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The Federal Constitutional Referendums 1898, 1899 and 1900

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In April and May 1898 the campaign for and against the Bill to constitute the Commonwealth of Australia began in earnest.

'Anti-Billites', as they were known, tried to frighten voters with statistics. It was alleged, for example, that in New South Wales, under the proposed form of federation, every Australian would pay an extra twenty-two shillings and sixpence per year in tax.

The members of the Women's Federal League in New South Wales, none of whom had a vote, were more positive. They urged men to ignore narrow economic arguments and to vote for the Commonwealth on behalf of future generations.

On 3 and 4 June 1898, Tasmania, New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria went to the polls. One pro-federation Adelaide newspaper, conscious of the significance of the occasion, called referendum day 'The Glorious Fourth'. In these four colonies a majority voted 'Yes' for the Constitution. However, in New South Wales the Enabling Act had specified that 80,000 votes would be required for the Commonwealth Bill to pass. This figure was not reached.

The colonial premiers met in early 1899 to try to resolve this problem. They agreed to a number of amendments to the proposed constitution which would make it more acceptable to New South Wales. The 'Braddon' clause, concerning the return of customs revenue to the states, would operate for only ten years. In addition, the new federal capital was to be built in New South Wales provided it was at least a hundred miles from Sydney.

These changes were accepted by the voters at another referendum held in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania. In September 1899 Queensland voted for the Commonwealth Bill. Finally on 31 July 1900 a majority of Western Australians said 'Yes'.

Image of North Brisbane Polling Station
​​The Voting:  North Brisbane Polling Station
The Queenslander, 9 September 1899