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The 1901 Federation Of The Six Colonies

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Published: Thu, 20 Apr 2017

This essay is about one major event in the history of Australia, which had redirected the Australia’s Cultural, Social and Political Development. Federation of Australia on 1st January 1901 is one the major event in the History of Australia. “Federation is the formation of Political unity, with the central government, by a number of States, each of which retains control of its own internal affairs”. The event of Federation of Australia on 1st January 1901 resulted in the Political and Social development of the Australia, the six Colonies or Countries united to become one nation, the Commonwealth of Australia. But this Federation didn’t come about overnight, it happened from over 50 year of discussions by everyone in Australia. But have anyone thought why this Federation took so long to happen? Maybe it was because of the considerations of the benefits of Federation, not just for the Australian people, but also for each and every Colony. What each and every Colony was to benefit from Federation. Some obvious points for the Federation of Australia are; sense of nationalism, united defence, free trade between the States, immigration- White Policy, united law and communication. We will discuss about the background of Colonies before the Federation and Australia as a ‘Nation’ after the Federation. How Federation did play an imperative role in the Political development of the Country. Political development means the development of the policies of Australia as country such as Defence, Immigration, Tariffs, Monitory and Fiscal Policies of the Australia. This essay will discuss further about political development of Australia in the following decades after the Federation such as White Australia Policy, taxation, tariff and defence.

An early attempt of the Federation was made in 1855 with the establishment of federal council of Australia; it was involving most of Australian Colonies and Fiji, but New South Wale didn’t support this. The second convention of Australasian federal convention took place in 1897-1898, this convention resulted in the Federation of Australia, which took place on 1st January 1901, almost after a decade of sporadic negotiation by six Colonies, majorities of them had more than half century’ experience of colonial self government. In Australia, the six Colonies (which are now the six States) referred their powers to the Commonwealth Government in 1901. This grant of power is set out in a document, the Australia Constitution. The States also have their own constitutions – these set out the powers of the State Governments to govern and make laws in their own areas. (Barnard 1978, p.437) States that “The Australian Colonies had always been Individualist, their Origin was diverse, and their capitals were widely separated from one another and outlook of their people”. Before the Federation of these six Colonies were a kind of countries, had made their own laws independent of each other and had their own policies, customs houses, railway gauges, flag and defence forces. They had different laws irrespective of the neighbour Colonies. People of each Colony saw as belongings to their own Colony. (Society and Environment 2000, p10) highlighted that “The wealth, population and power worried between each Colony and this has caused much tension and there was fear among the smaller Colonies that they would be bullied by the bigger Colonies and wealthier Colonies were worried they would have to pay for the downfall of the poor Colonies”. Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania were the poor Colonies or countries with the small population as well as small number of manufactures; they all were supporting the free trades in their Colonies. Victoria and New South Wales were the richest Colonies and they also had railways system in their Colonies. Queensland was a moderate Colony, with a small number of manufactures, who were feared about the increase of the competition after the Federation. (Saunders 2005, p.15) asserts that “The eventual impetus for the union came in response to a range of factors, the most dominant beings (1) the need for defence at a time of concern about the German, French and Russian activities in the Pacific; (2) the attraction of a common market; (3) the desire to control immigration; and (4) less tangible feelings of the Incipient National Unity”.

On the day of the Federation Australia got its constitution. (Saunders 2005, p.17) states that “The Commonwealth Constitution is relatively short, comprising the 127 sections and 11908 words, Federation was achieved on the basis of two principle goals, all Colonies were prepared to agree and to provide for the institution of national government”. “Australia’s Constitution combines United States-style federalism with British institutions of parliamentary responsible government, creating a different dynamic for decision making within and between the spheres of government” (Saunders 2005, p.13. “Federal limits on the power of the Australian Parliament are given effect through judicial review. A separation of the Federal judicial power has emerged as a considerable constraint on the legislature in ways that now go well beyond the protection of the independence of a judicature that monitors the boundaries of the federal division of power” (Saunders 2005, pp.13-14). Australia became one nation with the same rules for each Colony, one defence force and one flag. There were some policies being developed after the Federation. Barnard M, p.466 point out that “By and large four questions monopolized most of the attention of the Federal parliaments up to 1914. They were the (1) White Australia policy, (2) the delicate and difficult business of tariffs, (3) defence and (4) labour legislation”

Australia got its Immigration Restriction act in 1901, after the Federation in 1901. The Immigration Restriction act 1901 was an act of the parliament of Australia. The main purpose of the immigration Restriction act to limit the number of the people migrating to Australia and formed the basis of White Australian Policy. One of the reasons of the Federation was to find a unique migrant policy for Australia as whole to overcome the problem of Immigrant people coming from the Asia, they were willing to work at a low rate and were responsible for the drop in the standard of living of people in Australia. The act prohibited various classes of people from Immigrant, but most importantly it introduced the Natal method of Restriction (dictation test). (Barnard 1978, p.467) highlighted that “A test in any European language was substituted. The choice of language was left to the customs official”. A person seeking entry to Australia to write out a passage of fifty words dictated to them in any European language, not necessarily English, at the discretion of an immigration officer. The immigration Restriction act 1901 was only possible after the Federation of the Colonies in 1901, before that only Victoria had policy of Immigrants Restriction in which they imposed that tax on the Chinese Immigrants. Federation played an important role in the formation of Immigration Restriction law 1901.

