The Commonwealth of Australia Today
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 8 Apr 1920, p. 169-179
Sheldon, Mark, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
A general description of Australia. The traditions and history of Australia. What Australians are trying to achieve. The climate, geography, and population of Australia. Captain Cook's discovery 150 years ago. The Constitution of Australia, framed largely after that of the United States. Australia's Administration lying with the Legislature in much the same way as in Canada. Universal suffrage. The Senate. The question of Labour as a political body, dating back to the year 1890. Legislation introduced by the Federal Labour Party in Australia. The land Tax and its purpose. The Commonwealth Bank. The Compulsory Military Service Act of 1908 and its results. The conscription vote. Federal debt. The primary occupation of grazing, with some statistics. Agriculture. Exports and imports. Australia's Immigration Law with its "whites only" policy and reasons for it. The Basic Wage. Crime on the decrease in Australia. The adoption of more humane methods towards criminals. The Australian characteristic of excelling in sport. The loyalty of the Commonwealth of Australia to the British Empire.
Date of Original
8 Apr 1920
Language of Item
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Full Text
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto,
Thursday, April 8, 1920

PRESIDENT HEWITT in introducing the speaker, said,Gentlemen, any representative citizen of the Commonwealth of Australia visiting our city will at all times be very welcome at the Empire Club. When we are honoured with an official representative of Australia, it gives us infinite pleasure and satisfaction. We are very glad to have the opportunity of showing our admiration for the noble part which Australia displayed during the war. We are proud for the efforts she made. I don't think I quite agree with the man who lost his ideas of democracy because Russia came first and Australia second. (Laughter) I leave that to Mr. Sheldon to deal with.

Mr. Sheldon is the Commissioner for Australia in the United States, and he has come today with a real message about Australia. No matter how much we think we know about Australia, it is not enough at the present time, and it is very important that we should take advantage of every opportunity of learning all about that great country. I am glad to see that this gathering, so markedly representative of industry and commerce and finance-this Empire Club-is anxiously waiting to receive Mr. Sheldon with open arms. (Applause)

Mr. Sheldon was received with prolonged cheering, intermingled with the cry of "Coo-ee" by several members of the Club.


Gentlemen of the Empire Club,-I am an Australian, and I know what that cry means. I notice, in a little pamphlet that has been put out with the object of boosting me, some remarks that are not quite true. It says that Mark Sheldon is a speaker of more than ordinary ability. Gentlemen, Sheldon never made a speech in his life before (laughter) he left Australia six months ago. However, in being here today, Gentlemen, I cannot tell you how much I appreciate meeting you members of our common Empire. It is a long time-six or eight months -since I had the pleasure of meeting a body of men like you.

Before getting on to the subject today perhaps a little general description of Australia will be necessary and I am afraid that you, like your cousins across the line, know very little about it, except that the inhabitants are a very pugnacious lot. (Laughter)

First of all, I must tell you something about the traditions and history of Australia, and what Australians are trying to achieve. Australia is a country of three million square miles with about twelve thousand miles of a coast line, and situated away from any other white people; the nearest are the people of the United States. South Africa on .the other side is a little bit further away from Western Australia. One-third of the country is in the tropics, and the other portion has what you might call a very temperate climate perhaps the best climate in the world. But the tropical climate of Australia is not what you might call very enervating. The large coast line and the breezes that come up make the tropical part of Australia different from other tropical parts of the world. When you go south to Melbourne or Victoria, you do not get any severe climate there; in fact frost is unknown. Another feature about Australia is that the farmers do not need to house their stock at all. I have never seen them do it, and I have travelled over the length and breadth of Australia. Another striking feature about Australia is that the labouring man works all the year round in the open without intermission; he has no need to have a heavy top coat or warm gloves; he has no need for a fur coat. In fact, as you know, we send our furs to you and the United States-our beautiful rabbit skins. (Laughter)

The population of Australia is only five million people, of whom ninety-five per cent. are either Australians born of British parents or British immigrants. (Applause) A very important fact to remember is that we are the most homogeneous people in the world, outside of the older European countries. Another point, which is rather extraordinary for this far-off land, is the literacy of the people; the want of education is at a minimum. There is only one-half of one per cent. of the people who cannot read or write. (Applause) That, I think, is something to be proud about. Then again Australia is a country always spoken of as suffering from severe droughts. But remember the size of the country. While we may have a drought in one part, we have what is called a rainy season in another. In some parts we have a very great rainfall. The rainfall in Sydney is higher than the rainfall in New York. The rainfall in Queensland goes as high as eighty to one hundred inches m the year. That is where the sugar comes from.

