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A matter of priorities: Colonial politics and the administration of development policies in Western Australia 1883-1902

Spillman, Ken (1995) A matter of priorities: Colonial politics and the administration of development policies in Western Australia 1883-1902. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The decade after 1890 is often seen to be a critical period in Western Australian history, with the inauguration of responsible government and the gold rushes complementary forces of change. The nature of change, however, was not self-determining but was shaped by government policy. Legislation, regulation and the organisation of government were adapted not only to reflect economic change but to express political aspirations.

This thesis sets 1890s policy in relation to agriculture and gold mining, which emerged as Western Australia's most important industries, against the background of the preceding sixty years. Settlement at the Swan River had been premised on an assessment that land in the vicinity was suitable for close agricultural settlement. Although this assessment had been flawed, colonial land policies continued to enshrine agrarian ideals. The equation of cultivation with civilisation militated against the encouragement of alternative land uses, and economic development fell short of official and popular aspirations.

As Commissioner of Crown Lands in the seven years before the proclamation of responsible government, John Forrest was responsible for a reaffirmation of the colonising faith. Success in the 1890 election derived from his advocacy of loans-funded development policies and vision of an agricultural future, and gave him a clear mandate to increase the level of government intervention in the economy. Forrest remained Premier and Treasurer until Federation in 1901.

The gold industry dominated economic affairs during the 1890s, but the thesis contends that government development priorities remained fundamentally unchanged. Agricultural interests remained paramount, and were promoted by aggressive land settlement legislation and escalating state aid. By contrast, mining experienced autonomous growth with government adopting a facilitative role. Forrest's proactive agricultural policy and reactive mining policy were major determinants of the economic order in Western Australia in the early twentieth century.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Sciences
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): De Garis, Brian
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