Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act
The period between 1850 and 1900 was crucial for Australia’s development. It was no longer a penal colony. After the sensational gold discoveries of 1851 there was a steady influx of middle-class professional immigrants and skilled workers. Industry and agriculture developed until the country was practically self-sufficient, modern transport and communications systems were introduced, cities, universities and formidable trade unions appeared and the main political parties took shape - Liberal, Conservative and Labour. With this went a rising sense of nationhood and a demand for greater self-government. The individual states had their own elected legislatures and executives, with London-appointed governors who were mainly figureheads, but Westminster was still responsible for their defence and foreign policy. The need was growing for a central government and parliament to create, as one Australian politician said, ‘a great and glorious nation under the Southern Cross’.
A federal government was first discussed as early as the 1860s, but the decisive moves came in the 1890s. The case was urged by the veteran Sir Henry Parkes, five times premier of New South Wales. A draft constitution was accepted at a conference in Melbourne in 1898 and after a succession of referenda six states - New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia - agreed to federate. Western Australia almost stayed out, but joined; New Zealand could have joined but stayed out.
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