House of Representatives Practice, 6th edition – HTML version

3 - Elections and the electoral system

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The first election

The Constitution made specific provision for the first general election of the Commonwealth Parliament. The first Parliament was to be summoned to meet not later than six months after the establishment of the Commonwealth,[1] which occurred on 1 January 1901. The first general election was held on 29 and 30 March 1901,[2] and the Parliament was summoned and first met on 9 May 1901. Following the enactment of the Constitution on 9 July 1900 and before the election for the first Parliament,[3] opportunity was given to the State Parliaments under the Constitution to make laws determining the divisions in each State for which Members of the House were to be chosen, and the number of Members to be chosen for each division up to the limits imposed by the Constitution. If a State failed to make a determination, the State was to be considered to be one electorate.[4]

The Constitution made further provision that, until the Parliament otherwise provided:

  • the qualification of electors of Members of the House of Representatives be that which was prescribed by State laws;[5] and
  • the laws in force in each State relating to elections apply to elections of Members of the House of Representatives;[6]

being those laws applying to the more numerous House of Parliament of the State.

The first general election was conducted on the basis of State laws.[7] The number of Members elected was 75, which was consistent with that prescribed by the Constitution.[8] A conference of statisticians held early in 1900 determined the population of Australia as at the end of 1899 and initial representation was based on these statistics.

1. Constitution, s. 5.
2. New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania on 29 March 1901, and Queensland and South Australia on 30 March 1901.
3. Quick and Garran, p. 409.
4. Constitution, s. 29; South Australia and Tasmania each voted as one electorate.
5. Constitution, s. 30.
6. Constitution, s. 31.
7. At that time the only States where women were entitled to vote were South Australia and Western Australia.
8. Constitution, s. 26.