Commonwealth of Australia Coat of Arms
For Peace, Order and Good Government: The first Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia
Early proposals
Six colonies
Drafting a constitution
Declaration of the Commonwealth
Conducting the first Federal election
Who could vote?
The election campaign
9 May 1901
The royal visit
The first federal parliamentarians
Ministry of May, 1901
Edmund Barton
Political parties
Legislative program
Relationship between the houses

Members of the First Parliament

Edmund Barton

Edmund Barton (1849-1920)

Member for Hunter (New South Wales) 1901-1903

Edmund Barton was born in Glebe, Sydney, New South Wales. He graduated from the University of Sydney in 1868 and 1870 and was admitted to the Bar in 1871. Barton was a member of the New South Wales Parliament 1879-91 and 1897-99, and was Speaker 1883-87 and Attorney-General 1889 and 1891-93.
Barton was a delegate at the National Australasian Convention in 1891 and assisted the Drafting Committee which produced the version of the Constitution Bill endorsed by the Convention. During the early 1890s he took over the leadership of the federation movement, working tirelessly to establish federation leagues and to rally support for federation in the New South Wales Parliament. A delegate to the Australasian Federal Convention of 1897-98, he was elected leader and chaired the Drafting and Constitutional committees. When the colonies voted “Yes” at the referenda on the Constitution Bill, he led a delegation to Britain to monitor the passage of the Bill through the British Parliament.

In December 1900 the Governor-General commissioned Barton to form a ministry for the Commonwealth of Australia. Barton was elected unopposed to the seat of Hunter at the first federal election in March 1901. He was Prime Minister and Minister for External Affairs in the first Commonwealth Government. Elected on a moderate protectionist platform, Barton managed to unite a fragmented Parliament and in less than three years in office steered a raft of foundation legislation through the Parliament.

Barton resigned as Prime Minister in September 1903 to become senior puisne judge of the new High Court of Australia. There, until his death in 1920, he distinguished himself as an impartial and discerning judge dedicated to interpreting the Constitution which he had helped to write. Barton was appointed a Privy Councillor in 1901 and knighted in 1902.

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