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South Australia was in the forefront of plans for an Australian nation from the beginnings of the idea. The task of developing a Constitution for the new federation was given to a Federation Convention which first met in 1891 in Sydney. The second meeting of the Australasian Federal Convention Adelaide 1897 was held in Adelaide in February 1897. Its proceedings are held in the State Library of South Australia. Members were elected to the Convention from around Australia, and debated the major issues which would form the Australian Constitution. The progress of Federation is shown in a Federation chronology.

In 1998 in Australia we are looking ahead to the Centenary of the Australian Federation which will occur in the year 2000. Just as in 1897, in the 1990s a Constitutional Centenary Foundation has been established to encourage community debate on constitutional matters as we approach the year 2000.

The equivalent huge issue to that of Federation in the 19th century, is the question in the late 20th century of the formation of an Australian Republic to replace the Constitutional Monarchy which exists at present. A Constitutional Convention to discuss the republic question took place from 2-6 and 9-13 February 1998. It is fascinating that similar momentous debates are taking place 100 years apart. There are many sites dealing with Federation, the Conventions and the Republic Debate—a good one to get all the facts of the February Convention is Constitutional Convention.

The difference in the role of women in these debates 100 years apart is instructive. In 1897 there was really only one woman who took a strong interest and endeavoured to have an influence on the debate towards Federation: this was the indefatigable Catherine Helen Spence, keen to further her 'effective voting' cause in the federal sphere. Catherine Helen Spence stood as a candidate for one of ten positions allocated to South Australia for the Constitutional Convention. A rare how-to-vote card for candidates for the 1897 Federal Convention election shows Spence becoming the first Australian woman political candidate. She received 7, 383 votes, about two thirds of the way down the field of 33 candidates.

Today, by contrast, women are extensively involved. At the Constitutional Convention held in Old Parliament House, Canberra, in February 1998, one third of the appointed and elected delgates were women. Preceding the Convention a Women's Constitutional Convention was held in January 1998 in Parliament House, Canberra.

 
   
 
 

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This page last updated on Friday 11 April, 2014 15:16

 

 

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