§ 115. “The Number of Members … at the First Election.”

On 21st February, 1900, a Conference of Statisticians, representing the colonies which had agreed to accept the Constitution, was held at Sydney for the purpose of determining, according to the latest available information, the number of representatives to which each of those colonies, on becoming States, would be entitled. The Conference, which was convened by Sir William Lyne, the Premier of New South Wales, on the suggestion of Mr. Allan McLean, the Premier of Victoria, was composed as follows:—

Member of Conference.  Office.  Colony Represented. 
T. A. Coghlan ... ... ...  Government Statistician ...  New South Wales 
James J. Fenton ... ... ...  Government Statist... ...  Victoria 
J. Hughes ... ... ... ...  Registrar-General ... ...  Queensland 
L. H. Sholl ... ... ...  Government Statist, &c. ...  South Australia 
R. M. Johnston ... ... ...  Registrar-General, &c. ...  Tasmania 

It was nine years since the last census had been taken in Australia, and consequently it was necessary that computations on a uniform basis should be made and concurred in as to the population of each colony. The total population of each colony having been ascertained it was then necessary to deduct therefrom disqualified races under Sec. 25, and aboriginals under Sec. 127. The Conference does not seem to have been called upon to make any deductions on account of “the people of any race” under the first named section. No difficulty was experienced in deducting the aboriginal element. The result was that the Conference agreed to a resolution affirming that the population of the colonies was, on 31st December, 1899, as follows:—

Colony.  Population 31st December, 1899. 
New South Wales ... ... ... ...  1,348,400 
Victoria ... ... ... ... ...  1,162,900 
Queensland ... ... ... ... ...  482,400 
South Australia ... ... ... ...  370,700 
Tasmania ... ... ... ... ...  182,300 
Total ... ... ... ... ...  3,546,700 

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With five colonies forming parts of the Commonwealth the number of senators would be 30; twice the number of senators would be 60; 60 divided among the total population yielded a quota of 59,112 (or, to an exact fraction, 59,111·6). This quota divided among the population of each colony according to the provisions of sec. 24-ii., allowing for fractions and the minimum, gave the number of representatives for each as follows:—

State.  Population 31st December, 1899.  Number of Members. 
New South Wales ... ...  1,348,400  23 (22·81) 
Victoria ... ... ... ...  1,162,900  20 (19·67) 
Queensland ... ... ...  482,400  8 (8·16) 
South Australia ... ... ...  370,700  6 (6·22) 
Tasmania ... ... ... ...  182,300  5 (3·08) 
Total... ... ... ...  3,546,700  62 

In the aforegoing apportionment it will be seen that New South Wales was entitled to a 23rd member by virtue of the remainder left, after the division, being more than one-half the quota. Victoria, for a similar reason, received a 20th member. According to the quota Tasmania was entitled to only three members; by the minimum provision two members were added, raising its representation to five.

On 27th February these numbers were cabled by the Lieutenant-Governor of New South Wales (Sir Frederick Darley) to Mr. Chamberlain, for insertion in sec. 26 of the Bill. Before the Bill was introduced into the House of Commons, however, Mr. Chamberlain decided to provide for an alternative plan of distribution of members on the basis of the whole of the six colonies, including Western Australia, forming parts of the Commonwealth.

On the 27th April, Mr. Chamberlain cabled to the Acting-Governor of Western Australia, informing him that the Premiers of the federating colonies had declared that they had no authority to accept amendments in the Commonwealth Bill. “I cannot, in these circumstances,” continued the message, “press the matter further, and I would now urge your Ministers earnestly to consider whether they should not, in the best interests of the Colony, as well as of Australia, make a resolute effort to bring the Colony into Federation at once. Western Australia, unless it joins as Original State, can only enter later on condition of complete intercolonial free trade. It will thus lose the temporary protection offered by Clause 95, and looking to present population of Colony, it may also be found difficult to secure such large representation as it would receive as Original State, and which will enable Colony to secure adequate protection for all its interests in Federal Parliament. Your Ministers will also, of course, take into consideration effect of agitation of the Federalist party, especially in goldfields, if Western Australia does not enter as Original State. In the circumstances, it appears to me of utmost importance to future of Western Australia that it should join at once, and as your Ministers have done their best to secure modifications desired by Parliament, I would urge them to take early steps for summoning new Parliament, and laying position fully before it, with a view to the action necessary for ascertaining wishes of people as to entering Federation. If they agree to this course a clause will be inserted in Bill providing that if people have intimated desire to be included before issue of Her Majesty's Proclamation, Western Australia may join as Original State.” (House of Com. Pap., May, 1900, p. 71–2.)

