Investigation 4

Why did workers want fairer voting for the Queensland Parliament in the 1890s?

When Queensland separated from New South Wales in 1859, only men who owned property or paid rent were allowed to vote for the new Parliament. The property qualification was removed in 1872, and all white men received the right to vote. However, those who owned property could vote in all the electorates in which they held property. This form of voting was called ‘plural voting’, meaning that some wealthy people could vote more than once. This advantaged the rich, such as pastoralists, sugar planters and mine owners. Workers who moved around the colony could not vote because they were not resident in one place for long enough.

Workers wanted this form of voting abolished. They called for ‘one-man-one-vote’. They knew that they would never be able to change the laws and their working conditions unless they were represented fairly in Parliament. This was the lesson of the Shearers’ Strike in 1891, when shearers refused to keep working for the pastoralists until they had fairer working conditions.

Workers also supported organisations such as the Queensland Women’s Suffrage Association and the Women’s Equal Franchise Association, which campaigned for women’s right to vote. Women such as Emma Miller knew that the right to vote would improve women’s working conditions, as well as their lives generally. It was also a stepping stone for women standing for Parliament in their own right.

Your Task

Explore the fairness of the voting system in Queensland in the 1890s.


  1. With your class, brainstorm what you know about enrolling to vote in your State or for the Commonwealth Parliament. In particular, think about who is able to vote, and record the criteria they have to fulfil.
  2. Compare the results of your brainstorm to the enrolment qualifications on the Australian Electoral Commission’s website. Add any that you missed. Discuss with your classmates whether the enrolment qualifications are fair.
  3. In pairs, examine Anthony Trollope’s description of enrolment qualifications for the Queensland Parliament in the early 1870s. How are they different from today? Do you think they are fair and reasonable? Justify your response.
  4. Examine the extract by William Lane. He was a leader among the workers in Queensland and edited The Worker newspaper. In 1891, men who owned property could still vote in every electorate where they had property. As a class, discuss the following questions.
    • What does Lane mean by the slogan ‘one-man-one-vote’?
    • Why is it important to him?
    • Who does he say opposes it?
    • Why do these people oppose it?
    • What does he think about women having the right to vote?
  5. In pairs, create a class presentation explaining how and why you would have changed Queensland enrolment qualifications in the early 1870s and the 1890s. What would have been the consequences of these changes?