As 21st Century Begins… Australian Federation One Hundred Years Old Today

The Australian Federal political system is one hundred years old today.

Sydney's Centennial ParkThe arrangement whereby powers are divided between a central government and six states came into being on January 1, 1901.

Federation came after a series of referendums in each of the six states where the Australian voters of the time – mainly men – supported the most significant political change in the country’s white history.

A century on, the Constitution that took effect in 1901 has remained substantially unchanged. Only 8 successful referendums have been carried by a vote of the people and none of these dramatically altered the constitutional arrangements agreed upon in the 1890s.

An attempt to make Australia a republic in 1999 attracted the support of only 45% of the population.

Edmund BartonThe first Australian Prime Minister was Edmund Barton. He was appointed by the first Governor-General, Lord Hopetoun, after an abortive attempt by the then Premier of New South Wales, Sir William Lyne, to form a government. Led by Barton and Victoria’s Alfred Deakin, most of the luminaries involved in Federation refused to serve under Lyne. The incident is known as the “Hopetoun blunder”.

The Barton ministry was appointed pending the first federal elections in March 1901. One member of the ministry, Sir James Robert Dickson, the Minister for Defence, died on January 10. A seat named after him is currently held by ALP frontbencher Cheryl Kernot.

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