Capricornian (Rockhampton), Saturday 25 February 1882, page 3
THE HON. JOHN DOUGLAS
The Hon. John Douglas seems to be the 'coming man' after all. It is now apparent that be resigned his seat in Parliament not because he wished to retire from politics, but because he could no longer unite with the so-called liberal Party. Mr. Douglas has frequently been more or less paradoxical in his political conduct. A gentleman of good natural ability, deep culture and long political experience, he is admitted by the leading men of both parties to be their superior in many respects. His thorough knowledge of both the theory and practice of representative government makes him a man to whom young politicians should look up with respect, perhaps even with reverence. His graceful manner of address and real liberality of sentiment secure for him a more than common share of that usually unstable thing known as personal popularity. There are perhaps not half-a-dozen constituencies in the colony that would reject Mr. Douglas' services in favour of any other public man who might be brought into competition with him. And yet he does not exercise that influence upon either legislation or administration which so capable a politician ought unquestionably to wield. Why this is we can scarcely determine with precision. He is said to be wanting in 'back-bone,' and to meander through life the victim of beautiful abstractions. But his political friends say that as a Ministerial chief or colleague he is sometimes, at least, difficult to manage. He can at times put down his foot most stubbornly, and keep it there in spite of either persuasions or threats. And he is one of those few public men who recognise the wholesome doctrine that parties should rally round principles and measures rather than around interests and persons. It is true that he was not successful in the Premiership, but after the fatal mistake, made in the constitution of the Ministry of which he condescended to become a subordinate member under the leadership of the Hon. George Thorn, success was impossible. Mr. Thorn was capable of leading in one thing only, and that the very questionable and often unclean business of electioneering. Of the principles of Government, or statesmanship, be had no more conception than a child. And yet he was allowed for two years to occupy the position of the 'master mind' in the Cabinet. The phenomenon was astounding and unexampled, and its effect was to almost irretrievably damage the reputation of the abler Ministers who alleged it to be a matter of indifference who held the Premiership so long as somewhere within the Ministry there existed the talent and experience requisite to solve the legislative and administrative problems which from time to time presented themselves. A more fatal error, however, could not have been committed. The 'boy Premier' held the vantage-ground, which enabled him at any moment to dismiss any one or all of his colleagues,-while they could not either individually or collectively dismiss him. Their only recourse was to withdraw from the Ministry if they could not keep the Premier in the right track, leaving him master of the situation although he night not command the master mind which the text books tell us is an imperative qualification in the leader of a Government. And being upon such a coign of vantage Mr. Thorn could have dismissed his colleagues on one day and called to his side other men from the Opposition or cross-benches the next. The only security enjoyed by Mr. Thorn's colleagues lay in the fact that no other men in the Assembly capable of commanding a majority would have consented to join him. But this fact, potential as it undoubtedly was, reflected all the more disastrously upon the men who had stooped to subordinate themselves to a politician whose incapacity had ever been a bye word and reproach. But why do we again rake up the misadventures of the past, it may be asked. Our reply is, simply because of their bearing upon actualities of the present. Had Mr. Douglas refused Mr. Thorn's advances the latter must have relinquished the task of forming a Ministry, and Governor Cairns's terrible blunder in entrusting him with the duty would have been productive of no baneful results. Indeed, it was well known in political circles at the time that the Governor sent for Mr. Thom as the senior member of the then just defunct Ministry led by Mr. Macalister, and that his excellency never dreamt that 'George' would succeed in executing the task. Had that failed constitutional forces must have inevitably brought Mr. Douglas to the front and placed him in the position to choose his colleagues. Neither Mr. Palmer nor Mr. McIlwraith could have formed a Ministry that would have commanded even a bare majority at the time, and they could not have advised a dissolution with any hope of success, the then House having been elected under the direction of the Palmer Ministry of 1873. It must easily be seen, then, how differently matters would have turned out had Mr. Douglas bided his time. For example, if compelled to take in Mr. Thorn, that garrulous gentleman would have occupied a subordinate position and been comparatively harmless, while that ambitious and able young lawyer, Mr. Griffith, would have been compelled to recognise Mr. Douglas as the Premier instead of as his mere colleague — as his chief instead of as his equal. In that case the career of the Ministry would have been wholly changed. Its prestige at starting being good, unless we greatly err, its policy would have been quite different from that presented by Mr. Thorn's combination. Mr. Griffith's undue ambition could have been checked to his own good and the manifest advantage of his party and the country. Indeed it is impossible to limit the possibility of a Ministry led by so good a man as Mr. Douglas, and loyally supported by so able a debater as Mr. Griffith had even then proved himself to be. All this, we think, throws some light upon Mr. Douglas's new departure He has withdrawn entirely from party entanglements and thrown the whole weight of his capacity and popularity into the advocacy of a great public undertaking which he believes would give the colony a tremendous push along the path of progress. He sees immense potentialities for Queensland in the land-grant scheme, and be is not deterred from its advocacy in season and out of season by the consideration that it forms part of the programme of the present Government. Apparently however, it is not cordially endorsed by all the Ministers. Mr. McIlwraith is irrevocably committed to the project, but he may be baulked by lukewarm colleagues or disloyal supporters. Still the obstruction can be only temporary. The public men in the colony who favour the land-grant system are the most experienced and able that we possess. If, by public prejudice, or the opposition of local nonentities, great projects of our statesmen for the advancement of the colony be thwarted, there will ere long be a reconstitution of parties. Constitutional forces will soon bring men of identical opinions and aims together, first in Parliament, and then on the Treasury benches. There is really no political reason why Mr. McIlwraith and Mr. Douglas should not be associated in a Government. It is true that less than two years ago Mr. Douglas exhibited, for him, unexampled acerbity and pertinacity in his attacks upon the present Ministry, but he was goaded to extreme courses by the irritating jibes and taunts constantly hurled at him from the Ministerial benches. One thing we thoroughly believe, which is that neither Mr. McIlwraith nor Mr. Douglas would allow former differences of a personal character to keep them at arm's length if the operation of purely constitutional forces tended to bring them together when a great public undertaking invited their hearty co-operation.