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Memento : Issue 16
16 memento january 2001 Western Australia has an unusual distinction when it comes to the Commonwealth Constitution. It is the only State not mentioned in the opening of the Act that established the Constitution. When Western Australia held a referendum on joining the Federation in 1901, the Act had already been passed by the British Parliament. To celebrate the centenary of the vote for Federation, the Archives in Western Australia and the Western Australian Constitutional Centre held a two-day program of special events for school students. Over 400 students took part in the program, which included educational activities on running a referendum, Federation quizzes and games, and an exercise in campaigning for a federation. Students also discovered why Western Australia was the last colony to vote for Federation. By the end of 1899, Australia's other five colonies had all voted to accept a draft Constitution which had emerged from the Federation movement. The draft needed only enactment by the British Parliament to become law. However, Western Australia continued to baulk at holding a referendum on the proposal, fearing that a federated Australia would lead to a loss of its powers. The government wanted more changes to the draft Constitution, including control over the colony's tariffs for a further five years and a federal intercolonial railway. Despite reservations within the British Government about agreeing to a federation without Western Australia's vote, its Parliament passed the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act, which received Royal Assent on 9 July 1900. Although Western Australia was missing from the opening paragraph of the Act, provision was made for the colony to be included in the Commonwealth of Australia once 'Her Majesty is satisfied that the people of Western Australia have agreed thereto'. As an inducement to Western Australia to join the Federation, the Act also included a section allowing the colony to retain tariffs for five years on a reducing sliding scale. With federation all but a fait accompli, the WA Government finally gave way and agreed to put the draft Constitution to the vote in a referendum. Western Australians voted on 31 July 1900 -- 22 days after the Commonwealth Constitution was given Royal Assent -- and agreed by more than two to one to join the federation. This was just in time for Western Australia to be classified as an 'Original State', which meant it was guaranteed five seats in the House of Representatives and equal membership with the other States in the Senate. The intercontinental railway was also achieved, but not until 1917. Western Australia's path to Federation is just one of the many stories to be told in this Centenary of Federation. Those with a thirst for more can visit our exhibitions, join our events or explore our website! A federation campaign leaflet encouraging West Australians to join the union. yes The ayes finally have it National Library of Australia