Australasian Federal Convention, Sydney, 1891, National Library of Australia, an14293711

The records of the Australasian Federation Conference of 1890 and the Australasian Federal Conventions of 1891 and 1897/8 are among the most significant founding documents of the Australian nation.

At the Australasian Federation Conference held in Melbourne from 6 to 14 February 1890, leading politicians from the six Australian colonies and New Zealand affirmed the desirability of ‘an early union under the crown’ and committed themselves to persuading their governments to send delegates to a convention which would ‘consider and report’ on a scheme for a federal constitution. Accordingly, the members of the National Australasian Convention of 1891 which met in Sydney from 2 March to 9 April did not debate whether the colonies should federate but how. They devoted themselves to finding a draft constitution to which they could agree and which they could take back to their legislatures for discussion and endorsement. When the Australasian Federal Convention met, in three sessions, in Adelaide Sydney and Melbourne in 1897 and early 1898, the delegates modified the draft produced in 1891. The Australian Constitution was contained in the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Bill, which was endorsed by the voters of each Australian colony at referendums in 1898, 1899 and 1900, passed by the British Parliament, and given Royal Assent on 9 July 1900.

This web site provides access to the following documents:

Debates and Proceedings of the Australasian Federation Conference, Melbourne, 6-14 February, 1890

Debates of the National Australasian Convention, Sydney, 2 March–9 April 1891

Debates of the Australasian Federal Convention of 1897/8 in three sessions:

These links provide the ability to browse the daily debates of each of the listed conventions. A key word or phrase search across the convention database can be conducted by using the Australian Parliament ParlInfo Search facility, and choosing ‘1890s Federal Conventions’ in the collection ‘Constitution’.

The text of these documents has been generated by electronic scanning of original published volumes of the debates and proceedings. This process may have caused errors in the text which have not been identified by checking with optical character recognition. Before citing from this source, data should be checked against the original documents:

Official Record of the Proceedings and Debates of the Australasian Federation Conference, 1890. Melbourne, Robert S. Brain, Government Printer, 1890

Official Report of the National Australasian Convention Debates. Sydney, 2 March to 9 April, 1891. Sydney, George Stephen Chapman, Acting Government Printer, 1891

Official Report of the National Australasian Convention Debates. Adelaide, March 22 to May 5 1897. Adelaide, C.E. Bristow, Government Printer, 1897

Official Record of the Debates of the Australasian Federal Convention. Second Session. Sydney, 2nd to 24th September, 1897. Sydney, William Applegate Gullick, Government Printer, 1897

Official Record of the Debates of the Australasian Federal Convention. Third Session. Melbourne, 20th January to 17th March 1898, 2 vols.

Melbourne, Robert S. Brain, Government Printer, [1898]

Errors in the text will be corrected where identified. They should be notified to research.sen@aph.gov.au

Alternative online copies are also available via: University of Sydney. Australian Federation Full Text Database

Federation timeline

1889Sir Henry Parkes, Premier of New South Wales, urges the colonies to federate.
1890The Australasian Federation Conference recommends a national convention be held to draft a constitution for a Commonwealth of Australia.
1891The first National Australasian Convention is held in Sydney and drafts a constitution.
1891 – 94Economic depression means the colonial parliaments lose interest in federation.
1893A people’s conference in Corowa, New South Wales, urges the colonial parliaments to hold a new convention to decide on a draft constitution.
1896A second people’s conference in Bathurst, New South Wales, renews calls for another federation convention.
1897 – 98The second National Australasian Convention meets in Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne, and agrees to the constitution.
1898Referendums are held in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania to approve the constitution. It is agreed to by all but New South Wales.
1899In January a secret premiers‘ meeting agrees to several changes to the constitution.
Between April and July referendums are held in South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania at which a majority vote ‘yes’ to the bill. In September Queensland voters agree to the constitution.
1900In March a delegation travels to London to present the constitution to the British Parliament.
On 5 July the British Parliament passes the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900.
On 9 July Queen Victoria signs the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900.
On 31 July Western Australia holds a referendum at which an overwhelming majority of voters approve the Constitution.
1901On 1 January the Commonwealth of Australia is proclaimed in Centennial Park, Sydney.
On 29 and 30 March the first federal election is held.
On 9 May the Duke of Cornwall and York (later King George V) opens the first Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia in the Exhibition Building in Melbourne.

Results of the referendums on the draft bill to constitute the Commonwealth of Australia

1898

While a majority of voters in each colony voted ‘yes’, the referendum in New South Wales did not attract the 80 000 votes set by the New South Wales colonial parliament as the minimum needed for it to agree to federation. Queensland and Western Australia did not hold referendums.

 YESNO
New South Wales71 59566 228
South Australia35 80017 320
Tasmania11 7972716
Victoria100 52022 099
Total219 712108 363

1899

Majorities were achieved in all colonies.

 YESNO
New South Wales107 42082 741
Queensland38 48830 996
South Australia65 99017 053
Tasmania13 437791
Victoria152 6539805
Total377 988141 386

1900

Result of the referendum held in Western Australia on 31 July 1900.

 YESNO
Western Australia44 80019 691

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