Edmund Barton
Edmund Barton Protectionist Party

Delivered at Maitland, NSW, January 17th, 1901

The first federal election for the parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia was held on 29 March, 1901. It resulted in Barton forming government, although his Protectionist party did not achieve an outright majority. Barton’s protectionist party was supported by the Labor party against the opposition Free Trade party led by George Reid.

In the Senate the result was less certain for Barton with his party winning only 11 of the 36 seats, with the Free Traders 17 seats and Labor winning 8 seats.

The election was contested by most of the leading figures from colonial Australia, including Alfred Deakin, Charles Kingston and John Forrest.

There was inevitably some confusion with the process, including the now familiar complaint that the Senate ballot paper was too long. However, the first election was significant in that it established a number of conventions that were to become standard practice in all future elections.

Edmund Barton, National Library of Australia
Edmund Barton, National Library of Australia

Edmund Barton was born 18 January, 1849 and died 7 January, 1920. Barton was the first Prime Minister of the new Commonwealth of Australia and served in office 1 January, 1901 to 24 September, 1903. He was the Leader of the Protectionist Party. Barton represented the electorate of Hunter, NSW 1901 to 1903.

Elections contested


Barton’s speech was not transcribed: these appear to be his speaking notes for the speech, including handwritten amendments.

  1. Compliment of Hunter mainland invitation. Faithful representation of their Australian interests.

  2. Great honor to occupy post of Prime Minister not obtained by any seeking of mine; great responsibilities; pioneer work. First responsibility. Formation of Ministry. Describe colleagues. Will not attempt to exalt them. Not a one-man ministry nor men with shibboleths. Ministry does not include all the men one would have desired but there were only 7 portfolios. Not a fact any pressure was exercised by any one of them for his inclusion.

    NSW Ministers take External Affairs and Home Affairs. Work assigned to Barton and Lyne respectively includes

    [illegible handwritten notes describing ministries of Barton and Lyne]

  3. Holder. Regret have not had out advantage of his assistance. His conduct in every way honorable to himself. He made no claim. Don’t even know if he has any ambition; or if he has one what it is. Is a staunch and loyal federalist of many services.

  4. “Too many lawyers”. It is the people who have placed men, lawyers or not, in such positions as showed their fitness to Federal Ministers.

    Ministry begins without any bargains and without any personal compacts as to appointments. We commence and deal fairly.

  5. First task to prepare for elections. Lyne, Home Secretary, already engaged on this. Gratified securing assistance of a man of his standing and ability. Elections at earliest possible date that the State Statutes and machinery will allow.

  6. We rely on the people. The area too immense to canvass.

    Ask them broaden their views to the Continental outlook. Will you not return men of principle who will uphold the dignity of the Parliament of a continent. An an old Speaker, I appreciate this need. Hope and believe Parliament will not be degraded by vulgarism and disorder. More and better business will be done, if done decently and in order.

  7. Federal capital. Desirable Federal Capital master in its own house. Early steps select capital site, provide for beauty of position and construction and sanitary purity. 100 mile area excluded; no fault of mine.

    So far as Commonwealth acquires land within area as property and not mere territory, that land will not be sold but will be let for long terms, with reappraisements time to time. No fancy prices. Not play into hands of speculator. Give only fair value, as at time of passing Constitution act or some later safe date. Rental revenue will be available to pay for, or meet interest on, expenditure as far as possible.

    Due enquiry before acting and fair play state of N.S.W. in final arrangement.

    ? Oliver’s Report

  8. Public service. Customs passed over on 1 January under constitution.

    Other departments will be taken over as soon as possible. Customs regulation, postal and defence bills prepared with despatch.

    As soon as opportunity admits, will regulate public service as to appointments and promotions.

    At present appointments in newly created Department merely temporary and few pending meeting Parliament, and we shall utilise state offices and offices wherever practicable until full organisation.

    This admits of meeting as far as possible any cases of hardship which may arise from reorganisation of large transferred departments; customs, post office and defence.

    Task of administration already very heavy for Ministers with limited assistance. Shall need the services of capable experienced men available for Commonwealth work.

  9. High court. Greatest bulwark of rights under Constitution. An Australian Court for Australian matters. Constitution on this. Attorney-General already preparing statute to establish Court.

  10. Interstate commission. Body next in importance to High Court. War of preferential, as distinct from differential railway rates must be abolished, leaving them only within the limits prescribed by the Constitution.