Now about the Constitution of Australia. Australia, as you know, was discovered by Captain Cook about one hundred and fifty years ago. The first white inhabitants landed in 1788, long after this country was discovered. At that time there were sent out about a thousand people, convicts from the Old Country. It was about the time of the revolution in the United States. In 1823 the first Responsible Government was established-by Responsible Government I mean Government by the people. This Representative Government and Constitution was established in the State of New South Wales. In 1900 the Commonwealth of Australia was created by the federation of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania. These States handle all their own domestic affairs. The Constitution (Federal) provides the right to appeal to the Privy Council for certain cases, and this has been very beneficial. (Applause) The Constitution of Australia is framed largely after that of the United States, that is in the relation of the States to the Federal Government. On the other hand, the Administration lies with the Legislature in much the same way as in this country. The Governor General acts in much the same capacity in Australia as in Canada. In the interpretation of the Australian Constitution, there is no appeal from the Australian High Court. The High Court of Australia is like the Supreme Court of the United States which interprets the Constitution if there is any dispute in the matter.

In Australia we have universal suffrage; we have had Woman Suffrage in all the States from the time of the Federal Constitution in 1900. We also have the Referendum. In any great point that concerns all the people, they take a referendum and the whole people vote on the subject. The Senate is a body elected for the whole of the States by the representatives of the States who vote as a whole, and as time has gone on, it has turned into a conservative body. For instance, in the last election, which took place in December, the Labour Party had twenty-five representatives in the Lowest House, and I think it held about twenty-two or twenty-three seats out of about seventy-three in the previous Parliament, that is, on the direct labour ticket. In the Upper House (the Senate) they only got one man out of thirty-six in the recent election. Some of the States go in for very progressive legislation, especially the State of Queensland.

The question of Labour as a political body dates back to the year 1890. At that time the great maritime strike had tied up Australia for two or three months. I remember it well. The Labour Unions were beaten very badly. Well, they went away and pondered over the matter, and decided that from that day forward they would enter the Legislature, to amend their difficulties and improve their conditions. In 1893 they got into the State Parliament of New South Wales in considerable strength, and some years afterwards they became the dominant party and held office until the year 1914, until the War started. And remember this, when the War started the Federal Labour Party was in power, and it was that Party who prompted Australia to support the British Empire in the prosecution of the War. The saying, "The last man and the last shilling," was originally made by Mr. Andrew Fisher, at that time Prime Minister, a labour man.

Now what legislation had they introduced? They introduced what is known as the Land Tax, the purpose of which is the breaking up of big estates. This was looked upon by the grazers as a great hardship. This Act meant that it was going to make it impossible for a man to hold up large areas of land for grazing purposes which were suitable for agriculture. After awhile legislation came in and the tax they proposed as a maximum was a graduated one-a maximum of two and a half per cent. of the unimproved value of the land. Gentlemen, that tax has never been removed although the Labour Party is now out of power. It breaks up the big estates and tends to more settlement on the land.

Another feature of the legislation is what is known as the Commonwealth Bank. When that Bank had been established, they did not indulge in any extravagant method. I mention these facts to you because you will find that, if the time ever comes in this country when the Labour Party assumes power, it cannot hold that power three months unless it uses it with discretion and realizes its responsibilities as our men have done. (Applause)

Another important feature that the Labour Party introduced to Australia, and which may seem rather startling to you, is the Compulsory Military Service Act of 1908. I think a short description of this Military Service Act would not be of any harm. A boy from twelve to fourteen years of age joins what is known as the Cadets and he goes in for physical training, which helps to develop his physique. He is trained only fifteen minutes each school day in the ordinary exercises. He is taught to swim, box, run and other healthy pastimes. From the period of fourteen to eighteen the boy is taught to march, the handling of arms, musketry, physical training, section and platoon drill, and extended order drill if he belongs to a school. Most of the boys also go through the battalion drill once or twice a year. From the period of eighteen to twenty-six years he has to go to camp for seventeen days each year in such corps as the artillery, and field telegraphy, or if in any other branch, for eight days. This was all introduced by the Labour Party, and you can see the result by what the Australian troops did in the late war. (Applause)

Let me refer for a moment to what the result was. Australia, as I have told you, has a population of only five million people. The enlistments during the war were a little over four hundred thousand, or about one in every twelve inhabitants. Australia had approximately three hundred and sixty thousand men in the field. Just imagine the getting of those troops there. Remember, the voyage was one of about 16,000 miles; it took some of them seven weeks, others three months. Unfortunately, the casualties were very heavy-60,000 out of 360,000; one in every six never returned. There is many a sorrowing home in Australia today; many a sorrowing family mourns for the one who will never return. Eight of every nine men suffered casualties, some more than once or twice. They fought in many fields; they fought in Gallipoli, Palestine, France, anywhere at all. I have seen;young men who have been in as many as seventy or eighty engagements, boys of twenty-two or twenty-three. I don't think Australia has any reason to be ashamed. (Applause)

