1898–1900 Australian constitutional referendums

A series of referendums on the proposed constitution of Australia were held between 2 June 1898 and 31 July 1900 in the six colonies that were to become the states of the Commonwealth of Australia.[1] The first four referendums were held in New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria in June 1898.[1] Although all four saw a majority vote in favour, the majority in New South Wales was insufficient.[1] Knowledge of the result in New South Wales led to low voter turnout in South Australia.

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Following a series of amendments made to the proposed constitution at the Secret Premiers meeting on 31 January and 1 February 1899, a second referendum was required in the four states, whilst on 2 September, Queensland held a referendum on the constitution for the first time. All five states saw a majority vote in favour.

Three weeks after the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act became law in 1900, Western Australia held a referendum on the constitution,[1] which was also approved. The constitution came into force on 1 January 1901.[2]


South Australia

Residents of South Australian were staunchly opposed to federation in the mid-19th century due to the dominance of the colonies of Victoria and New South Wales in issues such as trade and tariffs, as well as a desire to keep unique elements of South Australia intact.[3] The mood had shifted by the 1890s, with what was seen as the looming inevitability of federation a motivator to negotiating a good deal for the smaller states, with the argument by the Yes campaign that they may never have such favourable terms again.[4] The No campaign however focused on the potential for increased costs for South Australians, as well as decreased land values.[5]


1898 referendums

State Date For Against Total Turnout
Votes % Votes %
New South Wales4 June 189871,59551.9566,22848.05137,82343.5
South Australia4 June 189835,80067.3917,32020.5453,12030.9
Tasmania3 June 189811,79781.292,71618.7114,51325.0
Victoria4 June 1898100,52081.9822,09918.02122,61950.3
Source: Direct Democracy

1899 and 1900 referendums

State Date For Against Total Turnout
Votes % Votes %
South Australia29 April 189965,99079.4617,05320.5483,04354.4
New South Wales28 June 1899107,42056.4982,74143.51190,16163.4
Tasmania27 July 189913,43794.407975.6014,23441.8
Victoria27 July 1899152,65393.969,8056.04162,45856.3
Queensland28 September 189938,48855.3930,99644.6169,48454.4
Western Australia31 July 190044,61669.4219,65130.5864,26767.1
Source: Direct Democracy


  1. Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900 (UK) Museum of Australian Democracy
  2. Australia, 31 July 1900: Constitution Direct Democracy (in German)
  3. David Brooks; Dr Zoe Gill; Dr John Weste (eds.). "South Australian Referenda, 1896-1991" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-04-09. Retrieved 6 December 2011.
  4. "Commonwealth League Advertisement". Retrieved 6 December 2011.
  5. "Anti-Commonwealth Bill League Advertisement". Retrieved 6 December 2011.
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