    Working Commission will prepare way for considering vast subject of taking over railways.

    Whether the debts of the several states, or a large part of them, can all to be taken over before the railways, is subject now engaging the close attention of the Treasurer of Commonwealth.

    Interstate commission bill is in preparation of which Sir William Lyne will be in charge.

    These two great tribunals will give confidence to citizens everywhere that justice will be secured to them, but neither of them can be brought into operation until Parliament has dealt with legislation which will be presented to it.

  11. Defence. Department second to none. Death of Dixon. Pathetic episode. Eulogy. Benefits of unity of organisation. Train our incomparable material under best advice.

    We do not underrate the necessity of taking over this great department, as it can be done efficiently and effectively.

    United adminstration will produce even greater results with higher efficiency and, we trust, greater economy than we have already seen with pride.

    Review. It’s splendid representation of Empire and Unity.

    No military aggression but ready in common fairness to render to rest of the Empire what we expect her to render to us in case of stress.

  12. Post office. If efficient defence is a prime necessity, so also an efficient working of the posts and telegraphs.

    The taking over of this department has already engaged earnest attention.

    The interests concerned are full of variety and complexity; much more so than in the case of defence.

    Old bogey about all round 2d postage.

    While financial considerations must be closely observed the task of Ministers is to make the sending of letters, telegrams and cable messages cheaper, not dearer.

  13. Old-age pensions. Bills already passed NSW and Victoria ministers as one as to the advantage of legislating. Commonwealth Old Age Pensions Bill will be introduced as soon as financial situation clear enough to enable us to provide necessary funds.

  14. Treasury. Three subjects last named all depend on finances. How will the necessary funds to provide all these benefits be arranged for under policy of our opponents?

    The Treasurer must needs. be a man clear-headed and trustworthy.

    We have had enough of a juggling and jesting with figures.

    Plunging into debt and squandering resources.

    Turner a guarantee for sound, sober, reliable control.

  15. No encroachment. Taxation power not to be rashly exercised.

    Great obligations taken over from States; but Customs with them.

    They are left as many obligations as they can carry, nay more, unless their reserve of taxing power is jealously preserved to them.

    If after Commonwealth tariff is imposed they need more revenue, they can only obtain it by direct taxes within the States.

    Absolutely necessary to leave this field to them.

    They should be studied in every way and the early difficulties of so great a change made as little trying as possible.

    There must be no direct taxation by the Commonwealth government and less under the pressure of some great national emergency; not even then if it can be avoided.

    I make this declaration emphatically because already so-called “Revenue Tariffists” are threatening £700,000 of Commonwealth direct taxation as well as customs tariff.

  16. Sufficient returns to State. Not only must we not encroach on State resources, but we must provide for the return to the States of as much as possible of the sums they will have parted with to the Commonwealth.

    This means a high tariff, however you frame it, whether Kingston or Reid is its author.

    Free trade clearly impracticable. There must be a large revenue from Customs, but not one penny more than required. That, however means much.

    What is the financial position?

    Latest Statistical returns possible to be obtained show customs and excise revenue for 6 States amounting to £7,629,027 at 30 June 1900.

    The increase from 30 June 1899 to 30 June 1900 (1 year) had been £246,330 and from 30 June 1898 to 30 June 1900 (2 years) had been £650,968. [Illegible handwritten notes]

    Provision has also been are for the new expenditure for the carrying own of the Commonweath which has been estimated by some at about £300,000 per annum; and by extremists, at various fancy amounts.

    Exact figures of the present time as to Customs and Excise are not yet obtainable, but it suffices for present purposes that I have been able to give an approximation.

    If we are to provide for uniformity and reasonable cheapness of posts and telegraphs and also for old age pensions, when the way is clear to do so, can any one tell me how that is to be done by such a tariff as is indicated by those who have prematurely constituted themselves ‘the other side?“, who have gone into opposition without knowing our proposals or the facts in which they rest?

    Will any one again tell me what resort there is, except extreme direct taxation by the Commonwealth, to make up the shortages of Commonwealth revenue left by their tariff proposals, and how, in the event of such direct taxation, the States are to make up for own shortages should such occur after the Commonwealth, at the instigation of two previous oppositionists, has dried up the sources of State direct taxation?

  17. What then is the issue presented?

    Shall we raise revenue without regard to the effect of means by which we raise it?

    Shall we pile all the duties of the goods consumed by cottagers and artisans?

