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Federation of Australia





The Australian Constitution was first seen when a proposal was presented in 1891 to a Convention, the Convention was held in three sessions in 1897 and 1898 (Adelaide 22 March - 23 April 1897; Sydney 2 - 24 September 1897; Melbourne 20 January - 17 March 1898). The draft Constitution Bill was revised by Griffith, Kingston, Barton and Inglis Clark, afloat on the Queensland Government yacht Lucinda, during the Easter break of the 1891 Convention in Sydney. This draft was revived and debated at the 1897 - 1898  Convention, and final changes where made at the Secret Premiers Conference early in 1899 in order to gain the agreement of all the colonies.

The Constitution set out the basis for the establishment of the institutions of the government of the new nation. The chief institutions are firstly the Parliament, consisting of  'the Queen, a senate, and a House of Representatives' (section 1) provided for in the first 60 sections of the Constitution. Secondly, (section 2) provides for the appointment of a Govenor-General as the representative of the Crown, and the ten sections of (chapter 2) set out the powers of the Govenor-General and the Executive Council and the functions of the public service departments. The ten sections of (chapter 3) provide for the judicial institutions with the High Court as the superior court of the Commonwealth.

The Governor-General, the 'First Officer' in the Commonwealth, formally appoints the Ministers of the Crown. Queen Victoria issued (Letters Patient) establishing the office of the Govenor-General, Lord Hopetoun, a former Governor of Victoria. The Governor-General appointed Edmund Barton as the first Prime Minister, and formally appointed the Ministers selected by Barton so that the  first cabinet would represent all the States. Four Premiers became Commonwealth Ministers - Sir George Turner (Vic), Sir William Lyne (NSW), Sir John Forrest (WA) and Sir Neil Lewis (Tas)

It was not really certain that all six Australian colonies would join the Federation even when this Act passed both Houses of the British Parliament. As each was 'Sovereign' colony with a Governor appointed by the crown on the advice of the British Government, each colonial Parliament had to pass legislation agreeing to become part of the Commonwealth, and the hold referendums where all the electors could have direct vote on the issue.

In the referendums on the Constitution, women were able to vote in only two of the colonies, South  Australia and Western Australia, and few Indigenous people seem to have had the opportunity to be counted.

Among the strongest arguments advanced for Federation were the need for a united approach to defence and for a common policy to restrict the numbers of Chinese people entering the colonies. As the labour movement gathered strength in the 1890's, so did the opposition to the Chinese Immigrants, seen as a threat to achieving a fair standard of wages and conditions.

Queen Victoria signed her assent to the document creating the Commonwealth of Australia on 9 July 1900.  It was on 1 January 1901 in Centennial Park that the first Governor-General took his oath of office.

To see a copy of the Australian Constitution or want to know more about the history follow this link


The desk and pavilion where the documents where signed