How would the system of Federal Parliament affect Victorians?
The draft Australian Constitution was written at the March–April 1897 Australasian Federation Convention held in Adelaide. It was debated and altered when the Convention met again in Sydney in September 1897, and then in Melbourne in January–March 1898.
The Federal Parliament proposed by the Constitution had two chambers: the House of Representatives and the Senate. To make laws for Australia, a majority of votes in both chambers would be needed.
In the House of Representatives, the number of representatives would be proportional to the number of people living in each colony. Larger colonies, such as Victoria, would have more representatives than smaller colonies.
In the Senate, each colony was to have an equal number of representatives. This meant that colonies with small populations would have the same number of votes as colonies with larger populations, such as Victoria. In the Senate, each colony would have the same power to influence the laws of Australia. This idea bothered a number of politicians in colonies with larger populations. As a compromise, if the Senate blocked measures from the House of Representatives, the people were to decide the matter at an election.
Examine whether or not the proposed representation for the new Federal Parliament was fair.
- As a class, read the comment by Bryan O’Loghlan on representation in a Federal Parliament.
- In small groups, examine the proposed representation in the new Federal Parliament and consider the following questions.
- Which States would benefit from a one-chamber parliament? Why?
- Which States would benefit from a two-chamber parliament? Why?
- Why might Bryan O’Loghlan have been concerned about the Constitution providing equal representation to all the States?
- Why, in theory, would the two-chamber parliament provide a safeguard for colonies with smaller populations? In reality, would this always be the case? Why?
- In small groups, look at the population numbers in 1899 and the number of representatives for the House of Representatives and the Senate. Use these figures to consider the following questions.
- Would the proposed Federal Parliament be fair to the people of Victoria?
- Why might colonies with small populations have been concerned about the number of representatives in the House of Representatives being proportional to the number of people living in each colony?
- Could this issue have affected progress towards Federation?
- Share your small group’s responses with the rest of the class. As a class, vote on whether you think the proposed representation for the new Federal Parliament would be fair.
- Design a graphic to represent how the two parliamentary chambers create a fair system. Share your designs with your classmates.