Federation in Australia

A federation is the joining of states to become one nation.

In 1860 there were six British colonies in Australia. The main laws of the colonies were made by the British Parliament.
The Idea of Being Australian
At first the colonies had little to do with each other. But in 1872 telegraph linked the colonies, and the idea of being 'Australian' began to be celebrated in songs and poems, and by the 1890s the idea of federation was becoming popular. People began to realise that for matters like defence, controlling immigration and economy, a nation would be stronger than individual colonies.

Action Begins
The Premier of New South Wales, Henry Parkes, convinced the other premiers to discuss federation and in 1890 the Australasian Federation Convention , including representatives from New Zealand, was held in Melbourne. Next, the National Australasian Convention was held in Sydney in 1891. Each colony sent seven representatives. Work began on an Australian constitution. A draft was drawn up by a committee: Edmund Barton (New South Wales), Andrew Inglis Clark (Tasmania), Samuel Griffith (Queensland), and Charles Kingston (South Australia).They looked at the constitutions of Great Britain, the United States, Canada and Switzerland.

Hard times across Australia drew people's attention away from federation for several years but in 1893 there was a conference of pro-federation groups. They agreed that a national meeting would redraft the constitution and that all Australians should have a chance to agree with the constitution by vote.

Drafting the Constitution
The National Australasian Convention met in 1897 and in 1898. Each colony elected representatives to attend, except Queensland, which did not support federation. Committees debated each paragraph of the draft constitution, changes were made, and a new constitution was drafted by
Edmund Barton, John Downer and Richard O'Connor.

Equal Representation
The smaller colonies were afraid that the larger ones would have more say in a federal parliament, so the conference adopted the practice of the United States: in the House of Representatives each state is represented according to the number of residents; in the Senate each state has an equal number of representatives.

The Federation Flag- to encourage support for federation The First Referendum
A special election called a referendum was held so that people in the colonies could vote on the constitution. Queensland and Western Australia did not take part, and in New South Wales it did not get approved. The premiers met in 1899 to find ways of meeting the concerns of those three colonies.

The Idea of a National Capital
Among the changes that were made was the decision that a new capital city be established between Sydney and Melbourne, both of which wanted to be the nation's capital.

The Referendum Succeeds
The amended constitution went to referendum once again in all colonies except Western Australia, and the Bill was passed. The Western Australians did not believe federation was the best thing for the colony.

The Creation of a Nation
The major laws affecting Australia were still made by the British Parliament, which would have to make a new law to allow federation. In 1900 a delegation of flve, plus an observer from Western Australia, took the draft constitution to London. In May, the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900 was passed by the British Parliament, and was signed by Queen Victoria on 9th July 1900, and so became law. The Act declared that on 1st January 1901, the colonies of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania would be united and known as the 'Commonwealth of Australia'.

The West Joins In
About this time, there was a gold rush in Western Australia. Many people went there to seek their fortune. This contact with people from the other colonies began to change ideas about federation in Western Australia. In August 1900 a referendum was held, and the people of Western Australia voted to join the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth of Australia is a Reality
The colonies became States, and a Federal Parliament was formed according to the Constitution. On 1st January 1901 the Commonwealth of Australia was proclaimed in Centennial Park, Sydney by Lord Hopetoun, the first Governor General.
Edmund Barton was the first Prime Minister of Australia.

Parliament 'Firsts'

The 1st Commonwealth Parliament was opened on 9 May 1901, at 12 p.m. in the Exhibition Building in Melbourne, followed by the first sitting of the Senate in the Legislative Council chamber of the Victorian Parliament House at 1.10 p.m. At 2.30 p.m. the House of Representatives met in the Legislative Assembly chamber.

On 9 May 1927 Commonwealth Parliament first sat in Canberra in the provisional (temporary) Parliament House, which is now called 'Old Parliament House'.

On 10 May 1988 Commonwealth Parliament sat in the new Parliament House in Canberra.

The new Parliament House, Canberra,

The Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900 was presented to Australia in 1988, and is on display in Parliament House, Canberra.

If you use any of this information in your own work acknowledge this source in your bibliography like this:
Federation in Australia (2000). [Online], Available: www.kidcyber.com.au

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updated 30 October, 2000