Discuss how and why the Australian colonies federated in 1901.

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Australia became a nation when the six self-governing colonies, Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania, united on the 1st of January 101. Before Federation, the colonies were politically separate, with their own laws and parliaments. After federation, Australia was no longer six self-governing colonies, but a nation with its own constitution and government. During the long political process that led to federation, a stronger sense of Australian nationalism (devotion to one’s country) developed.

As early as 184, there had been many plans for creating a General Assembly of Australia where Governments could discuss matters that affected every colony. In 1846, Governor Fitzroy sent a New South Wales proposal for a federal scheme to the British authorities. The British Colonial Secretary, Earl Grey, immediately followed with his own suggestion for a General Assembly of the colonies. Each colony guarded its own power and wealth, and the smaller colonies were worried that the larger colonies might use a General Assembly to rule them. Over the next ten years, many Parliamentary committees, emerged in the colonies to look into federation. In 1867, at an intercolonial conference, Henry Parkes suggested that there should be a ‘Federal Council’, a type of incomplete federal arrangement where the colonies could agree to pass certain uniform laws. In 1870 Victorian barrister Charles Gavan Duffy appointed a Royal commission to look into Federation.

By 1880, Henry Parkes was premier of New South Wales and at another intercolonial conference, he again proposed a Federal Council. Later that year another intercolonial conference was held to discuss Australian strategies for the South Pacific. At this conference it was decided that there should be a Federal Council. The Council was formally created in 1885. It had the power to make common legislation (law) in a range of matters. Several of the colonies including New South Wales refused to join, or joined only briefly. In 188, Sir Henry Parkes gave his speech at a banquet at Tenterfield, New South Wales, declaring his long-held support for federation, and calling for the colonies to unite. In 181 The National Australasian Convention was held in Sydney. Representatives from the six colonies and New Zealand, agreed to draft a Constitution under the name of ‘The Commonwealth of Australia’. Andrew Inglis Clark, Charles Cameron Kingston and Samuel Griffith provided a draft which was used to write to Constitution that the Conference adopted. The Corowa Conference was held in 18, and it was suggested that, every Australian Colony, should elect representatives to attend a convention where the constitution would be agreed on. The constitution would then be put to referendum in each colony. If the constitution was agreed on by the population it would then have some legal power.

There were two referendums held on the Constitution. The first was held in 188, the constitution was accepted in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, but did not get a large enough majority in New South Wales, therefore the Constitution was rejected. The second referendum on the constitution was held in 18, and was accepted in South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland. In early 100, a small group of Australian Federal leaders, took the constitution to London. In London, they spent four months in discussion and debate with the British who were now seeking to amend it. The Australian’s in London, resisted most of the proposed amendments, and came to a satisfactory compromise. The Constitution was passed by both of Britain’s Parliaments, and received the royal assent on the th of July 100. On the 1st of January 101, the six separate colonies became the Commonwealth of Australia. Federation would not of been achieved without the work of certain individuals such as Henry Parkes and Samuel Griffth. Henry Parkes often spoke of the benefits of federation. He gave the movement new purpose with his call for a federated Australia at Tenterfield in 188. Samuel Griffith was chairman of the committee which drafted the Constitution.

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Despite the colonies having separate and independent political systems, they also held many interests and concerns in common, these interests and concerns were some of the main reasons for federation. Making and keeping Australia ‘White’ was a powerful motivation for Federation. Racism and racist beliefs of ‘White superiority’ were common in Australia in the time of federation. Defence was also a major concern. Australians feared of invasion from countries such as Germany, France, Russia, China and Japan. Many people believed that because of the distance between Britain and the colonies, Australia would not be able to defend its own, extended coastline. Forces of Australian volunteers existed in the colonies, but it was thought that those forces were to small to be effective against attack. In Australia prior to Federation, colonial governments imposed tariffs on imports from other colonies. Tariffs were a major source of income for colonial governments, but a major irritant for business people. Under Federation, tariffs would be removed and free trade would lower the costs of production and open up new markets. In the lead up to Federation, a sense of national identity was building amongst Australians. There seemed to be an increasing feeling that the separate colonies and there people had so much in common that they were destined to unite as a single nation. Other mutual concerns and interests included postal services, lighthouses, quarantine and railways.

The six colonies of Australia competed with each other for trade and immigrants, and raced to be the most prosperous. Along with this there were also many reasons against federation. Other problems included the great distance between the capitals, differing rates of development, intercolonial jealousies and conflict between protectionist Victoria and free-trade New South Wales. In 180 a depression hit the colonies and the fortunes and careers of many men were ruined. Federation was no longer a necessity as economic reconstruction took priority. Also popular support for federation was still lacking.

Federation was achieved in Australia on the 1st of January 101, as the advantages for federation overcome the disadvantages. Australia became a Constitutional Monarchy. The First governor-general of Australia was Lord Hopetown. In March 101, the first national election was held. Edmund Barton became the first Prime Minister of Australia. In May, the first Parliament met in Melbourne since a national capital was not yet agreed on.

Australia became a Constitutional Monarchy as a result of Federation. The journey to Federation was a long process which took many decades to complete. Federation only came to be because of the on going work of individuals such as Henry Parkes and Samuel Griffith, and the many advantages that Federation would bring.

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