Where we have come from 1899-1914

With the Assembly theme looking at both the past and future, Professor Stuart MacIntyre, Historian from Melbourne University, looked at the challenges our young nation faced leading up to and shortly after Federation.

Now 100 years on from the struggles of the 1890s to have the new Constitution adopted, he describes this as an incredible feat. There were major obstacles to be overcome in establishing new procedures and new institutions.

Drawing a comparison with the recent failed referenda questions, Professor MacIntyre said that this minimal change to the Constitution was, from the outset, handled in a far less democratic fashion than the process used to create the Constitution 100 years ago.

Then, all delegates to the Constitution Conventions were directly elected, compared to our more recent example when half were selected by the Prime Minister.

The wording of the question put to the people on 6 November again was not decided by those at the Convention. Moreover, Professor MacIntyre described the writing of the proposed preamble as 'autocratic' to say the least, not decided by an assembly of Australian citizens, but one person with the assistance of a poet!

"As a young nation following Federation through to World War 1, Australia has been described as a social laboratory," the Professor said.

"Although later this century it has been judged more harshly for sacrificing equity for efficiency, the introduction of a basic wage decided by an independent arbitrator, the old age and invalid pensions plus maternity benefits, and an immigration policy leading to the population passing 4.5 million, led the rest of the world."

The racially based White Australian Policy and tariffs for job protection were the downside. However, today globalisation has battered protectionism, the White Australia Policy is gone, as is the predominance of the male breadwinner and basic wage.

As Councils and their communities prepare for the celebration of 100 years of Federation, it is important that the community is aware of our history. The Australian Local Government Association believes it is important for people to understand where we have come from warts and all.