Road to Federation

Investigation 1

Why were intercolonial tariffs an issue for Tasmania?
Resource Sheet 1

Investigation 2

Why was the structure of the Federal Parliament particularly important for Tasmania?
Resource Sheet 2

Investigation 3

What was the ‘Braddon clause’, and why were there conflicting views about it?
Resource Sheet 3

Investigation 4

What were some of the arguments presented by Tasmanians for and against Federation?
Resource Sheet 4

Investigation 5

What happened in the referendums on Federation?
Resource Sheet 5

Investigation 6

If you had been a Tasmanian voter, would you have been in favour of Federation?
Resource Sheet 6

What are you thinking now?

Additional activities and exercises to explore in the classroom.


The idea behind Federation was that it would benefit all six colonies, and that there would be a federal defence force able to protect every part of the nation. But, for Federation to become a reality, an Australian Constitution had to be written. The Constitution would explain how the new nation would be governed. During the 1890s, Premiers and delegates from all Australian colonies came together in special meetings, called conventions, to discuss, debate and draft a Constitution for the Commonwealth of Australia. Once they reached agreement, the Constitution would be put to the people of each colony in a vote, called a referendum.

Reaching agreement was not easy. Each colony had particular interests they wanted to protect under a federal system. Tasmania, the smallest colony, wanted to be sure that larger colonies would not have too much power in the Federal Parliament. But, not all colonies had the same idea about how power should be shared.

There were also different views about trade. Tasmania relied on income from intercolonial tariffs, or taxes it charged on goods coming from other colonies. However, with Federation, only the Commonwealth could charge import tariffs (and only on goods coming from overseas). New South Wales, the largest and wealthiest colony, did not charge tariffs and wanted the Commonwealth to continue with this policy.

When the first referendum took place in 1898, the Constitution put to voters included details that Tasmania’s Premier, Edward Braddon had to fight for at the Federal Conventions. These ensured that money from tariffs would continue to flow to the colony. However, the referendum failed because the Constitution was not approved in New South Wales. This led to a meeting of the colonies’ leaders (the ‘secret’ Premiers’ conference), at which all Premiers agreed to some amendments to the Constitution.

A second referendum was held in 1899, with all colonies, except Western Australia, taking part. This time the referendum passed. In 1900, Western Australia held its referendum and voters decided that their colony would join the new nation too.

In 1901, more than 10 years after the Federation movement began, all six Australian colonies united to form the Commonwealth of Australia. The vision of ‘a great national government’, dealing with ‘all great questions ... in a broad light and with a view to the interests of the whole country’, was finally a reality.