Investigation 5

When did New South Wales decide in favour of Federation, and what contributed to the positive result?

The failure of the 1898 referendum did not mean that progress towards Federation stopped. To make a positive result more likely, there had to be further discussion and negotiation about the Australian Constitution and how a federal system would work.

Premier George Reid called a ‘secret’ meeting of all six Premiers in early 1899. It was called secret because the public and media were not allowed to attend. He was well-known for his Yes–No attitude to Federation, and had been critical of the Constitution voted on in the first referendum. In many ways, he had not changed his views.

Reid still believed that the Constitution should recognise the importance of New South Wales as the largest and oldest colony. He wanted the national capital to be in New South Wales, not Victoria. He also believed that the Constitution should not make the Commonwealth give back money raised from tariffs to the States.

However, all the Premiers, including Reid, may have been prepared to accept that they could not win on every point, and to consider possible compromises so that plans for Federation could move forward.

Later in 1899, voters in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania once again voted in a referendum on Federation. This time, Queensland also took part. Then in 1900, Western Australia held its referendum.

Your Task

Explore the results of the 1898, 1899 and 1900 referendums.


  1. As a class, read the newspaper extract. Discuss how the issue of the Braddon clause was resolved.
  2. As a class, read and discuss the posters. Make a list of the reasons for and against Federation described in the posters. Add other reasons you can think of to the list.
  3. Have a ‘question and answer’ session. Ask any questions you may have about the reasons for or against Federation. Ask questions about anything you may be unsure about. See if you can help to answer your classmates’ questions.
  4. With a partner, use the voting results tables for the 1898, 1899 and 1900 referendums to complete the following tasks. Record your answers.
    • Using a calculator and the results from the 1899 and 1900 referendums, repeat the steps used for the 1898 referendum in Activity 1, Investigation 4 to find the percentage of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ votes.
    • Compare the results of the 1899 and 1900 referendums to the results of the 1898 referendum.
    • Make a list of the most significant differences in the results.
  5. Share your responses with a small group. Combine your responses and share them with the rest of the class.