Wednesday, July 8, 2015

John Douglas and the Queensland parliamentary session of 1878

The next session of parliament began on 24 April 1878. Douglas and his ministry were still in a strong position,[1] and although the government and the opposition strongly disagreed over the employment and treatment of Pacific Islanders, they embraced many similar policies and ideas.[2] 

As the Brisbane Courier said:
The opposing parties in the legislature both advocate the same measures: the opposition has demanded them, and the ministry have promised to introduce them.[3]

The major planks of Douglas’s legislative program in this session were bills to improve electoral representation in the colony[4] and extend local government in the colony.[5] Both were successfully enacted, the former increasing the number of members from 43 to 55, including 13 two-member electorates,[6] while the latter consolidated and amended existing legislation and provided for the extension of local government to the country districts.[7] As well, Douglas introduced the Polynesian Laborers Bill to repeal and replace the existing Act, and to give legislative effect to the regulations framed earlier in the year.[8] However, it foundered at the second reading stage.[9]

On 6 July 1878, the new leader of the opposition, Thomas McIlwraith, audaciously attempted to secure approval for a loan of £3 million to complete and extend the colony’s public works.[10] Douglas, who was seeking approval for £1,080,000 for the government public works program, took this as a vote of no confidence in his government and, following protracted debate, defeated it by the barest of margins - one vote - with one opposition member absent from the house.[11] McIlwraith’s actions damaged the government because it was no longer seen to be in control of parliamentary business. Worse still, Douglas now faced an opposition advocating increased spending on public works, a move welcomed in many electorates who were anxious for progress and development. Douglas countered McIlwraith by advocating a program encouraging measured development.[12]

[1] “Summary for Europe.” Brisbane Courier, 18 May 1878, p. 6
[2] Brisbane Courier, 20 March 1878, p. 2
[3] Brisbane Courier, 24 April 1878, p. 2
[4] This involved repealing the Electoral District Act of 1872 and replacing it with a new Act.
[5] Brisbane Courier, 25 April 1878, p. 2
[6] Bernays, pp. 289-90. This Act was the Electoral Districts Act, 1878, which received assent on 9 July 1878. (Queensland Votes and Proceedings, vol 1, 1878, p. 331)
[7] Bernays, pp. 394-96; Our First Half-Century, p. 71; “Summary for Europe.” Brisbane Courier, 18 May 1878, p. 6. This Act was titled An Act to Consolidate and Amend the Laws Relating to Municipal Institutions, and to Provide More Effectually for Local Government, commonly known as The Local Government Act, 1878. It received assent on 3 September 1878. (Queensland Votes and Proceedings, vol 1, 1878, p. 331)
[8] Brisbane Courier, 24 June 1878, p. 2
[9] Clive Moore. Kanaka: A History of Melanesian Mackay. Port Moresby, University of Papua New Guinea Press, 1985, p. 140; Wilson (1938), p. 71. This was due to strong political opposition, with Douglas observing, “he failed to get support from his own followers which he expected, and there was a certainty of opposition among the squatting party.” (“The Premier at Maryborough.” Brisbane Courier, 21 October 1878, p. 4.) However, disclosures of disgraceful conditions on certain plantations compelled the incoming conservative McIlwraith government to enact new legislation, The Polynesian Labour Act, in 1880. (Willard, p. 162)
[10] “Summary for Europe.” Brisbane Courier, 10 August 1878, p. 6
[11] For more information on this incident, see the Brisbane Courier, 17 July 1878, p. 2; 22 July 1878, p. 2; “The Press and the Three Million Loan.” Brisbane Courier, 24 July 1878, p. 5; Brisbane Courier, 25 July 1878, p. 2; Brisbane Courier, 26 July 1878, p. 2; Brisbane Courier, 31 July 1878, p. 2; Brisbane Courier, 1 August 1878, p. 2; Brisbane Courier, 3 August 1878, p. 2
[12] John Douglas. “To the Electors of Maryborough.” Brisbane Courier, 15 November 1878, p. 7