By 1864, Higinbotham was Attorney General of Victoria in the newly elected Ministry of James McCulloch. The Government had promised the electors that it would introduce a reform of the tariff. Though some sections of the Press supported the reform, others were opposed. The Governor, Sir Charles Darling, reported the Government’s intention to Edward Cardwell, the Secretary of State for the Colonies in London. Cardwell replied, indicating his opposition to the reform of the tariff. Of more immediate concern to the Government was the fact that the Legislative Council had blocked fifty-nine bills since its inauguration and that it was likely also to block the Tariff Bill.
Image 1. Courtesy of the Parliamentary Library of Victoria
Image 2. Courtesy of the State Library of Victoria
McCulloch acted upon Higinbotham’s advice to combine the Tariff Reform Bill with the Appropriation Bill in an arrangement that became known as ‘the tack’. The Council could not amend Appropriation bills, although it could block them in their entirety, but to do so would starve the Government of funds. The Council declared the tacked bill to be ‘unconstitutional’ and refused to pass it. Higinbotham and McCulloch insisted that they were bound to do so for the lower House of the Parliament alone had the right to control the supply of taxes, (including tariffs) to the Crown. The Legislative Council was unmoved by such arguments, and by July 1865, the Government, starved of funds, tendered its resignation.
Governor Darling refused to accept the resignation and sanctioned an alternative arrangement whereby the Government could continue to operate by means of loans from a bank. When the bank presented him with a court judgement that the money was owed, the Governor authorised the release of the money to the bank. However many of the Government’s opponents signed a petition to the Queen complaining that the Governor was conducting an illegal arrangement.
An election followed at which the issue of the right of the lower house to control the money supply to Government was widely canvassed. The Government was returned with an increased majority. But in February 1866, the Legislative Council again rejected the Tariff Bill. Once again, McCulloch’s Government resigned. A stalemate ensued, and eventually the Council offered a compromise by which they would pass the Tariff Bill if the Legislative Assembly would abandon a preamble to the Bill in which it claimed the right to control supply. However, in April 1866 before the Bill passed, the Colonial Office intervened by recalling Governor Darling in disgrace. The compromise between the houses resolved the issue of the Tariff Bill, but left the constitutional issue unresolved. Public indignation at the Colonial Office’s treatment of Governor Darling soon precipitated a renewed struggle and a second deadlock between the Houses of the Parliament ensued.