Federation and the Constitutional Conventions

What Will I Learn

  • How the Australian Constitution was created

The Journey to the First Constitutional Convention

In 1901 six separate British colonies decided to come together to form the nation Australia. These colonies become states in the new federation. How did this happen? 

The Australian colonies developed separately for the first hundred years but by the 1880s a move towards economic and social integration started. The tariffs levied on goods moving across borders began to be seen as burdensome and a sense of Australian nationalism was growing.

By 1888, 70 percent of people in Australia were born here. Across the British Empire there was growing enthusiasm for federation within self-governing colonies like Australia. Defence of its colonies was becoming an economic and diplomatic issue for Britain. 

How Did NSW Develop Before Federation?

Make sure you explore our Development of Democracy Timeline to learn about early democracy in New South Wales. 

Colonial Leaders Meet for the First Time 

Delegates to the Australasian Federation Conference, Melbourne, 1890, National Library of Australia

The first Australasian Federation Conference of colonial leaders seeking federation was held in Melbourne from 6 to 14 February 1890. Leading politicians from the six Australian colonies and New Zealand attended. 

There was no agreement on when the colonies would federate and what changes such a union would mean for each of the colonies. Concerns over trade between the colonies was a source of disagreement.

Debate also turned to the British, Canadian and American constitutions and which one ours should be most like. 

The Second Conference

The second National Australasian Convention was held in Sydney in 1891 and the colonies sent many more people to the second one. 

The focus of this conference was on writing a draft of the constitution they could all agree on. 

National Australasian Convention Sydney 1891 [B 480] • Photograph State Library of South Australia

Finishing Touches to Federation

Finishing touches to Federation 

The Australasian Federal Convention met, in three sessions, in Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne in 1897 and early 1898. 

Debates took place over a number of weeks, as each detail of the constitution was debated and finalised.

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 by the Queen on 9 July 1900. This meant the bill became a law. 

This was the bill passed by the British Parliament.

Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (Publisher), Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act, 1900: Original Public Record Copy, 1900, courtesy of the Gifts Collection, Parliament House Art Collection, Department of Parliamentary Services, Canberra, A.C.T.



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