BRISBANE, JULY 13, 1895.
The Editorial Mill.
Our Motto: “Socialism in our time.”
“Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” Those wage-earners who, a year ago, watched with sanguine expectations for the result of the New South Wales Parliamentary general elections for 1894, were plunged into the deepest vexation and disappointment when the numbers went up. To find, after years of persistent agitation, after nightly propaganda in the metropolis, and weekly reform meetings in all parts of the colony, the Labour Party returned with diminish instead of increased numbers, was a blow for which no unionist was prepared. But within a short year, hearts beat high and spirits rise again. The N.S.W. Legislative Assembly have come into conflict with the legislative Council over the question of direct taxation; Premier Reid quivers in uncertainty, but only for a moment. The Labour Party having, in a previous Parliament, secured One Man One Vote by a policy of “Support in return for concessions,” had recently refused to support Dibbs and Parkes in a contemptible try to steal back the Treasury benches, Premier Reid feels secure in his seat, and courageously decides to go to the country on a programme comprising a land and Income Tax, the Referendum, Electoral Reform, and Reorganisation of the Legislative Council.
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Not by the number of Labour candidates returned to Parliament can we estimate the good work done by a Labour Party. Five years ago such a programme as that which the New South Wales Premier goes to the country upon would have been impossible But as the beating of the waves breaks down the coast-line, so the continued agitation of the altruistic reformer overthrows the barriers of ancient prejudice and works its way unconsciously to heights undreamt of. The appeal of men with a real grievance cannot always remain unanswered. Say it loud and say it often, and the truth will strike on somebody's ears, to be re-echoed throughout the land. It is only a few years since Henry George, in response to the efforts of a few enthusiasts, visited the colonies for the purpose of delivering lectures on the justice and equity of land taxation. It is only a few years since a word was spoken in New South Wales as to the necessity for the establishment of the Referendum, and the abolition of the Legislative Council. Then only so called “cranks” sired their eloquence at the cold corners and in stuffy reading rooms and meeting places. Then only here and there a scattered and obscure print voiced the aspirations of the multitude. Now we have the Premier of a great colony thundering forth his determination to stand or fall by a radical policy, and the two leading newspapers with a combined circulation of 100,000 copies daily, backing him up.
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And not only backing him up but most unexpectedly asking the electors of New South Wales that as the Parliamentary Labour Party have supported the Government in their direct taxation proposals every man of the party should be re-elected, one journal thus heading an appeal, in which are included the names of the Labour members: “Ex-members to be voted for. They voted straight. The electors should vote straight for them.” When it is considered that since the arrival of the “first fleet” in New South Wales, in 1787, there has been built up a landed aristocracy with ten times the wealth and equal in unscrupulousness to the Queensland “gang” -a landed aristocracy which, owing to the easy political virtue of certain Governors, and the scandalous perfidy of the Governments succeeding them – has acquired as freehold some thirty millions (30,000,000) of acres and as leasehold at a low rental some hundred and fifty millions (150,000,000) of acres of land – that this landed aristocracy is prepared to bribe, cajole, and threaten in order to defeat the attempt to tax land and incomes – that this landed aristocracy is sure to bring all its influence on press and Premier to keep the burden of taxation on the shoulders of the working classes – the change of attitude on the part of the SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, the DAILY TELEGRAPH, and Premier Reid should inspire hope in the heart of a universal Pessimist.
