Investigation 4

Should the people of Western Australia have had a say in the colony’s decision about Federation?

In Western Australia, the role of the people in making decisions about Federation was different from the situation in other colonies. In the other colonies, with the exception of Queensland, the people selected delegates to represent them at the 1897–98 Federal Conventions. Western Australia’s delegates were all appointed by the Western Australian Parliament, not chosen by the people. The other colonies had referendums on Federation in 1898 and 1899. In these, the voters themselves said ‘yes’ to the Constitution Bill and joining the proposed Federation.

Western Australia’s Government did not give the people of their colony a chance to vote until months later. Why weren’t the people given a say earlier? Were the politicians justified in delaying a vote for so long?

Your Task

Explore how the politicians and people of Western Australia made the decision about Federation.


  1. As a class, brainstorm a list of important decisions facing Western Australia at the time of Federation. Remember to think about issues such as taxes, transport, parliament, voting and the economy. Discuss which decisions you think should be made directly by the people and which should be left to parliament. Provide reasons for your thinking. What are the strengths and weaknesses of parliamentary representation?
  2. In groups of three, take turns reading the views of the Western Australian parliamentarians as they debated whether to allow the people of Western Australia to vote on Federation in 1899. Create a PMI (plus, minus and interesting) chart on the views in the debate, making sure to record the reason for each view.
  3. In your groups, devise a class presentation on whether the people of Western Australia should have been able to vote on Federation.
  4. As a class, hold a vote to decide whether the people of the colonies should have been able to vote on accepting the Constitution Bill, or if their representatives in the colonial parliaments should have made the decision.