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Economic Controversy In the 1860s the goldfields began to decline. Although wool exports kept the colonies fairly prosperous, colonial debate soon centered on the role of government in the economy. In particular, railroad construction, due to costs and the absence of internal market centers, became a government activity. In 1866 Victoria, followed by South Australia and Tasmania, adopted a policy of high tariffs on imported goods in order to protect its own small industries and markets. New South Wales (and Queensland to a lesser extent) continued to stay with a free-trade policy.Throughout the 1870s and 1880s, the arguments over free trade versus protection divided the press, the political parties, and the colonies. This, together with the continuing jealousies among them, hindered any significant attempts at cooperation and possible union among the six colonies until the 1890s.