    Shall we tax the raw materials of manufacture more heavily than the manufactured product itself?

    These abuses are possible under what is described as "a revenue tariff”.

    They must be avoided, one and all. They are the latest consignment of “the blessings of Free Trade”.

    Revenue we must have; that is the all important consideration.

    The Commonwealth must pay its way.

    It must help the States to pay their way.

    It must carefully study every detail.

    It must distribute its burden justly.

    It must do no avoidable mischief.

    Kingston’s task.

  18. I am a Protectionist, and so are nearly all my colleagues.

    If we had a country which had never had a tariff, we should consider carefully how best to assist private enterprise to develop it. In such a country, if our proposals were refused, the worst that could happen would be delay in development, less variety of employment and less trade but

    Mark, these would be merely negative results.

    But the present position is very different.

    We have no such condition of things.

    Australia has known tariffs for many years.

    In all the States,there has been more or less protection.

    In all, industries have spring up and men are earning their lving by them.

    Capital is invested in them.

    Labour is invested in them.

    These are the facts.

    Even in N.S. Wales, there is still £3 a ton on sugar, to protect that production on our own soil.

    Are we to abolish that protection now and begin the union by ruining our northern farmers? Have not free traders themselves refused to do this?

    If we too refuse, shall we not deal as considerately with our neighbours as with ourselves?

    Must we not take the situation as we find it, and, whether protectionist or “revenue tariffists”, fill our treasury without emptying our industries?

  19. So the policy of the Ministry in this regard is revenue without destruction. A tariff maintaining employment and not ruining it.

    A business tariff which will yield the sums we need without discouraging production.

    Hitherto the industries established in the several States have been in unrestricted competition only within each State separately.

    By this Constitution, complete intercolonial freedom of trade begins with the Commonweath tariff.

    These industries will thus be suddenly exposed to unrestricted competition all over Australia.

    In at time, they will have early trials and difficulties which will tax all their dtength.

    Are we to add to this the shock of unrestricted competition, for the first time, with the whole world at the same instant?

  20. There will be no rules of thumb. No one tariff of the six now in force can claim to include all its fellows. The highest duties not to be adopted because they are highest nor the lowest because they are lowest.

    Each will have to run the gauntlet of criticism and justify itself.

    By this (leave?) we hope to present:-

    a business man’s tariff a practical working tariff a really federal tariff

    So we shall avoid disaster suffering bitter(est?) antagonism to the (?) wh. has made them possible.

    Men of all opinions who put the country first and their own policy second, can agree that the first tariff of Commonwealth ought to be considerate, preservative of existing production and liberal in its attitude towards those engaged in production.

    Careful enquiry and close consideration required to frame a tariff which shall adjust itself to our circumstances and needs, an Australian tariff for the Australian nation.

  21. If you desire, with revenue, destruction, you must seek another representative, and Parliament another Ministry.

    All our other tasks are those of building up, seeking to raise up institutions which shall stand, under which justice shall be done to all.

    A great constructive work lies before us. Power exists to unify the laws under which burins is carrie on, to simplify the law, and to make the whole continent one.

    (See Section 51: Banking, Insurance, Negotiable instruments, Copyrights, Patents and Trade Marks, Trading Corporations, Bankruptcy, Currency, Coinage, Legal Tender, Weights and Measures, Service and execution of legal process and judgments from end to end of the Commonwealth).

    Inconsistent to unite construction with destruction, to build up and pull down at the same time. Our policy is Federal and constructive.

    We seek to fulfil a programme outlined by Federalists, in peace with honour. (Local?) Coal, wine, farming.

    The farmer. Western Africa. Argentina. Other quarters.

    Necessary to him that the protection left to his industry after Intercolonial Free Trade begins, should be maintained.

    Fallacy that the protected industry alone receives the benefit of the duty.

    [handwritten:] Preferential treatment of British Goods where reciprocity possible happy to adopt it as preferential treatment apart from [illegible] we strongly favour it but the subject is so difficult to deal with that serious consideration must be given to it before final action.

  22. Among powers of legislation you will find XXXV. Conciliation and arbitration for the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes extending beyond the limits of any one State.

    This is a reserve power for the exercise of which it may be hoped occasion will seldom arise; but

    On this subject, Mr Kingston will introduce a bill. We realise that it is far better to be ready with legislation than to take the risk to far-reaching interests entailed by the prolongation of a dispute which may suddenly arise.