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The Age 9/1/78

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When Mr Balfour reads the Government Gazette that was issued last night, we imagine that he will be thoroughly disabused of the action that the crisis is a farce, and that there is nothing in it. The notion itself may not be without an historic sanction to Mr Balfour’s mind, for in Sir James McCulloch’s hands the last crisis ended in nothing. But it is because it ended in nothing that the present one is likely to produce a substantial result. The object which Mr Berry’s Government have set themselves is to avoid the blunders committed by Sir James McCulloch. That half-hearted politician contented himself with words. He declared that the constitution was unworkable, and then dropped his hands in dumb despair. Mr Berry has also found out its faultiness, but he proposes to take steps to amend it. Lord Palmerston in the speech which we quoted yesterday, warned the House of Lords that if they were mad enough to encroach on the constitutional rights of the Commons he would defend those rights, not by scolding them, but by “acting” ‘which he would not be slow to dim” “cover the mode of talking” This is just what Mr Berry has done, and nothing more. While Sir James McCulloch was content to scold the Council, Mr Berry has discovered a mode of acting which he is not without hope will prove more efficacious. As we indicated yesterday, there has been a general reduction in the personnel, and consequently in the cost, of the civil service. The Gazette announces that the Governor in Council, in pursuance of the power conferred by the act, has removed from their offices the County Court judges, the police magistrates and wardens, the coroners and Crown prosecutors, and a large number of officials in the departments of Crown Lands, Mines, Trade and Customs, Railways and Public Works. Such a step as this is confessedly a revolutionary one, and one that it would be impossible to justify but for the object that is sought to be obtained by it. That object is, in the language of Lord Palmerston, to defend the constitutional rights of the Assembly, and the people whom it represents. If the people are dissatisfied with mode of defence, they have only to say so and it must be abandoned at once. No Government could venture to take such a step unless it was conscious of having the public with it, and as long as the public are with it the Government need ask for any other justification of its conduct. Besides, something is necessary to make such men as Mr Balfour realize the substantial nature of the crisis, and the stupidity of its authors. There has been so much make believe, the whole policy of the question has been surrounded with so much that is fictitious and heartless, that some bold stroke was required to rouse enthusiasm to deal with it.

As a matter of course there cannot be a coup d’etat without its victims. The suffering unfortunately cannot be confined to those who are the cause of it. But in this respect Mr Berry has been able to profit by the lesson bequeathed to him by Sir James McCullock. Sir James McCullock, like Mr Berry , was compelled to allow the full effects of the deadlock to fall upon the civil servants, but he alloyed those who were least able to bear the loss to lose the most. Mr Berry has taken the precaution both to limit the area of suffering as much as possible, and to regulate its incidence in such a way that it should fall upon those who would be least inconvenienced by it. The retrenchment which he has been forced to make is in the direction from above downwards. The heads of departments have been taken first, by which means the maximum of saving has been effected at a minimum of pain. For it should be distinctly understood tat yesterday’s “action” is not a mere demonstration , but the deliberate results of a praiseworthy desire to minimize the evils of the crisis as much as possible. The public service cannot be carried on without money, and as the Council has decided in its wisdom, that it will not give the necessary form of law to the grant of money, it has become the duty of the Government to make what money they are already in possession of go as far as possible till the crisis is terminated by such a reconstruction of the constitution as will alone satisfy the advanced political thought of the country. No department of the public business will be stopped, and the probability is that in all the departments many of the reductions that have been made under the pressure of an emergency will be permanent. But be this as it may, the reductions have been forced upon the Government by the unconstitutional attitude of the Council; and if any hardship is done, it is the Council that must be held responsible. There were not wanting signs last night that the responsibility was beginning to be felt by that body, for they first made a show of defending their conduct and then atoned for it by passing as many bills as they could, at a pace altogether alien to their slow moving habits. If their disposition is really set towards penitence, all we can say is the Government will do nothing to discourage them. But at the same time the Government will not be content with anything short of the full measure of reform which they were returned to Parliament at the head of a large majority to carry out. It is of course, important to have the Appropriation Bill passed into law, but the passing of the Appropriation Bill will not make any future crisis easier of solution.

The right of the ? the Council claims to exercise must be removed from it at once and for ever before the course of legislation can flow again in its usual channel. When that is done, when the machinery of government is reconstructed on something like a scientific basis, and all classes have an equal voice in making laws for the common good; and no class can put forward a claim to domination/

Royal Commission Report

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