Tony Moore, Death or Liberty, Pier 8/9, Murdoch Books, 2010. pp. 206-207
Across the Murray River in Victoria on 3 December 1854, the
Ballarat gold miners rose in rebellion over the imposition of licence fees
and fought a pitched battle with troops at the Eureka Stockade. The
demands they put forward were those of the Chartists. In the capital,
Melbourne, one witness later described an atmosphere of 'political
excitement and turbulence', invigorated by 'combative Chartists from
Glasgow, Clerkenwell, and Chelsea, brim-full of schemes for the
reformation of mankind in general and the people of Victoria in particular.'
By 1857 all the aims of the Charter, bar annual parliaments,
were instituted in the new democratic constitution of Victoria. Indeed,
Victoria has the distinction of being the first jurisdiction in the world to
introduce secret ballot, known elsewhere as the 'Australian ballot'. The
Chartist program waN in turn adopted in the constitutions of Western
Australia, South Australia and Tasmania, and the new Federation
improved on the Chartists' points by extending the vote to women
in 1901. Sensitive to the interests of the working-class vote, liberal
colonial governments passed legislation establishing free, compulsory
education for all children and schemes providing small land grants,
known as selections, to low-income earners who wanted to make a go of
farming and be their own bosses. The selection acts owe something to the
Chartist National Land Company idea, and while the harsh Australian
climate undid the hopes of many small farmers, many other Chartist
immigrants made a success of cottage ownership in the growing cities.
'Budding radicalism', far from 'withering in the antipodes' as Robert
Hughes argued, was blooming, but they were peculiarly native flowers.
In the increasingly volatile area of industrial relations, the Chartist
influence was clear. The Chartist convict-turned-colonial-activist
William Cuffay played a leading role in the campaign of the late 1850s
and '60s to reform the punitive Masters and Servants Acts in favour
of workers. The Hobart Mercury observed in Cuffay's obituary that
'being a fluent and an effective speaker he particularly distinguished
himself in the agitation for the amendment of the masters' and servants'
law'. He 'was always popular with the working classes' and 'contributed
in a great degree to the settlement of the masters' and servants' question
on a satisfactory basis'. In the rough democracy of the new colonies
the son of a slave and convicted republican conspirator could become a
respected labour leader.
After the defeat of the unions in the great strikes of the 1890s
the labour movement resolved, in the manner of the Chartists, to seek
representation in colonial, then Federal parliaments, to press for workingclass
interests. The Australian Labor Party inherited the Chartist social
program and joined with sympathetic Liberal governments to introduce
this agenda. Historians John Hirst, Hugh Collins and Neville Meaney
have noted the continuity with Chartism of novel reforms from
the late nineteenth century and first decade of Federation, notably the
erection of architecture for the arbitration and conciliation ofindustrial
disputes, centred on the principle of a legally enforced minimum wage
based on the cost of living.