1899 referendum on nation's draft constitution 


SOUTH AUSTRALIA WAS THE MAJOR PLAYER in the notion of a nation becoming concrete in the federating of all Australian colonies as a nation in 1901.

All South Australian delegates support the final resolutions of the 1897-98 federation convention.

Although they disagreed about some details they wanted to see in the Federal Constitution, politicians from both sides of South Australian politics supported federation.

With this political leadership, South Australia’s populace strongly supported federation in the two referendums. In 1898 and in the great referendum of 1899, almost 80% of enfranchised South Australians voted “Yes’ for the draft constitution of an Australian commonwealth.

South Australians showed little of the anxiety Queenslanders felt about a German colony in New Guinea. Nor did they share the paranoia many people in Melbourne and Sydney developed about a possible influx of thousands of expirees and escapees from the French penal settlement in New Caledonia.

For most South Australians, the main attraction of federation was free trade between the Australian colonies. Victorian protectionists had imposed a tariff of up to 450% on South Australian wine, to compel all but the wealthiest of Melbourne’s wine lovers to imbibe nothing but their own colony’s product.

Large South Australian engineering works, such as Martin’s at Gawler and Shearers’ at Mannum, had secured big sales of their locomotives and farm machinery to buyers in the other colonies.

Everyone linked with those industries expected yet greater prosperity if the intercolonial tariff walls came down. It was widely believed that, without federation, New South Wales would turn protectionist like Victoria.

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