After the Federation of Australia in 1901, the Commonwealth Naval Forces was formed on 1 March 1901 by amalgamating the six separate colonial navies. The Commonwealth government, however, paid for the Royal Navy to continue providing blue water defence. Defence was another foundation stone of the Federation. The need for defence at a time of concern about the German, French and Russian activities in the Pacific, due to a long distance between Australia and England played a vital role in the Federation of Australia. Commonwealth has the responsibility for foreign affairs and defence. (Saunders 2005, p.37) states that “this is the result of both constitutional design and of the manner in which Australia acquired the independence, the States were effectively independent”. States have little or no power in this matter. Commonwealth Parliament has the power to make laws for defence. Commonwealth has the exclusive power to speak on the behalf of the Australia and its Executives have extended power to declare war and to maintain the peace, there is no limitation on their power. Before Federation, Australia was disunited into six different Colonies with their own defence forces, flags and Rules. There was always a fear of invasion; six Colonies will not be able to defend themselves by acting individually. “The Commonwealth also has a constitutional obligation to protect the States from invasion and on the application of executive government of the state against the domestic violence”. A defence act was setup a peace time volunteer force in 1903 – 1904 and empowered the Governor-General to conscript all men aged between 18 and 60 for service in Australia war-time” (Saunders 2005 p. 37-38). Australia had a defence force, which was representing Australia as whole. Commonwealth has the responsibility for the defence of the Nation from any kind of threat such as invasion.

Interstate free trade was established after the Federation, means that the trade is free between the States. Before Federation, Victoria was only a Colony which was not supporting the free trade and had high taxes on the trade. With the two important assumptions, the constitution allocates the general taxation policy to both Commonwealth and the States. Custom and excise duties allocated to Commonwealth and States can impose the taxes on natural resources within their territory. States do not have any authority to impose the tax on the goods. During the Second World War, Commonwealth was imposing the tax on the income. Before Federation States had their own rules and regulations, they had the authority to impose and collect taxes; this was the main source of their income. (Saunders 2005, p.34) confirms that “In the late 1990’s, the States agreed to forego additional state taxes in return for the Commonwealth Government agreement to allocate them the proceeds of the goods and service tax”. States still have the authority to impose tax on property, gambling and payroll. Federation of Australia in 1901, reduce the tax burden of the Australian people, such as excise duty, trade tax and by the formation of unique tax policy for Australians and by dividing the authority between Commonwealth and States. By imposing the Restriction on Commonwealth and States, so that people should not pay extra tax. High tariff was imposed on the goods imported by the people, to discourage the importation and to increase the number of industries in the country.

After the Federation, Commonwealth of Australia got the authority to impose tax on the custom and excise in other word they entitled to a bigger share of the revenue and States were left with the a very small shares of revenue. Small Colonies like Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania were poor Colonies with a few manufactures. Decrease in the revenue of the States, would make it hard for them to develop themselves. Revenue redistribution policy developed after the ten years of Federation and was based on the principle that Commonwealth to distribute its surplus revenue to the States each month. This section of the constitution had proved ineffective because Commonwealth was able to organise its revenue to avoid any surplus. “Revenue redistribution, nevertheless, takes place pursuant to section 96 of the constitution, which authorizes the parliament to grant financial assistance to any state on such term and conditions as the parliament thinks fit” (Saunders 2005 p.35). The main objective of the fiscal equalization is to enable each state to provide same service at standard without imposing higher tax compare to other state. If any States need money for the development, Commonwealth has obligation to provide them financial assistance. Federation was a turning point in the history of Australia; this event gave birth to new Commonwealth Australia Nation, Constitution, Army, free trade between the States, authority of imposing tax and distribution of revenue.

Australia federated on 1st January 1901. It’s almost 110 years of Federation of Australia. Federation was one of the major turning point in the Australia’s history. Australia became a Nation from six different Colonies and became States of Australia at the time of Federation. Australia got its constitution on Federation, Federation of Australia didn’t come overnight, an early attempt of the Federation was made in 1855 with the establishment of federal council of Australia, and it was involving most of Australian Colonies and Fiji, but New South Wale didn’t support the federal at this time. Australia was divided into six different countries before the Federation, each having their own laws, defence, flag


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