Makers of Federation.
Sir Edmund Barton.
By SIR LITTLETON E. GROOM.
AS one looks back over the earlier
days of the Federal Parlia- ment the men who took the leading part in laying the foundations of the Commonwealth structure loom larger, and are seen in truer perspective. Their work was es- sentially constructive, and, for its suc- cessful accomplishment, there was need of vision, as well as judgment. The fact that the main work they did remains as fundamental is sufficient proof that the foundations were well and truly laid. One of the men who loomed largest in the first Federal Par- liament was the Right Hon. Sir Ed- mund Barton. With a fine presence he looked, and was, a noble head to the Legislative Chamber. He had oc- cupied a number of exalted positions with marked ability and achieved a high reputation as an orator before the Federal Parliament came into be- ing. His speeches gave evidence of culture obtained through his education at the University of Sydney. He was proud of his election, as a young man, to represent the Sydney University in 1879, and was also justifiably proud of his appointment in 1883 to the office of Speaker of the Legislative Assem- bly of New South Wales at the age of 34. As a foremost advocate of the Federal union, leader of the Federal Convention, 1897-98, and leader of the delegates to England in connection with the Constitution Bill, he had manifest- ed the highest qualifications—qualifi- cations which fitted him so admirably to be the first Leader of the House of Representatives.
HIS qualities of mind and heart
made him pre-eminent in this re- gard. He was conspicuously fair- minded, and possessed a high sense of honour. In the conflicts in the House he was dignified, calm, unperturbed, and unruffled in temper. He showed a fine balance. His speeches at times savoured more of judicial utterances than partisan advocacy. He spoke on the higher plane. His debating power was well revealed in the White Aus- tralia debate that took place in Sep- tember, 1901, on the Immigration Re- striction Bill, the dispute ranging around the education test as opposed to direct exclusion.
On September 26, 1901, in this de- bate he made a most effective reply in favour of the Government's pro- posal. One of the finest and most characteristic of his speeches in Par- liament was that made on the Judici- ary Bill on June 11, 1903. It reached a very high mark of oratory at a time when the speeches delivered in the House of Representatives were dis- tinguished by extraordinary care in preparation and forcefulness in de- livery—when men of great experience from all the States put forth their best in their desire to establish Aus- tralian reputations. This speech recalled to members' minds those notable addresses delivered by him, prior to the establishment of the Commonwealth, on platform, in Con- vention, and in Parliament, when he revealed his complete grasp of the Federal problem, his extensive knowledge of constitutions and consti- tutional principles, and his construc- tive statesmanship.
As Minister of State.
WHEN interviewed as a Minister re-
garding matters of an administra- tive character he dealt with them as a judge sitting in Chambers, evinc- ing a desire to do absolute justice.
He was anxious that each State of the Commonwealth should be fairly dealt with. To use his own words, he loved the Constitution and emphasised that of all constitutions it was essentially a people's constitution. This had par- ticular reference to the method of its adoption.
His personal charm attracted men of all parties to him. As Sir William MacMillan said of him, "there was one characteristic of Sir Edmund Barton which I always recognised, and that was his generous nature and his ex- treme magnanimity. Not altogether by his genius, by his great ability, or by his political experience did he bind together the men who loyally sur- rounded him, but by a personal mag- netism and a personal affection which went far beyond the ordinary political
The speech delivered by Sir Edmund on the Judiciary Bill left a very pro- found impression on members, and at the time when that Bill was assented to the feeling of affection was so warm and the esteem for him so high among the members of the House that there was a general desire on their part that he should accept the office of Chief Justice. His own attitude was characteristic; he would not ac- cept it if one who was better fitted for the position than he would take it. The state of his health actuated him to retire from the position of
Prime Minister. He remarked at the time that his medical adviser had writ- ten to congratulate him. Smiling, he added that he had replied to Dr. Bird that it was fitting that a "bird" should congratulate a "beak"; and in reference to the regret he had ex- pressed that he (Sir Edmund) could not occupy both the positions of Prime Minister and Justice of the High Court, he had answered that one could not be in two places at the same time
unless one was a bird.
High Court Judge
QN Septembei 23 Sir Edmund made
his last appearance in the House. The House had been discussing a mo- tion moved by him in reference to the Federal capital, and just before the House rose on the Wednesday it had adopted a motion as amended, that a conference take place between the two Houses to select a capital site, the idea being to take an exhaustive ballot as to the most suitable sites specified in the report of the Royal Commission. Sir Edmund was in charge of the busi- ness all through the day, and his last words had reference to the order of business of the House. On the fol- lowing day, September 24, Mr. Deakin made the announcement in the House of the resignation of Sir Edmund Barton, and that the duty had been cast upon him of forming an admin- istration, that Sir Samuel Griffith had accepted the office of Chief Justice, and that Sir Edmund Barton and Senator O'Connor had been offered the positions of Justices of the High Court. Sir William MacMillan and the Right Hon. C. C. Kingston at once paid high tributes to Sir Edmund, and Mr. Allan M'Lean (Victoria) declared "no one would have been better pleased than I to have seen the late Prime Minister Chief Justice."
Sir Edmund was now to take fare- well from the loyal friends with whom he had so closely co-operated in mak- ing Australia the nation, and to leave the men in Parliament who had been privileged to follow his lead and had become so closely attached to him. He had in his speeches referred to the three branches—the Parliament, the Executive, and the Judiciary—of the Commonwealth. He had held office in the Executive, led the House of Rep- resentatives, and was now to enter
On October 6 he was sworn in as a Justice of the High Court, in Mel- bourne, on the occasion of the open- ing of the court. It was a memorable scene, the ceremony that took place in the Banco Court. There was a large attendance, and members of the Bar of the several States joined the new Attorney-General, the Hon. J. G. Drake, in congratulations to the newly appointed Justices. In the gallery were many of Sir Edmund's old and dear friends. The Governor-General (Lord Tennyson) and Lady Tennyson sat in the gallery over the clock; Mr. Deakin, Sir John Forrest, and Mr. Austin Chapman were there also. Sir Edmund was obviously deeply affected. In his reply he said: "My mind is as full of misgivings as that of my learned brother who has just spoken. If we had not confidence in each other, probably the greatness of our task would be, instead of disquieting, almost appalling; but I can speak at any rate for two members of this Bench for the services they can render; but speaking for myself I humbly hope that I may be in some degree enabled to range myself with them in the con- duct of the work of this court. I find it hard to say any more. There are recollections of the past, not only in the court, but elsewhere, which crowd thickly upon me. There is a severance of ties which is to me pain- ful, and which would be well nigh intolerable, if one were not sure that where one leaves friends behind it may be granted to one to maintain in full vigour the good opinion that was so pleasant, and so supporting in the past."
The proceedings over, Sir Edmund entered upon a long judicial career.
At its close by death on January 7, 1920, he left the record of one who had made valuable contributions in the interpretation of the Constitution and of the laws of the Commonwealth and States, and who had upheld the highest traditions of his judicial office. He had fulfilled the words of the oath that each Justice had sworn on the assumption of office—"I do swear that I will well and truly serve my Sove- reign Lord the King in the position of Justice of the High Court of Aus- tralia, and I will do right to all man- ner of people according to law without fear or favour, affection or ill will."
It is interesting to note that the first application to be made to the High Court was made by Mr. Isaacs, K.C., who, after the opening of the court, rose to inquire when their Honours would hear a summons for directions in the action of Bond v. the King.