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Chronology of political actions during the first year of Federation

National Archives of Australia, website fact sheets


1 January

Proclamation of Commonwealth of Australia in Centennial Park, Sydney

The Proclamation and Letters Patent and Commission of the Governor-General were read out and the nine members of the interim Federal Ministry were sworn in. They were: Edmund Barton (Prime Minister, Department of External Affairs), Alfred Deakin (Attorney-General's Department), Sir William Lyne (Department of Home Affairs), Charles Cameron Kingston (Department of Trade and Customs), Sir James Robert Dickson (Department of Defence), Sir John Forrest (Postmaster-General's Department), Sir George Turner (Department of the Treasury), Neil Elliot Lewis and Richard O'Connor. Barton was Prime Minister from 1901-03. At this stage Robert Garran was the first and only public servant.

22 January

Queen Victoria died and was succeeded by Edward VII

The new Commonwealth Gazette announced within black borders on 23 January that Queen Victoria had 'expired at her Palace at Osborne, on the evening of the 22nd instant, at 6:30pm, to the great affliction of the Royal Family and of all classes of Her Majesty's subjects'.

1 March

Commonwealth took control of former colonial military forces, postal and customs departments, responsibility for recruiting immigrants, and established interstate free trade

The Commonwealth's constitutional powers included: the power to legislate with respect to trade and commerce with other countries and among the States, taxation, customs and excise, public borrowing, defence, external affairs, immigration and emigration, naturalisation, quarantine, banking, insurance, bankruptcy and insolvency, foreign corporations, trading and financial corporations, currency and coinage, weights and measures, copyrights and patents, postal, telegraphic and telephonic services, census and statistics, marriage and divorce, invalid and old age pensions, railways, conciliation and arbitration, fisheries, lighthouses, astronomical and meteorological observations, acquisition of property, Federal territories, and the Federal public service.

20 March

First Federal elections held

As a clause in the Constitution enfranchised people who could vote for the lower house of their State parliament, Aboriginal people (in South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania) and women (in South Australia and Western Australia) were able to vote with men (in all States) in this election.

31 March

Simultaneous census recorded a population of 3 773 801 (excluding Aboriginal people)

8 May

Australian Labor Party (the federal party) was formed

9 May

Duke of York (later King George V) opened the first Federal Parliament in the Exhibition Building, Melbourne

Federal Parliament met in Melbourne's Parliament House until 1927. The headquarters of most Commonwealth departments were also established in Melbourne. In 1901 there were eight departments: Prime Minister's, Attorney General's, External Affairs, Postmaster-General's, Trade and Customs, Home Affairs, Treasury and Defence, together with sub-offices such as Crown Solicitor's, Electoral and Auditor-General's.

14 May

Telegraphs (now under Commonwealth control) signalled a simultaneous raising of the British Union Jack at State schools throughout the nation

Tour of Australia by Duke and Duchess of York

3 September

Australia's new national flag flown for the first time above the Exhibition Building in Melbourne

32 823 entries were submitted in the competition to design the national flag.

First Federal budget

Federation’ wheat strain released by William Farrer

This was a variety of wheat resistant to the disease ‘rust’.

First Premiers' Conference (called by Prime Minister)

17 December

Pacific Island Labourers Act

This Federal Act limited import licences for Pacific Island labourers (‘Kanakas’) and all those still in Australia (mainly Queensland) after 1906 were to be deported.

23 December

Federal Immigration Restriction Act

This first major Federal Act established the ‘White Australia policy’ by giving the government power to exclude immigrants on the basis of a dictation test. The test was abolished by the Commonwealth Immigration Act 1958.

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