Road to Federation
How did Queensland’s regional interests affect attitudes to Federation?
Resource Sheet 1
Why didn’t Queensland participate in the Australasian Federal Conventions to draft the Australian Constitution?
Resource Sheet 3
Additional activities and exercises to explore in the classroom.
Queensland came together with the other Australian colonies in 1891 to draft the first Australian Constitution at the National Constitutional Convention in Sydney. One of Queensland’s representatives at the time, Samuel Griffith, was in charge of writing that draft because he had extensive knowledge of constitutional law.
While the other colonies continued to work towards Federation, political leaders in Queensland turned their focus to other matters. They were busy developing Queensland’s industries. They were also occupied by the central and northern parts of the colony wanting to form new colonies of their own. Plus, they had to deal with the rise of the union movement, an organisation formed by workers to campaign for better rights and conditions. The unions had found a voice through the Labor Party, which won seats in the Queensland Parliament. As a result of these issues, Queensland had no official representation at the 1897–98 Federal Conventions in Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne, where the final draft of the Australian Constitution was formulated.
But, debate about joining Federation did continue in Queensland. When it became clear that New South Wales would join, Queensland did not want to be left out. Many people saw advantages in a united ‘White Australia’, free of ‘alien peoples’ that could defend itself and the British Empire in the Pacific.
However, manufacturers in Brisbane were concerned that ‘free trade’ with the other colonies would ruin their businesses. And, Queensland’s workers were suspicious that competition with industries in the southern colonies would threaten their jobs. Cattle farmers of the north, on the other hand, saw opportunities in the southern colonies for their products, and miners welcomed the prospect of cheaper goods. Sugar cane plantation owners, too, saw advantages in being able to sell their products in the southern colonies without intercolonial tariffs. But, they were worried that a new Federal Parliament would create laws to restrict immigration of non-British people. This would mean losing the South Pacific Islanders who worked their fields.
Finally, in September 1899, Queenslanders had their chance to vote on whether to join in Federation. They narrowly chose to do so.