During later years the question of federation for the Australian Colonies has become a subject of frequent and important public discussion. There are not three, but only two, courses open to these Colonies. There is no American Republic near at hand to suggest the possibility of annexation. Australia has only to choose between federation of some sort, or consolidation into the Imperial system. Now this last is a possibility which hardly needs to be taken into account. We are not speaking at present of that sort of consolidation which would be effected by a federal arrangement among the Australian provinces themselves, and afterwards by some form of direct representation in the Parliament of the Empire, and of direct share in the responsibilities of Imperial foreign policy. The sort of consolidation which we regard as outside the range of practical politics, is a consolidation which would recognise Australia's right to manage her own local affairs, but at the same time leave many of her most vital interests to depend upon the action of the Foreign Office at Westminster. The Australian provinces have outgrown that sort of consolidation. Australia now consists of five separate colonies - New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia, and Queensland; all these being portions of one vast island, the greatest island in the world. Then there are what we may call the Australasian Colonies - New Zealand and Tasmania - which might naturally enough be willing to attach themselves to the federation formed by the five great provinces of that Australian island. Each of these Australasian divisions has now its own representative Government, with responsible Ministries and a local Parliament.
New South Wales received its constitution in 1853; and for some years before that time had a peculiar kind of legislature made up of a single Chamber, half the members of which were appointed by nomination and the other half elected by popular suffrage. Victoria was separated from New South Wales in 1851, and obtained a liberal Parliamentary Constitution in 1856. The other Colonies followed, each in its turn, and became locally self-governing. The systems of legislature differ considerably among themselves, the electoral qualification for one province not being by any means the same as the electoral qualification for another. But they all, alike, are living examples of Representative Government, just as the several States of the American Republic are. The Australian Colonies are growing in population and in wealth, year by year, and it is quite understood at home that they are to manage their own affairs without the controlling intervention of the Colonial Office. One or two critical questions which arose in recent years in one or other of these provinces absolutely settled the principle that so far as regarded domestic affairs the Colonies are a law to themselves, and that no Colonial Secretary has a right to interfere with their decision. Indeed it would be no longer possible to imagine a group of such Colonies, divided from the Mother Country by many thousand miles of ocean, and trained to self-government by a generation of practice in the work, submitting to the direction or to the dictation of an English statesman at home, who, perhaps, came newly into the Colonial Office the week before last, and may be out of it again by the week after next. The Australian Colonies, like the North American Colonies, are, therefore, virtually independent.
If they were to declare themselves free of the Mother Country to-morrow, it is certain that no English Prime Minister in his senses would dream of compelling them by force of arms to return to their allegiance. The question, then, of the deepest interest is whether the Colonies will consent to remain just as they are, and will be content even with federation among themselves, or whether they will demand some manner of representation in the Imperial Councils of England, as a return for the responsibilities which their connection with the Empire undoubtedly forces upon them. The case of Australia is more simple than that of Canada, for there is no great foreign power on the other side of a frontier line which might threaten Australia with invasion, as the United States undoubtedly would threaten Canada if a war were to break out between England and the Republic. But on the other hand it is obvious that there might be a quarrel between England and some foreign power which would menace seriously the interests of Australia. At the time of the Crimean War it is certain that there was a project under consideration in Russia, the purpose of which was to make a diversion against England by an invasion of the Australian shores. Any one can easily picture to himself a condition of things in which the same sort of danger might arise again. Suppose, for instance, that England were to be forced into a quarrel with Russia because of a rival policy in Chinese waters; what could be more possible, or even likely, than a Russian descent upon Australian shores, if only with a view to vex and harass England, and make it difficult for her to maintain her Imperial position? Suppose the same sort of quarrel were to arise in the same regions, between England and Germany, for example; might not the course of war take for a time an Australian direction ? Now, nobody can doubt the pluck of the Australian Colonies, and the strength of their attachment to the connection with England; but the mere growth of the material prosperity in the Australian Colonies is only another reason why the colonists might object to have their peaceful shores turned anywhere into a battle-ground for the maintenance of a policy in whose origin and direction they were never consulted, and in which they had no manner of share. These are the dangers and the possibilities which have led far-seeing men, both here and there, to look forward to the creation of some federal plan, by means of which the Canadian and the Australian Colonies might be allowed a voice in the governing system of the Empire. No plan of any definite character has yet been brought under public consideration which seems to satisfy all the objects and all the interests concerned. How are Canada and Australia to have a voice in the Imperial Chamber?