Personal Politics and Being British: Political Rhetoric, Democracy and their Consequences in Colonial New South Wales



This paper argues that although our understanding of politics in colonial New South Wales in the period after 1856 has increased in recent times there is little appreciation of the political rhetoric employed to justify those politics. It contends that the key to understanding that rhetoric is an appreciation that politics was not understood in terms of institutional design but focused rather on the quality of political leaders. In particular, as exemplified by the case of Henry Parkes, it involved being British and being able to work British institutions. This emphasis on personal politics, rather than institutional matters such as the creation of checks and balances, helped to shape the nature of democratic institutions in Australia. In particular it encouraged a form of democracy that concentrated power. The refusal of members of the Legislative Council to oppose the Influx of Chinese Restriction Bill is an early indication of the consequences of that form of democracy.