I am now going to say something about the conscription vote. It seems, at this date, rather a farce to have had conscription at all, because ,l don't know where they were going to get many more men. We took the referendum on conscription in Australia twice, the first time in 1916. The vote was a million in favour of it and a vote of a million and fifty thousand against it-a difference of only five per cent. Fifteen months later a vote was taken again but without success. The women, you must remember, have the vote there, and it was the women who defeated the bill. Many of them said, "I have lost a son; how can I send another woman's son to his death!" But, as I have already told you, it did not matter much because, at the outside, Australia could not have raised any more than another 25,000 men of the eligible age.

The total Federal debt is one and three-quarter billion dollars, and eighty-five per cent of it has been raised in Australia (applause) and not by any undue inflation of the currency. We have a system much as you have here. The Federal Treasury issues notes, and the outstanding notes today are somewhere about £52,000,000 sterling. As against this the Federal Government itself holds a gold reserve of forty-four per cent. In addition to this the Banks hold a similar amount, so that in the country there is practically a sovereign for every pound note issued. (Applause) The debts of the six States are very large; they amount to about two billions of dollars. That is a big amount but the debts are well secured as the States practically owns all the railroads, waterworks, and the harbour works. Sixty-three percent of the State debt is represented in these railroads, and I venture to say that the railroads, if sold today, would pay the whole debt of the state. By the way I might state that a very large number of Australians have a Savings Bank Account. Some have more than one. As a very conservative estimate, one out of every two has a Savings Bank Account and I think that there is something like $210 as the average of each account. (Applause) If you take Savings Banks deposits and the deposits in the issuing Banks together, the latest figures show that each inhabitant has on an average $350.00 on deposit.

Our occupation is primarily grazing. We have about ninety million sheep, about twelve million head of cattle, and two and a half million horses. But, although grazing has always been the great occupation, farming is now coming up very fast. Today there are about sixteen millions of acres under various crops; the wheat yield for the previous year was something like 155 million bushels. But we did not get the same price for wheat in Australia that you managed to get in this great country. Further, remember, Australia did not make a cent out of the War. We had enormous quantities of wheat stocked up but could not get it awayour isolated position was a very great factor. During the War the highest price we got for that wheat was one dollar and a quarter. Take the price of wheat and wool today as compared to the price we were getting during the war, and the difference in that price would clear the whole Federal debt in five years.

Our exports and imports are in a very favourable position today. We had last year a surplus of exports of $70,000,000. The first six months of the financial year show that our exports were $350,000,000, and there is not the slightest doubt that it will be $700,000,000 when the year is out. Our imports on the other hand are falling behind, contributed to by exchange difficulties. They amounted to only $190,000,000 for the half year.

There are one or two features in our legislation which I would like to refer to. The first is our Immigration Law-a white Australian policy. We have deliberately made our immigration laws very strict. We are opposed to coloured people whether black or yellow. On this point our policy is inflexible. We are against letting in certain Asiatic races. This policy perhaps has retarded the development of the country, but we must guard the present for the sake of the future. (Applause) Look at our geographical condition. We are practically isolated from the rest of the world. If we were to let these people come in, in a decade or two the white population would be out-numbered. Our standard of living would be reduced, and at present our people on the average have the highest standard in the world. We, like our sister dominion New Zealand, have no people other than the Anglo-Saxon stock.

And now to come to another point. There is the Arbitration Act which has been introduced into the various states. Arbitration, as Arbitration, has not been a success. I say that deliberately. It never will be a success while human nature remains what it is. Reflect for a moment and you will see what I mean. You cannot compel a man to work. No law of man that was ever made will make a man work if he does not want to. I think, personally, it is not fair play to compel a man to work if he does not like the work or the remuneration. Today we have what is known as the Basic Wage-a wage for the unskilled labourer which will support him and his wife and family. We believe a man should get what is a straight, fair, and living wage.

I would just like to refer to one other feature of Australian life, and that is Crime. Crime I am glad to say is decreasing amongst our people. We have adopted more humane methods towards criminals. Many of our jails have been closed up, although we have been getting more people. We have jails for first offenders, jails for the man who has been convicted before but for whom there is some hope, and jails for the incorrigibles. A man when he goes to jail is taught some useful occupation-not merely an occupation to keep him out of mischief-but something that will be of use to him in after life. In many cases offenders have been taken away out into the country and given a tent or a but and supplied with necessaries. The results have been wonderful. The number of reclamations of 'these unfortunate people have been extraordinary. In this connection, there is yet another phase I would like to touch upon. You know that crime is mostly associated with disease. We have a law that any man who gets a penalty of six months imprisonment, if he is suffering from certain diseases, is not released at the end of that period, but is kept in jail until he is cured.

