Charles Kingston was a Premier of South Australia and a member of the first Federal Parliament. He was a leading proponent of the federation of Australia and introduced the first law to give votes to women in Australia.
Kingston was born in Adelaide, the son of Sir George Kingston, a Protestant Irish-born surveyor, architect and landowner in the early days of British settlement in South Australia and later a member of the first South Australian Parliament.
As a leading supporter of Federation, Kingston was a delegate to the Constitutional Conventions of 1891 and 1897-98 which worked to draft an Australian Constitution.
In 1897, he travelled to London for the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, where he was made a Privy Councillor and awarded an honorary Doctor of Civil Laws degree by Oxford University, but he turned down the offer of a knighthood. While there, he lobbied senior British politicians in favour of Australian federation.
In 1899, Kingston's government in South Australia was defeated in the House on a Bill relating to the reform of the Legislative Council, leading to Kingston's resignation as Premier.
By this time, however, he was more interested in federal politics, as the six Australian colonies moved towards federation. He was a leading figure in the popular movement for Federation, and in 1900 he travelled to London with Edmund Barton and Alfred Deakin to oversee the passage of the federation Bill through the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
When the Constitution came into effect on 1 January 1901, Barton formed the first federal ministry, and Kingston was appointed Minister for Trade and Customs. In March 1901, he was elected as one of South Australia's seven members of the first Australian House of Representatives.
Kingston was a "high protectionist", favouring very high tariffs to protect Australia's fledgling manufacturing industries. Most of his time as Minister was spent negotiating a customs Bill through both houses of the Parliament, since no one party had a majority in either House and the forces of the Free Trade party resisted his Bill at every stage. His bullying style in negotiating with his opponents made him many enemies.
He was also known as a great social reformer and is noted for introducing legislation that included:
- the first factory regulations
set wages for set hours
establishment of the State Bank guaranteeing deposits
Married Women's Property Act
female suffrage (second in the word), and
women's right to stand for Parliament (first in the world).
In July 1903, Kingston resigned suddenly in a fit of anger due to the opposition of John Forrest and Edmund Barton to his attempt to impose conciliation and arbitration on British and foreign seamen engaged in the Australian coastal trade. He never held office again, although Labor offered him a position in Chris Watson's ministry–he turned this down. He remained as Member for Adelaide until his sudden death in May 1908.
Kingston died in Adelaide of a stroke in May 1908. The Federal electoral division of Kingston is named after him.