What happened in New South Wales at the first referendum on Federation?
The first referendums on Federation were held in 1898. They involved New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia. Queensland and Western Australia would not hold referendums until 1899 and 1900 respectively, after they were convinced that Federation would proceed.
For Federation to proceed, all colonies had to achieve a majority ‘yes’ vote. In New South Wales, the amount of ‘yes’ votes had to be even greater. The opponents of Federation in the parliament had set a quota of 80,000, which was more than a majority. If the referendum failed, Federation might be in doubt—or, at least delayed.
Whatever the result, the referendum was important. It was the first opportunity to ‘measure’ the people’s support for Federation.
We know that Premier George Reid had significant concerns about the Constitution that was put to the vote. Looking at the referendum results, we can see whether most voters in New South Wales shared their Premier’s doubts.
Discover how the people of New South Wales voted at the first referendum on Federation.
- Working in pairs, use the voting results table and a calculator to discuss the following questions. Record your answers.
- Calculate the total number of votes for each colony by adding the number of ‘yes’ votes and ‘no’ votes together.
- Calculate the percentage of ‘yes’ votes for each colony by dividing the number of ‘yes’ votes by the total number of votes and multiplying by 100.
- Calculate the percentage of ‘no’ votes for each colony by dividing the number of ‘no’ votes by the total number of votes and multiplying by 100.
- What reasons can you think of for the referendum failing?
- Why might the opponents of Federation have set a quota of ‘yes’ votes for New South Wales? Provide reasons for your thinking.
- Would the referendum have succeeded in New South Wales if the quota had not been raised?
- Working in pairs, use spreadsheet software to create graphs representing the data from the 1898 referendum.
- Write three questions for other students in the class to answer. Your questions will need to focus on comparing ‘yes’ votes and ‘no’ votes and comparing the results of New South Wales to the other colonies. For example, ‘Did more or less than 50 per cent of people living in New South Wales vote in favour of Federation’, or ‘After New South Wales, which colony reported the next lowest ‘yes’ vote?’
- Swap your questions with another pair of students. When you and the other pair of students have finished answering the questions, correct one another’s responses.