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Blog post from Thursday, 9 July, 2015

On this day, 9th July 1900, Queen Victoria approved the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Bill.

Prior to 1901, Australia was made up of six colonies which had partial self-government, but which were also under British authority. Although the continent had officially been known as Australia since 1824, there was no nation or government of Australia. The Federation movement gained momentum during the 1880s, but before Federation could occur, it was necessary to draft an Australian Constitution - a process which took almost a decade.

Seven delegates were selected from each of the colonies to formulate a draft constitution, along with three delegates from New Zealand. The first constitutional convention, known as the National Australasian Convention, was held from March to April 1891, and at this convention it was agreed to adopt the name ’Commonwealth of Australia’. Further conferences were held in 1893, 1895 and 1896. The final National Convention was held in three sessions over 1897-98, and by early 1898, a draft constitution had been agreed upon. It was brought before each of the colonial parliaments for approval. The constitutional system protected the rights of the states, while establishing a national government to represent their common interests.

Initially rejected by the states, amendments were made at a ‘Secret Premiers’ Conference early in 1899. The final draft was then approved by the Australian people via referenda held in each colony. It was necessary for the British Parliament to also agree to the constitution, so further alterations were negotiated before the British Parliament passed the bill in July 1900.

On 9 July 1900 Queen Victoria signed the Royal Commission of Assent and the bill became the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900.

Successive stages of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia, 1891 SAFE / DLMSQ 198 State Library of New South Wales

Facsimile copy of Royal Assent 1901.