as one realizes how greatly the spendings of British and American travellers support its ancient cities. From Paris we go to the Somme and like Stevenson:
We travelled in the print of olden wars,
Yet all the land was green,
And love we found, and peace,
Where fire and war had been.
They pass and smile, these children of the sword
No more the sword they wield;
And Oh, how deep the corn
Along the battlefield!
From Aimens we cross to Great Britain, and find again the consolations of English speech, the traditions we reverence, the institutions we cherish and the gods we worship and feel, if we do not understand, the silent moving of those mighty forces which make the British Empire the legatary trustee of mankind.
One cannot, as I have said, make such a journey without a wider and deeper conception of Empire and as it seems to me a conception in which there is less of arrogance and jingoism and more of gratitude and reverence. Again and again there rings in the memory the sounding jazz of Kipling, "You can't get away from the tunes that they play to the bloomin' old rag overhead." But to the challenging words we give a new interpretation and a new emphasis. In the Gulf or Aden, as we stood on deck and looked across Africa, I asked an old English naval commander if the fact that so much of the world was in British hands was the reason Britons were not loved by other nations. He answered with a touch of asperity that we had left a great deal to other nations, but after a pause added, "Of course we have the bits that matter." Do we always remember that controls of the bits that matter means responsibility and viligence and burden and sacrifice? If it be true, as it is, that the Empire was won at a great price it is just as true that it is held at a great price. If you should take away from the fabric of civilization the supporting hand of the British Empire many millions of people would go blindly towards desperate destinies and great areas of the earth where comparative peace and security now prevail would become a welter of confusion and anarchy. Under whatever circumstances or for whatever reasons Great Britain may have set her foot in so many lands, her rule is tolerant and beneficent and she is giving, perhaps too freely, the privileges of self-government to backward and dependent peoples. At best the tree of democracy bears strange fruits and there is no more difficult problem even for advanced communities than to get the best results out of free institutions. When one thinks, therefore, of the vast burdens which rest upon British shoulders, the infinite difficulties, perplexities and anxieties which beset Imperial statesmen and the vital need of a strong, alert, responsive and decisive British diplomacy one wonders if the extreme autonomists in some of the Dominions and dependencies are not nagging the Foreign Office into a state of futility and if George the Fifth must accept from the Dominions in the Twentieth century the doctrines of Representation without Taxation as against that of Taxation without Representation which George the Third could not impose upon the American Colonies in the Eighteenth century.