Thursday, September 01, 2016

Establishing NSW - when speed was once possible in Government

I remain surprised at how fast Governments could once act. I'm not talking about war time or other crises, simply the capacity to do major things quickly.

The decision to establish a penal colony in NSW was made some time in 1786. On 18 August 1786, Lord Sydney wrote to the Lord Commissioners of the Treasury. After outlining the reasons for the decision, he asked for ships to carry 750 convicts and for suitable equipment. On 31 August 1786, Sydney requested the Lords of the Admiralty to provide a ship of war, a tender and a force of 160 marines with the appropriate number of other ranks.

On 12 October 1786, a Commission was issued to Captain Arthur Phillip appointing him Governor of the new colony. Later that month, commissions were issued to the subordinate officers necessary to the administration of the new settlement.

On 6 December. two Orders-in-Council were passed declaring the eastern coast of NSW a place to which offenders sentenced to transportation might be conveyed.

Early in 1787, the administrative arrangements for the new colony were completed. An act of Parliament was passed creating a Court of Criminal Jurisdiction in NSW, while on April 2 a more detailed Commission was granted Arthur Phillip appointing him "Captain-General and Commander-in-Chief" followed by detailed Instructions on April 29.

The difference between the two is that the Commission gave Phillip his powers, the Instructions told him how to exercise those powers. It was easier to issue a broad Commission since these could be hard to alter but then qualify it by the more easily alterable Instructions. The last piece of paper work was completed on 5 May, with the fleet sailing on May 13 1787

If you think about it, the time lapse between the decision to establish a new penal colony on the other side of the world and the departure was well under twelve months. We know that Phillip experienced a range of difficulties in getting the fleet properly kitted out, but the time period is still remarkably short.  Quite remarkable, really.


Anonymous said...

While I agree the August to May decision process was fairly swift, it must be remembered we established several desalination plants in not much more time, with not much more aforethought. Then there's Sydney's lockout laws, greyhound racing banned, live cattle export trade, and basically really anything ABC 4Corners manages to accompany with some video. Navy personnel torturing boat people, one-punch deaths, arms buyback, ....

Reactive government at its finest - even tho' I do agree with your point about the First Fleet.


Jim Belshaw said...

Interesting examples, kvd. A number are examples of instant reactive decisions to stop something. Governments feel obliged to react in an instant media intense world. At a time when the capacity to do is reduced, more emphasis is placed on being seen to do and that often means to stop.

A number of the decisions themselves had subsequent long times to implement or sort out the mess flowing from the decision. In the First Fleet case, there was a lead time of several years while action was being considered. For example, the enabling Transportation Act (I forget the title) was passed in 1784. But once the decision was made, implementation was relatively quick.

The desalination plants actually took some time to build.

In the discussion here around the time of the GFC, I made the point that the capital spend items - in Australia schools etc - could not be done in the time required because Governments no longer had an investment pipeline of things that they wanted to do, where the planning had partly or largely been done, that could be rolled out quite quickly.

If you want to invade a country or go to war, that can still be done quite quickly, although the after effects may linger. There are more ships and planes and better communications, although even here I actually wonder. I suspect that if you flow charted the process adjusting for modern communications and faster transport, you would find that we were less efficient today.

Anonymous said...

Was browsing the Australian National Dictionary just now; stumbled upon a term I'd not heard before: "Australia Felix" - an early name given for what now is Victoria. I like this quote in the references for the term"

1839 Port Phillip Patriot 24 Apr. 4/1 Would not a standing committee be useful in our rising Capital? Could we not meet in such a committee, not as Vande-monians, or Sydneyites, but as Australia Felixians?

- only took another 60-odd years :)

And by the way, on the Sydney desalination plant: reading the wiki entry made me wonder if this was the last significant public project which was completed on time and within budget?


Jim Belshaw said...

Australia Felix I did know, kvd. It's interesting and worth a post at some point that from the constitutional reading I am doing at the moment, it seems the Government in Westminster was much more conscious (and much earlier) of a future Australia than the colonials.

The wikipedia entry on the desal plant - - was interesting. Leaving aside the broader economics question of value for money- this was one capital investment project where the NSW Government did a fair bit of preparatory work before the tender was put out.