Wednesday, August 7, 2013

John Douglas becomes a Minister in the Queensland parliament

The fourth session of the second parliament commenced on 10 April 1866.  During the recess, Herbert had resigned as colonial secretary[1] and Arthur Macalister, an Ipswich solicitor and minister for public works, succeeded him as premier and minister for lands.[2]  A surprise inclusion in his ministry was John Douglas as a responsible minister of the crown, without portfolio, conducting government business in the legislative council.[3]

Douglas’s appointment was unexpected, because in opposition he had been a trenchant opponent of the government.  Now he was in a ministry with Macalister, Robert Ramsay Mackenzie, Charles Lilley and Joshua Bell, some of his erstwhile adversaries.[4]  Why was Douglas, who had been a senior member of the opposition and an outspoken critic of Macalister, offered the position, and what made him accept it?  Politics can make for strange bedfellows, one reporter cryptically remarking before the announcement that while Douglas:
would hardly work under such a leader as Mr. Macalister in the assembly, but we see no improbability in the report that he is about to join a coalition ministry.[5]
Changing one’s allegiance in parliament was not unusual in an era of factional alliances and no organised political parties.  While parliament was split overall along liberal/town/small business and squatter/country/conservative lines, passage of legislation was dependent on deals between small cliques, ostensibly to obtain benefits for members and their constituencies.  These cliques, whether liberals or squatters, were willing and able to work with each other, resulting in frequent changes to ministries.[6]

The Brisbane Courier supported Douglas’s appointment.
The Walhalla in which Mr. Douglas will now appear as legislator, is a place we should imagine, after his own heart. The members of that august body have received in time a congenial acquisition.[7]
It appears that Macalister had reluctantly been ‘persuaded’ by Robert Mackenzie to include Douglas.[8]  Mackenzie, leader of the opposition in the previous parliamentary session and now the colonial secretary, had insisted on Douglas being included as the price for his support.[9] 

Douglas and Macalister disagreed on many issues, including railways and education policy.  Nevertheless, Douglas was prepared to modify his views and put aside his disagreements for the sake of a ministerial position.  He declared that he would work with Macalister for the benefit of both himself and the colony.  Douglas the principled had become Douglas the pragmatist, reluctantly prepared to compromise for the sake of the country.  However, this did not come naturally to him and it could not and did not last.  Try as he might to accommodate and compromise, at heart he was still a maverick, possessing core beliefs on fairness, honesty, prudence, probity, and honour that he could not abandon, no matter what the cost.

Thus, we now find Douglas noting that, on the question of building the northern railway in central Queensland, because it had “been decided by the voice of the country,” he would not now oppose it.[10]  As to his disagreement with Macalister over education, Douglas now let it be known that “the difference was not so wide as some persons imagined.”[11]  Moreover, as for his previously adversarial relationship with Macalister, he now conceded that Macalister was “a gentleman of great sagacity.”[12]  Nonetheless, these words of endearment could not hide the reality that Douglas held differing views to his ministerial colleagues on a range of issues.[13]

Acceptance of this ministerial post demonstrated Douglas’s continued political maturation and his effectiveness in challenging and embarrassing the government from the opposition benches.  He saw it as a reward for past parliamentary performance and an opportunity to make a greater contribution to the colony within, rather than outside, the citadel of power.  Nevertheless, unlike most politicians, he accepted the position out of duty and service, rather than simply for personal aggrandisement or due to overweening personal ambition.  Nonetheless, while Douglas was prepared to compromise, he still reserved the right to say what he believed, irrespective of the consequences for both himself and his parliamentary colleagues.  

In March 1866, Douglas was appointed postmaster-general of Queensland at a salary of £600 per annum.[14]  This decision by Macalister was controversial, for the previous incumbent, Thomas Lodge Murray Prior, had been appointed as the permanent head of the department,[15] and many were opposed to a political appointment.[16]  To those who believed that Douglas was not qualified to administer the post, the Brisbane Courier directed this barbed observation:
We believe that, when it is required of him, he will prove perfectly competent to administer the most insignificant details connected with his department; and his undoubtedly vast store of theoretical knowledge will not be useless.[17]
As a member of the legislative council,[18] Douglas actively participated in its affairs, [19] although it was not possible for him to have the same profile and exposure that he enjoyed in the legislative assembly.[20]  He was also responsible for initiating and chairing an inquiry into the defences of the colony which recommended an increase in the volunteer artillery, the need to train seamen in the use of weapons, and a recommendation that the imperial government provide additional defence funding and assistance.[21]  However, there were storm clouds gathering on the horizon, with the Macalister ministry shortly to be swept from office by a financial crisis not entirely of its own making and occasioned by forces in large part beyond its control.

