What happened in the referendums on Federation?
The first referendum on Federation was held in 1898, and involved New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia. Queensland and Western Australia were not yet sure they wanted to join in Federation.
For the referendum to pass, all colonies had to achieve a majority ‘yes’ vote. In New South Wales, the opponents of Federation had increased the required number of votes to 80,000, which was more than a majority. When the votes were counted, there were not enough ‘yes’ votes in New South Wales to allow Federation to go ahead.
The colonies’ leaders met early in 1898 at a ‘secret’ conference. The media and the public were not allowed to attend. The concerns of New South Wales Premier, George Reid were the key issues the meeting addressed. He wanted the national capital to be in New South Wales, not Victoria, and he believed that the Constitution should set some limits on colonies that wanted continuing income from trade tariffs. A time limit of 10 years was agreed upon.
The Constitution was amended and campaigning for Federation began again. Referendums were held in 1899 in Tasmania, New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia. Western Australia followed in 1900, and the six Australian colonies formed the Commonwealth of Australia.
Compare the results of the referendums on the draft Constitution.
- With a partner, use the voting results table for the 1898 referendums and a calculator when discussing the following questions and recording your answers.
- Calculate the total number of votes for each colony by adding the number of ‘yes’ votes and ‘no’ votes together.
- Calculate the percentage of ‘yes’ votes for each colony by dividing the number of ‘yes’ votes by the total number of votes and multiplying by 100.
- Calculate the percentage of ‘no’ votes for each colony by dividing the number of ‘no’ votes by the total number of votes and multiplying by 100.
- Use the voting results table for the 1899 and 1900 referendums to discuss the following questions and record your answers.
- Calculate the total number of votes and the percentage of ‘yes’ votes and ‘no’ votes for the second referendum (See Step 1).
- Compare the results of the 1898 referendum with results of the 1899 and 1900 referendums. Make a list of the most significant differences in the results.
- In which colonies did the referendum succeed or fail? Which colony had the biggest proportion in favour of Federation?
- Work with a partner. Use spreadsheet software to graph the data from the two referendums. Write three questions for other students in the class to answer. Focus on comparing ‘yes’ votes and ‘no’ votes and comparing the results of Tasmania to the other colonies. For example, did more or less than 50 per cent of people living in Tasmania vote in favour of Federation at the two referendums? After Tasmania, which colony reported the next highest ‘yes’ vote?
- Swap your questions with another pair of students. Answer their questions. When you and the other pair of students have finished answering the questions, correct one another’s responses.