Wednesday, August 7, 2013

John Douglas appointed Queensland Treasurer in 1866

A ministerial vacancy occurred at the end of the year when McLean died from injuries sustained after being thrown from a horse.[1]  Douglas was quickly appointed treasurer and a member of the Queensland executive council.[2]  The Queenslander welcomed the appointment as “one of the best that could have been made.”[3]  The ministerial position was also warmly welcomed by a cash-strapped Douglas, because it carried with it an annual salary of £1,000.[4]  As Douglas was not a member of parliament, he had to be elected as soon as possible, despite parliament being in recess.[5]

Douglas contested McLean’s old electorate of Eastern Downs,[6] and exhorted his constituents to ratify his appointment.  However, the Queenslander was now hesitant to recommend as treasurer a man who freely admitted “no pretensions to any special financial skill,”[7] and who, the paper believed, had been appointed “more by political considerations than by personal fitness for the duties to be performed.”[8] 

At a meeting between Douglas and his Eastern Downs electors at the Warwick courthouse, Richard St. George Gore, postmaster-general and a member of the legislative council, directly addressed the issue of Douglas being appointed treasurer without being a member of parliament.  Gore denied that this action was unconstitutional, because: 
The Queen, through her representatives, had power to appoint anyone she pleased. This had been done, and it became their duty to ratify it.[9]
Faced with no opposition, Douglas was duly elected,[10] the first time he had been elected unopposed to parliament.  When parliament reconvened, the opposition were determined to get rid of the government which they believed had “ruined the prospects of the colony.”[11]  They succeeded beyond all expectations, because the session lasted only 10 sitting days, with Douglas at the centre of the storm leading to its dissolution.[12] 

Douglas’s principles and sense of probity soon caused tensions between himself and the ministry regarding continued financial implications over the use of land-orders to induce a large influx of immigrants to Queensland.[13]  Because the colony was in debt due to the financial crisis the previous year and the effects of a prolonged drought, Douglas believed that the government could no longer afford to encourage the ongoing use of land-orders to facilitate immigration.  He therefore tendered his resignation.[14]

Macalister, who did not want Douglas opposing his ministry from the opposition benches, refused to accept it, instead offering him the position of minister for works and the freedom to express his views on land-orders and immigration whenever they were raised in parliament.[15]  Douglas, who had never appeared comfortable as treasurer, accepted Macalister’s offer and rescinded his resignation.[16]  This action on the part of Douglas demonstrated an increasing political maturity on his part.  A younger Douglas would not have accepted an alternate ministerial position, instead demanding the abandonment of the land-order policy as the price for his support.  However, Douglas had now developed a keener sense of what could and could not be achieved.  He understood the maxim that politics is the art of the possible and that there were limits to what could be achieved.  Douglas therefore remained in the ministry, which soon rued the constitutional crisis arising from Macalister’s magnanimity.

Appointed secretary for public works,[17] Douglas came under trenchant attack from the opposition, who insisted that he could not switch portfolios without again standing for re-election.  William Henry Walsh further demanded to know how Douglas could agree “to a bill as Secretary for Works when he could not agree to it as Colonial Treasurer?” [18]

Nonetheless, Douglas believed that he had acted correctly and noted that there were no precedents to force him to the polls.[19]  Despite this, the government lost an opposition motion that declared his seat vacant and forced the government to resign.  A general election was called.[20]

Through his refusal to countenance the further issuing of land-orders, Douglas had inadvertently brought down the government of the day and forced the colony to the polls.  Nevertheless, with the exception of the Warwick Argus,[21] he received widespread sympathy and support for his position from within both his electorate and the press.

[1] “Death of the Hon. J.D. McLean.”  Queenslander, 22 December 1866
[2] Queensland Government Gazette, vol 7 no 163, 19 December 1866, p. 1265
[3] Queenslander, 22 December 1866, p. 4.  The paper supported the appointment because: “Douglas does not distinctly belong to any particular section of the house.  He is a resident in Brisbane, pecuniary interested in the northern districts, whose cause he ably advocated as member for Port Curtis, and he will be representative of a Darling Downs constituency.  At the same time his intimate knowledge of the requirements of the country will preserve him from being made the tool of the inside squatters.”
[4] Statistical Register of Queensland for the Year 1867.  Brisbane, Government Printer, 1868, p. 54
[5] This was the first time in the short history of the Queensland Parliament that a non-parliamentarian was appointed a minister.  (“The Colonial Treasurer at Warwick.”  Queenslander, 12 January 1867, p. 4)
[6] John Douglas.  “To the Electors of Eastern Downs.”  Brisbane Courier, 20 December 1866; John Douglas.  “To the Electors of Eastern Downs.”  Queenslander, 22 December 1866, p. 1.  Douglas, as was his style, was quickly into election mode and addressed the electors of Eastern Downs just two days after McLean’s death and only the day after his appointment to the treasury position.
[7] John Douglas.  “To the Electors of Eastern Downs.”  Queenslander, 22 December 1866, p. 1
[8] “The New Treasurer.”  Queenslander, 29 December 1866, p. 5
[9] Ibid.
[10] Queenslander, 5 January 1867, p. 4; “Electorate of Eastern Downs.”  Warwick Argus and Tenterfield Examiner, 5 January 1867, p. 2
[11] Warwick Argus and Tenterfield Examiner, 7 May 1867, p. 2
[12] Bernays, p. 39.  The session commenced on 7 May 1867 and came to an untimely end on 23 May 1867.
[13] For a detailed account on land-order abuses, see Bernays, p. 310
[14] “Mr. Douglas at Warwick.”  Queenslander, 1 June 1867, p. 7.  The land-order system was originally conceived as a means of attracting labour to Queensland without any up-front financial expenditure, and to ensure that these immigrants would remain in the colony.  (Andrea-Rebecca Howell.  The Formulation and Functioning of the Queensland Immigration Regulations 1859-1900.  BA Hons thesis.  University of Queensland, 1986, abstract)
[15] “Mr. Douglas at Warwick.”  Queenslander, 1 June 1867, p. 7; Mr. Walsh.  “Ministerial Changes (Privilege.)”  Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 4, 1867, p.180
[16] Arthur Macalister.  “Memorandum by Ministers for His Excellency’s Consideration.  Dissolution of Parliament.”  Queenslander, 1 June 1867, p. 6; Beverley Kingston.  Land Legislation and Administration in Queensland, 1859-1876.  PhD thesis.  Melbourne, Monash University, 1968, pp. 151-52
[17] Queensland Government Gazette, vol 8 no 39, 21 May 1867
[18] Mr. R. Cribb.  “Ministerial Changes (Privilege).”  Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 4, 1867, p. 177; Kingston (1968), p. 152
[19] Mr. R. Cribb.  “Ministerial Changes (Privilege).”  Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 4, 1867, p. 177; Arthur Macalister.  “Memorandum by Ministers for His Excellency’s Consideration.  Dissolution of Parliament.”  Queenslander, 1 June 1867, p. 6
[20] “Ministerial Explanation.”  Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 4, 1867, pp. 178 & 189-90 & 202; Harding (1997), pp. 101-5.  For an entertaining account of what transpired see, Queensland 1900: A Narrative of Her Past, Together With Biographies of Her Leading Men.  Brisbane, W .H. Wendt & Co., 1900, pp. 139-40
[21] Warwick Argus and Tenterfield Examiner, 28 May 1867, p. 2