I suppose you know that Australians excel in sport. I suppose you do. (Laughter) If there is any game you have got here that we do not know of, we would like to try it. We would take you on at hockey if you brought your ice. (Laughter) We would give you whiskey in exchange. (More laughter) The Australian loves the open out-door life. Australian footballers can hold their own with those of the United Kingdom. We have beaten them time after time. We can play tennis, too, for as you know we hold the Davis Cup Championship. I hope Canada will come next year and try to lift it.

I have tried to give you, in a short description, some slight idea of our life. There are many points I could have elaborated had I more time. In conclusion let me say that there is no more loyal member of the British Empire than the Commonwealth of Australia.


Mr. Chairman, Mr. Sheldon, and Gentlemen,-I am sure you have all enjoyed, as I have enjoyed, the information given to us about Australia-the conditions, the financial position, and the great commercial possibilities. I think Mr. Sheldon and I -have bonds in common. He is now allocated to Washington as the representative of the great Commonwealth of Australia. I think, however, that I had the privilege of being the first representative of this country, as I was called to Washington on behalf of the Canadian Government during the war. I am hoping to have an opportunity of swapping experiences with Mr. Sheldon. (Laughter)

I was particularly struck with one of the first remarks made by him which was, to the effect, that they in Australia and we in Canada know little about each other, or about the two countries. This was a fact strongly impressed upon my mind after reaching England where I spent over a year immediately following the War. I was sent to the United Kingdom for the purpose of investigating and studying trade conditions throughout the world which would be to the advantage and the benefit of Canada. I spent some time looking over the European situation, and as I got on with my work, I was more and more impressed every day at the great possibilities of trade for Canada within the British Empire. Last year, during the early part of the year, after the Peace Conference met in Paris, I had the privilege and the opportunity of spending every alternate week in Paris and living in the same hotel as the other British delegates. It gave me the opportunity of meeting the representatives of the various governments of the British Empire, including Mr. Hughes when Prime Minister of Australia, Mr. Seddon, Mr. Louis Botha at that time Prime Minister of South Africa, and Mr. Massey of New Zealand. We discussed the interchange of trade and I became very enthusiastic about developing the trade possibilities within the British Empire-in an informal way of course. (Laughter) I suggested that the greatest thing that could happen to the British Empire and to ourselves (whether or not it would be possible) would be free trade between Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada. I think this proposition was accepted with a good deal of enthusiasm on the part of those with whom I discussed it. I am hoping this afternoon to have a talk with Mr. Sheldon along these lines-informally. (Laughter) One thing I found, as the result of my experience in Great Britain last year, was how little we knew of the British Empire. We in Canada know comparatively little of our own country; we are altogether too provincial and local in our views.

We have every resource in the Empire, everything that is necessary to connect and to provide the links between the various parts of the Empire. The Empire has the various means of transportation and trade channels, and all that is needed is the means to link them up. This is not a business for politicians to think over and discuss and try to make out schemes of development; it is for the people to get a picture of the whole situation, and then go to the government and say this is what is needed to bind and hold the British Empire as it ought to be.

I am not going to detain you any longer; I know I have voiced the feelings of all of you today. I think you will agree with me that we have to get together and work out this Empire proposition, not as a Canadian proposition, not as an Australian proposition, but how best to bring this great and glorious British Empire together more closely, and allied in such a way as to make it the greatest league of nations in the world. (Loud applause)

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The Commonwealth of Australia Today

A general description of Australia. The traditions and history of Australia. What Australians are trying to achieve. The climate, geography, and population of Australia. Captain Cook's discovery 150 years ago. The Constitution of Australia, framed largely after that of the United States. Australia's Administration lying with the Legislature in much the same way as in Canada. Universal suffrage. The Senate. The question of Labour as a political body, dating back to the year 1890. Legislation introduced by the Federal Labour Party in Australia. The land Tax and its purpose. The Commonwealth Bank. The Compulsory Military Service Act of 1908 and its results. The conscription vote. Federal debt. The primary occupation of grazing, with some statistics. Agriculture. Exports and imports. Australia's Immigration Law with its "whites only" policy and reasons for it. The Basic Wage. Crime on the decrease in Australia. The adoption of more humane methods towards criminals. The Australian characteristic of excelling in sport. The loyalty of the Commonwealth of Australia to the British Empire.