[1] Bernays, pp. 34-35
[2] “Weekly Epitome.”  Brisbane Courier, 3 February 1866, p. 5; Queensland Government Gazette, vol 7 no 13, 1 February 1866, pp. 155-56
[3] “Appointments to the Legislative Council.”  Queensland Legislative Council Journals, 1866.  This was a position previously occupied by John Bramston, who had also tendered his resignation.  Governor Bowen approved Douglas’s appointment on 22 February, to come into effect on 1 March.  Douglas resigned his Port Curtis seat and was succeeded by Arthur Hunter Palmer on 19 March 1866.  (Statistical Register of Queensland.  Brisbane, Government Printer, 1866, p. 27)
[4] De Satge, pp. 228-29.  Henry Bates Fitz, a member of the legislative council, later remarked, “some members of the present government, not only politically, but personally, detested each other.” (H. B. Fitz.  “Appointment of Postmaster-General.”  Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 3, 1866, p. 43.)  While Douglas was to have many disagreements with Macalister over the latter’s politics, which Douglas considered “unstable,” Douglas and Macalister remained friends.  (Mr. Douglas.  “Want of Confidence Motion.”  Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 20, 1876, p. 222)
[5] Rockhampton Bulletin, 23 January 1866
[6] Gray, p. 38
[7] Brisbane Courier, 10 February 1866.  The Warwick Argus also gave its support: “The ministry has a powerful and able auxiliary in the Hon John Douglas.”  Warwick Argus, 20 February 1866, p. 2
[8] “Ministerial Statement.”  Brisbane Courier, 12 April 1866, p. 3; Mason, p. 72; John Douglas.  “Appointment of Postmaster-General.”  Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 3, 1866, pp. 40-41
[9] John Douglas.  “Appointment of Postmaster-General.”  Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 3, 1866, p. 40.  It is difficult to surmise why Mackenzie wanted Douglas in the ministry, although he was probably influenced by Lilley and Bell who believed that Douglas would be a valuable addition, for he was a hardworking and popular parliamentarian who held similar liberal beliefs to themselves (Mason, p. 72)
[10] “Ministerial Statement.”  Brisbane Courier, 12 April 1866, p. 3
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] “Hon. John Douglas at Warwick.”  Queenslander, 5 January 1867, p. 6
[14] Brisbane Courier, 24 February 1866, p. 5; Statistical Register of Queensland for the Year 1866.  Brisbane, Government Printer, 1867, p. 66;  “Minute of Executive Council Respecting the Postmaster-General.”  Queensland Legislative Council Journals, vol 9, 1866, paper no 7.  The reason Douglas had been appointed a minister without portfolio and then three weeks later as postmaster-general was that he was originally to be appointed minister for lands.  This portfolio was then responsible for both lands and works, but Macalister decided to split them, with Douglas having responsibility for the lands component.  However, Douglas objected, believing “that no authority had been provided for the change by the parliament.”  (John Douglas.  “Appointment of Postmaster-General.”  Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 3, 1866, p. 40)
[15] John Douglas.  “Appointment of the Postmaster-General.”  Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 3, 1866, p. 41; “Position of the Postmaster-General.”  Queensland Legislative Council Journals, vol 9, 1866, paper no 7; Thomas Murray Prior. “Appointment of the Postmaster-General.”  Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 3, 1866, p. 42
[16] Queenslander, 11 August 1866, p. 5
[17] Brisbane Courier, 24 February 1866, p. 4
[18] Brisbane Courier, 11 April 1866.  The fourth session of the second Parliament commenced on 10 April 1866.  However, Douglas was appointed to the legislative council by writ of summons dated 1 March 1866 as approved by the Executive Council on 22 February 1866.  (“Minutes of Executive Council Respecting Appointments to the Legislative Council.”  Queensland Legislative Council Journals, vol 9, 1866, Paper no 6.)  Through the appointment Douglas became the first salaried minister to sit in the council, a measure the upper house had long championed.  (Harding (1997), p. 166; Hardy, p. 140)
[19] Douglas was conscientious in his attendance in the council, being present on 27 of the 28 sitting days.  He was responsible for the Opening of Roads and the Inquests of Death Bills, and was a member of the Standing Orders, Joint Library and Joint Parliamentary Buildings Committees.  (John Douglas.  “Defences of the Colony.”  Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 3, 1866, pp. 88-89; “Register of Bills Originated in the Queensland Legislative Council-Session of 1866.”  Queensland Legislative Council Journals, vol 9, 1866, p. 161; “Register of Attendance of Members of the Legislative Council during the Session of 1866.”  Queensland Legislative Council Journals, vol 9, 1866, p. 169; “Select Committees Appointed during the Session of 1866.”  Queensland Legislative Council Journals, vol, 1866, pp. 167-69)
[20] See “Minutes of the Proceedings of the Legislative Councils,” no’s 1-28.  Queensland Legislative Council Journals, vol 9, 1866, pp. 1-75.  However, Douglas found his duties and responsibilities as postmaster-general onerous, for he was responsible for all aspects of the department.
[21] “Report of Select Committee on Defence of the Colony.”  Queensland Legislative Council Journals, vol 9, 1866, Paper 34, p. 3.  In relation to colonial defence, Douglas made the interesting observation that Queensland:  “Is probably the only colony which has been founded and organised without cost to the mother country.  Moreover, Queensland provides for the defence of the settlers against the Aborigines, by a local force, maintained entirely at the expense of the colonial treasury, whereas such internal protection has hitherto been afforded chiefly at the cost of the imperial treasury, in the two other colonies, namely - New Zealand and the Cape - where the Aborigines are numerous and frequently hostile.”