CHAPTER XXIX. THE COMMONWEALTH (b) THE WHEELS OF POLICY
The federal capital - Choice of Dalgety - Choice revoked and Canberra finally selected - Papua and the Northern Territory - The Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta railway - The amendment of the constitution - The referendums - Defence policy - The naval agreement - Compulsory military service - The Kitchener and Henderson reports - The new naval squadron - The AUSTRALIA - The SYDNEY-EMDEN fight at Cocos.
Amid all the distractions which have been described, the Commonwealth Parliament found occasion to exercise powers in a great variety of instances, and it laid down lines of policy which must influence Australia for many generations to come. Together with the subjects already mentioned, there was legislation under at least thirty of the thirty-nine paragraphs of the section of the Constitution wherein Commonwealth powers are defined; in addition to which many laws were passed on subjects over which the Commonwealth has exclusive jurisdiction, and some highly important machinery measures, to enable the processes of government to work efficiently, were brought into being.
About the choice of the site of the federal capital there was thorough inquiry by experts and by members of Parliament. At first, in 1904, Dalgety, on the Monaro tableland, was selected - certainly a beautiful site, watered by the Snowy River, ringed round with mountains, and with the huge mass of Kosciusko dominating the landscape. But the choice did not give pleasure to a number of influential persons in New South Wales, and before the steps necessary for commencing to mark out the federal territory were taken a feeling that the subject should be reconsidered gained ground in Parliament. It was rumoured that Watson had found a place called Canberra some sixty miles to the north of Dalgety, and consequently nearer to Sydney, which would meet the requirement far better. A ballot was taken in 1908, with the result that Canberra was finally selected by the Parliament. The New South Wales Government facilitated the acquirement by the Commonwealth of an area of 900 square mile with a strip of land running down to the sea at Jervis Bay where also two square miles of land were ceded for the purposes of a Commonwealth port and naval base. The required area was formally handed over by New South Wales to the Federal Government in 1909. The first meeting of the Commonwealth Parliament at Canberra occurred in May 1927, when the new Parliament House was formally opened by H.R.H. the Duke of York.
The manner in which British New Guinea was annexe was described in Chapter XXV. The cost of administering the territory had been shared by the States, but it was felt to be proper that the Commonwealth should undertake the responsibility. An Act for this purpose was passed in 1905. By this measure the old Portuguese name of Papua was restored. The Possession has since been a dependency of the Commonwealth, and is governed by a Lieutenant-Governor and Council, very much as a British Crown Colony is ruled.
The Northern Territory, that great slice of central and northern Australia which South Australia had undertaken to manage, became a Commonwealth possession in 1911.
Norfolk Island, which had been a dependency of New South Wales since 1788, was taken over by the Commonwealth in 1914.
A question of vital interest to Western Australia was that of the construction of a railway connecting Perth with the eastern States. Forrest was wont to say that the principal reason which led the western State to join the Commonwealth was that assurances were given to him that the railway would be built. The railway, he maintained, was the inducement offered to Western Australia, just as the possession of the federal capital within her territory was the inducement to New South Wales. But the Constitution imposed no obligation to construct the line, and nobody had any authority to pledge the Commonwealth in advance to do anything which the Constitution did not require to be done. The alleged compact may not have weighed with the Federal Parliament, but the undesirableness of having a whole State cut off by a great distance from the rest of the Commonwealth, without railway connection, certainly did. If only for military reasons, it was felt that the chain of steel should be forged. The project was promised in the programme of the Barton Government in 1901, and had been part of the policy of every successive Ministry. The whole of the Western Australian members were continually insistent about it. At length, in 1907, an Act was passed providing money for the survey of the 1,051 miles of route between Port Augusta, at the head of Spencer's Gulf, and Kalgoorlie, in the western State, whence a railway already ran to Perth. The surveyors found, as was expected, that the country to be traversed by the line is largely unfit for human habitation; but they also found plenty of good grass-land which in favourable seasons will be valuable. Acting on the surveyor's report, the Fisher Government, in 1911, secured the passage of a measure to authorise the construction of the line. It was opened for traffic in 1917.