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

Origins of the Australian Parliament

Early proposals to unite the colonies

Proposals that the Australian colonies should unite can be traced back to the early days of settlement. A central governing body with powers to legislate on matters affecting all the Australian colonies was always seen by colonial leaders as the means of unification.

John Dunmore Lang
John Dunmore Lang (1799-1878)

H.S. Sadd, 1873, mezzotint
National Library of Australia
William Wentworth
William Wentworth (1790-1872)

Florence Rodway, oil on canvas
Historic Memorials Collection, Parliament House Art Collection
Edward Deas Thomson
Edward Deas Thomson (1800-1879)

Heads of the People, 1848
National Library of Australia
Charles Gavan Duffy
Charles Gavan Duffy (1816-1903)

National Library of Australia
Henry George Grey

Henry George Grey, Third Earl Grey (1802-1894)
Camille Silvy, 1861, National Portrait Gallery, London


Henry George Grey

In the late 1840s Earl Grey, the British Secretary of State for the Colonies, suggested that the Australian colonies unite under a ‘central authority’.

John Dunmore Lang

As part of his wider aspirations for an Australian republic, John Dunmore Lang advocated in the 1850s a 'great federation of all the colonies of Australia … each to have a separate local government and sending members to Congress to form a great central government.'

William Wentworth

William Charles Wentworth lobbied the British government on the subject of a 'Federal Assembly with power to legislate on all internal subjects' for the colonies.

Edward Deas Thomson

Edward Deas Thomson, a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council and a former colonial secretary, sponsored a report by a select committee of the Council recommending 'a Federal Assembly with the power to discuss and determine on all questions of an intercolonial character arising out of the Australian colonies generally'.

Charles Gavan Duffy

As a member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly, Charles Gavan Duffy chaired several select parliamentary committees and a royal commission, which urged consideration of a federal union of the Australasian colonies for legislative purposes.