Investigation 3

What arguments for and against Federation were presented to Victorian voters?

The debates surrounding Federation were lively and passionate. Leading politicians, such as Alfred Deakin, George Turner and Isaac Isaacs, and organisations such as the Australian Natives Association and Australasian Federal League, actively campaigned for Federation. Although the editor of The Age newspaper, David Syme, had initial reservations about Federation, he also threw his full support behind the ‘yes’ campaign.

The Anti-Commonwealth Bill League was established by those who opposed Federation. They worked hard to warn of the disadvantages of Federation and had the support of Trades Hall, which represented the workers, and some politicians, such as Henry Bournes Higgins. After Federation, Higgins went on to become the Commonwealth Attorney-General (1904–1906), a justice of the High Court, and President of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration.

Your Task

Explore the arguments for and against Federation presented to the voters of Victoria.


  1. As a class, read the arguments for and against Federation.
  2. In small groups, make a list of the reasons for and against Federation outlined in the quotes and comments you have read. Add any other reasons you can think of to the list. Think back to the issues you examined in Investigations 1 and 2.
  3. Share your lists with the class. Have a ‘question and answer’ session. Ask any questions you may have about the reasons for or against Federation, or anything else that may be unclear to you.
  4. Based on what you know about Federation, if you had the right to vote at the time, would you have voted for or against Federation? Write the reasons for your thinking. Find three or four classmates who share your views about Federation. Your small group will develop a political campaign to convince others to join you.
    • Decide who the target audience for your campaign for or against Federation will be. Remember, different groups in the community had a range of concerns and/or priorities.
    • Record a short list of reasons why people should support your point of view. You might like to include catchy slogans with your reasons.
    • Design a series of campaign posters. Each poster could have a different reason represented by a graphic or cartoon and slogan.
  5. Display the posters around the classroom.