On this day in 1900, Queen Victoria signed the Royal Commission of Assent which marked the establishment of the Commonwealth of Australia.
While the Parliament of Australia would not sit for the first time for almost another year, the passage of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act through the British House of Commons marked the creation of Australia as we know it today.
Up until that point Australia existed as a collection of six British colonies, which operated like separate countries but ultimately adhered to the law-making powers of the British Parliament.
Each colony had its own government and laws, its own defence force, issued its own stamps and collected taxes. However the bill would bring together the states of New South Wales, Tasmania, Queensland, Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia under one federal government, under the Crown of the United Kingdom.
The act read: “The legislative power of the Commonwealth shall be vested in a Federal Parliament, which shall consist of the Queen, a Senate, and a House of Representatives, and which is herein-after called ‘The Parliament’, or ‘The Parliament of the Commonwealth’.”
The constitution was drafted over a number of years in the 1880s, with representatives of the six colonies meeting at so-called ‘constitutional conventions’ to draft legislation that would unite the colonies as one nation and establish a national Australian government.
By 1898 the colonies had formed and agreed on a draft constitution, and the final draft was approved by a public vote with referenda held in each colony between June 1899 and July 1900. An Australian delegation then travelled to the UK to the British Parliament, where several changes were negotiated.
Once the bill had been passed by the House of Commons, Queen Victoria then legitimised the bill by signing the Royal Assent “with her own hand” on July 9, 1900.
“Whereas in Our said Parliament an Act the short title whereof is Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act, 1900, hath been agreed and accorded on by you Our loving Subjects the Lords Spiritual and Temporal and the Commons in this Our present Parliament assembled and endorsed by you as hath been accustomed,” the document reads.
“And albeit the said Act by you Our said Subjects the Lords and Commons in this Our present Parliament assembled is fully agreed and consented unto yet nevertheless the same is not of force and effect in the law without Our Royal Assent given and put to the said Act And forasmuch as for divers causes and considerations.”