A reply to this cable was sent by Sir. A. O. Onslow on 2nd May, in which, after thanking Mr. Chamberlain for his great efforts on behalf of Western Australia, he said—

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“Parliament has been summoned, on your suggestion, for the 17th May, when an enabling Bill will be introduced by Premier providing for the immediate submission of the Federation Bill to the people. Ministers gratefully accept your offer to make provision in the Imperial Act for Western Australia to enter as an Original State should the wishes of the people be expressed in favour of Federation before the Queen's Proclamation is issued.” (House of Com. Pap., p. 75.)

On 4th May Mr. Chamberlain cabled to the Governors of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, and Tasmania, informing them of the offer made by Her Majesty's Government to provide in the Commonwealth Bill for admission of Western Australia as an Original State, if the wishes of the people of that Colony should be expressed before the Queen's Proclamation; that the Government of Western Australia had accepted the offer, and would introduce a Bill to provide for an immediate Referendum. It was necessary that an agreement should be arrived at as to the change of figures in Clause 26, should Western Australia join. “I shall,” concluded the message, “be glad to learn as soon as possible what figures are agreed on.” (House of Com. Pap., p. 77.)

The materials available for a fresh computation of the number of members were those agreed to by the Conference of Statists held in Sydney in February, and the official estimate of the population of Western Australia, which was supplied by the Registrar-General of that colony. The population of Western Australia, exclusive of aborigines, was computed at 171,000, making the total population of Australia 3,717,700. With six colonies joining the Union the quota was reduced from 59,112 to 51,635 (or, to an exact fraction, 51,634·72). This new quota divided among the population of the various colonies gave the following apportionment:—

State.  Population on 31st December, 1899.  Number of Members. 
New South Wales ... ...  1,348,400  26 (26·11) 
Victoria ... ... ... ...  1,162,900  23 (22·52) 
Queensland ... ... ...  482,400  9 (9·34) 
South Australia ... ... ...  370,700  7 (7·18) 
Tasmania ... ... ... ...  182,300  5 (3·53) 
Western Australia ... ...  171,000  5 (3·31) 
Total ... ... ...  3,717,700  75 

The number of members apportionable among six colonies, as shown in the above table, was cabled to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and was by him embodied in the proviso to sec. 26 of the Constitution as introduced into the House of Commons. The wisdom of this provision has been fully vindicated by subsequent events. The Constitution was, by authority of the Parliament of the colony, referred to the people of Western Australia on 31st July. The result of the poll was:—

YES ... ... ... ... ... ...  44,800 
NO ... ... ... ... ... ...  19,691 
Majority for the Constitution ... ...  25,109 

The referendum in Western Australia was a remarkable incident in the history of the colony as well as in the history of Australian Federation. It was the first time in which adult women participated in the political franchise in that colony, a right which was freely exercised, and, as it proves, not adversely to the consummation of Continental union. By the vote of 31st July, Western Australia joins the Commonwealth as an Original State.

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The figures which appear in the above table, in parenthesis, show that Victoria is entitled to its 23rd member and Tasmania to its 4th member by virtue of there being, after division, a remainder greater than one-half of the quota. Tasmania is entitled to its 5th member and Western Australia to its 4th and 5th members by virtue of the provision that no Original State shall have less than five members.

Alteration of number of members.

27. Subject to this Constitution, the Parliament may make laws for increasing or diminishing116 the number of the members of the House of Representatives.

CANADA.—The number of members of the House of Commons may be from time to time increased by the Parliament of Canada, provided the proportionate representation of the Provinces prescribed by this Act is not thereby disturbed.—B.N.A. Act, 1867, sec. 52.

HISTORICAL NOTE.—Clause 30, chap. I. of the Commonwealth Bill of 1891 was as follows:—

“The number of members of the House of Representatives may be from time to time increased or diminished by the Parliament of the Commonwealth, but so that the proportionate representation of the several States, according to the numbers of their people, and the minimum number of members prescribed by this Constitution for any State, shall be preserved.”

At the Adelaide session, 1897, the clause was introduced and passed as follows:—

“Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the number of the members of the House of Representatives may be from time to time increased or diminished by the Parliament.”

At the Melbourne session, verbal amendments were made after the fourth report.