Investigation 3

How did the views of Premier George Reid influence the people of New South Wales?

As leaders, the Premiers of the different colonies had important roles to play in Federation and the drafting of an Australian Constitution. What the Premiers wanted in the Constitution depended on their own political views and on the current laws and policies of their colonies, and the support they had in their own colonies.

There were a number of differences of opinion.

George Reid, who became Premier of New South Wales in 1894, was a supporter of free trade. His New South Wales Government did not charge intercolonial tariffs (taxes) on goods brought in from other colonies. Reid did not support the policies of colonies that did. He was outraged when Tasmanian Premier, Edward Braddon proposed an amendment to the Constitution, giving three-quarters of the money raised in tariffs by the Commonwealth back to the colonies or States. This meant that tariffs were likely to be high.

Reid was generally in favour of the colonies uniting, but issues such as this meant that he could not agree with Federation in every respect, and he made sure that the people of New South Wales knew of his doubts. His views on Federation and the Constitution were so divided between what he supported and what he opposed that he became known as ‘Yes–No Reid’.

Your Task

Explore Reid’s doubts about Federation and how they would have influenced the people of New South Wales.


  1. As a class, examine the diagram that represents Tasmanian Premier, Edward Braddon’s amendment clause, also called the ‘Braddon blot’. In your own words, discuss with a partner what the diagram is attempting to explain. Remember that until 1966, Australia’s currency was pounds (£), shillings (s) and pence (p), not dollars and cents. There were 12 pence in a shilling, and 20 shillings in a pound.
  2. Look at the two tables to see how Braddon proposed that the money raised through a federal customs tariff would be divided. With a partner, continue the sequence of numbers in each table for at least four more places, and consider the following questions.
    • Why might Tasmania have wanted to keep tariffs?
    • How would you feel about having to pay more for things that didn’t come from your State?
    • Do you think the tariffs would help unite or divide the colonies?
  3. As a class, read the newspaper extract of Reid’s speech at the Sydney Town Hall in 1898, and examine the ‘Yes–No Federationist’ cartoon. Divide into two groups.
    Group 1
    Examine the speech. Discuss the following questions and record your answers.
    • Why do you think George Reid was in two minds about Federation? Provide reasons for your thinking.
    • Why do you think Reid was called the ‘Yes–No Federationist’? Do you think the name was justified?
    • How could Reid’s uncertainty affect New South Wales? Provide reasons for your thinking.
    • How could it affect Federation? Provide reasons for your thinking.
    Group 2
    Examine the ‘Yes–No Federationist’ cartoon from 1898. Discuss the following questions and record your answers.
    • Why might the cartoonist have shown Reid trying to row the boat from both ends?
    • What speeches are shown at both ends of the boat?
    • How is Australian Federation represented in the background?
    • Why might the cartoonist have represented Federation in this way? Provide reasons for your thinking.
  4. Share your responses with the other half of the class.
  5. Write a letter to convince George Reid that Federation is a good idea.
    • What reasons can you give to support Federation?
    • What solutions can you propose to overcome Reid’s concerns?
    Share your letter with your classmates.