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Last year the giant Sydney dailies ridiculed the pretensions of the Parliamentary Labour Party. No term was too opprobrious to apply to Labour's candidates. All the old tales about New Australia were resurrected. “Labour is a house divided against itself” they said, “and a house divided against itself cannot stand.” This year it has been found advisable to alter the tone, for the Parliamentary Labour Party have proved their solidarity, and country and town unionists, profiting by experience, bury the dissension of last year and join forces in preparation for a supreme effort. Premier Reid has surprised us all. From a lazy, useless politician, whose total work for ten years in Parliament was a short simple measure, he has developed into a statesman who evidently proposes to take up the role of an Australian Balance. Speaking at a meeting held in the School of Arts, Sydney, on the 1st of July, he said: “The wage-earning class has an income estimated at £28,000,000 a year. The propertied and professional class – a few in number – have an income of £26,000,000 per year. On the Government system of taxation, with all the exemptions, they would pay as nearly as possible 4 per cent each. Who can say that is a policy of confiscation when the wage-earning class will pay as much pound for pound as the propertied classes of the community? Now, in my system of taxation, and it is a fair thing, there is this great advantage, and I am prouder of it than any scheme I propose – that under the new tariff there is no item that a man struggling with bitter poverty cannot escape from. You can give up your smoke when you want bread for your children; you can give up your grog when you want bread for your children. With the fiscal system of the present Government, the man who is in bitter poverty, who is struggling to keep the wolf from the door, can escape entirely from taxation. I ask, what is there in that circumstance to excite the hatred and contempt of the man of many estates, or the corporation of many dividends? Don't you think a man with a fair degree of this world's wealth should hail a fiscal system which would enable the unfortunates of humanity to live free from taxes? But this Upper House, which hates the idea of a tax of ever so little on ever so much will pass a bill to put a tax on the poor man's tea or his moleskins, or on the navvy's pick and shovel, or on the widow's thread and needles.”
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And, again, at the same meeting, “I may say a word or two for the members of the present Parliament. Those gentlemen were elected, as you know, in the ordinary course of events for period of something like three years. They stood by us loyally. They have lost their seats loyally. They come with us without a frown or scowl. . . . I want to say this: There are some constituencies in this country where labour predominates and labour elects its men. In such cases – and you will find a good many – where the labour man has stood loyally to the Government – mind you they knew what it meant; they knew that in sticking to us it meant a dissolution soon. . . . It is only common fairness and justice to make this announcement to the country, and I say that in the labour electorates, where there is a Protectionist against a labour man who stood loyally to us, let the Freetraders of those electorates show their recognition of his loyalty by voting for the Labour candidates.”
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It must not be thought from the above that the N.S.W. labour Party have in the slightest degree sacrificed their independence or modified their platform, which, by the way, is more advanced than the Queensland 1893 Labour programme some people are so anxious to modify. They have preserved their integrity, and they stand alone as an advanced party forcing reform by holding over the heads of the Government the Damoclean sword of withdrawal of support in the event of the Government refusing to go on with the Forward movement. As they say in their Labour manifesto, through a tempestuous and difficult session, in spite of the utmost efforts of enemies to sow dissension in their ranks, they have preserved their unity unshaken and entire. They stand today as strong to the last man as when they entered Parliament. As the result of their presence and their unity, the Government of the day have been compelled to do what no Government has done before, not merely to pass a large instalment of reform through the Legislative Assembly, but also to call upon the people to enforce the acceptance of such reform by the Council.
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The workers of New South Wales have now an unprecedented opportunity. This is the tide which, taken at the flood, will lead on to a large measure of reform. This is a chance which, if availed of, will be far reaching in its effects. Far beyond the borders of New South Wales, far over the deep seas will the news travel, and unhappy Queensland, with its scurvy Cabinet of human tigers, will benefit with the rest. Reform in New South Wales means Reform in Queensland. The money-grubbing despots of this country must give in to the demands of the Democracy, or go the way of the Dibbses, to whom they bear such a resemblance. Wage earners of New South Wales, the WORKER pleads with you earnestly to nobly forget your jealousies and sectarian differences, and for once unite with a common purpose to send back to Parliament the Labour men who have so faithfully represented you in the past, and strengthen their ranks by such an addition in numbers that you, who have been oppressed by unjust taxation and cruel laws, may have some of your burdens removed, and that your action may stimulate the working classes in other lands to follow your example.