Federal Council of Australasia

If searching for missing Acts is like finishing a jig saw puzzle and realising the picture is not complete, then finding ten Acts that appear to have duplicate numbers is akin to having bits left over after you have assembled a flat pack piece of furniture.

In 1886  the numbers 1 – 4 appeared to have been used twice. The label on the brown paper package for 1886 indicated there were 36 Acts for that year: in fact, there were 40. Comparing the Acts with duplicate numbers confirmed each had the same regnal citation (50 Vict), both were printed by the Tasmanian Government Printer and signed by the Tasmanian Governor and at first glance, only the text  showed they were different Acts, dealing with different subject matter.

You sometimes see what you expect to see. The different wording following the signatures at the end  of each Act was the first clue and finally after close inspection of the front pages it became clear that the first 36 Acts were Acts from the Colony of Tasmania and the heading on the front page above the crest was Tasmania.  The remaining four were the first four Acts of the Federal Council of Australasia.

Federal Council Act No 4 1886

Further investigation revealed six more Acts had been enacted by this body, making a total of ten Acts of the Federal Council, passed during the years 1886 to 1897. The first question was what was this Council, and secondly why was its legislation in the Records  of the Tasmanian Supreme Court?

Since 1883 the Australian Colonies and some of their Pacific neighbours had become increasingly concerned by the presence of French and German ships in the region, to the extent that Queensland was so alarmed by German activity in the Torres Strait that it annexed the Island of New Guinea without seeking approval from the Colonial Office. Once the Imperial Government became aware of this development, they refused to ratify it. The Australian Colonies reacted by convening an inter-colonial convention which met in Sydney in November and December 1883. It was attended by the six colonies, Fiji and New Zealand and resulted in a request for the UK Parliament to pass legislation creating a Federal Council of Australasia, which would allow colonies to unite to deal with matters of common interest. Samuel Griffiths, Premier of Queensland (whose behaviour had precipitated the UK rebuke to the colonies) drafted a bill to be sent to the Imperial authorities for their consideration and this request got the tick of approval with the UK Parliament  passing An Act to constitute a Federal Council of Australasia 14 August 1885

Membership was not compulsory, but there was a proviso that at least four colonies had to agree to be members. Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania, and Western Australia all passed the necessary Colonial Acts. South Australia joined for two years (1889-1890) but withdrew and New South Wales never joined. Speculation on why New South Wales refused to be a member ranges from a fundamental disagreement with Victoria about tariffs, to the vote in the NSW Parliament about joining the Council clashing with Melbourne Cup Day, leaving the government of the day in a minority due to the absence of a number of members who had travelled to Melbourne to attend the race (Source: Stuart B Kaye, “Forgotten Source: The Legislative Legacy of the Federal Council of Australasia”, [1996] Newcastle Law Review 5, 1(2) footnote 13, p 59).

As to how the official copies of the ten Acts passed by the Council ended up in Tasmania is a matter of logistics. The only convenient time the Council could sit was when colonial parliaments were in summer recess. A sea voyage to the cooler climate of Hobart during January/February every two years seems to have had a certain appeal to the three mainland colonies.

Representatives of first Federal Council Meeting Hobart 25 January 1886

Except for the final session of the Council in 1899, all the meetings were held in Hobart, with the Crown being represented by the Governor of Tasmania, or the Administrator, if there was no resident Governor when the Council was in session. When an Act was passed by the Council, it was printed by the Government Printer in Hobart, a wafer seal impressed on the top right-hand corner of the front page and the Act signed by the Governor of the day with a message: “In accordance with  Act 48 & 49 Vict Cap  60. Section 15, I reserve this Bill for the signification of Her Majesty’s Pleasure”. Colonial Acts were simply signed by the Governor or Administrator.

Copies of the Federal Council Acts were then sent to the Colonial Office for assent by the Queen and advice of this assent sent back to the Colony, with the Order then published in the Hobart Gazette. As was the practice with Tasmanian Acts the original copies were forwarded on to the Supreme Court, to be held in the Records of the Court. However, there was no notification on the annual packages that they were from a separate jurisdiction.

A strange twist to this saga occurred during the time of the Australian Joint Copying Project (1948-1997) when important historical documents from the Colonial Office were microfilmed to allow Australian historians and researchers access to this material through the National Library. The ten Acts of the Federal Council (now available online) were included in this project, seemingly with no one aware that the original copies were securely stored in the Records of the Supreme Court in Tasmania.

The 2013 Tasmanian legislation providing for the original copies of all VDL and Tasmanian Acts to be transferred from the Supreme Court of Tasmania to the Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office does not make any provision for the Acts of the Federal Council of Australasia. They will remain in the Records of the Court until a decision is made about the future of these jurisdictional stowaways.

About dashea2014

A Law Librarian with extensive experience in general legal and court libraries. Editor of the Australian Law Librarian for 4.5 years (2008-2012) and active member of Law Libraries Tasmania. Special topics - Tasmanian legislation and case law. A passion for maintaining access to print resources.
This entry was posted in Archiving Project, Discovery, Imperial legislation and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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