Joseph Chamberlain (1836-1914) was British Colonial Secretary from 1895 to 1903. He entered the British Parliament in 1876 as a Liberal. His sons Austen Chamberlain and Neville Chamberlain were also successful politicians, with Neville going on to become a Conservative Prime Minister of Great Britain.
Negotiating a Constitution
In 1900 Joseph Chamberlain met with an Australian delegation sent to discuss the proposed Commonwealth Bill. Although the Constitution had been conceived and drafted by successive Australian Constitutional Conventions, the Constitution Bill still needed to be passed by the British Parliament before Australia could federate. Chamberlain opposed several key aspects of the Bill and there was much tension during the negotiations.
The Western Australian Government appealed for British support for further concessions from the other Australian colonies. Chamberlain clearly indicated to their representative, attending the conference as an observer, that Federation would proceed without Western Australia if necessary. The Colonial Secretary also made clear that the prospects of future increased Imperial assistance to a dependent Western Australian colony were low. His intervention helped convince the Forrest Government that the concessions they asked for were not achievable.
- What else was happening while Joseph Chamberlain was negotiating the Constitution bill? How did these external events affect Chamberlain’s attitude towards Australian Federation?
- Why do you think Joseph Chamberlain wasn’t encouraging about further concessions for WA?
Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act
House of Commons