Resource Sheet 3

The issue of state rights

The subsequent utterances of speakers [at the Convention] confirm the view that State rights in their various ramifications will form the crux of the Convention’s decisions. Representatives from of the numerically smaller colonies evidently intend to insist firmly on the practical co-equality of the Senate with the House of Representatives… On the other hand the delegates from Victoria and New South Wales naturally wish to grant a preponderating influence to the House of Representatives as the Chamber in which those States will have practically supreme authority.

South Australian Register, 25 March 1897.

Democracy is partly a matter of longitude and latitude… In the two larger colonies it demands a One-Chamber Federal Parliament, so that 2½ million people may enjoy a heavy balance of influence proportioned to their numerical advantage. In South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania it requires two co-ordinate Houses so that the interests of three quarters of a million people may be conserved.

South Australian Register, 30 March 1897.

Roughly speaking, and taking human nature as it is in relation to personal interests, the House of Representatives will be the larger colonies’ Chamber and the Senate the safeguard of the smaller colonies; but none the less it is a mistake to suppose that the minor and major States would necessarily always work against each other. It is quite conceivable that in many matters Tasmania would join with Victoria and Queensland with New South Wales instead of co-operating with South Australia or Western Australia.

South Australian Register, 31 March 1897.

So far as I am individually concerned, I do not recognise that any concessions have been given, or that any sacrifices have been made by the larger states… I say that, if it were not that we believed that the principle of equal state rights would be conceded, the smaller colonies would not have come into the Convention. For many years we were told that there was a lion in the path of federation; but, now that we have been enabled by our united action to remove that animal from our path, what do the larger states invite us to do? They ask us to take part in the creation of a monster more desperate than the lion apparently was—they ask us to destroy our state rights!

JH Howe, Australasian Federal Convention, South Australia, 1897.

Population data for each colony in 1899

Population in 1899 1,348,400 1,162,900 482,400 370,700 182,300 171,030

Souvenir of the Inauguration of the Australian Commonwealth, 1901, State Library of New South Wales.

Proposed representation in a new federal parliament

The House of Representatives

A map showing the number of representatives per colony for the House of Representatives

Number of representatives per colony

The Senate

A map showing the number of representatives per colony for the Senate

Number of representatives per colony