Australian soldiers

Conscription was a major issue in Australia during the later years of World War I when enlistment numbers dwindled. The prime minister of the time, William Hughes wanted conscription to be passed so he could send more Australian troops to the war. Many people were against this, and this created a huge controversy over the issue.  

The role of womenEdit

Women played a large role in the conscription debate  as many of the campaigns for the different sides of the debate were centered around the women of the time, trying to influence them with emotional messages, such as messages based around their husbands or children at war or who will be affected by the conscription debate. The women held large meetings about the debate, and their vote was seen as important to the referendum.

A very influential group of women were the 'Women's Peace Army ' They were one of the only organized groups for the anti-conscription side of the debate, and played and important role in the vote. Their most famous campaign was a poem called 'The Blood Vote,' which was made illegal in some states, yet still handed out illegally.

The Blood Vote

Why is your face so white, Mother?
Why do you choke for breath?
O I have dreamy in the night, my son,
That I doomed a man to death.

This poem was a mother saying to her son how guilty she felt about voting to send away an unwilling man to war, where he would most likely be killed.

Another thing that the women did was take over some of the work. The labour shortage was a problem for Australia, and the women began to be involved in war during WW1.

The blood vote

This is the main campaign of the Women's Peace army, The Blood Vote

Some of the jobs the men usually took such as farming, and working in muntions factories. Many employers still refused to employ women, and some of the trade unions were also against employing women as they believed it would lower the wages. 

The referendum process and resultEdit

In 1916, Prime Minister William Hughes decided to have a referendum on conscription. The referendum was the Prime Minister's plan to introduce conscription to Australia. For conscription to be introduced, the bill  for conscription needed to be passed in both the house of representatives, and the senate. The bill would change the Australian legislation to allow the government to introduce conscription for overseas fighting. The legislation already allowed the government to conscript for service in Australia- Hughes just needed to change this to allow for overseas fighting. despite the womens request, men and conscription were only foceful to the younger generations and the govemernt has to not control over the matter

Hughes was confident that he had enough supporters of conscription in the house of representatives to pass the amendment, but he didn't have a majority in the Senate. Prime Minister Hughes then decided to hold a referendum across all of Australia to see what the Australian public wanted. A referendum, however, can only change the Australian Constitution, so it would have no official effect on the matter. The result Hughes was hoping for, was that the Australian public would vote in favour of conscription, so that the senators could see that the Australian society wanted conscription, so they would change their vote to pro-conscription. Since the referendum would not have changed the Constitution, a more appropriate name for it is a plebiscite. A plebiscite is essentially a national opinion poll.

The referendum was narrowly rejected, by a one percent margin. 49% for conscription and 51% against conscription. This showed the senators that the Australian so it did not affect their opinions on the matter.

In 1917, Hughes got the Australian public to vote again. This time, the circumstances had changed, however. Hughes by now had enough support in the House of Representatives and the Senate to pass the bill to allow conscription, but he did not want to make such a controversial decision if the majority of the Australian public did not approve. This meant that the referendum of 1917 was much more important than the one in 1916, as it would decide whether conscription would be introduced or not.

The referendum of 1917 was rejected again on the 20th of December, this time by a larger margin, and Hughes did not want to pass a bill that the majority of Australians disapproved of. This was the end of the conscription debate.

Cardinal MannixEdit

Cardinal Mannix was a Catholic Archbishop, an Irish born Australian. His name was Daniel Mannix, and he played an influential part in the conscription debate, majorly influencing the Catholic voters in Australia. He was the Archbishop of Melbourne for 46 years, and by the end of WWI he was considered one of the leaders of the Irish community in Australia.

The Irish were an important demographic of Australia at the time of the second referendum, as around 40% of Australians had Irish ancestors. On Easter Sunday in 1916, Irish rebels forcibly took control of some buildings in Dublin, the capital of Ireland, in an attempt to free Ireland of the British rule to gain independence for Ireland. Their attempt was not successful, as the British troops defeated the rebels. Many of the rebels were taken prisoner, and then tried and executed. The Irish community in Australia were very angry about these events, and this led to consequences for the conscription campaign.

After these events, Cardinal Mannix  publicly declared that the British government had acted brutally. He stopped supporting the war, and many Irish and Catholics followed his example. For the conscription campaign, this meant that many of the Irish and Catholic voters had turned against conscription, as they didn't want to send Australians off to a war that they did not support.

William HughesEdit

William Morris (Billy) Hughes was the Prime Minister of Australia during the later years of World War I, from 1915-1923, when the conscription debate arose. He was one of the biggest, most well known supporters of the pro- conscription campaign.

William Hughes had quite a history in parliament. He was in parliament continuously for 51 years, and founded three political parties. He was expelled from all three of them, however. Hughes was a schoolteacher in London until he migrated to Australia in 1884. He worked his way up through the ranks of jobs in Australia, until he was elected into the federal government in 1901. In 1915 he took over as the leader of the Labor party from John Fisher, and was elected prime minister. As the enlistments to the army dropped, Hughes sought other ways to resupply the Australian army, and looked to conscription. This had a major role in starting the conscription debate. He was a huge influence in getting people to vote in favour of conscription.

In 1916, Hughes got all of Australia to vote in the referendum, which didn't go his way. The Labor party was divided on their opinions of conscription, so Hughes left the party and founded the National Labor party. When the vote failed again in 1917, Hughes had the support to get the legislation through parliament, but didn't because the Australian public was against it. After the referendum was rejected, Hughes resigned. However, he was given the job again and continued being prime minister with the support of Joseph Cook's conservative opposition. He remained Prime Minister until the Country Party gained power and Stanley Bruce was elected Prime Minister instead of Hughes.