Sign In

Conscription

Text Size a a a Print Print this page

An example of a Commonwealth advisory referendum or plebiscite is conscription. To support the war effort during WW1, Prime Minister WM Hughes, wanted to introduce conscription but, faced with divisions within his own party, did not wish to do so without the support of the people. To canvass public opinion, military service plebiscites were held in 1916 and 1917.

On the first occasion the proposal was:

"Are you in favour of the Government having, in this grave emergency, the same compulsory powers over citizens in regard to requiring their military service, for the term of this War, outside the Commonwealth, as it now has in regard to military service within the Commonwealth?"

On the second occasion, it sought to conscript men for overseas service in sufficient numbers to make the total reinforcements up to 7000 a month. The conscription issue divided the nation and was a matter of intense political debate. Electors in all States and Territories voted. Both plebiscites sought approval for conscription and both were defeated, though the majority of Western Australian's voted yes on both occasions.

Alternate image text 
​The march and rally prior to the Conscription Referendum, Perth.
Battye Library, 3045B/47
Courtesy WA Newspapers