Investigation 3

Why didn’t Queensland participate in the Australasian Federal Conventions to draft the Australian Constitution?

In 1893, representatives from the colonies who were in favour of Federation met at Corowa, in southern New South Wales. There they decided that the parliaments of all the colonies should pass a law that allowed the people to elect representatives to a federal convention. Delegates to the convention would draw up and approve a draft Australian Constitution. A referendum would then be held, allowing people from each colony to vote on a Constitution Bill. If the majority of voters in a colony supported the Constitution, that colony would join in Federation.

When the Premiers of the colonies met in Hobart in 1895, they agreed to adopt the proposal. The Australasian Federal Conventions of 1897–98 were held in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney. At the time, Queensland’s Parliament was still arguing about who should represent Queensland and how their 10 representatives should be elected. Premier Nelson first insisted that the Queensland Legislative Assembly appoint its own members to the Convention, before deciding that it would be better if people elected the representatives. His opponents, however, wanted representatives drawn from Queensland’s three regions, not just the south. The debate came to nothing, and Queensland was left without any representation at the Conventions.

Your Task

Investigate how Queensland should have been represented at the Federal Conventions to draft an Australian Constitution.


  1. In small groups, read the extract of the speech by Mr Leahy and record the number of electors for each division on the map of Queensland.
  2. Use a pie chart to display the percentage of electors/ voters for each division. Which division is the largest and which is the smallest in terms of electors?
  3. Just as the other colonies, Queensland was entitled to 10 representatives at the Convention. Calculate the following.
    • How many electors would each representative be representing based on all the electors in Queensland?
    • What proportion of the electors would each representative represent?
    • What proportion would five representatives from southern Queensland represent?
    • What proportion would five representatives from central and north Queensland represent?
  4. In your groups, each individual should take responsibility for reading and explaining to the group one of the speech extracts by Mr Leahy, Mr Thorn, Mr Curtis or Mr Kidston.
  5. Create a group presentation, explaining which of the methods proposed for representing Queensland at the Convention would have been the fairest.
  6. In the debates about representation at the Convention, another method was recommended. It involved the Parliament nominating 10 of its own members from the three divisions as representatives. This would include two from the centre, three from the north and five from the south. Would this have satisfied the Corowa decision and best represented Queenslanders? Discuss as a class, justifying your response.